Messi and the Argentine puzzle
Cometh the hour, cometh the man! Argentina had to win away in high altitude Quito, Ecuador, in the CONMEBOL World Cup qualifiers to book a flight for Russia. Up stepped Messi, a glorious hat trick followed and yet again the little magician came to the rescue of his country. Such is the extent of his indispensability in the team. Messi is Argentina and Argentina is Messi.
Argentina is a giant country in the World Cup. The World Cup itself owes part of its rich history and aura to the South American heavyweight. A founding member of the tournament, the country has paid its due pretty well; adorning the event with fantastic players over the years, playing some of the most beautiful football witnessed and winning the title on two occasions. If the home win in ’78 didn’t inspire you, then the latter win in Mexico ’86 was everything but uninspiring because it had Diego Maradona.
Lately, Argentina have been a pale shadow of their former selves. With the sorts of teams they’ve had over the course of the past decade, their current state and profile is a huge sin. Here is a country that has utterly dominated youth tourneys for a chunk of the last two decades. What this means is sure conveyer belt of talent and a boom for the senior side. Although the side has been star-studded, there has not been a commensurate return of success. Indeed there has not been a single trophy. Four successive final appearances have proven futile, a seemingly incurable impotency.
The last of such disappointments triggered a rich-school boy-response from Messi – a retirement from the national team. As shocking as it was, many saw the need for him to take a walk with the controversial reason that his teammates don’t help him. That would’ve meant walking away from responsibility, hardship and a gross show of cowardice as an army general of your nation at the warfront. After he pressed the panic button, a river of interventions flowed. The Argentine president got involved and Messi took the opposite walk.
Argentina have not won a title since their Copa America win in 1993! An eternity of wait! After the ’86 win, they lost in the final 4 years later. In U.S ’94, a Gheorghe Hagi-inspired Romania kicked them out in the round of 16. An iconic Dennis Bergkamp goal sent Gabriel Batistuta and co packing at the quarterfinal stage in France ’98. In ’02, Ariel Ortega and his colleagues couldn’t make it past the group stage.
Now Germany 2006: this was a team that could’ve won the title but for a piece of action taken by José Perkaman. In the quarterfinal against the hosts, the coach left a hungry, irrepressible young Messi on the bench and shockingly subbed Juan Roman Riquelme, an elegant ball-playing genius who was dictating the pace. They lost on the shootout. The Maradona mess followed in 2010 and 4 years later in Brazil, Alejandro Sabella’s boys failed to win in enemy territory.
Russia has come at last and Argentina still have what seems to be the remnants of a dying golden generation. They’re in group D with Iceland, Croatia and Nigeria. They should have no worries negotiating their way past this. What happens afterwards is the real deal. No team matches them upfront – Dybala, Di Maria, Higuain, Aguero, Messi! It has been like that for long with nothing to show. You just can’t afford to write them off because of one heavenly reason – Messi.
Yours in the beautiful game