Thursday, December 22, 2022

Lionel Messi saves Argentina’s World Cup dream with a signature goal and assist against Mexico

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Messi scored the opening goal before setting up Enzo Fernandez’s late goal to keep his country’s World Cup hopes alive

Argentina 2-0 Mexico (Messi 64′, Fernandez 87′)

From the moment Lionel Messi started the first-ever dart dribble in a pro career attended by tens of thousands of them, he has been heralded as Argentina’s next World Cup messiah.

Diego Maradona single-handedly dragged Argentina to the 1986 World Cup and his natural heir in the sky blue and white stripes is expected to do the same. When the South Americans end their 36-year wait to win the competition, Messi’s 64th-minute strike against Mexico will be seen as a crucial turning point. He now has eight World Cup goals, as many as El Diego.

Don’t worry if you missed the target; You’ll have seen it hundreds of times anyway. Messi received a square pass on the edge of the box and took a touch to fix himself before firing a shot into the bottom corner. Not even Mr. World Cup, Guillermo Ochoa, could stop it. It was textbook Messi and the first moment of finesse in a game marked by sheer chaos.

He also added an assist, although it wasn’t the kind of Messi pass that will make YouTube compilations with a techno soundtrack. He played a simple ball to substitute Enzo Fernandez, who rolled a stunning shot into the roof of the net to double Argentina’s lead and take the game away from Mexico. When the final whistle blew, Messi was surrounded by his grateful teammates. Not for the first time, he was the difference.

Argentina’s work is ongoing, Group C still wide open. Poland’s 2-0 win over Saudi Arabia means they top the table on four points, ahead of Argentina and Saudi Arabia on three and Mexico on one. But a draw would have signaled disaster and defeat. Messi and company needed a win to keep their World Cup hopes alive and so unconvincing it was, they achieved just that ahead of their last game against Poland.

Things wouldn’t have been quite so tense if they hadn’t suffered a defeat in the opening game. As Argentina’s desperation toward Saudi Arabia increased, so did her energy; Lack of enthusiasm was forbidden against a Mexican team who were equally determined to make their own mark on this competition. A draw wasn’t very good for the Mexicans either, although far less deadly for the Mexicans.

It had the look and feel of a World Cup game that could have graced any era, from the traditional colored jerseys to the frantic pace of the field and the commotion in the stands. But while desire abounded, class was in short supply. It was a colossal event for Argentina, but they appeared nervous and ill-equipped to dodge Mexico’s voracious if uncoordinated press. Tackle by almost five to one at halftime.

It wasn’t until the 45th minute that one of the two goalkeepers had a save, Emi Martinez throwing to the right to take a free-kick from Mexico’s plucky playmaker Alexis Vega, who for a split second looked like he was about to flex in the front end Corner. Argentina’s most promising moment came from a low cross deflected for a corner in the fifth minute of added time. “What does Rodrigo De Paul actually do?” was the question on everyone’s lips at the break.

“It’s like watching a league game,” said an unimpressed Roy Keane. “It really lacked quality.” He wasn’t wrong.

The second half didn’t offer much improvement, but at least two qualities were crucial. Much was expected of Argentina ahead of Qatar, with expectations naturally heightened after 36 games unbeaten, including an impressive dismantling of Italy final at Wembley, and while they’re still a long way from being at their best, it was at least a step in the right direction.

The accusation that Messi is missing for his country lost credibility last summer when his four goals and five assists helped Argentina win their first Copa America in 28 years. It’s now or never for Messi if he wants to add a world champion’s medal to his collection, but the dream is still alive.

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