LUSAIL, Qatar – The darkest moments of Lionel Messi’s Argentina career began with a lonely walk. He broke from a shoulder-to-shoulder line of tough teammates and stepped into a blazing light. It was the final chapter of a frustrating night, Argentina’s first attempt at a penalty shootout after a 120-minute strike. And with all the slow steps, from midfield to the penalty area, the pressure is caught in Messi’s magical limbs.
June 26, 2016, six years before he went to a similar scene here at the World Cup. And that night in New Jersey, with only a small part to be found, he looked at the goal with agonizing pain. Seconds later, he fired the ball over the crossbar. He grabbed his shirt with both hands and pulled furiously. He blinked as he returned to the center, covering his eyes in horror.
Messi “broke”, his much love Sergio Aguero spoke later, after Argentina lost the Copa America final. “That’s the worst I’ve ever seen him,” Aguero said. Messi used a dugout and supportive teammates to take care of his injured body. After the clocks struck midnight, he left the national team. “I tried so hard to be [a] champion with Argentina, but it didn’t happen, I couldn’t do it,” he said. The mission, and the burden of it, “wasn’t for me.”
All of that was the context for his latest solitary journey, from midfield to another penalty spot, to another neck-and-neck, for the first try after 120 minutes when striking at Here’s another crazy night, this time in the quarter-finals of the World Cup.
This time, when the pressure was put on him on Saturday, Messi ignored it.
Because now, in his last World Cup, Messi has been replaced.
He kept his eyes on the ball and, with the calmness of a shy boy in a Rosario stadium surrounded by brothers and sisters, he deceived a Dutch goalkeeper and rolled Argentina a shooting guide. Over three unforgettable hours at the Lusail stadium, the foul play and 17 yellow cards and the constant noise, he led Argentina to the semis without being noticed, through the member who did not receive pressure, because, as the Argentine legend Jorge Valdano said recently: “He was released. .”
For years, when Argentina’s games would be in madhouses, they would often eat Messi and his magic. But here this time, with the idea of ”more knowledge and maturity,” he not only entered into the Friday night; he climbed up. He scored a goal, and celebrated it with arms outstretched, then he went to the seat of the Netherlands and locked himself there, for a few symbolic seconds, his eyes were open hands next to his ears.
“I felt disrespected by [Netherlands coach Louis] “Van Gaal after his pregame comments,” said Messi after the game. “And some Dutch players spoke a lot during the game.”
He spoke with his mouth, but with his toes. He dropped every shoulder to shake off the defenders. In a frenzy of rage and constant noise, he remained silent. He moves with gusto, searching for space, as he does more often than anyone else in modern football, turning an attitude associated with laziness into a powerful one. .
He almost stood still for a few moments in the 34th minute, to look at and deal with the chaos around him, before he saw the sky, got the ball and went up to the ground. other. He fended off two Dutchmen but found six more chasing him, so he took to the air for a bird’s eyeand chose an extraterrestrial pass that is only available via satellite.
His first half game and the weight of his passes was almost perfect. His penalty in the second half, which was converted after goalkeeper Andries Noppert had tried without challenging him, was accurate.
Messi played the whole game as if he was comfortable – that’s how he felt this whole month and finally. He found peace of mind and knowledge. He learned to think, to “give importance to small details,” as he said; savor the moments on the sport’s biggest stage before they dwindle. And with a Copa America title at last, like last summer, he felt “more relaxed,” and “pleased, that we can work in a different way, without worrying ,” he said.
So, the print is not a hindrance, it is still there. Messi emerged from the bottom as a different person – and, by extension, a different player, one as different as his 20 years at Barcelona.
In the past, s***housery — a football term for sloppy and bad play — made him a defensive showman. On Friday, Saturday morning, he became a housekeeper. In the middle of the dream after the end of the shootout, after the other players of the United States melted in the eyes of the broken opponents, Messi looked for the Dutch coaches and raised his right hand, snapping his fingers and index finger in a conversational manner, mocks them.
Not long after that confrontation, during a television interview, he saw Netherlands striker Wout Weghorst walking by. “What are you looking at, stupid?” he snapped, using a Spanish word for “stupid.”
Messi was happy and happy, more happy than the rest. He spoke to the media with kindness and lucidly, while he was doing all the competitions. He has two steps now, in the semifinal against Croatia (Tuesday, 2 p.m. ET, Fox/Telemundo), who defeated him four years ago in Russia, and who will hold and hold him. It’s like the Dutch. Friday.
And the Croats will talk too. If so, all the better.
“I think Leo was attacked,” Argentina manager Lionel Scaloni said after Friday’s game. “A [he] he proved to be the best of all time.