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For Lionel Messi, now is everything

Doha, Qatar – “Now is everything” is a trademarked phrase used by the organizers of Qatar 2022. On Sunday, it couldn’t be more apt.

The stage for a grand send-off is set at the Lusail Stadium. Audience numbers will be touching 89,000. Billions around the world will be watching.

On paper and on the pitch, Argentina will face France in the 2022 World Cup final at Lusail Stadium. But for most, it has been billed as a Messi show. He’s destined to be the host of soccer’s greatest show coming to an end, and Rosario’s boy coming to the pinnacle of his career.

That’s what the script says, at least.

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The culmination of the first World Cup in the Middle East on Sunday will be Messi’s last appearance in the tournament. It’s not so much that he wants to leave that indelible mark on this tournament, and emulate the great Diego Maradona, it’s that he and the millions who follow him around the world want the World Cup to be Messi’s World Cup, the last, yours. the best, his only.

The episodes leading up to this ending have certainly highlighted that story and pointed to that very happy ending (not for France, of course).

Messi scored in Argentina’s first match at Qatar 2022, a shock loss to Saudi Arabia.

Messi scored in the most recent, a stunning humiliation of last year’s finalists Croatia.

In the middle, he scored three more and provided an assist that not only reaffirmed his status, his stature and his presence as a giant, but sent the disbelievers to put his pot of gold next to the blue and white stripes.

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“It’s just Messi, wallah (by God), it’s just Messi,” said Mohammad Nahawi, a Brazil fan who was in awe of Messi after Argentina’s show against Croatia in the semi-final.

“I support Brazil but I love Messi. This guy, Wallah. It is 99.9 percent him and 0.01 percent the rest of the players. [on the team]. No one can stop this guy.”

Messi’s is a tragic story, of incomplete dreams, of unfulfilled desires and of heights he dreams of. But by Sunday, the stage is set, the script is written, and the lawn is being watered. It is quite possible that the dream will come to completion, desires will be fulfilled, heights will be reached.

The ball dances to its rhythm, just like the sport. But he hasn’t done it yet. Not until he lifts the trophy that matters most to him, to the country, to those billions who wear the number 10 stripes and chant his name in Rosario, Kerala, Dhaka, Bangkok and Doha.

“Pfft, there are no words for him, he is Messi,” said Dong, who traveled to Qatar from China to watch Messi play. “He’s just been…so perfect. And he has shown us those divine moments. You can’t stop it, no way. Argentina will be champion and Messi will lift the trophy”.

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There has been extraordinary demand for Messi’s number 10 shirts as he progressed to the final. It was sold out in some countries and sold out in others.

The demand was such that Adidas issued a statement saying the company was “working to bring more jerseys to fans so they can celebrate an incredible journey for the national team.”

“He is the special one, the best, the crazy one, call him what you want, he is the one,” said Federico, born in Rosario, the city that gave Messi to the world.

“Nobody can take the ball away from him, he’s just in that place right now. He is having the best World Cup of his and we are very proud of him and what he has done so far”.

When the final whistle blew in the semi-final against Croatia, Messi was alone on the midfield line. He looked up, looked down, and hunched over before hugging the alternates.

He realized that he was within arm’s reach of fulfilling his dream, the dream of a nation and the millions who wore the blue and white stripes with the 10 on their backs.

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France have already lost once in this tournament. But they want to become the third team to win back-to-back world cups (Italy 1934 and 1938, Brazil 1958 and 1962), so a victory will not be handed on a platter.

It can’t just be about Messi at the Lusail Stadium on Sunday. But having seen the trail he has left in the last month, and how the tranquility of a late November afternoon was shattered with utter disdain by the celebrating Argentine fans against Mexico, he might as well be.

Messi is the joint top scorer of the 2022 World Cup with five goals [Paul Childs/Reuters]

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