When the crowning moment came, after a legendary World Cup final, the blue and white striped Argentina shirt was not quite visible on Lionel Messi.
The rendition of the bisht – a traditional black Arab cloak – to be worn by the Emir of Qatar ensured that this defining moment in Messi’s career would be forever linked to the first World Cup in the Middle East.
Messi – the most famous employee of the French team Paris Saint-Germain, owned by Qatar – He finally added the biggest prize in football at 35.
It was the picture-perfect finish for Qatar after a 12-year World Cup journey from showdown to final at Lusail Stadium – the centerpiece of the country’s £200billion turnaround for this remarkable month-long show.
“I was really looking forward to this,” Messi said.
“I knew God was going to bring me this gift. I had a feeling this was the one.”
Fate was fulfilled for a player who won every European and world title with Barcelona even as Qatar was awarded a controversial World Cup award by FIFA in 2010.
About more than just career longevity
For Messi, it was about more than career longevity.
This final showed his continued genius – adding two more goals to finish Qatar 2022 with seven goals and three assists.
The penalty kick that put Argentina ahead midway through the first half ensured Messi became the first man to score in every World Cup knockout round.
There was a fantastic movement by Messi during a flowing counter-attack that ended up sweeping Angel Di Maria in the second before half-time.
Argentina would have reeled for decades, hoping to throw it all away had it not been for the success of the penalty shootout.
France won, stunned for 80 minutes without a shot on goal until Kylian Mbappe scored twice in two minutes.
Only the fingertips of France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris prevented Messi from achieving glory before the end of regulation time.
When Messi pushed Argentina ahead in extra time, they still had to recover from Mbappe to complete the hat-trick from the penalty spot.
And in the penalty shootout, neither Mbappe nor Messi saved themselves to seal the chance to win.
Paris Saint-Germain’s teammates-turned-international rivals took their team’s opening penalty shootout.
But the two French mistakes proved costly. Argentina scored all four.
“I can’t wait to go back to Argentina because of the madness”
Messi managed to leave the World Cup stage without regret.
No need to regret the missed opportunity in the 2014 final. No need to force a comeback trip in four years at the age of 39.
The rest of his career – one of his greatest ever – can be played with a sense of contentment, however long he stays on the field.
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Just like Diego Maradona with Argentina in 1986, Messi will always be a world champion – unlike great rival Cristiano Ronaldo with Portugal – and immortal footballer.
Messi – just like Ronaldo – didn’t need to win the World Cup to prove his legendary status. Receiving the trophy just confirmed it.
Now to celebrate.
“I can’t wait to be in Argentina to witness this madness,” he said.
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