World Cup

Magical Messi hoists World Cup after final for the ages

Lionel Messi grinned as 80 000 spectators cheered and pyrotechnics erupted. The cloak reserved for senior officials and sheikhs, the bisht, which the Emir of Qatar had just draped him in, covered his Argentina soccer shirt. A lifetime’s dream was realized when he grinned, took a moment, and raised the World Cup high.

There had been one blemish on his career résumé despite all the honors, riches, trophies, and medals, but on a memorable World Cup night for Argentina, he permanently removed it.

“It’s anyone’s childhood dream,” Messi said. “I was lucky to have achieved everything in this career… and this one that was missing is here.

“It’s madness… look how she (the World Cup) is, she’s gorgeous. I wanted her so much. I had a vision that this would be the one… she was getting closer.”

All that mattered to the 35-year-old on this piece of green in the Qatari desert was to bring Argentina the much-desired World Cup, and he accomplished this with a masterful display against the reigning champions France in what turned out to be a historic final.

He led Argentina to a 2-0 lead that they lost in the final 10 minutes, gave them the lead in extra time, and then made the winning penalty kick in the shootout.

Both the Argentine team and the tens of thousands of Argentines crammed into the overheated stadium leaped, hugged, sobbed openly, and mobbed the man who has served as their talisman for a generation.

The boy from Rosario, a farming town 300 kilometers north of Buenos Aires, finally delivered to lift himself beside that other Argentina footballing deity, Diego Maradona, who had led his country to the trophy in 1986, after five attempts and a World Cup finals record 26 games.

“We suffer, but we already have it (the World Cup),” Messi said. “I wanted to close my career with this, I can no longer ask for anything else, thank God, he gave me everything.”

Some people had an unpleasant description of this Argentina team when they arrived in Qatar: “Leo Messi and 10 other men.” A lackluster loss to Saudi Arabia in their opening game did little to dispel that idea.

He had once more arrived in Qatar carrying the hopes of a whole country.

In the World Cup final in Rio de Janeiro eight years prior, Messi was understated, unspectacular, and appeared weary under the pressure of expectation as Argentina lost to Germany.

But this time, he seemed motivated by the desperation permeating every voice in the audience, and he wore it more casually.

The triumph was the pinnacle of an incredible career that saw him win a record-tying seven times as the top player in the world.

He has also won three Club World Cups, a Copa America, 11 league championships, four Champions League crowns, and three Uefa Super Cups. The most sought-after one is now his.

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