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WM Katar 2022 I Mexiko - Argentinien
Image: Tom Weller/dpa/picture alliance

Lionel Messi resurrects Argentina's dream

November 26, 2022

Argentina have finally arrived at Qatar 2022 after Lionel Messi fired them to a vital victory over Mexico. Argentina were on the brink following a shock opening defeat to Saudi Arabia, but their talisman stepped up.


"Vamos!" screamed Lionel Messi, pumping his fists in front of a sky blue wall of Argentina fans after firing La Albiceleste into the lead against Mexico, a low drive from the edge of the box setting Argentina on course for their first win at the 2022 World Cup.

It was Messi's 93rd goal for his country, but few have carried greater value. With the game still goalless after 64 minutes in Lusail, Argentina's World Cup – most likely Messi's last – was hanging in the balance.

After their shock opening defeat to Saudi Arabia, a draw against Mexico wouldn’t have knocked out them out – but a Mexican goal on the counterattack certainly would have, and the tension was tangible in the poorly-timed tackles and rushed passes which had characterized a scrappy first half.

Messi: 'We had to be strong'

"It was such a difficult game against an extremely intelligent Mexico side who control the ball so well," Messi told reporters post-match. "We knew we had to be strong, but we weren’t quite as intense as we’d hoped."

That was until Messi, drawing level with Argentinian demigod Diego Maradona on 21 World Cup appearances, struck before sprinting to scream at the Argentinian fans gathered behind the goal.

"After the goal, we really got into the game and started to play like Argentina," he said afterwards. "Then we felt the euphoria of the fans and that carried us over the line."

Lionel Messi (Argentina) celebrates after scoring his team's first goal with teammates during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 - Group C match between Argentina and Mexico
Leading the way: Messi fires Argentina into the lead against MexicoImage: Matteo Ciambelli/DeFodi Images/picture alliance

Messi's last chance

"Vamos!" It was a scream which didn’t just signify the belated ignition of Argentina's quest for a first World Cup triumph since 1986; it was also an expression of Messi's personal desperation to win football’s greatest prize, the one honor, individual or team, he is yet to win in a glittering career.

"Is this my last World Cup? Yes, surely, yes," 35-year-old Messi told Argentinian media earlier this year. He is set to turn 39 during the 2026 World Cup in the USA, Canada and Mexico.

Messi has already returned from international retirement once in 2016, saying after winning the Copa America in 2021: "It was clear to me that I couldn't withdraw from the national team without winning something."

But the World Cup is still missing, defeat to Germany in the 2014 final in Brazil still weighing heavily on Messi, who missed several chances that night in the Maracana.

Argentina's Lionel Messi gesturing to the crowd against Mexico
"Just smile and trust us" - Messi has confidence in ArgentinaImage: Tom Weller/dpa/picture alliance

Messi: 'Just smile and trust us'

"Vamos!" But, eight years later, that dream is still alive in Qatar, Messi setting up Enzo Fernandes to seal victory over Mexico three minutes from time, before leaping on his teammate’s back in celebration, in jubilation, in relief.

"We were a bit nervous because of what happened in the first game, and we have a lot of young players experiencing their first World Cup, that all plays a role," Messi explained, before looking ahead to the top-of-table clash against group leaders Poland.

"Just smile and trust us," laughed Messi, the burden lifted. "We'll do it against Poland."

Lionel Messi and Argentina have finally arrived in Qatar.

DW Matthew Ford Sports
Matt Ford Reporter and editor for DW Sports specializing in European football, fan culture & sports politics.@matt_4d
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