LIONEL Messi has arrived, finally, at the World Cup.
Argentina have kept their star player under wraps since arriving in Qatar for the World Cup but here he was, smiling, happy, speaking to reporters at the press conference on the eve of their opening Group ‘C’ game against Saudi Arabia on Tuesday.
The 35-year-old is playing his fifth World Cup, one he said on Monday could be the last he plays, but he’s never lifted the trophy that a fervent Argentine nation has been craving since Diego Maradona took them to the title in 1986.
Messi has for long been Maradona’s heir apparent. Winning the World Cup will see him reach the same pedestal as the legendary Argentine, whose second death anniversary falls on Nov 25.
“This is a very special World Cup … potentially my last to make our dream a reality,” Messi told a packed news conference. “I’m feeling very good, in a very good physical condition.”
Messi has been in sparkling form for his club Paris St Germain, racking up both goals and assists. But in the few training sessions Argentina have held in Qatar, Messi had been training separately.
“I’m coming to this World Cup both personally and physically,” said Messi “There were rumours of me training apart from the rest of the team but they were just precautions.”
The closest Messi came to lifting the World Cup was eight years back in Brazil, when Argentina lost to Germany in extra-time.
He feels that there are similarities to that campaign this time around where Argentina come as one of the hot favourites.
Messi, however, has changed. Gone is the tension from his face, he’s smiling even more, perhaps savouring his last tryst with the World Cup.
“I think age makes you see things differently,” said Messi. “It opens you to small details. In the past, I didn’t do this. Maybe, now I try to focus on all these and enjoy this much more than anything else.”
Freed from the pressure, Messi might now be able to play more freely, with the abandon with which he used to play in his younger days. That might be just what Argentina need to end their long wait.
Published in Dawn, November 22nd, 2022