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World Cup 2022: Messi: 'Maradona is pushing us from heaven'

Max Merrill Lusail
December 10, 2022

Lionel Messi is still at the World Cup after Argentina cruised, collapsed and finally conquered in the face of Dutch resistance. Support for the Albiceleste is felt around the world and, at least for Messi, even beyond.

Argentina celebrate
The chants of "Messi, Messi, Messi" could be heard throughout the encounter against the NetherlandsImage: Ariel Schalit/AP Photo/picture alliance

Lionel Messi is the first Argentinian to step up in the shootout. Hours after Neymar failed to get his opportunity to take the fifth and final penalty for Brazil, Messi was taking no chances. And counting on divine support. 

"We have been saying from the beginning, Diego [Maradona] is pushing us on from heaven and I hope this continues until the end," he said after the match. "Now we have a weight off our shoulders." 

Also pushing Argentina on where the vast majority of just over 88,000 fans who attended the match at Lusail Stadium. A sea of blue and white roaring on their messiah, who has inspired support from all over the world. For a large number have not travelled from Argentina, but hail from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. 

Outside the ground, a group of fans from India tell DW they support Argentina because "Messi is the god of football. A god belongs to all, so Messi belongs to all of us."

This international backing has been met positively by the travelling fans. Federico from Buenos Aires told DW: "It's incredible, I have never seen anything like this before. It surprises us and we feel proud of it. They're not fake fans."

Another, hailing from Messi's home city of Rosario, adds: "They don't know our songs but they shout 'Messi' and 'Argentina' and help us out. Thanks to Messi, other countries love Argentina."

Lionel Messi celebrates
Lionel Messi scored the 10th World Cup goal of his career, but had to watch on as Argentina survived a shootoutImage: Ariel Schalit/AP/picture alliance

Argentina: industrious, organized and united

The few Netherlands fans at the ground and Dutch players on the pitch likely did not have much love left for an opponent who proved aggressive and provocative throughout the match.

Lionel Scaloni's side delivered crunching tackles and instigated several skirmishes. Leandro Paredes blasted the ball into the Dutch bench from point-blank range, while several of his teammates pointedly jeered at the Oranje players after the final penalty was tucked away. 

This Argentina side are industrious, organized and united behind Messi. But the fiery nature of their play also saw them lose their heads at points in the match.

Even their usually so reserved leader displayed a nasty streak, seen directing his anger at Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal after the match and refusing to shake the hand of two-time goalscorer Wout Weghorst.

Criticism of 'useless' referee

Both sides felt aggrieved by refereeing decisions from Spanish referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz, who set a new World Cup record by dishing out 18 bookings.

Messi merely stated: "I don’t think he was up to the standard," citing a desire not to get fined, but other players were more pointed in their comments. 

"I think the protagonist should be the players," Rodrigo de Paul said of the refereeing performance. "Sometimes there are those who don't have the talent to be players but want to be the protagonist themselves. It cheapened a great match between two sides that really know how to play." 

Meanwhile, keeper Emiliano Martinez felt short-changed by the referee too. "He just wanted them to score. Hopefully we don't have that ref anymore, he's useless." 

Martinez to the rescue

The Aston Villa shot-stopper must hope his comments will not prompt a ban. After all, it's his penalty heroics which rescue his side time and time again.

He saved three spot kicks when Argentina prevailed over Colombia in the semifinals of the 2021 Copa America, on the way to the title. Two saves where enough this time, with Argentina a exuding confidence during the shootout that was lacking during the closing stages of the match. 

This Albiceleste side may at times be reckless, erratic and ruthless. But it is united behind its star, devoid of the egos that in the past caused chemistry issues.

And it is backed by a swarm of fans, both from their home country and the Asian subcontinent, who have congregated in Qatar to roar on their idol on his World Cup swansong.


Celebrating Argentina's victory in Bangladesh