Argentina’s vast support gathered in their thousands at Qatar’s Energy City adjacent to the vast Lusail Stadium with only one man on their minds as they faced World Cup jeopardy.
Lionel Messi has carried the hopes of this football-mad nation for most of his career, but there was an added layer of tension as Argentina confronted old rivals Mexico in an ear-splitting atmosphere on the stage that will host the final.
Argentina knew defeat would effectively end their World Cup after two games following the embarrassment of the loss to Saudi Arabia in the opener. Messi knew this would mean the major honour that has eluded his grasp in a glittering career would be forever out of reach.
Messi was, once again, shouldering the burden of Argentina’s expectations – and once again he delivered by pulling out a piece of trademark magic when they needed it most to change the course of an attritional game, and perhaps even change the course of his team’s World Cup in the process.
The clock showed 64 minutes. Each passing second turned up the pressure valve on Argentina and, in turn, on Messi. He knows any Argentina failure on this stage, justified or not, can be painted as Messi’s failure.
He had been on the margins but took centre stage to devastating effect as Mexico fell victim to the magical left foot that has broken the hearts of so many opponents.
One touch delicately killed the pass from Angel di Maria. The second touch arrowed a low finish into the bottom corner past the outstretched left arm of Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa.