Angel Di Maria walked Lionel Messi’s path to glory alongside him for 14 years… He proved himself the perfect man in the final and deserves to go down as one of the Argentine greats
The first person to pass Lionel Messi past the World Cup after hoisting aloft on the podium at Lusail Stadium was Ángel Di Maria – the two (69 years apart) have walked a path to glory together since winning Olympic gold in 2008.
Di Maria was the winner that day 14 years ago in a 1-0 win over Nigeria from a stunning Messi cross.
They had already won the Under-20 World Cup together and what they both wanted was big – their incredible longevity meant they managed it well over a decade later.
Lionel Messi is lifted by Ángel Di Maria during Argentina’s gold medal campaign at the 2008 Beijing Olympics (left) and after their World Cup final victory over France on Sunday (right)
Di Maria celebrates his goal in Sunday’s final in style to put Argentina ahead 2-0
Di Maria had his eyes closed through most of this epic triumph – he started to cry when he scored Argentina’s second goal – and he deserves to go down as one of the greats. Why couldn’t Manchester United get the best of it?
Messi was always supposed to ask Barcelona to sign players during his time at the club, and many times the stories were off the mark, but it’s true that he insisted on Di Maria during his later years at the club and only PSG refused to sell – let alone About Barcelona – stop that.
When Messi moved to Paris, he met Di Maria in Ibiza a few weeks earlier, although at the time it looked like PSG would just be a plan B, carried out if Barcelona turned against the new deal he had been promising.
The Messi family never fully settled in Paris, but Messi at least was happy to be close to his friend.
Di Maria was the first player to whom Messi handed the World Cup after Argentina won
The couple have been partners on the Argentine side for many years hoping for this moment
Four years ago in Russia, it was Di Maria who scored a stunning goal for his country against France, but he was unable to prevent a 4-3 defeat in the last 16. It seemed that this was his and Messi’s last chance to win the World Cup.
On Sunday evening, he was the best player on the pitch for an hour before scoring the first goal that tormented Jules Conde and won the first penalty from Ousmane Dembele’s clumsy challenge.
When Lionel Scaloni ousted him, it coincided with the collapse of the team. His manager knew he couldn’t play for more than an hour.
Argentina did their best to hide how far he was from full fitness in previous rounds so as not to reveal clues to team selection – it was always the case: save it for the final and then for no more than 60 minutes.
Messi and Di Maria have been on opposite teams for most of their footballing careers
The season Di Maria spent with Manchester United was one of his few high points in his career
Di Maria has always been the man for finals. When he left Real Madrid, Xabi Alonso tweeted: “We will never forget the slalom in extra time in Lisbon.”
The Argentine winger had set up Gareth Bale to put Real Madrid into extra time in the 2014 Champions League Final.
He also voiced Cristiano Ronaldo’s late goal in 2011 when Real Madrid won the Spanish Cup final against Barcelona – Jose Mourinho’s first season at the club.
Mourinho loved him and so did Carlo Ancelotti. The Italian coach had a problem when Bale arrived because there was no room for Di Maria, the new signing, as well as Ronaldo and Karim Benzema.
But he placed the tireless Di Maria in midfield and adapted brilliantly, finishing with 22 assists.
Maria (centre) did not have a good relationship with his boss at United, Louis van Gaal
Carlo Ancelotti (right) adored Di Maria at Real Madrid and hosted him in midfield
He never settled down at Manchester United and his wife never hid the fact that she hated his time there. An attempted burglary of their home in Cheshire didn’t help.
There was no love lost between him and Louis van Gaal, who once linked him before half-time against Sunderland.
The bad blood seemed to spill over into this tournament with flashbacks to the 2021 encounter when he said: ‘My problem in Manchester was Van Gaal. We won the match 3-0 and I gave an assist and scored a goal, but the next day in training he showed me videos of the passes I missed’.
Messi and Di Maria enjoyed a moment of World Cup glory together at Lusail Stadium
His sometimes chaotic, road-runner style didn’t sit well with that of the Dutch coach.
Time puts most people in their rightful place. It certainly happened with Messi on Sunday night and the same can be said for Di Maria.
He now has a World Cup medal to go with his Olympic gold – just 14 years between the two of them and Messi is always by his side.
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