Just a day ago, most of the football pundits were predicting that the Argentine squad would be en-route home soon. Instead, the Lionel Messi-led side must be packing their bags for a flight to Kazan, where they meet France on Saturday for a round of 16 match.
Having lost 3-0 to Croatia in the previous match and drawn 1-1 against Iceland in their opening encounter, the Road to Kazan looked like a road that Argentina would not be travelling. But defender Marcus Rojo’s crucial volley in the 86th minute ensured that there were no further obstructions for Jorge Sampaoli’s side.
Fittingly for Argentina, it was Lionel Messi who opened the scoring for the national team in the 14th minute. Banega’s perfect long-cross found Messi in space who put the ball in the right side of the net with a Messi-esque finish.
Argentina’s road to World Cup was as troublesome as their stay in the World Cup so far. In the South American qualifying rounds, it looked inevitable for Argentina to miss out on the most prestigious footballing event. In their last qualifying match against Ecuador, nothing short of a victory would have changed their fate. But the game did not start in the fashion that Argentina might be hoping for. Just 44 seconds into the game, Ecuador scored and Argentina’s hopes looked quashed.
It was then that the little magician decided to own the show. Ten minutes later, he equalised for Argentina and added another two goals to his tally to complete his 44th career hat-trick and led Argentina to a 3-1 victory. Argentina settled down and bowed to their champion. “Messi Es Argentino (Messi is Argentina),” screamed a headline on the front page of a national newspaper in Argentina the following day. “Messi is our Messi-ah”, celebrated another.
As the World Cup finals began in Russia, Messi had a nightmare beginning as he missed a penalty in the opening encounter. After two matches, Messi had scored none, provided none and Argentina had faced a severe 3-0 defeat after the draw against Iceland
Yet again, Argentina looked settle to bow out and yet again, Lionel Messi decided to put on a show. It was his strike in the 14th minute that inspired the Argentine squad and filled them up with joy, hope and confidence. In the dying seconds of the first half, he nearly scored from a free-kick but was denied as 19-year-old Nigerian goalie Francis Uzoho managed to a finger-tip on the shot.
After Argentina narrowly escaped a draw as Rojo scored in the dying minutes, the Argentine media yet again has gone gaga over their superstar. While one of them termed Messi’s goal “a global relief” as the Argentine finally looked in touch, another newspaper headline suggested the relief of the Argentine nationals, “Messi is still in Russia”.
If Messi is truly back to his best and whether he ‘remains in Russia’ will be decided on Saturday, when Argentina faces France. Rest assured, a nation looks relieved as of now.