Rio de Janeiro.
The Fifa World Cup is a dais for the game’s greatest players to showcase their mercurial ability.
It is a tournament where legends of all time Pele, Diego Maradona, Johan Cruyff, Franz Beckenbauer and Zinedine Zidane etched their names into soccer folklore.
Lionel Messi is by all accounts one of the greatest to have played the game but he is hardly a World Cup great.
Going into Sunday’s match between Argentina and Bosnia Herzegovina, the dimunitive maestro had only one World Cup goal to his name and two quarter final exits with the Albiceleste.
It was an ugly start on a player who has frequently attracted comparisons with Maradona, widely acknowledged as the best player in the post-Pele era.
With Argentina opening at the Maracana, the ground where Pele struck his 1000th career goal in 1969 and one of world football’s most iconic sporting venues, Messi had to deliver.
And deliver he did with an archetypal strike in a game that almost deserted the Argentines. Sunday’s match was played before the biggest World Cup crowd yet of just over 74,000 and Messi knew the weight of expectation he was carrying on his shoulder. As the captain of Argentina and at an age considered by many to be the peak of many a player – he is 27 in eight days time, the Barcelona superstar was under scrutiny.The long-awaited full acceptance of Messi as their national team’s talisman has not been easy. He has continuously be seen as a ‘European’ back home in Argentina having risen to the top without going through his country’s league.
There has also been the lazy accusation that he reserves his best for Barcelona and doesn’t pull his weight when wearing national colours. Argentine fans have however finally warmed to the idea that Messi provides the team their best shot at winning the World Cup, a fact evidenced by the thousands of jerseys bearing his name at the Maracana.
The goal he took was a super strike for most players out there, but the kind we have come to expect from.
Picking the ball from the centre, he evaded a challenge and then played a one-two with Gonzalo Higuain before continuing with his run and finishing thunderously from just outside the box. It was classic Messi.
By his elevated standards, that was just about the only positive from a generally quiet game from him.
The Bosnians neutralised his threat for most of the game and will know they were beaten by a magician’s strike. The 2014 World Cup final will be played at the Maracana and Messi’s Argentina are playing to secure a first appearance in the final in 24 years.
With Messi fit and scoring goals, Argentina will be in Brazil for a long haul.
• Argentina captain Lionel Messi has scored 39 goals in 87 internationals
• Messi played 623 minutes of World Cup football between his first and second goal. His first goal (v Serbia & Montenegro) was scored on 16th June 2006
• Vedad Ibisevic has scored Bosnia-Hercegovina’s first goal in World Cup history
• Bosnia finished with more attempted shots (16) and more shots on target (6) than Argentina (12 and 2)