Lionel Messi set up the free-kick in his preferred area: just outside the box and slightly to the right of centre, the perfect position for his fabled left foot to exhibit its customary artistry and precision.
But this time, instead of sweeping the ball into the top left-hand corner of the goalkeeper’s net in unstoppable fashion like he had done countless times before, he fired it over the crossbar.
In his five FIFA World Cup outings, his return from dead-ball situations has been surprisingly low, and this scene has been played out repeatedly.
The evening at Lusail Stadium seemed like a microcosm of all the World Cup frustrations Argentina have suffered this century.
With 64 minutes gone, the Albiceleste faithful were growing exasperated at another disappointing performance. The tension in the stands and on the pitch was palpable. The clock continued to tick down relentlessly, causing collective heart rates to rise as the South Americans’ situation became increasingly precarious.
A draw would not end their chances of making the round of 16, but it would certainly make life much more difficult. But Messi had not given up, and the magical moment would soon arrive.
Angel Di Maria picked up the ball on the left flank and surveyed his options. After a second or two of careful consideration, he spotted the iconic No10 – offered too much space by a Mexican defence that had been extremely vigilant up until that point – on the edge of the area.
What happened next was written in the stars: Messi gracefully took the bobbling pass in his stride and slammed a low, left-footed shot past the outstretched arm of Guillermo Ochoa into the bottom-right corner of the net.
The goal was more than a simple change to the scoreboard, more than a method of victory, more than the collection of three essential points; it provided relief.
Messi, yelling with delight, immediately sprinted towards the stands where his compatriots, who have been dreaming of World Cup glory ever since the long-awaited Copa America triumph last year, were rejoicing en masse.
On the bench, Pablo Aimar, who experienced the pain of a premature exit at Korea/Japan 2002, could not hold back his emotions.
Amid the chaos and impending despair, Messi was calmness personified. When the Argentinians rushed their passes and struggled to break down the seemingly impenetrable rearguard put in place by Mexico coach Gerardo Martino, Messi exuded composure.
When no-one was taking responsibility for the team’s creative duties, he dropped back and tried to do it himself, connecting the lines of a stretched-out XI in a role he has had to take on so many times in the past.
Even in those moments, in Argentina’s most lacklustre spell of the match, Messi was able to look a fellow old stager like Nicolas Otamendi in the eye and ask that everyone remain calm.
“It was a tricky game for us to bounce back in, because Mexico are a good team,” he explained post-match. “We played with a bit too much intensity in the first half, but in the second half we calmed things down a little and went back to our usual game.”
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