– Boria Majumdar in Doha
The first half was goalless. And the pressure was building. Soon after the referee had called half time did the camera focus on Messi. As the stalwart was walking off, one wondered what was going through his mind. But then few have experienced the kind of pressure Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo does. The World Cup tests even the finest players in the strangest of ways. Most importantly, Messi knows what it is like to lose. He has experienced failure and is aware that it is possible he will fail on occasions, as he did against a raring Saudi side. He had even left the sport in frustration, deciding to come back. For a good 23 years now, he has been told that he is exceptional and there has been none like him. Yet, even after past defeats he has managed to stay focused.
Against Mexico he had to dig deep. Do everything possible to stay focussed and wait for his moment of individual brilliance. And when he unleashed the shot for a second it seemed that the peerless Ochoa will get to it. A full length dive will help him save the shot. But as the ball was getting closer to Ochoa it just seemed to move away from him. As the dive stretched, so did the ball’s movement. Just enough to elude the hands of Ochoa. As if it was math. The perfect math if there ever was one. Enough to stop hearts and cause a mini heart attack and then a global uproar of unprecedented proportions. Messi had done it for Argentina. For himself. And may I say for the world.
Qatar 2022 is the first World Cup Messi is playing when Maradona isn’t around. Even after Tuesday’s upset defeat to Saudi Arabia – we asked the question, ‘Can Leo do a Diego?’ And now after the Mexico win it remains a very valid question. Messi has equalled Diego in the number of goals scored. So far he is going to Diego route. Diego, for example, would have known. After losing that opening game to Cameroon in 1990, a determined, all-or-nothing Argentina made it to the final, losing by a goal to West Germany. Can Messi top that, against what now seems possible for him and Argentina? He said after the Mexico game that the pressure has now eased on him and the team and they can play the Poland game in peace.
The world, however, isn’t at peace yet. They will be when he guides Argentina to the round of 16. The first hurdle crossed. The world will be at peace and so will Diego.