“Messi Ole, Messi Ole… Ole, Ole, Ole…” Argentina fans — and many more of its superstar — had found their voice.
A tepid opening hour of play, when nothing was created, was taking Argentina towards doom: an early World Cup exit and no swansong for Lionel Messi, who had built an expectation-laden cloud for one last dance.
Mexican fans were outnumbered but gamely sang on, equally vocal despite the din from the blue that filled most of the stadium. The players, too, showcased the same fight — a crowded five-man defence blocking the space in the final third. The fouls came when needed and sometimes just to show Messi and his mates that this was no stroll in the park.
The blue and white were bruised and Messi could barely walk, the touches were far from the goal and there was no path for his meandering runs. But then his moment came, Angel Di Maria — the prophet’s apostle — finding a sliver of space coming in from the right.
Messi was miraculously unmarked as if the sea had parted for the messiah to work the magic of deliverance. A measured first touch — not too heavy, not too soft — set him up, the trigger followed, and the low drive saw the ball nestling in the bottom corner. The world erupted as Messi shed tears, finally his moment had arrived.
Argentina, too, was liberated as its skipper had his smile back, and attacked, willing the Mexicans to wilt.
And, the next goal arrived. Messi again came to life — conserving his energy in the meantime. A corner was played short, and his ball found Enzo Fernandez inside the penalty box through outstretched Mexican legs.
The resistance was broken, the Mexicans were a touch slower off the blocks, the earlier intimidation missing, giving Enzo time to consider. A deft move took him past Erick Gutierrez before a shot was permed to the right top corner, Guillermo Ochoa, the Mexican wall, now a defeated mortal.
Messi ran into Fernandez’s arms, the deathly fog of despair had dissipated and Maradona — two years and a day after his death — was also smiling among the stars.
Result: Argentina 2 (Messi 64’, Fernandez 87’) beat Mexico 0.