For Lionel Messi, now is everything

Doha, Qatar – “Now is all” is a trademark phrase used by the organizers of Qatar 2022. On Sunday, it couldn’t be more appropriate.

Get ready for the big farewell party at Lusail Stadium. The audience will reach 89,000. Billions around the world will watch.

On paper and on the field, Argentina will play France in the 2022 World Cup Final at Lusail Stadium. But for the majority, it was advertised as a Messi show. Destined to captain football’s greatest show coming to an end, the boy from Rosario is at the pinnacle of his career.

At least that’s what the text says.

Messi’s crowning of the World Cup on Sunday for the first time in the Middle East will be Messi’s last outing in the tournament. He does not want so much to leave that indelible mark on this tournament – and to emulate the great Diego Maradona – he, and the millions who follow him around the world, want the World Cup to be Messi’s World Cup, his last trophy, the World Cup. Better, just him.

The episodes leading up to this finale definitely shed light on that story and pointed to a very happy ending (not for France, of course).

Messi scored in Argentina’s first match in Qatar 2022 – a surprising loss for Saudi Arabia.

Messi has scored in the latest goals – an astonishing humility for last year’s finalists Croatia.

In between, he scored three more goals and provided an assist that not only reaffirmed his status, stature and giant-like presence, but also sent the non-believers to place the pot of gold next to the blue and white schemes.

“It’s only Messi, by God, it’s only Messi,” said Mohamed El-Nahawy, a Brazil fan who left in awe of Messi after the Argentine showed off against Croatia in the semi-final.

“I support Brazil but I love Messi. This guy, God. It’s 99.9 percent of him and 0.01 percent of the rest of the players.” [on the team]. Nobody can stop this guy.”

Missy is a tragic story, a story of unfulfilled dreams, of unfulfilled desires, and of dreamed-about heights. But on Sunday, the stage was set, the script was written and the lawn watered. May this dream be complete, desires come true, heights are achieved.

Ball dances to his tune, as well as sports. But it has not happened yet. Not until he raises the trophy most important to him, to the country, to those billionaires who wear the number 10 stripes and sing his name across Rosario, Kerala, Dhaka, Bangkok and Doha.

“Bfft, there are no words for it, it’s Messi,” said Dong, who traveled to Qatar from China to watch Messi play. “He was just…so perfect. And he showed us those god-like moments. You can’t stop him anyway. Argentina will be champions and Messi will lift the trophy.”

There was extraordinary demand for Messi’s number 10 shirt as he made his way to the final. It was sold out in some countries and sold out in others.

Demand was such that Adidas released a statement saying the company was “working to get more jerseys available to fans so they can celebrate the national team’s amazing journey.”

“He’s the special one, the best, the crazy one, call him what you will, he’s the only one,” said Federico who was born in Rosario, the city that gave Messi to the world.

“Nobody can take the ball away from him, he’s in that place now. He’s having his best World Cup and we’re very proud of him and what he’s done so far.”

As the final whistle blew for the semi-final against Croatia, Messi stood alone in the middle of the field on the pitch. He looked up, looked down, and bowed before entering into a bear hug with the surrogates.

He realizes he is within walking distance of realizing his dream, the dream of a nation and of millions wearing the blue and white stripes with the 10 on the back.

France has already lost once in this tournament. But they want to become only the third team to win two World Cups in a row (Italy 1934 and 1938 and Brazil 1958 and 1962) so victory will not be handed to any board.

It couldn’t just be Messi at Lusail Stadium on Sunday. But having seen the impact he left behind in the past month or so, and how the calm of late November was ruined by utter disdain by Argentina fans celebrating his goal against Mexico, it may well be.

Messi is the joint top scorer in the 2022 World Cup, with five goals [Paul Childs/Reuters]


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