FIFA World Cup: Messi’s Maradona moment
Sunday seemed a slow day, the build-up to the final usually is. 63 of the games were done and everybody needed to catch their breath before the big one. As it is, the World Cup has throbbed only in parts of Doha, never the whole
Doha: The aberration that Lionel Messi will end a career without a World Cup will now stay in the realm of fiction. A 36-year-wait ended for Argentina on Sunday night in the most thrilling of finals. And as he walked in front of his team mates in regal robes, kissing the trophy and holding it aloft, no longer would Messi be a step behind Diego Maradona. Doha had brought them level after a tournament where, watched by the world and facing intense pressure, Messi was as inspirational as Maradona was in 1986.
But it wasn’t easy, just as it hadn’t been for Maradona in that 1986 final when Germany had drawn level from 2-0 down.
On Sunday, 2-0 to 2-2 in 97 seconds meant Argentina, who were sauntering to their third World Cup title — and the first since that magical night at Mexico ‘86 — had to do it all over again. So they did through who else but Lionel Messi. When Kylian Mbappe shot France back in contention with that two-goal burst, Messi had to respond. And when he scored again, deep into extra time to seal it for a second time, Mbappe hit back by becoming the first player since Geoff Hurst in 1966 to score a hat-trick in a World Cup final.
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In the tie-breaker — in which both Messi and Mbappe scored — the hand of Emiliano Martinez gave Argentina the title for what seemed like the third time in one night.
Cue hugs. Cue song. Cue chants. Cue tears. And Cue Sergio Aguero flying down the stands to envelop Messi. Having cried after scoring and again when France drew level, Angel di Maria, whose goal had fetched Argentina the Copa America in 2021, could now weep in joy.
Sunday seemed a slow day, the build-up to the final usually is. 63 of the games were done and everybody needed to catch their breath before the big one. As it is, the World Cup has throbbed only in parts of Doha, never the whole. All day, areas near the Qatar National Library, the residential blocks in Al Sadd and even the main media centre, usually buzzing with thousands of journalists, looked like it was sleeping in late on a Sunday. Which being Qatar’s National Day, was a holiday.
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It changed as you got nearer to the Lusail. By early evening, all roads leading to it were clogged, a coach ferrying media to the stadium got lost and suddenly things began to get hectic. The Lusail, lit and golden, was like a giant beehive to which everyone flocked. In Argentina shirts, in those of France and some waving flags of Qatar too.
The closing ceremony was a “mashup”, in FIFA’s words, of songs we heard through the past 29 days. It was called “A Night To Remember,” but was really a prelude to an unforgettable night. Everything, from Deepika Padukone and Iker Casillas accompanying the 6.175kg trophy that travels in a designer bag to Messi’s brief hug with Antoine Griezmann, the warm-ups and the lung-bursting rendition of national anthems were that: a prelude to a memorable night.
It was difficult to say who among Messi or Mbappe got the louder cheer when the teams were being announced but there was no doubting that in the 23rd minute. That was when Martinez could again look at the game after kissing a post and when Lautaro Martinez would fist his appreciation into the substitute’s bench. That was also when Messi had converted the penalty kick with a placement that sent Hugo Lloris the wrong way. The roar that followed, as Messi found himself at the bottom of a players’ pile, would have reached the moon.
One section of the Lusail bounced like it was on a trampoline. It was the same section, behind Martinez’s goal, that was roaring “Argentina, Argentina” when Di Maria made it 2-0 ending a sweeping move that had Argentina swiftly moving the ball from the right edge of their penalty area to the left edge of France’s.
The defending champions, usually so clinical in their approach to games, were being bossed. Till Didier Deschamps decided to make first-half substitutions getting in Marcus Thuram and Randal Kolo Muani. Like most of Doha, France woke up late but their stirring comeback produced a final for the ages. Neither deserved to lose, neither did in open play. Say your thank yous in whatever language you want, these two sets of gladiators deserve nothing but our appreciation.