Messi's Golden Moment


Felicitaciones Argentina!

A thrilling rollercoaster of a final left us all happy.

The 2022 World Cup final was a great advert for the game, a class apart from the usual cagey affair (the 2014 final) or downright dregs (1990 and 2010).

Argentinians partied and fans everywhere rightly rejoiced. The happiest men however were the three on the podium at the end - Albiceleste captain Lionel Messi, FIFA President Gianni Infantino and the Emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.

Messi was elated, Infantino felt vindicated and relieved and the Emir was delighted the final had entertained the world and pitched his most famous employee against his PSG teammate Kylian Mbappe, who netted five goals between them. The old master had beaten the boy wonder, but only just. 

It was not quite a see-saw as France never led the game, but their Lazarus comeback and Messi's eventual triumph felt like the best World Cup final ever. With arguably the greatest player of all time winning the greatest honour at long last, the crescendo could not really have gone any better.

Messi's Golden Moment.
Did all three men win the 2022 World Cup?

The 35 year-old bagging the big prize at the end of his career eclipsing an opponent scoring a hat-trick in the final echoed 38 year-old Stanley Matthews, the 'Wizard of Dribble', finally winning the F.A. Cup in 1953 while Stan Mortensen scored three.

Messi is the modern ball wizard and 2022 will always be remembered as his dream coming true after four false dawns, although FIFA and Qatar did their best to own his golden moment, astonishingly making him don a Qatari bisht shawl over his national colours before handing him his longed-for World Cup.

Britain's Daily Telegraph called it a "bizarre act that ruined the greatest moment in World Cup history." "Why, just why?" despaired ex-Argentina international Pablo Zabaleta amongst many others.

Money talks is the easiest answer. Qatar had already bought the world's best players, two hostings of the FIFA Club World Cup as well as the 2022 World Cup. The Arab takeover of European clubs continues. But there come moments when soccer's soul is sold and the bisht was one such.

The host muscling in like that had never happened before and hopefully never will again. It was Messi's and Argentina's moment, not FIFA's and certainly not Qatar's, even though that nation pays his wages via PSG.

The hosts could have dressed him in the bisht on the victory lap or that evening in Doha as Argentina went on an open-top bus parade (like the second official ball, another World Cup first which smacked of appropriation), but Qatar wanted that moment to be theirs.

For a country apparently so eager to earn the watching world's approval it was an almighty faux pas after so many right moves this past month - the World Cup had passed off with great football and next to no trouble, transport breakdowns or on-field scandals. Sepp Blatter's warning that Qatar was "too small" to host the event had proved wrong.

A clash of civilisations was always going to happen and the West duly responded with dismay over Qatar's Kafala system of modern slavery, the secondary status of women and the absence of any LGBT rights. The World Cup was a useful forum for debating multiculturalism, national sovereignty and universal human rights, but nobody expected football's traditions to be trampled on at the final.

Whatever Qatar's protestations of goodwill, the robe did feel like an act of desecration of a sacred ceremony. The raising of the trophy has been compared symbolically to the priest's raising of the communion host. With football often called a religion, the faithful were rightly aghast. 

Messi did not seem to mind, lost in the moment of having found his Holy Grail. Despite being a genius on the field, the player once nicknamed 'the little flea' is a rather simple soul, never giving an illuminating interview and leaving journalists wondering whether there is anything more to the kind and quiet man than meets the eye.

Messi's quest for the ultimate prize is over.
Messi's quest for the ultimate prize is over

FIFA are ultimately to blame for ending on a tawdry note and Infantino was guilty for hovering around Messi after the prizegiving until allegedly the Emir himself had to drag him away. "Nobody marked him that tightly during the game," Gary Lineker joked.

Infantino had spent a month fronting the event but saw his image booed at the Lusail stadium. Many fans still have not forgiven FIFA's bribed executive committee for choosing Qatar, for the winter hosting, the human rights issues, ticket prices, lack of beer or Infantino's rant on the eve of the tournament when he said Europe should apologise for 3,000 years of colonialism, a timeframe that is at least a millennium out.

The Blatter reign lost all credibility and ended in a quagmire of arrests and dismissals for corruption. Infantino took over and tried to present a tabula rasa but as he steams on with plans for a 48-nation World Cup and a 32-team Club World Cup, he seems to be losing the respect of the world too.

As I have said before, it seems churlish to blame Qatar alone when their wealth derives from fossil fuels the rest of the world laps up. As British thermometers plunged below zero as the World Cup progressed, millions of UK boilers were lit with Qatari gas to keep us warm.

FIFA is a curious entity, a global power without a land to call its own, whose leader has the red carpet rolled out for him wherever he goes. Qatar 2022 only made this oddity more powerful than ever.

To those with negative preconceptions, the bisht finale confirmed allegations of sportswashing and a soft power agenda. But FIFA and Qatar did not care what the rest of us thought. Their big show had ended with a bang, followed by fireworks. Job done.

Asking for perfection is unrealistic. Messi & pals won our admiration but were unsportsmanlike in gloating over the Dutch after their quarter-final win and serenaded the reporters in the final's mixed zone with an Argentina ditty featuring the line "F**king journalists". How charming.

At an estimated $220 billion, Qatar had outspent all previous World Cups combined to put on the greatest show and its success has prompted jealous neighbours Saudi Arabia to announce a bid for the 2030 event.

It is hard, but as a fan who never dreamed money could take the World Cup to the winter in the Middle East, I will try to remember Qatar 2022 instead for the wonderful football matches over the past month and the pinnacle of a true magician's career.

Bravo Messi campeon!

Qatar 2022

Al Rihla Official Ball

Cristiano Ronaldo Dropped

Qatar 50/50

Qatar v Ecuador - Opening Match

Qatar is the World's Cup

Hakuna Matata

Hotels in Doha

Images of Qatar

Offside Technology

Opening Ceremony

Super Sunday

The Calling

World Cup Stats

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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