Even considering the galaxy of legends that came before him and made football the beautiful game that it is, Lionel Messi has evoked comparisons with the best in the way that he is admired by his friends and foes in the game.
His silken feet, magical ball skills, mesmeric dribbles and darting runs into rival boxes have seen him attract a host of prefixes against his name. From being nicknamed ‘La Pulga’ (The Flea) back home in Argentina for his diminutive stature, ‘Messiah’ to simply, the G.O.A.T, Messi has drawn every praise and compliment that there is in the footballing metaverse over the course of a golden career. With a record 35 titles with Barcelona, a club he represented for the longest time in his career, including 4 Champions League, 10 La Liga and 7 Copa Del Rey titles, his achievements in the game are not human.
Yet, for all his glorious accomplishments, breaking new grounds in the game and rewriting footballing records like few have, there is one frontier that has remained unconquered.
The agonising quest to win a major title for his national team has seen him endure many heartbreaking moments.
Images of him slumping to his knees, holding his head in his hands or throwing a blank, rueful stare at the heavens after failing to take Argentina over the line in successive Copa America finals in 2015 and 2016, only served to reinforce the fact that he is, after all, mortal.
While the weight of woe from the failed conquests that he had been carrying on his shoulders was eased somewhat after last year’s run to the championship at the Copa America, beating arch rivals Brazil in their own backyard, Messi’s failure to win the World Cup for Argentina in four attempts has stopped him short of matching the success of his idol — ‘El Diego’ — for club and country.
However, in what, in his own words, will be his last dance at the game’s biggest and most coveted showpiece event, the boy, who rose from the streets of Rosario to become a veritable footballing demigod, has a chance to shake off the bogey that has stuck with him for the better part of his career.
It’s just one match now that separates Messi from that elusive maiden World Cup title for his homeland. That being said, the final is far from a foregone conclusion, as it will pit La Albiceleste against holders France.
While captain Messi and his muchachos will eye payback after the bruising 3-4 defeat to France in the 2018 edition, the defending champions, riding on the brilliance of ace marksmen Kylian Mbappe and Olivier Giroud, and complimented by a vaunted midfield and a strong backline, are on the cusp of being the first team in 60 years to win successive World Cup titles.
Carrying the expectations of a nation desperate for a world title, Messi has single-handedly lifted Argentina to the final after a sobering defeat to Saudi Arabia in their campaign opener.
All that remains to be seen now is whether the footballing gods will smile on one of their favourite sons come Sunday’s finale. Should Argentina win, it would be a fitting and, in many ways, a fairytale end to a truly spectacular footballing career.
If the final ends in defeat for the two-time world champions, the world would have witnessed Messi walking away with a tearful final wave at his adoring faithfuls at the Lusail stadium in Doha, passing on the mantle to the next lot of superstars. (ANI)