The final roar: Fans await to watch Lionel Messi’s last match for Argentina
Ahead of the World Cup final on Sunday, which will be Lionel Messi’s last match for Argentina, footballers and coaches wait with bated breath to watch the footballing wizard cast his final spell
Published: 17th December 2022 01:44 AM | Last Updated: 17th December 2022 01:44 AM | A+A A-
BENGALURU: The menacing man arrives and sinks his flaming spear into the hearts of Real Madrid. Astonishing from Messi. All the pieces falling into place. Messi, born into the crossfire hurricane and he is Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” screamed former English footballer, and commentator Ray Hudson after Lionel Messi scored the winning goal in the Barcelona shirt against Real Madrid in the El Classico in 2017. Now five years later, the menacing man from Argentina will play his final match for his country on football’s biggest stage: the FIFA World Cup final on Sunday, December 18.
Like the fans in the South American nation, people in Bengaluru have also been gearing up to watch King Leo (as Messi is affectionately called) with bated breath. The final against France would be Messi’s swan song for his national team and all shudder in silence as they prepare themselves to experience the symphony.
Pradhyum Reddy, a Scottish-born former Indian football player, who is now a pundit in the Indian Super League, was fortunate enough to watch Messi come on during a match as a substitute back in the early 2000s for Barcelona. “Right from then, I could tell he was a phenomenal talent, and it has been great to watch him maintain that high level all these years while continuing to evolve as a player. Now, we can say he has matched the high-level football he has produced for Barcelona with his national team as well. If Argentina does go on to win the World Cup, that would be the perfect way to end Messi’s international career,” shares Reddy, who also worked as the assistant coach for Bengaluru FC and currently serves as CEO of Goa-based Dempo Sporting Club.
Messi is one of the few footballing superstars whose influence has seeped into the entire world. Sarthak Dubey, co-founder and director of Double Pass Development League, the city’s largest grassroots league also active in Mumbai, has seen the Argentine national’s significant impact on the young players of Bengaluru. “We work with very young children, between the ages of six and 15. Almost every child regards Messi as their footballing idol. They want to be like him and dribble like him.
Over the last decade, we have noticed a shift towards football from cricket in urban cities like Bengaluru, Mumbai, Delhi or Chennai and Messi has played a huge role in that. Just watching players like Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo has made that change happen,” says Dubey, who had witnessed Messi play in 2011 when he came down to India as part of the Argentina squad in a friendly match against Venezuela in Kolkata.
“A striking quality in his game is how quick he is and how he changes his direction on the field. I have seen a lot of fast players like Ronaldo or Mbappe, but the kind of speed that Messi brings to the table is rare. It’s almost like the ball is sticking to his feet. I don’t think any other player brings that kind of a threat to the opposing team. We all remember when he scored the last-minute goal against Madrid and held his shirt against the opposing crowd,” says Mithila Ramani, a professional footballer in the Karnataka Super Division and also the head of operations for Sisters in Sweat in the city.
Jonah Sainson Edward, who played for India in the Socca World Cup 2022, believes Messi will give his all in the upcoming final. “I am pretty sure he is going to give his all even if his legs break. He has influenced my game a lot by showing that you can always find a way to turn your disadvantages into an advantage. He has also shown us how to behave without our teammates off the field. He always gives respect to those who deserve it,” says Edward. The last and only time Messi competed in the World Cup final was in 2014 when Argentina lost to Germany.