This originally appeared in the Independent
After such a defining statement from Leo Messi, and so much discussion about what was said between him and his manager this week, Alex Sabella put it best. “Having Messi means anything is possible,” the Argentina coach gushed.
One of the most remarkable elements of the playmaker’s brilliant winning strike against Iran, beyond its outstanding quality, was that a goal was beginning to actually look impossible.
Messi had in truth endured a poor game. Far from symbolising Argentina’s rise, he summed up their frustration. Iran’s blockade was brilliant. The goal – or even a fluent attack – never looked like coming.
It indicated much that, just before the decisive moment, Diego Maradona walked out of his seat to leave the stadium. So, as one legend exited stage left, another truly entered. Messi also looks set to dominate this stage. He will rightfully dominate all reaction. How could someone not after such a sensational stoppage-time winner?
This was the type of moment that adds to legacies, that typifies what he is there for and what he is as a player. If one definition of genius is conjuring something from nothing, this was the perfect display.
That is all the deeper because this was far from a perfect performance, with a whole lot of nothing in it.
In some ways, it reflected what Messi has become over the past two seasons. One of the enduring images of the game – before the glory of his late goal and celebration – was the playmaker strolling about, not all that energised.
It is also a sight increasingly common in the 26-year-old’s club career. He is no longer the sonic blur of energy he used to be when Barcelona were at their peak between 2009 and 2011. There is a much greater languidness to his game. Some would call it laziness. At the end of Barca’s disappointing 2013-14 season, Messi’s low mileage stats became an increasing topic of debate.
It was argued around Camp No that this is all a further consequence of the overbearing influence and ego Messi is developing. It was something that came under further scrutiny with Argentina in the last week, as discussion has grown about exactly whose decision it was to change formation back to 4-3-3.
The difference is that Messi still tends to show why he may have developed that ego on the occasions when he decides to do something.
He can go from a heavy afternoon to a lightning storm in an instant. The burst of acceleration remains devastating. The touch is still immaculate. The finish… well, it was a work of art.
It also came after very little work from Messi, but few were going to pick up on that afterwards. Javier Mascherano was only going to praise him.
“That is what Messi has,” the midfielder said. “On the day he is not so involved in the play, he appears and does that.”
“That” was a glorious curling strike into the far corner of Alizera Haghighi’s previously unimpeachable net, and all as 11 Iraniandefenders amassed in the box, and the clock ticked well into stoppage time, with his team badly needing it.
“As soon as I got the ball at the end, we were all in attack,” Messi said of the goal. “Obviously, I was very happy with the strike. Then I heard people screaming and smiling, and it was wonderful of course.”
It was not just of the great goals of this World Cup. It was a great World Cup moment, of the type the history of the tournament is all about.
This may well become Messi’s tournament. His performance could set the path for Argentina’s campaign: underwhelming start, patchy displays, before growing and finally coming to glory at the end.
It is certainly possible, especially with Messi there.