LIONEL Messi twisted and turned to leave Croatian defender Josko Gvardoil chasing his shadows and when Julian Alvarez turned in his low cross from the byline, the 35-year-old opened his arms in accepting the adulation of the Argentina supporters gathered behind that goal at the Lusail Stadium on Tuesday night.
Argentina had a three-goal lead with 20 minutes to go. They were heading to the final for Messi’s date with destiny; the deliverance of the title he and his nation have craved for so long here in Qatar.
Eight years on from their disappointment in the World Cup final against Germany in Brazil, there is a feeling that now is the time for their talisman to script the perfect ending. When the full time whistle blew on Argentina’s 3-0 win, Messi stood on the centre circle before his team-mates gathered around him. When he smiled for the world, perhaps the departed Diego Maradona, the man who led Argentina to their last title in 1986, smiled from the skies. On the touchline, Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni had tears in his eyes.