DOHA ( Associated Press) – Rejoice. This is a favorite verb in Lionel Messi’s speech during his stay in Qatar. He conjugates it whenever he can.
He used it at least eight times during a break after Argentina’s victory over Croatia in the World Cup semi-final as he walked through the mixed area of Lusail Stadium, the same building where he will return for Sunday’s title game against France.
“I’ve been enjoying it a lot for a long time,” said the 35-year-old star after another stellar performance in the Albiceleste jersey.
On their way to their second and final final, Messi and Argentina are having a lot of fun playing, according to their feelings. The final is throbbing with an all-or-nothing sensation, as Messi has one last chance to equal Diego Maradona – the other Argentine footballer who reached world star status – if he wins the title.
Argentina wants to lift the cup after 30 years of disappointment. A third star after triumphs in 1978 and 1986, the latter with the giant Maradona.
In the twilight of his dazzling career, Messi tries to capture the only title that has eluded him. and mark a point of separation with Cristiano Ronaldo, who has never been able to win a World Cup, in the rivalry between the two older footballers.
Two-faced – happy and belligerent these days with Albiceleste – Messi is a far cry from the player who wept on a summer’s night in the United States six years ago.
Messi missed Argentina’s first launch in the penalty shootout against Chile in the duel for the Copa America Centenario scepter. Chile emerged victorious 4–2 to repeat as South American champions. Messi had lost the final on the same number of occasions for the fourth time – the last game of the World Cup (2014) and two other editions of the Copa América (2007 and 2015).
“It’s done. For me, the selection is over,” he said in the tunnels of MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, not far from the Manhattan skyscrapers. “It hurts me more than anyone, but it’s clear it’s not for me.”
Months later, he reconsidered. He returned to the national team, although he continued to accumulate unfavorable results, from being sent off in the round of 16 of the 2018 World Cup against France to losing to Brazil in the semi-finals of the 2019 Copa América.
The Argentina senior was still in search of his first major title since 1993 – an eternity away. The owner of seven Ballon d’Ors and a vast collection of club titles with Barcelona, Messi was still chasing his maiden crown with the national team.
The curse was finally broken in 2021 at the Maracana Stadium by beating hosts Brazil in the Copa America final, which was postponed last year due to the pandemic and was originally to be played in Argentina and Colombia.
With Lionel Scaloni as coach and a new cast of interpreters around him, Argentina had turned the chip.
Now, with the first World Cup in the Middle East and a week before Christmas, Messi is looking to close the circle. It would be the perfect result for a player who has emerged as a global icon for more than 15 years thanks to his lethal goalscoring, amazing dribbling and a divine left foot.
He has been in Qatar for six matches and has scored five goals.
His fifth World Cup has been the most outstanding he has ever produced after following a series of disappointments, the first being the impotence of being on the bench in the 2006 quarter-final defeat on penalties against Germany, a 4–0 rout against them. The defeat came in the same team and in the same instance in 2010 when he was coached by Maradona and once again, against the Germans in the 2014 final, considered to be Argentina’s best game in that game.
Elimination in Russia, when they lost 4–3 to France in the round of 16, resulted in another change of coach. And Messi has maintained a good rapport with Scaloni.
He recently overtook Gabriel Batistuta as Argentina’s top scorer at the World Cup with 11 wins. He also equaled Lothar Matthäus as the player in history with the most appearances at the World Cup, which he will surpass on Sunday.
“That’s all fine, but the important thing is to be able to achieve the group’s goal, which is to be the most beautiful,” he said. “We had a rough, good time, and now I get to have a great one”: