Football Messiah shepherds Argentina to World Cup berth

Football Messiah shepherds Argentina to World Cup berth
Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi

DIVINE intervention, a holy trinity of goals on a night when a special saviour offered redemption and deliverance, it’s simply impossible not to reach for old religious language, because it’s now so easy to make the argument that Lionel Messi is the greatest of all time.
That is still one of those eternal debates that will never be settled no matter how many times the few players in history at his level have done something like this, but there could be no debate about what happened in Quito, and what happened in this entire qualifying campaign for Argentina.
Messi dragged his team to the World Cup on his own, or at least as much as any individual ever can in a team game. He was this time really that deeply influential, that depended upon, as he hit the gold-standard achievement of a hat-trick of goals to bring Argentina from behind to beat Ecuador 3-1 and thereby from behind in the South American table to qualify directly.
In doing so, the great man did not just save his country. He also ensured that the national team’s wretched performances beyond his individual striving did not drag down his legacy, did not deny him a place on football’s greatest stage while still on his greatest level. Instead, their atrocious form only burnished that legacy, because he defied it. That form merely offered Messi another way to show his genius, using the multiple strands of that genius to live up to one of the various definitions of the word: to solve a complex puzzle, to get out of a hole.
Not even Diego Maradona had to do this, in a team under-performing like this. This was the “Hand of God” in a different way, and the way he did it was even more impressive than the bold bald fact that Messi scored a hat-trick to deliver his side to the World Cup.
Messi’s Argentina fell behind after 44 seconds in Ecuador, but the great man produced his 44th career hat-trick just when his country needed him. 
Incredibly, only two “players” scored for Argentina in their final eight World Cup qualifiers: Messi, and own goal. 
Football fans of all stripes were paying homage to Messi’s display of brilliance in a clutch situation and cherish the fact he will be in Russia for what could be his last World Cup. 
Speaking after the game, Argentina boss Jorge Sampaoli told a press conference: “I told the group: Messi did not owe the World Cup to Argentina, but football owed the World Cup to Messi. The nationality of the best player in the world is luckily Argentine,” he said.
“Football, the World Cup, could not be left (the same) without Messi. We had to play with that in mind. As a consequence of that pressure we are stronger now, this qualification will make us stronger to face the future.
“We had the possibility to help him to be in another World Cup. He is the best player in the history of soccer and I’m very excited to be in a group near him.” With Argentina facing the dire possibility of missing out on a World Cup for the first time since 1970, but now Messi has realistically one final shot at leading them to glory. Their defensive problems and lack of team cohesion will concern Sampaoli, but Messi is used to carrying a team on his shoulders and will need to do so again in Russia. 
Cristiano Ronaldo lifted the European Championship with Portugal, shouting them on from the sidelines after picking up an injury in the final, and Messi will be desperate to emulate his rival. 

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