LUSAIL, Qatar — As he wrapped Enzo Fernández tightly in his arms, Lionel Messi couldn’t help it. His Argentina teammates were screaming, full pelt, toward them. At their back, the stands were melting right into a writhing, bubbling soup of sky blue and white. Messi saw all of it, and, for the primary time in what has felt like a protracted time, he smiled.
For somebody who has spent the higher a part of 20 years delivering moments of rare, soaring pleasure to hundreds of thousands of individuals on a weekly basis, Messi looks joyful surprisingly infrequently. He tends, more often than not, toward the intense. He often looks concentrated, or focused, or intent.
Occasionally, he might look pensive, ruminative. More recurrently than he might need liked, particularly previously few years, he has had cause to look dissatisfied, either in himself or, more normally, a teammate. After which, after all, there may be Messi in despair: the Messi with the sagging shoulders and the hole eyes, watching his world crash down around him.
4 days ago, that was the Messi who had departed the sector at Lusail, his dreams in tatters. Argentina had been beaten by Saudi Arabia, an ignominy that can haunt the country for a while, a shame that will likely be spoken of only in whispers for years, and its World Cup — his World Cup — hung by a thread.
That ghost has been at Argentina’s shoulder all week. In its immediate aftermath, as Argentina’s disconsolate players headed back by bus to their hotel, Messi demanded that his teammates remain united. He promised the fans that they’d not be left “stranded” by a squad by which they’ve placed a lot hope.
He knew, though, that the one technique to dispatch ghosts was to confront them. Argentina had no selection but to return to Lusail, to face Mexico, and to manifest a special denouement. Defeat would end its involvement within the World Cup after just two games. Even a tie would go away it getting ready to elimination from a tournament it harbored real hopes of winning. Already, it had no margin for error.
A Temporary Guide to the 2022 World Cup
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What’s the World Cup? The quadrennial event pits one of the best national soccer teams against one another for the title of world champion. Here’s a primer to the 2022 men’s tournament:
Where is it being held? This 12 months’s host is Qatar, which in 2010 beat the USA and Japan to win the suitable to carry the tournament. Whether that was an honest competition stays in dispute.
When is it? The tournament opened on Nov. 20, when Qatar played Ecuador. Over the 2 weeks that follow, 4 games will likely be played on most days. The tournament ends with the ultimate on Dec. 18.
Is a winter World Cup normal? No. The World Cup normally takes place in July. But in 2015, FIFA concluded that the summer temperatures in Qatar might need unpleasant consequences and agreed to maneuver the tournament to the relatively bearable months of November and December.
What number of teams are competing? Thirty-two. Qatar qualified mechanically because the host, and after years of matches, the opposite 31 teams earned the suitable to come back and play. Meet the teams here.
How does the tournament work? The 32 teams are divided into eight groups of 4. Within the opening stage, each team plays all the opposite teams in its group once. The highest two finishers in each group advance to the round of 16. After that, the World Cup is a straight knockout tournament.
How can I watch the World Cup within the U.S.? The tournament will likely be broadcast on Fox and FS1 in English, and on Telemundo in Spanish. You’ll be able to livestream it on Peacock, or on streaming services that carry Fox and FS1. Here’s how one can watch every match.
When will the games happen? Qatar is three hours ahead of London, eight hours ahead of Recent York and 11 hours ahead of Los Angeles. Which means there will likely be predawn kickoffs on the East Coast of the USA for some games, and midafternoon starts for 10 p.m. games in Qatar.
Got more questions? We’ve got more answers here.
It showed. There was nothing imperious, nothing controlled about Argentina’s performance against Mexico. Lionel Scaloni’s team looked skittish from the primary minute, brittle in defense and angst-ridden in attack. Rodrigo De Paul, supposedly the commanding central midfielder, endured a five-minute period by which he accomplished three passes: to Alexis Vega, Hirving Lozano and Daniele Orsato. Two of those were playing for Mexico. The opposite was the referee.
Even when the breakthrough got here, it did little to ease the stress. The goal that broke the deadlock was scored, after all, by Messi; it was at all times going to be scored by Messi, at the very least partially since it was extremely clear by that stage that no one else on the sector — regardless of what color jersey they were wearing — was the slightest bit able to scoring.
All Messi required was all that he has ever required, the narrowest sliver of sunshine, the briefest hint of space. For the primary time all evening, Mexico left him unattended on the sting of the penalty area. He took one touch to regulate the ball and one other to comb a low effort into the one pocket of the goal that Guillermo Ochoa couldn’t quite reach.
Messi didn’t smile, then. There was nothing to smile about. As a substitute, he raced away, his arms outstretched, howling into the night. He ground to a halt in front of Argentina’s shirtless, delirious fans, all the frustration and embarrassment and stress pouring out of him. He didn’t look joyful. He looked determined, and intense, and just a bit of wild.
Besides, he knew that there was nothing to have a good time. Not yet. It will be something of a surprise if Messi was not, by now, conditioned to consider that the worst will occur in any given situation, to fear that there may be at all times some disaster lying in wait. Mexico still had 20 minutes to attain, to show every part on its head, to depart Argentina crestfallen and heartbroken over again.
Those previous couple of minutes should have seemed, to him, as in the event that they took an age. Mexico buzzed around, menacing Argentina’s penalty area without ever making a breakthrough. Argentina did what it could to waste time, to attract the air from the sport, to scrap by tooth and claw to carry what it already had.
Only when Fernández intervened did the storm break. It was the type of goal that will have been distinctly familiar to Messi: the ball on the 21-year-old Fernández’s feet on the corner of the penalty area, a defender looming directly in front of him. He shimmied his hips, just quick enough to destabilize his opponent, to knock him ever so barely off balance. He shifted his weight on to his left leg and swept a curling shot past Ochoa’s outstretched arm.
It was the type of goal that Messi has scored countless times — dozens, actually, probably a whole lot — over the course of a profession by which he has made the extraordinary look routine. This time, he seemed especially delighted that he had not been required to intervene yet again. He was the primary to succeed in Fernández, sweeping him right into a bear hug, lifting him from the bottom.
He did it with a broad grin. Messi, ultimately, was joyful, and he was determined to enjoy it. Soon after the ultimate whistle, he led his teammates over to the hundreds upon hundreds of Argentine fans, those who had taken this vast, gold-rimmed stadium, a literalist monument to the posh and the indulgence of this World Cup, and someway transformed a pocket of it into the Bombonera or the Monumental or the crumbling Nuevo Gasométro.
For a number of minutes, Messi stood there, his arms beating out a rhythm, his voice joining them in song. High above his head, within the soaring upper tier of the Lusail, an unlimited flag had appeared, two stripes of sky blue sandwiching one in all white. It stretched half the length of the grandstand, but had someway remained hidden until that moment. Now, it was unfurled. Messi was smiling, for the primary time in a protracted time, and Argentina was ready to indicate its true colours.