Even the great ones fail. Even if they only have to get a ball into the goal from eleven yards. A short run-up, a powerful shot, but Poland goalkeeper Wojciech Szczęsny guesses the right corner and steers the ball spectacularly over the crossbar. Lionel Messi takes it like he always does, without much emotion. He trots on, head slightly bowed.
Not only was it a questionable penalty after a VAR decision, Messi’s miss is an unintentional record for a superstar like him. Two missed penalties at World Cup tournaments – he draws level with Asamoah Gyan from Ghana. Four years ago at the tournament in Russia, Messi failed from the point in the game against Iceland.
“Messi, Messi” chants in the stadium
In the stadium, after the parade of Poland’s keeper, there is a moment of shock among the many Argentina supporters. But just a few seconds later, the famous long drawn-out “Messi, Messi” chants echoed through the stadium. He’s still celebrated. Some supporters even bow to their hero in the stands.
Lionel Messi remains one of the great attractions of this World Cup in Qatar. Everything revolves around him. The ten other Argentinians on the field can also kick quite well. But Argentina is Messi, Messi is Argentina.
Messi is omnipresent
His face is everywhere these days. It sticks to skyscrapers in Doha and smiles from the stadium screens in commercials. Some fans wear it as a rubber mask tied around their heads. The iconic number 10 is emblazoned on every second light blue and white striped jersey.
One or the other folder also wears the shirt with the 10 under his yellow shirt. Messi’s influence is so far-reaching that even journalists appear with it in the press gallery – as absurd as it may sound.
However, most fans prefer to avoid the popular question: Messi or Maradona? “Why vote at all?” says Martin, who traveled from Buenos Aires. “We’re glad we saw them both play for Argentina.”
How good are Argentina and Messi really?
“Who knows where we would be without Messi,” adds his pal Nicolas. “Maybe already eliminated.” But doubts remain, even among Argentinian fans, as to whether he can carry this team to the World Cup title alone. Or his teammates have to carry it this time. As against Poland, when Argentina actually put down the best performance in the preliminary round. But this time it’s not Savior Messi who is providing salvation, but hard work. When midfielder McAllister took the lead in the second half and later forward Alvarez made it 2-0, Messi could breathe a sigh of relief.
But the pressure remains. At the start, Argentina had lost sensationally against Saudi Arabia. At that time, however, Messi converted a penalty. So he can still do it – and his statistics speak for themselves. After a good start to the season with his club Paris Saint-Germain, he seems fit and ready. In the second group game against Mexico he saved his team almost single-handedly. Overall, there are two goals and one assist at the tournament in Qatar. He is now the youngest and also the oldest player to score and assist in a World Cup match.” He has become the leader. Even if it was difficult at the start, we believe in him and the team,” says Nicolas.
Maradona or Messi?
After the final whistle, Lionel Messi leisurely wanders around the pitch alone for some time until the first teammates arrive and hug him. It is probably his last World Cup tournament, it could be over with every game. And the question remains: how long will Messi’s magic last? Or is it already used up?
He is now 35. Not every feint is successful anymore, the start is still breathtaking, but then not like it was in his early 20s. It will probably be his last tango on the World Cup stage. His last great chance to do the same as Maradona and bring the World Cup to Argentina. You will continue to pay homage to him. And maybe even after the tournament you will finally find an answer to the popular question. Messi or Maradona?