THE final farewell. The final World Cup goodbye for Lionel Messi.
Argentina is in the Qatar finals. And on Sunday it will attempt to win the World Cup a full 36 years after Diego Maradona and company won the title in Mexico.
Leading the albiceleste will be Lionel Messi, the team’s true dragoon (five goals to his credit). He made it clear: “I am proud to be able to end my World Cup career playing this final. What I am experiencing is something exciting. Definitely Sunday will be my last game in a World Cup.
“There is too much time left until the next one and I don’t think I have any. So I hope to finish in the best possible way.”
So this is goodbye as far as Argentina is concerned. Still, what a way to go. It is not done yet: the greatest game of all awaits. It is colossal, of course.
But even getting there felt a little like something had been won, like some realisation had been reached. By Messi and about Messi. You don’t know what you have got until it’s (almost) gone.
Late at the Lusail Stadium, one Argentinian television reporter down on Level 0 chose not to ask her final question. Instead, and you may have seen the clip by now, she used it to give thanks: “Whatever the result, you have made people happy,” she said. “You have made an impact on everyone’s life.”
Eventually, he made himself happy too, with more than a little help from new friends and old. At the end of the 2016 Copa América, defeated by Chile in the final, he had walked away. He had not always felt embraced, the weight overwhelming; he said he came to feel that everything was his fault.
As it was put to him here: “You had to eat a lot of shit.” Yes, he conceded, but it’s different now. “For a while now I’ve been enjoying it so much, everything that’s happening to us. Being able to end all this in the final makes me happy.”
This has been the doctrine of the manager, Lionel Scaloni: the sun will rise tomorrow. Messi has embraced that message and the time he has left; it has become his message too, and there has been a sense of his teammates being invested not just in Argentina’s success but his happiness, in doing some sort of justice.
“People have understood that this is something we have to enjoy,” Messi said. “We did extraordinary things: the Copa América, the 36 games unbeaten, a World Cup final.
“Obviously, we all want to win it but it’s a football match and anything can happen. Hopefully, this will be different to Brazil [in 2014, when they lost against Germany]. I don’t know if this is my best World Cup, but I’ve been enjoying it since we got here.”
In Qatar he has five goals and three assists.
The stellar moments here are his. The goal against Mexico and the goal against Australia, so very Messi both of them, seen a thousand times if not quite like this.
Now at last he is, the time of his life and theirs carrying all of us to a Sunday final farewell.
* Suresh Nair is an award-winning sports journalist who is also a qualified international coach and international referee instructor.
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