IAN HERBERT: Argentina’s optimism is based on the belief that glory is written in the stars for Lionel Messi… this was our first glimpse of the diminutive number 10 at his best during the World Cup in Qatar
- Argentina secures a place in the final of the last sixteen with a 2-0 win over Poland
- Lionel Messi again took center stage and was awarded a penalty in the first half
- The dubious foul was given by VAR, but Wojciech Szczesny saved Messi’s penalty
- Argentina fans want to see Lionel Messi win the World Cup in his 1,000th game
The song the Argentines sing here is about optimism. ‘Muchachos, ahora nos volvimos a ilusionar’, it reads – ‘Guys, we have hope again’ – and as it went around here last night you gave thanks for this extraordinary footballing nation and prayed fervently that they would triumph.
Yes, this was a story about the pretty little number 10, who stepped out through a forest of cameras and, when football started, slalomed through the Poles in white shirts in a way that led their manager to compare him to the 1990s. 80s and 90s The Italian alpine skiing champion Alberto Tomba so appropriate.
But it was also the story of the country whose supporters eclipse all others, arriving in this weird, barren landscape and reminding us that wherever a World Cup is hosted, their vibrancy will be a constant. As the second goal rocketed into the net, the stadium camera panned to a woman in their number whose eyes were red with tears.
Argentina’s World Cup journey is led by the last dance of their number 10 Lionel Messi
The Argentinian fans were in high spirits as their team booked their place in the last 16
That’s how it is with the Argentines. Football is more important than life and as they stared down the barrel of the elimination before the start of the evening nothing could contain the emotions. Lace from the 80s remembered before the game.
Never has a World Cup needed that raw emotion more than this one. The artifice and surface brilliance of the World Cup in Qatar is revealed wherever you look. This is a place desperate for life, spontaneity and something substantial.
The Qataris seem to have decided that manufactured stadium ‘entertainment’ at monumental decibel levels is needed, so each game is preceded by two ‘presenters’ shouting into microphones. Argentina and their supporters needed no build-up. The choir was at full capacity an hour before this started.
Their optimism is based on the belief that glory is written in the stars for Lionel Messi this time. They talk about la milesmia – ‘the thousandth’ – because if their team makes it to the final, it will be the maestro’s 1,000th game.
All eyes were on Lionel Messi, who seems to finally win the World Cup with his country in Qatar
Messi was involved in a dubious VAR call that saw a penalty kick awarded, but his spot kick was saved by Polish goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny
He did not abandon them. Here was the first glimpse of the top, vintage Messi – he clung to the ball and thundered into those 20-yard runs that will be played over and over again when he’s long gone. It was a thrill to see this, which we just didn’t have last Saturday in the victory over a Mexican team that was only intent on beating him up.
The Argentine support even brought the miserable VAR system to the Gods, through their reaction to the dubious penalty won by their legend Messi. It was electricity when that was called to their advantage. The reaction was no less fierce when justice was done and he missed the penalty kick.
The Qataris played one of Messi’s early tries – a close-range shot that Wojciech Szcesny scribbled away – in a video game format on the stadium screen. They call it the ‘virtual recreation replay’.
Fans are desperate to see Messi reach his 1,000th game, which would be the World Cup final
Someone needs to tell them you can’t recreate that genius in artificial 3D format. Messi ran for that ball and took it straight to the corner flag, like a street scene straight out of his native Rosario.
The supporters were still singing their national anthems in the stadium and bouncing long after the players had left the pitch. The team manager Lionel Scaloni has tried to create a sense of perspective. “The sun will rise no matter what happens tomorrow,” he said before this game.
But don’t try to tell those people that. Their team just produced one of the tournament’s performances to date. They have reestablished their hopes.
Goals from Alexis Mac Allister and Julian Alvarez were enough on Wednesday to shake off Poland