Dhe stadium in Lusail hasn’t seen too many football matches, it’s new like most arenas in Qatar. It was built primarily for the finale of this world championship and what else it will experience until then, who knows?
But it can already be said with certainty that there will hardly be a louder goal scream than on this Saturday evening, 11:24 p.m. local time. The deafening noise was triggered by Lionel Messi, his powerful shot with his left foot put those who supported Argentina’s Selección in a state of emergency.
And there were many, very many. Thousands of compatriots have set out for the country of the host, for days they have been turning the capital Doha into a noisy marketplace wherever they turn up. Add to that all the people from the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia who are siding with Lionel Messi.
They all later left the stadium singing and celebrating, drunk with joy as they headed into the balmy night of Doha, knowing their team was back in the tournament. Argentina beat Mexico 2-0 but still need to beat Poland in their last game to be sure of reaching the round of 16.
Nothing less than a World Cup exit was to be feared for Argentina after the surprising defeat at the start against Saudi Arabia (1:2). The pressure was on the side, having traveled to Qatar as favorites after 36 games unbeaten.
Usually, the sky-blue and white jersey of the Argentines is only a few grams light, an airy shred of fabric, breathable anyway. In the worst case, however, it can also turn into chain mail. Then it presses its wearer on the chest, pulls him to the ground with the weight of history and refuses to absorb the sweat of sheer fear.
After that it initially looked against Mexico. Argentina had to win, Mexico could win. The Mexicans used their psychological advantage by putting their opponents under pressure early on. Argentina shouldn’t be comfortable with the ball at their feet, whenever a sky blue had it there were at least two Mexicans there to interrupt.
Every tackle, every duel won was cheered by a green wall that faced the sky-blue and white one. Mexicans are hardly less keen to travel, and they too are represented by a huge fan base in Qatar.
Despite all their defensive zeal, the Mexicans forgot to do even the slightest thing on the offensive. Argentina fought their way into the game better and better and because the Mexicans literally fought with everything they had, the players were sometimes more on the ground than they were playing.
Countless fouls, some bordering on the permissible, made the encounter as unsightly as a battle of attrition is unsightly.
As against Saudi Arabia, Argentina lacked any confidence in their own abilities, especially up front. The team lacks automatisms, especially in the first half they gave the impression of being a construct of eleven lone fighters. That had often been the case in the past.
If she was saved in such times, it was usually through a flash of inspiration from Messi. It was the same this time. After just over an hour of struggle and spasm, Messi got the ball twenty yards from goal, just as he’d gotten there countless times before. And as so often he took off, bottom right, that’s his corner.
Mexico goalkeeper Ochoa stretched, knowing the ball was going there and yet he couldn’t stop it. The result was a hurricane of joy and relief, also for Messi. With outstretched arms he ran towards the curve, it was his moment to get here.
A historic one at that because it was his eighth goal at a World Cup. In doing so, he drew level with another Argentinian who had also worn the number ten: Diego Armando Maradona.
Maradona died almost two years ago to the day. Coach Lionel Scaloni had announced that he wanted to make him happy if he was to watch from heaven.
“Thank God,” Messi exclaimed in the winner’s interview: “We knew we had to be strong, it was a very difficult game.” Carried by the euphoria of the fans and their exceptional player with the “10”, it came soon afterwards better for the “Albiceleste” “although we were a bit nervous after the first game”, admitted Messi.
Mexico responded by not responding. As in the first game against Poland (0:0), the team failed to create anything like danger. On the contrary. Argentina were finally in control, pressing for the second goal and being rewarded by Enzo Fernandez. Worth seeing, he made it 2-0 by curling the ball into the far corner.