One of the greatest footballers of all time is hours away from one of the biggest games of his life.
Lionel Andrés Messi plays in the fifth and last World Cup in front of him the task of taking Argentina to the round of 16 of the World Cup in Qatar. The first “decision” will be against Mexico, at the Lusail Stadium, at 4:00 p.m. (GMT), for the second day of Group C. Losing, Argentina will be practically eliminated from the World Cup.
Last Tuesday, Messi succumbed to the speed and lack of inspiration of Saudi Arabia as he toured Qatari territory in what is considered in Argentina as “the biggest cardboard box in the history of the World Cup.”
For a version of the historic Saturday that dominates football conversation around the world, the end of his superlative career is “just” one of the condiments of the day.
One of the most famous athletes in history, the Argentine star is the visible face of “Missimania” that will unite countries from different continents in a single cultural context: the common desire to fulfill the great dream of his life and achieve so much: the long-awaited World Cup. title for Argentina.
Buenos Aires, the capital of the country where the star was born, did not sleep, in a vigil full of pain waiting for the initial whistle.
Barcelona, where the ace lived his greatest laurels, will also be aware of his movements. This concern even includes Brazil, which drew attention last year for its fans’ declared support for Messi’s Copa America title, specifically against the Brazilian team, in the center of the Maracana.
The Crowd is Increasing in Brazil
Messi’s “Last Tango” at the World Cup with Argentina drove Globo fans crazy. According to Alan Simon, columnist for UOL, there was an 89% increase in audience interest at this point in time on the station. “The game was seen by 53% of connected televisions in Sao Paulo, 57% in Rio de Janeiro and the national average,” he said.
“The match was the first in this World Cup to be played at 7 am (Brazil time), a period that should, and still should be, in other games for less communicative teams, more difficult for Globo on Ipop.”
This addition must be condensed on Saturday. The first reason: “rush hour” at 16:00 (from Brasilia). Second, the decisive feature. If Argentina loses, it will be practically eliminated from the cup. The match will be broadcast by Globo, SporTV, Globoplay and FIFA+.
Fans and Dryers
Of course, not everyone in Brazil will root for Messi to extend his dream of ending his career with a cup title.
What is surprising in his case is that the Brazilian admission reflects the historical rivalry between the two neighboring countries. And it is clear that Argentina’s survival in the World Cup final in Qatar means the survival of a competitor who can beat the Brazilian team, see last year’s Copa América.
There will, of course, be great fans against Argentina throughout the Brazilian territory, but it is also possible to measure the enthusiasm in Messi’s green and yellow.
An unpublished survey by UOL, published two weeks ago, showed that the Argentine team has a large Brazilian fan base at the World Cup in Qatar.
According to the exclusive survey, 30% of those who are not interested in the prediction of Brazil bet on the title of the Argentine team. Lionel Messi and the company team lead the way among foreign teams. Portugal, led by Cristiano Ronaldo, came second with 24%.
Contrary to what the historical rivalry between neighbors might indicate, only 1% of Brazilians in the survey expressed support for Argentina in Qatar.
Although it is a direct competitor, Argentina has been cited as one of the candidates even among those who support the hexagon. The UOL survey was online, with 1,800 people in categories A, B and C from all regions of the country, and also separated the influence of the generations (Z, “Millennials” or “Boomers”) in the elections.
According to Andrés D’Alessandro, former player of the Argentine national team and idol of Internacional, “Misimania” influences the results of the survey: “He is one of the best players in history and has always shown a lot of respect for Brazil… in mind”.
International director Gustavo Grossi has a similar opinion: “Off the pitch, Messi is courteous, calm and respectful, showing values that are indispensable for those who want to show a footballer as an example for his children.”
“The fierce confrontation that Maradona had with Brazil, for example, does not happen with Messi, who did not raise the tone of the rivalry, although he was the captain of Argentina.”
The Buenos Aires Drama Invades Even the Musical Radio
Messi’s relationship with the Argentine fans was a real kick to last year’s title at the Maracana.
If today there is a lot of commotion around No. 10 driving the ‘Scaloneta’, as coach Lionel Scaloni’s team is called, it is worth remembering that he was already viewed with a lot of skepticism, especially after coach Diego Armando Maradona will present it. with the captain’s armband at the 2010 World Cup. .
His lack of goals and prominence in that World Cup, and the bad Copa América played in Argentina, after being eliminated in the quarterfinals the following year, had a huge impact on the collective imagination.
Messi went through the embarrassment of being booed by the Argentines themselves, who filled the ‘Cementerio de Elefantes’ stadium in San Juan, and was frustrated with the 0-0 draw with Colombia, which ended with Messi barely leaving defender Burdiso. specifically. Revenge for his indifference on the field.
Messi was credited with the runner-up finish at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, but runner-up finishes against Chile at the 2015 and 2016 Copa América shook Argentine spirits.
Statues of him were smashed and it was common, as he walked the streets of Buenos Aires, to hear the famous nickname “Pico Frio”, which describes athletes without the race that distinguishes Argentines.
Such hatred ceased to exist in last year’s Copa América campaign, when Messi played a sacrifice and ultimately lifted a title with the professional team. Argentina has not won anything in 28 years; Since then, Messi has been on the pitch for 16 seasons.
The situation now is completely different. The idol endured completely, to the point that rock radios, the most listened to in the genre, dedicate songs to him throughout Friday afternoons and show all his confidence and support in the transformation.
Messi has physical problems. Much has been said about his right ankle, which usually appears swollen, but it is his left leg that prevents him from competing with all his might.
Against Saudi Arabia, neither he nor his ideal partners, Rodrigo de Paul and Ángel Di María, had the necessary performance to leave the underdog behind.
Argentinian Duo On the Way
Another point that makes Saturday’s Argentine saga even more surreal. The Mexican team is led by an Argentine-born coach: Gerardo “Tata” Martino, who meticulously coached Messi to the Copa America runner-up finish. He now he will have a chance to get a rematch due to ruthless dismissal for the occasion.
Martino will not be the only Argentine to cross the path of the national team. Forward Rogelio Funes Mori, who grew up at River Plate, is expected to start this afternoon. He is 31 years old and obtained Mexican citizenship when he was 29 years old.
“If I score a goal, I’ll scream like crazy,” he said. And in doing so, he shouldn’t be “crazy” to visit Argentina so quickly.
Barcelona Keeps Cheering
In Catalonia, where Messi descended as a teenager and became the great reference of the best Barcelona in history, the eyes will also be on the lookout for the duel between Argentina and Mexico. For political and identity reasons, the majority of Catalans do not support the Spanish team in events such as the World Cup and the European Championship.
Thus, it is common for Barcelona fans (around 80% of the local population, according to surveys carried out in the last ten years), to be divided into cheerleaders from other teams. Here there is no competitor for Argentina. Historian and journalist Tony Padilla explains that “Barcelona fans who don’t support Spain always choose Argentina. Or rather, they choose Messi.”
Although there is no research with scientific standards to put the preferred numbers for this part of the Spanish country of Lionel Messi and Argentina, it is easy to understand in small details. Major Argentine restaurants and fan gathering spots scheduled to broadcast tomorrow’s match are no longer accepting reservations.
The inclusion of the Catalans in the Argentine team, even after Messi’s departure in August 2021 to Paris Saint-Germain, shows that the Albiceleste’s number 10 player is still loved in Barcelona. More than that, there is hope among the fans, and part of the council, about a possible comeback at the end of the 22-23 season, his second in Paris. President Joan Laporta has not yet been in direct contact with Messi, but has already sent messages to the player’s entourage in an attempt to rebuild the relationship, which was shaken after his departure from the club.
Messi in the Heart: Pain and Sadness
To think that a duel against Mexico could be Messi’s last in a World Cup final – or at least the last in which he is still in the fight – makes us travel through the Argentine’s career through the last five World Cups.
In 2006, the young prodigy started the World Cup at the age of 18, as a reserve. After not playing a minute in the match against Ivory Coast 2-1, he made his debut against Serbia and Montenegro. Messi arrived in the 29th minute of the second half and made a crucial pass and scored a goal. In the third game of the group stage, with the team already qualified, coach José Pekerman opted for a reserve team, so Rosarino was able to make his debut. The result is disappointing: 0-0 with the Netherlands.
In the second stage, Pekerman again left Messi in the reserve. The boy who appeared in Barcelona entered just 39 minutes into the second half against Mexico in the round of 16, in a game that the Argentines won in extra time. In the quarterfinals, he witnessed the loss to Germany on penalties from the bench. The change fell on Beckerman, criticized for not betting on young talent.
Four years later, the scenario was different. Messi was already a world football superstar, Diego Maradona was the manager, and the big question was how to make the tenth jersey work better. In the playoffs he scored only four goals in 18 games, and the solution was to give him more freedom and close to the goal. didn’t work. The World Cup was tough for Argentina, which was again eliminated by Germany, again in the quarterfinals, but this time 4-0, and Messi left South Africa without scoring a single goal.
In Brazil in 2014, the Argentinian star finally shone, scoring four goals in three first-leg games. In the round of 16, he assisted Di María’s goal in extra time. Messi’s good performance continued. But not the goals. In the final he made at least three assists, but his teammates failed.
The defeat against Germany in the final once again destroyed the dream; Messi ended up being the best player in that cup, but that doesn’t seem to matter to him. Whenever he is asked about the greatest sadness of his career, the Argentine mentions that match at the Maracana.
Between the 2014 and 2018 World Cup finals, Messi went through turmoil with the national team. The defeats in the Copa América finals (2015 and 2016) made him announce that he was leaving the team. The decision was reconsidered in less than two months. The crack arrived in Russia as captain of a team that no longer enjoyed the virtues of other times, as well as his turbulent relationship with coach Jorge Sampaoli.
After a difficult group stage, when they narrowly qualified thanks to Marcos Rojo’s late goal against Nigeria, Argentina crossed France’s path in the round of 16, ending with a 4-3 loss. .
The World Cup in Qatar, according to Messi, is the last of his career. The first appearance after the 2-1 loss to Saudi Arabia put Argentina, defending champions of the United States and one of the favorites to win the title, in an awkward position. The loss to Mexico on Saturday could turn Messi’s last day of tango into the World Cup final. The last dance of one of the greatest players of his time, in the biggest soccer tournament in the world.