Messi’s last World Cup is not just a competition. It’s a thing, a rebellion | World Cup 2022

LIonel Messi has the farewell he wished for. Or at least the stage for it. On Sunday the Forward – a well-known one Fail at international level – will play his sixth major final with Argentina. It will be his 26th World Cup game, more than any before, another record set; it will also be his last.

“Being able to end my journey in the final makes me happy, and everything I’ve lived here is wonderful,” said Messie at the end of another night blessed by another moment, like a gift: something I hold on when he’s gone. That’s four days from now.

Four days. One night. Everyone ‘knew’ that this would be Messi’s last World Cup, the feeling that he might never be seen again clung to every game. He knew that too, and that’s one of the reasons it played out this way: call it mission, destiny, or just plain fun. Seize the day, there aren’t many left. And yet, 16 years after its premiere, as a substitute the 6-0 win over Serbia and Montenegro, it sounds confirmed yet hit. wait what The final will be your last? “Yes, it certainly will,” said Messi on Tuesday night. “It’s many years until the next one [World Cup] and I don’t think I’ll make it. Finishing up like that is nice.”

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This is a World Cup like no other. For the past 12 years, the Guardian has covered the issues surrounding Qatar 2022, from corruption and human rights abuses to the treatment of migrant workers and discriminatory laws. The best of our journalism is compiled on our dedicated Qatar: Beyond the Football homepage for those who want to delve deeper into issues off the field.

The Guardian’s coverage goes well beyond what’s happening on the field. Support our investigative journalism today.

Photo: Caspar Benson

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So this is a farewell as far as Argentina is concerned. Still, what a way. It’s not done yet: the biggest game of them all awaits. It’s colossal, of course. But even reaching that goal felt a little like something had been gained, like a realization had been achieved. By Messi and about Messi. You don’t know what you have until it’s (almost) gone. Late at Lusail Stadium, down on Level 0, an Argentinian TV reporter decided not to ask her last question. Instead, and you may have seen the clip, she used it to say thank you: “Whatever the result, you made people happy,” she said. “You’ve impacted everyone’s life.”

Eventually he made himself happy too, with more than a little help from friends new and old. At the end of the 2016 Copa America, he was beaten by Chile in the final. He hadn’t always felt hugged, the weight was overwhelming; he said he felt it was all his fault. As he was told here, “You had to eat a lot of shit.” Yes, he conceded, but it’s different now. “For a while I’ve been enjoying so much, everything that’s happening with us. Being able to finish it all in the final makes me happy.”

This was manager Lionel Scaloni’s doctrine: Tomorrow the sun will rise. Messi has accepted this message and the time he has left; It’s also become his message and you get the feeling that his teammates are investing not only in Argentina’s success but also in his happiness by providing some sort of justice.

“People understood that we have to enjoy this,” said Messi. “We have achieved extraordinary things: the Copa America, 36 unbeaten games, a World Cup final. Of course we all want to win, but it’s a football game and anything can happen. Hopefully that will be different than in Brazil [in 2014, when they lost against Germany]. I don’t know if this is my best World Cup, but I’ve been enjoying it since we’ve been here.”

In Qatar he has five goals and three assists. The standout moments here are his. The goal against Mexico and the goal against Australia, so much Messi both, seen a thousand times, if not like that. The absurd assist against Croatia, instant iconography: Josko Gvardiol, the defender everyone was talking about, turned and back again, hips broken, legs tied in a cartoon knot.

Messi tops tournament statistics in terms of goals, assists, chances created, dribbles and fouls suffered. Which still hasn’t stopped him. He played every minute. He was Maradonian. He was maradona, indeed. And it’s not just about excellence; there is the energy, the expression of commitment, identification. The victim. Messi held his hamstring for a long time, then he did the to Gvardiol. It’s about the absolute refusal to let go: he was the one who declared that this was not done after the defeat of Saudi Arabia. The leadership that runs through them. There may not be a moment of skill like in the semis, but that doesn’t compare to the publication of his goal against Mexico.

Lionel Messi of Argentina celebrates after beating Croatia 3-0.
Lionel Messi’s Argentinian team-mates want to help their star end his World Cup career with the biggest prize. Photo: Shaun Botterill/Fifa/Getty Images

There was the outburst of anger that preceded the goal against Australia. The clashes with the Netherlands. The edge, the aggression, the shithousery if you will. That: What are you looking at, fool? Argentina’s fans loved that. Messi seems to have it too. “He’s always been like this,” insists Scaloni, and there’s a fierce, angry competitor inside him, but the fact that the coach had to say it was telling. They have never felt him so close, nor has he felt them so. This isn’t just a competition, it’s a thing. A rebellion.

“Sometimes it’s an extreme situation, it’s not easy to go out on the pitch knowing you have to win and if you don’t go home. We’ve been doing that since the second game. It has a very high mental cost and the group overcame that,” he said. “We’ve played five ‘finals’ and we have one left.”

It would be wrong to forget how he pulled her to the finals before, but that’s another thing again. It looks different, sounds different, behaves differently. Not least because another generation is traveling with him, shifting his role, taking away some of the burden of the past, leaving behind. But there is also a legacy, says Scaloni, in what he leaves them. They, in turn, were keen to let him have that one last dance.

“What he did at the Copa America was incredible, but I’ve never seen anything like this World Cup in my life,” said goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez. Cristian Romero added: “This is insane. Everyone knows what he is as a player, but it’s the kind of person he is. He’s a role model, a guy who always wants more. He’s taken so many hits, but he always gets back up.”

A photo has been circulating in the past few days: eleven-year-old Julián Álvarez is standing next to his idol Lionel Messi. Eleven years later he now has another: teammates this time, Messi holding him in a headlock and beaming after the Manchester City striker scored against Croatia.

“The things Leo can do are amazing,” he said, and he’d seen it firsthand to finish an impossible assist, the best in the competition. Except maybe the one Messi gave to Nahuel Molina in the previous round.

Messi had delivered that pass and the tackle pass that released Álvarez, running and bundling to score the second. Meanwhile, it was Enzo Fernández who had delivered the ball that resulted in Messi opening the scoring from a penalty. And he, too, had grown up watching the man who put Argentina ahead, who grabbed them and dragged them into a second World Cup final, much like Maradona.

When Messi was considering leaving in 2016, Fernández posted a message on Facebook apologizing and thanking him. It read: “How can we, a bunch of nobodies who don’t live with 1% of the pressure you have, 40 million people who make ridiculous demands for perfection when we don’t even know you, try to convince you? Do what you want but remember to stay and enjoy.”

Now he’s finally here, the time of his life and hers carries us all to a final farewell.

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