With Argentina on the brink of World Cup elimination, Lionel Messi scored with a signature left-footed strike, to lead the two-time champions over Mexico 2-0.
Lionel Messi strode into the cauldron at 9:53 p.m., and stared up into the eye of the Lusail storm. It had been brewing for hours and days with Argentina here on the brink of World Cup elimination here. It pelted Messi for an hour as he and teammates seemed paralyzed by pressure and Mexican noise. And then, after 63 minutes of dreadful soccer, he emerged from a crowded midfield to lift his nation out of impending despair.
Mexico did everything to stop him. Messi, nonetheless, pelted a pinpoint left-footed shot past Guillermo Ochoa to break a deadlock and lift Argentina to a massive, crisis-averting 2-0 win.
His goal sent tens of thousands of Argentine fans here into raptures, and some into tears. It sent his team into second place in Group C, having recovered from Saudi Arabia’s shock four days earlier. It sent his teammates flying toward the far corner flag, where he’d sprinted away to celebrate with his arms wide. It sent one, Lisandro Martinez, collapsing to his knees, perhaps to thank a divine being, perhaps in overwhelming relief.
“Geeeeenniioooo,” they sang a few moments later. Genius.
They later bowed to him as if he were a god. When Enzo Fernandez doubled the lead and clinched the victory, some whipped off their shirts and twirled them in the air. At the final whistle, teammates sought out Messi and enveloped him in one grand, grateful group hug.
“This brings us more calmness,” Messi said in Spanish, and in between relieved smiles, a few hours later.
He and Argentina — the team, the nation, the international brand, the aura — had come to Qatar expecting a lengthy stay. They came as joint favorites, as South American champions, as Finalissima winners. They arrived on a 36-game unbeaten streak that spanned multiple clashes with Brazil. And they came, buoyed by their 2021 Copa America triumph, without the unbearable pressure that had haunted Messi at previous international tournaments.