An announcement that most football fans had expected but few dared to admit was made in Doha the day after Argentina reached the finals post its marvellous dismantling of plucky Croatia. Lionel Messi said that Sunday’s final would be his last World Cup match. Though news was on expected lines (Messi is now 35 and would be 39 by 2026 when the World Cup moves to the US, Canada and Mexico), it was still treated with a combination of disbelief and grief.
In contrast to his glittering success with FC Barcelona, Messi has been often derided, unfairly, for under-achieving for Argentina. Messi has decisively answered these critics by his fantastic display in the Qatar World Cup. So it’s understandble why he wants walk into the sunset now.
His pass for the third goal against Croatia in the semi-final on Tuesday night, which teammate Julian Alvarez gleefully converted into a goal, was sublime, and that’s putting it mildly. One couldn’t help feeling sorry for Croatian defender Josko Gvardiol (who till then was justly feted as the tournament’s best defender) for the way Messi made him twist, turn and contort before putting an end to his misery by passing the ball past him to Alvarez.
Now, Argentina and Messi stand at the cusp of glory. But standing in way is a French side that has somehow made it a habit of winning even when they don’t particularly play well. But most fans and even football writers (a notoriously difficult lot to please) will readily admit that even a loss for Argentina on Sunday night will in no way diminish Messi’s lustre, so immense has been his contribution to football. Messi, who’s so often in the past looked tormented in the Argentine Jersey, is enjoying his time on the pitch. Argentine coach Lionel Scaloni summed Messi’s current state of mind in one word: tranquilo.