Messi has the whole world believing
Step aside Cristiano Ronaldo, step aside Neymar. Lionel Messi is here, and he is here for business.
With every match of this World Cup, we are witnessing what the Argentine master can do with the ball at his feet and how he can rally the team around him towards achieving the only title that eludes him – the FIFA World Cup.
The motto of the Qatar World Cup is 'now is all'. It is difficult to imagine what the slogan actually means, but at this stage it won't be too fanciful to think that it was aimed at the magician from Rosario, for this will definitely be his last World Cup. After leading the Albiceleste to the final of the showpiece event, Messi confirmed this after a jaw-dropping performance against Croatia in the first semi-final, scoring one and setting up another in a 3-0 win.
"I feel very happy to be able to achieve this, to finish my World Cup journey by playing my last game in a final," Messi told Argentine media outlet Diario Deportivo Ole after the match on Tuesday.
"It's many years for the next one and I don't think I'll be able to do it. And to finish like this, it's the best," added the Argentina captain.
Messi has indeed been playing these matches as if these were his last. At 35 years of age, he is showing the touches which made him an absolute favourite across the globe and he is stepping up as the team's leader.
He scored the opener against Croatia from a spot kick for his fifth goal of the campaign to surpass Gabriel Batistuta as the highest scorer in World Cups for Argentina with 11 goals, while appearing in a record-equalling 25th (alongside Lothar Matthaus of Germany) match in World Cup.
Now he has won four player-of-the-match awards in this World Cup alone, making him the player with the most player-of-the-match awards (9) in history.
It is not just the goals that Messi is coming up with, it seems every move of the team is incomplete without a magical touch from him. At this late age of his career, he is giving a lesson to defenders how not to defend. His bullying of Croatia centre-back Jasko Gvardiol throughout the entire match, and more specifically the third goal when he twisted and turned, took a pause and then twisted and turned again to tee up Julian Alvarez will go down as perhaps the standout assist of this World Cup.
Apart from a few spells in the first half when Argentina had looked a little overwhelmed by the passing of the Croats, they were the ones running the show, with Messi at the heart of every move and his teammates stepping up.
The most complete performance from Messi and the whole of the Argentina team, it looked as if the teammates were all playing for Messi and Messi was carrying Argentina to the inevitable glory.
Argentina came into this World Cup as South American champions and with a 36-match unbeaten record. The defeat against Saudi Arabia in the first match now looks like an aberration in a long string of fine performances.
After that defeat Messi was the one who spoke to the reporters at the mixed zone, saying how he believed this Argentina team could pick themselves up from dust and go all the way. Many would have laughed off the suggestion at that stage, but Messi believed and now he has the whole of his team and the whole of the world believing.