BUENOS AIRES: Lionel Messi won the World Cup because the sparkling solid gold trophy picked him to lift it, the Argentine star said in a radio interview aired on Monday.
The 35-year-old inspired his country to World Cup glory last month by scoring two goals and a penalty in the South Americans’ shoot-out triumph over previous holders France following a thrilling 3-3 draw in Qatar.
“The cup called out to me, it told me: come and grab me, now you can touch me,” Messi told the Argentine Urbana Play radio station in his first interview since lifting the trophy in December.
“I saw it sparkling in that beautiful stadium and I didn’t hesitate” to kiss it, he added, referring to the stunning Lusail Stadium in Doha, where the final was played.
Messi finally lifted the trophy in his fifth and final World Cup tournament, having lost in the 2014 final to Germany. He also played in three losing Copa America finals before finally clinching that trophy in 2021.
“After so much suffering and lost finals, God kept it for me,” said Messi.
He thus became the first Argentina captain since Diego Maradona in 1986 to lift the World Cup. “I would have liked Maradona to hand me the cup, so he could at least see Argentina champions.”
Maradona died of a heart attack two years ago. “From up above he gave me strength, as did so many people who love me.”
Messi said he has not watched the final against France. “Since that day, everything changed for me,” he said. “By luck, what we dreamed about so much happened. I wished that so much in my career and, at the end, it came.”
The Argentina captain also spoke about the feisty quarter-final clash with the Netherlands which the South Americans won in a penalty shootout. A record 17 yellow cards were issued, including one to Messi for dissent.
When Messi scored from the spot in regular time, he stood in front of Dutch coach Louis van Gaal and cupped both hands to his ears. After the game, he gesticulated to the Dutch bench and insulted striker Wout Weghorst, who scored twice in regulation. Messi said he regretted those exchanges.
“I don’t like what I did, I don’t like what happened afterward,” Messi said. “These are moments of a lot of tension, a lot of nerves. It is very quick and people react the way they react. Nothing was planned, it just happened.”
That quarter-final was surrounded by controversy. Before the encounter, Van Gaal said his players were better prepared than their rivals for a penalty shootout. He also said “Messi did not touch the ball” in the semi-final between the teams in the 2014 World Cup; Argentina also won that tie in a penalty shootout.
Messi said his team-mates told him what Van Gaal said to stimulate him.
About his moment with Weghorst, Messi said it was “natural.” “I reacted that way. There had been many things with this player, moments of tension like these . . . I was at the mixed zone, it had just happened,” Messi said. “I don’t like to leave that image, but these things happen.”
Messi also said Argentina “in general were better than their rivals” and picked Mexico, their second group opponents as “the toughest.”
“It was the worst match we played because of all the things involved in winning it or not,” Messi said. Argentina lost their opener to Saudi Arabia 2-1 in one of the biggest shocks in World Cup history, and had to beat Mexico to stay in playoffs contentions. Mexico were beaten 2-0.
Many people expected Messi to retire, at least from international duty, after the Qatar triumph but he decided to continue so he could take to the field with his team-mates as world champions.
However, he admitted that the end was close after a glory-laden career that saw him also win four Champions League titles and 10 La Liga crowns with Barcelona, and a Ligue 1 trophy with Paris Saint-Germain, as well as the Ballon d’Or a record seven times.
“That’s it, there’s nothing left, I’ve achieved everything with the national team, with Barcelona, individually,” he said.
Asked what he would tell Messi in his childhood if he could, the star said: “Something extraordinary awaits, you can’t imagine. You will have a beautiful path, with some tough moments that you will have to overcome, but never give your dreams away because at the end you will get your most desired reward. Your film will have a happy ending.”
Published in Dawn, February 1st, 2023
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