The World Cup belongs to Lionel Messi


Before penalties began on the finish of the World Cup last, I left the room on the second ground of the Football Cafe in New York City’s Chinatown neighborhood, the place I used to be watching the match together with a buddy, a foot or so from Susan Sarandon (someway), and ran up to the roof.

I’ve by no means been ready to abdomen watching penalties as a participant or as a fan. It’s a trait I share with my father, who was as soon as so rattled after the primary few penalties whereas we have been watching a match that he left to go to sleep as a result of they have been driving up his anxiousness.

There is a photograph of Pep Guardiola sitting in a chair along with his arms folded, dealing with away from aim as his group took penalties. To me, that is the one attainable means to deal; that and the match had already exhausted me of emotion. Argentina had given up a two-goal lead after dominating for nearly 80 minutes. The groups traded objectives in additional time, however every time it appeared that Argentina had gained, France — Kylian Mbappe particularly — would pull proper again. I used to be already respiratory laborious, as if I had performed 120 minutes as effectively. So, to keep away from changing into an emotional mess, I ran up to the roof of the constructing, sat in one of many few seats there, folded my arms and regarded out into the blue sky of Sunday afternoon.

The downside with attempting to keep away from the World Cup, particularly in one of many greatest cities on this planet, is that one would have to lock themselves of their condominium and keep away from every little thing. Sitting on the roof, I used to be as an alternative uncovered to a special sort of anxiousness. All round me, from the flats close by and the a whole bunch of individuals watching the match under me, have been the sounds of the sport. I could not see it, however I may hear it. After each penalty, the world round me swelled with response, loud cheering blended as effectively with groans of disappointment, which made it unimaginable to inform which group was doing effectively. Then my cellphone began vibrating with family and friends reacting to the makes and misses. The plan to keep away from what was occurring was failing spectacularly.

– ESPN’s writers choose their 2022 World Cup greatest XIs

Like thousands and thousands of individuals world wide, I badly needed Lionel Messi to win the World Cup. And as a result of the game of soccer, the absurd drama of all of it, has a means of constructing one non secular within the silliest means, I used to be sitting on the roof with my eyes closed, attempting to focus my ears away from the sounds of the sport and, deep inside my coronary heart, asking God or any larger energy who was open to being satisfied that Messi be allowed the title that has eluded him his complete profession.

There was nothing that I may cut price with. Instead, I used to be making the argument that it might make so many individuals completely satisfied. Knowing that God and the gods have extra essential issues to fear about, I additionally began making ready myself for the bitterness of disappointment.

It was an identical bitterness and disappointment that I felt after Argentina misplaced their opening match towards Saudi Arabia. I had gotten up at round 4 a.m. to be prepared for the match at 5. After the primary half — which Argentina dominated — and with the gulf in energy between the 2 groups, it appeared Argentina would rating a great deal of objectives within the second half. I dozed off at halftime in that information. When I awakened deep into the second half, I regarded on the rating and, for a minimum of 5 minutes, thought I used to be having some weird dream.

For the remainder of the match, which might be remembered as the largest upset of this World Cup, I stored pondering to myself, “This can’t be happening.”

There have been many storylines for this event, however none greater than the potential for Messi lastly successful the trophy in his final one. This was the stage to see whether or not he may go the ultimate hurdle. It was his World Cup, and since so many people had develop into invested in his profession, changing into followers due to his generational expertise, thousands and thousands of individuals have been introduced collectively beneath the identical want of hoping for him to obtain final footballing happiness. We needed him to win.



Ale Moreno feels Lionel Messi has now eclipsed Diego Maradona after main Argentina to an exciting World Cup win vs. France.

Before the World Cup began, I watched an interview Messi had with Mariano Dayan of Olé, speaking about his hopes for the World Cup and what made this Argentina group totally different from earlier tournaments. He talked concerning the significance of successful the primary match as a means to construct confidence, about taking issues one match at a time, and that he isn’t superstitious in any respect: he provides his greatest and permits issues to occur. Halfway by means of the interview, Dayan requested him if it might have been higher for Argentina to lose earlier than the World Cup, to finish their lengthy successful streak, so they might present how they responded to adversity.

“The truth is that the bad moments will surely come at some point,” Messi stated. “I believe this team is prepared to face tough times.”

The dangerous second got here, and although a loss within the group phases is not all the time deadly, it was nonetheless laborious not to panic.

It took till the ending of their recreation towards Poland for a little bit of aid to set in. Argentina was not solely assured a spot within the knockout rounds, but additionally completed prime of the group. Things have been going effectively, although aid will not be rest. It’s unimaginable to loosen up through the World Cup, even when one does not have a direct rooting curiosity. The competitors may be so chaotic that till the final second of a match is over, every little thing feels attainable. When one does have a direct rooting curiosity, the event looks like ingenious torture.

What the loss towards Saudi Arabia additionally did was expose Argentina as weak. They have been defeated by two extraordinary objectives, which might be moderately written off as a weird occasion, however the World Cup has a penchant for making these sorts of weird occasions frequent. The loss was a soccer memento mori.

Their newfound vulnerability added further rigidity and concern to each match. The matches towards Mexico and Poland completed comfortably for Argentina, although they have been something however snug.

When Messi scored from 25 yards out towards Mexico, I despatched a buddy a textual content saying which you can inform how pissed off he’s as a result of he does not normally take these sorts of photographs. His celebration felt like an awesome launch of stress. When Australia scored within the 77th minute within the spherical of 16, I used to be yelling on the gamers by means of the tv, asking them why they can not simply do issues the simple means, why each match has to be filled with a lot stress.

I used to be on the airport for Argentina’s quarterfinal towards the Netherlands. The recreation was on virtually each tv. I watched a part of it at a Buffalo Wild Wings; one other traveler sat subsequent to me, and when he requested the waiter to change one of many screens to one thing totally different, folks round audibly groaned. Reading the room, he determined to depart.

Later on, I moved to a bar subsequent to my gate to watch the remainder of the match. When the Netherlands scored two fast and extraordinary objectives, I put my head on the desk and stated loudly — sufficient that the man subsequent to me patted me on the again — that I could not take it anymore. The match went into additional time and my flight was delayed. The extra tense the match grew, the extra aggravated I used to be at everybody round me. A man casually laughing along with his buddy felt like a private insult. There was nothing humorous about what was occurring.

– O’Hanlon: The 13 statistics that specify the 2022 World Cup (E+)

As penalties began, I used to be trapped. There was nowhere for me to run to. I used to be on the gate, the flight delayed suspiciously lengthy sufficient for me to expertise the remainder of the match; throughout me have been TVs and a whole bunch of individuals all watching. The first two Dutch gamers missed their penalties, Messi and Leandro Paredes scored theirs, and the terminal exploded in cheers. It jogged my memory what I normally miss once I keep away from watching matches with folks: the communal pleasure. The sharing of happiness that elevates private pleasure into one thing a lot greater can feels elevating and overwhelming. The shared happiness makes the world really feel lighter; it makes you need to share hugs and tears with strangers.

Then in fact Enzo Fernández missed his penalty, and the stress and concern returned. This sport is all the time reminding us that pleasure and despair are sometimes solely separated by a single kick.

By the time Lautaro Martinez scored his penalty to win the match for Argentina, everybody else on my flight had boarded, and I used to be standing by the door a TV from a distance. There was nonetheless time for the gate agent to shut the door, and she or he discovered my emotional turmoil as humorous as I discovered it excruciating.

The match towards Croatia was way more safe, if safe is even an accurate phrase for something involving the World Cup. It was a 3-0 win that was surprising, given how Croatia has embodied the concept expertise, laborious work and endurance can overcome no matter their opponents may do. Argentina, seemingly realizing the hazard of prolonging the match towards them, fortunately ended issues earlier than it may get to additional time.



Lionel Messi and a few fellow Argentina gamers narrowly keep away from catastrophe as they duck beneath overhead wires on prime of their World Cup parade bus.

One factor concerning the World Cup is that even should you’re somebody like me who tries to keep away from watching matches with different folks, it is laborious to expertise the occasion alone. The world round you goes by means of comparable feelings. People construct their schedules across the occasion.

One of those folks was the primary lady I ever fell in love with, throughout my first yr of school in 2007. From the primary match till the final, we have been exchanging messages. We met a yr after Ronaldinho gained the Ballon d’Or and commenced his acceptance speech by making a radical declaration: “This award says I’m the best player in the world, but I’m not even the best player at Barcelona.”

“Leo Messi reminds me more of Maradona, both left-footed and short. Messi is the best player in the world,” he stated. “Since he began to come and train with us and we knew we would go down this path. Someday I will explain that I was at the birth of one of the footballing greats: Leo Messi.”

The yr after Ronaldinho made his daring assertion, the girl I fell in love with made an identical one. She was a Barcelona and Messi fan as effectively, and one of many arguments we would have was whether or not Messi was and can be higher than Kaká. As an AC Milan fan, I adored Kaká the individual and the participant who interpreted soccer in such a sublime and ruthless means; it appeared ridiculous to recommend that somebody would supersede him. Our argument stopped when she stated we should always verify again years later, when Messi wouldn’t solely be higher than Kaká, however can be the most effective gamers of all time.

The subsequent yr, the Ballon d’Or was awarded to Kaká and historical past appeared to be on my facet. Even amongst a roster of legends the membership has had in its historical past, Kaká stood out to me. I liked the paradox of his play, a participant whose fashion appeared to challenge immediately from his light character. He had a real class that got here from each a mastery of method — there was no flaw in his means to management, go or strike the ball, whether or not from shut vary or from distance — and the way in which that his character expressed his understanding of the sport.

The paradox was that as light as his motion, his management and the way in which he appeared to float above the blades of grass on the sector have been, Kaka was as robust and as harmful as his most ruthless teammates. One second, you possibly can be enamored along with his balletic feints, solely to be caught off guard by a shot that threatened to tear the web. He was a person of God who performed like he was an Old Testament punishment.

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Still, as a lot as I liked Kaká, I took an curiosity in Messi from that day ahead. For one, as a result of I knew he was good already — he ran circles round Nigeria on the Olympics in 2008 as a young person — and I used to be curious to see if what she stated would come true. To be a witness from the start can be an exquisite privilege. And two, as a result of once you love somebody, you need to have interaction with the issues they maintain expensive as a means to maintain them with you. Even because the years go and the time spent collectively turns into a reminiscence.

Of course, she was proper. History vindicated her and Ronaldinho. Messi not solely turned higher than Kaká however surpassed legends previous and current. For so lengthy, he was beneath the shadow of Diego Maradona, however he has now develop into one in all a sort. I by no means thought he wanted the World Cup title to personal the place of greatest participant ever, if such a factor exists, however having it now, there is no argument left to deny him that place.

For virtually twenty years, Messi has gained every little thing there may be to win within the sport. He has produced among the most unimaginable particular person matches and seasons, and been a part of among the greatest groups of all time. He has been such an excessive occasion of an awesome participant that he has pushed the language that describes him into cliché. Even TV commentator Ray Hudson, who comes up with probably the most ridiculous and sensational descriptions of moments and gamers, may solely maintain going again to describe him as “magisterial.”

I’ve made the argument earlier than that he is been so spectacular for therefore lengthy that it is a disservice to speak about him as a complete. The greatest means to method any evaluation or appreciation of him is to separate him into his personal private eras, after which take a look at them individually — for instance, false 9 Messi is far totally different than early wide-forward Messi. He has remodeled quite a few instances in his profession, and every transformation, separated from the others and skilled in isolation, would nonetheless make an argument for being the most effective gamers of all time.

What I can say about Messi now, and why I desperately needed him to win a World Cup, is that he’s a present to the game.

What tends to annoy me a lot concerning the narratives surrounding gamers like Messi, and the comparisons to previous and current greats, is that as enjoyable and straightforward as these arguments are to make and latch onto, it could possibly typically cloud the true surprise of the game. It appears to me that it might be higher if athletes have been judged as artists as effectively, in order that we will see their nice performances and seasons because the masterpieces that they’re. Performances that we should always typically stand in entrance of, with out debating and attempting to tear every down as compared to one other, and easily get pleasure from.

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What I am keen on about Messi is analogous to what I adored about Kaká. He’s an artist who has interpreted the game in such an exceptional means that it has expanded the probabilities for surprise inside it. His stats converse for themselves; what cannot be measured, and what he’s additionally a grasp of, are these moments of awe. He did issues routinely, and with ease, that others spent their complete careers chasing simply as soon as.

For virtually twenty years, every time Messi acquired the ball, the likelihood that one thing sensible may occur wasn’t only a hope or ideally suited, however an assured factor. A go, a feint, a nutmeg, a dribble, an help, a aim. He may get the ball and beat 4 or 5 defenders, reducing by means of them at full velocity, with fingers throughout him, and it might really feel surreal. Until he then did it once more. And once more. And once more. Or he’d make a go that would depart even his most skilled and inventive teammates speechless. Even as he acquired older and not had the velocity and dribbling that have been a few of his greatest weapons, he remodeled into an unassailable playmaker to proceed his singular inventive follow.

Within the confines of victories and losses, of chasing after trophies and constructing a legacy, he was increasing the bodily language of the sport. His legacy is not what he has gained as a person, however how he has modified what’s conceivable once we speak about soccer.

Because of what he has completed for soccer, I believed that soccer owed one thing to him — particularly, that he ought to win the trophy that he has chased after for therefore lengthy, the one which has led to a lot heartbreak for him and Argentina. Of course, soccer does not care about what’s honest or not, or who seemingly deserves a victory. The match towards Saudi Arabia was a very good reminder of that. You win what you win. It’s not a fairy story.

Except when it’s. At 35 years previous, in his fifth event, Messi had his greatest ever efficiency in a World Cup. He scored in each stage, changing into the primary participant to ever achieve this. In the ultimate he scored a brace, placing Argentina up earlier than Mbappe refused to enable France to lose. Messi was a couple of minutes from probably finishing his profession arc or having to reside with being completely singular within the recreation regardless of failing to win its highest trophy. The story of the final twenty years of soccer had arrived at its climax.

– ESPN+ viewers’ information: LaLiga, Bundesliga, MLS, FA Cup, extra

In the tip, Emiliano Martinez, Argentina’s big of a goalkeeper — he as soon as stated of Messi, “I want to give him life, I want to die for him” — saved one penalty and France missed one other. And that was it. The story was full. The partitions of the buildings round me have been vibrating with pleasure. I may hear a whole bunch of individuals singing Messi’s identify from the ground beneath me, and I used to be so overwhelmed by pleasure that I ran again into the constructing and slipped attempting to go down the steps. Sprinting with a sore calf and ankle, I discovered my buddy and grabbed him. I jumped up and down whereas yelling, “He f—ing did it!” time and again.

Hours later after the tip of the match, I nonetheless felt drained, however sleep was unimaginable. All I needed to do was activate the TV and look by means of social media in any respect the celebrations. Not simply Argentine folks and Messi along with his teammates, however folks everywhere in the world. So many have been experiencing the identical collective pleasure and aid, the identical appreciation {that a} participant who has given them a lot was now ready to finish his profession carrying the World Cup.

There’s no greater testomony to the ability of sport, and to the influence that Messi has had on this sport, than the expertise of the world seemingly coming collectively to rejoice his happiness.


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