Do miracles play a role in football too?
S KUNJABIHARI SINGH
The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘miracle’ as, inter-alia, ‘marvel’ or ‘phenomenon’ or ‘prodigy’. Its adjective form is defined as ‘superhuman’ or ‘supernatural’, among others. For our purpose, in the context of outstanding performance bordering on an exceptional level of achievement or reaching the level of a marvelous attainment, can such a feat in the game of football, be classified as ‘miracle’? Can the performance of Leo Messi in Argentina’s win over Nigeria, with solid 2 goals to 1, be then, categorized as ‘miracle’? Keeping in mind the utterly lacklustre achievements in the match against Iceland which is now considered a minnow in the game of football, can this discharge against Nigeria be attributed as ‘God’s Gift of Miracle’ if not ‘God’s Hand’?
The odds were tremendous. With just one point out of a possible six and a lone goal secured against a debutant Iceland with considerable difficulty, followed by a soul-numbing defeat against Croatia, thus leaving him with only one goal to show for in 2 group games, Messi faced enormous pressure to face Nigeria. Why Messi; it’s simple - the whole team revolves around him. Argentina’s fate hung by a slender thread as this team led by a beleaguered Messi had to engineer a turn-around against Nigeria at the Zenit Arena. Achieving this feat against Nigeria was no mean assignment.
Given the utterly lackluster performance by Messi and his gang, the win against Nigeria appeared, to the pundits of the game, a near impossible expectation. An impossible expectation even for a player who is as versatile as Messi. To recall a few, he was crowned ‘FIFA World Player of the Year 2009’, winner of European Golden Shoe in 2018, 2017, 2013; Ballon d’Or, 2009. And to imagine that a team with Messi as anchor was deeply concerned about a win over Nigeria. That was as yet not the end of the uncertainty. Argentina had to await the out-come of the Croatia-Iceland match where necessarily Argentina had to pray for Croatia not to lose. Can one fathom the level of pressure on Messi where Argentina’s further progress depended on another teams’ performance? But that was the fate of Messi in this edition of World Cup. Only perhaps miracles can come to their rescue.
There was thus no other way for Argentina to reach the knock-out stage. It was ‘Now or Never’ for Argentina and as it had been going, the entire burden to achieve this feat rested on Messi. And Lo! Messi did it, Argentina evinced a win in this 3rd game. He even scored one in the 14th minute of play. A cross from the far left was tamed softly with his left thigh before shooting it at the far end, deep on the far left corner of the post. That goal invigorated the entire squad and Argentina came out a winner. Can this be still classified as a feat, a miracle?
On 21 June, a Thursday night at Nizhny Novgorod, Argentina faced Croatia. Messi and his boys had to brush aside the harsh memories of their subdued performance. In football however, theories and sermons hardly play a major role; for circumstances differ than anticipated earlier and new approaches have to be applied. The Barcelona star in Messi however could not click. One possible reason could be that apart from disappearance of ‘miracles’, the filling of slots around Messi was mostly with players of mediocre capability or more likely they could not reach the level of mutual understanding which Messi had in his club Barcelona.
As a club player in Barcelona, Messi is surrounded by luminaries of the likes of Luis Suarez , Neymar (before he left for PSG), with a host of support from other famous players like Andres Iniesta who is often considered as one of the best players in their positions. The combination under such an ideal situation should essentially click and Messi too clicked in a Barcelona shirt. Such a scenario could not be set up in the Argentina squad and Messi’s miracles were few and far between. This factor is often highlighted to the fore when soccer pundits analyze the alleged underperformance of Messi while representing his country. The charge is often brought up that Messi shines in the Club shirt rather than that of Argentina. If such an analysis has some truth, perhaps traces of ‘miracles’ could only come to the rescue of Messi or for that matter for any player of repute.
Miracle or not, Messi’s days in the world of football are widely read as coming to a close. And with that his miraculous goals would remain stories of the past. A player of such reputation could not lift the ‘cup’ in four attempts except in 2014 when Argentina was so close to the cup and yet remained far away losing to the Germans. Sadly his days are calculated as over. His days of mesmerizing the world are numbered. His No. 10 shirt, which is almost synonymous with him, is being snatched away by the hitherto unknown youngster of the name of Kylian Mbappe, a 19 year old French striker. He stole the limelight in France’s 4-3 win over Argentina in the round of 16 by scoring twice, a record for a teenager to score at least twice in a World Cup match since Pele versus Sweden in 1958.
Miracle or not, Messi in his fourth World Cup, carrying an enormous burden of expectations of the 43 million Argentinians back home, was engulfed in a thick cloud of despair. As his reputation called, Messi was deeply marked; he seemed lost in the forest of markers in the entire length and breadth of the pitch. His goal against France at the 14th minute looked too natural far from being ‘miracle’. Sadly though, they lost to France and had to rest content, though quietly licking the injury.
Miracle shows its face rarely; it cannot be claimed at will. Like the proverbial adage, “Fortune Favors the Prepared”, ‘miracle’ too favors the likes of Messi.