Fitting end to great finale: Messi's World Cup finally
Whether it’s a question of his complicated relationship with the country of his birth, the questions on age and longevity, or the need for a story to be completed, this was always Messi’s tournament.
Published: 19th December 2022 10:38 AM | Last Updated: 19th December 2022 12:36 PM | A+A A-
DOHA: By now, if you read a newspaper, chances are Lionel Messi has achieved infinity. The final of the men’s #FWC2022 completed the story of this, the grandest of modern games, in the history of modern games. Covering the World Cup for your paper has been an exercise in self-restraint, observation and (somewhat) studied analysis. Tonight was always going to be a bit different.
For close to 90 thousand, most of whom supported one side, the writing was on the wall. There was no way this Disneyland World Cup could end in anything but a fairytale… A Messi tale that brings to a close a tournament, and a format, that many of us will miss.
In the first piece, this correspondent had the privilege to write for you we touched on how teams work at a major tournament; how, despite the defeat, Argentina remain favourites; how big teams grow into big occasions. In that sense it was a perfect end. Kylian Mbappe scored three times from the spot, and yet it was Messi who ended all conversations. France showed where it belongs in terms of producing talent of prodigious quality; Argentina underlined what a collective ambition, even when it plays out through a cult of personality, can get done.
It was a replay of the best game of the previous World Cup… in Kazan (Russia) on a bright and crisp summer’s day, Didier Descamps had the cards back then, it can be argued. Four years on he had none. Argentina dictated the first half, winning both superiority in possession and on the scorecard. The deal was almost done. In the VVIP box the only praiseworthy guests watched—Usain Bolt and Zlatan Ibrahimovic were clocked — the drama unfold.
Having spent several months playing and watching the sport in the suburbs of Paris I was convinced, from the start, of the seemingly-endless line of football quality that today’s France builds. And yet the virus seemed to have hit home hard. In private moments, over the past few weeks, I had confided in a friend who had shared the experience. We discussed, in undermined tones, the details of the lack of bench strength. How the arrogance of the system had come to bare. And the opposite was proved true. At the 80th minute, just when I was messaging about possible storylines (just as I had done at the same time for the Netherlands game), movement and momentum started to change. Deschamps started to show why he is regarded as ‘clever’ and the bench seemed responsive to the beating they had received from far and wide after the loss to Tunisia. The bench realized what paying a tournament of this scale means. Would a virus undermine the greatest spectacle since THE virus? It could not be allowed.
This brings us to the ghost of this tournament. The ONE AND ONLY. Whether it’s a question of his complicated relationship with the country of his birth, the questions on age and longevity, or the need for a story to be completed, this was always Messi’s tournament. Gianni Infantino’s well-placed defense of the extravagance of this World Cup was emphatically reiterated by one the in the global sport you can’t hate. If there is a presence that still makes this sport a sport beyond science, it is the likes of Messi. Played at a pace that 99 per cent of us cannot imagine, the tempo of this final was as much an illusion as the desert venue itself. And yet Messi played at his own. Seven minutes into injury time he had a crack at goal. France captain Hugo Lloris, who cut a less-than-enthused figure at the pre-match presser the day before, was up to the task. More drama was in store, it appeared. In the end, it was a final to beyond our memories of what the last-best final was. An ode to a talent not seen often and not often defined as generational. Head on a swivel-stick, heart of his sleeve and the engine of a tank on its last endeavour, Messi won not just hearts but broke football.
All of a sudden all the critics of the game are hailing this as not just the best world cup in history, but also the best final in history. Because, and i hate to play the devil (forget advocate) here, their narrative has come to fruition. This tournament will do more for the coffers of football’s governing body than any in its path. It has already led the way to the proclamation of an expanded club world cup for men and a (much-needed) similar event for women. FIFA has also kept the world’s football press champing at the but by anno9uncing the format for the group stages, expanded to 8-teams, at the CUM World Cup ‘26 will be.
There are many things we learned from Qatar 2022. They start with money and end with hope. We know today that football is a machine. We know today that Messi is (obviously) great. We know today that Infantino will stay chief till 2031, and UEFA, despite itself, will have little say. We know that if you do the work, your story can be the story of the world. Which brings us back to Messi. And hope. Hope for the millions who followed him from south asia and beyond. The working people whose constructivist ideas led to this win. To Jose Pekerman and his idea of what a team of Argentines should be like. To the end of a generation of building and change and evolution and growth that Messi himself exemplified this year. For the rest, migration will emerge as a major storyline this year; as will the numbers of migrants winning medals their compatriots cannot. For the most out-there of FIFA World Cups, #QATAR2022, I give you thanks!