Lionel Messi enthusiastic performances in Qatar Globalism The trophy has earned him a lot of love from the Argentines, but their old favorite Diego Maradona may resurface unless he brings home the trophy for his last-ditch effort.
The two diminutive and formidable players wowed the world with their prolific goals and strikingly similar patterns, relying on a low center of gravity to swerve and zig-zag their way through defences, the ball sticking with shimmering feet.
However, only Maradona, who died two years ago, has won the biggest trophy. He pulled a mediocre team behind him in 1986 when the ‘Hand of God’ goal against England became a symbol of national defiance after the ignominy of the Falkland War defeat.
For years, Argentine fans have said that no matter how many trophies and titles Messi won with Barcelona, he wouldn’t be able to match Maradona until he lifted the World Cup.
Why was he so shy and withdrawn, they asked, when the lovable scoundrel Maradona had amused them so much with jokes, songs and speeches full of insults against authority?
Even Messi was a true Argentine anyway, some, especially older fans, grumbled. After all, he left for Spain at the age of 13 while Maradona was more of one of them, born in a slum and working his way through local clubs including Boca Juniors.
Messi is, of course, more successful in goals and titles than Maradona, even surpassing his national debut this week as he led Argentina to the World Cup last 16. And he maintained his impressive physique while Maradona succumbed to drugs and wild living in ways that frustrated and saddened even his most loyal fans.
Those close to Messi say that while his shyness may have hidden him in the past, there has always been nothing he craved more than to bring glory to Argentina. That passion was exposed when he broke down in tears after leading Argentina to the 2021 Copa America, their first major trophy in 28 years.
“Argentines have always had a love-hate relationship,” said Gustavo Franchini, 44, an Argentine fan in Buenos Aires.
“We always compare him to Maradona, who won the World Cup 36 years ago, ever since when we didn’t win again… Everyone says he has to win the World Cup to achieve Maradona’s prestige, and many, like me, believe that even then,” he said. Maradona carried the 1986 team almost single-handedly.
In Qatar, on Messi’s fifth and final quest, he has been the beating heart of the team and it seems Argentina have as good a chance as any of lifting the trophy on December 18.
Filling stadiums in Qatar and bars and parks back home, fans supported Messi throughout, cheering for his two goals, cheering him on after penalty misses, and proudly displaying his image on countless flags and banners.
Many of the banners show Messi and Maradona together, some of them depicting the late No. 10 smiling from heaven at his heir. Messi himself opened up emotionally to rally the team and the nation after the shock defeat to Saudi Arabia. He celebrated goals massively with the crowd and led celebratory songs on the pitch and in the dressing room after wins over Mexico and Poland.
Another fan, Facundo Moreno, 39, also in the Argentine capital, said: “After the Copa America he seems to be feeling relaxed, he’s more relaxed, he’s enjoying it.”
“For me, Messi has always felt and done everything he could for the national team, from his first game until now. He is my idol,” he added. Maradona has completely different personalities but on the pitch they both do the same thing.”
Marcelo Sutil, sports journalist and author of a book on Messi, said that while his clean-cut image and suave personality reflect the kind of person Argentines aspire to be, the rebellious Maradona reflects more of his truth.
But he told Reuters there is a generational gap between those who remember and appreciate Maradona. Most of the younger fans are less prejudiced against Messi.
“I have an 18-year-old son who never questioned Messi, never said ‘You play good for Barcelona but not for Argentina’,” he said. “Messi has struggled with being a star revered at Barcelona but often under attack here in Argentina.”
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