As Argentine football hung by a tenuous gossamer, clinging to the last few blinks of life, he stooped over the ball before the free-kick, aware of the cosmic weight of the moment. ‘It’s now or it’s never,’ intoned the commentator, and no one knew this better than Lionel Messi. Redemption was only a kick of a ball away.
‘He has done it before,’ the voice told us, that enchanted, unbelievably curling kick into the goal post as mere men have stood mesmerized, but Messi was just not there. I waited with a football in my throat, a premonition thumping in the chest louder and louder, my entrails dribbling themselves into a knotty mesh, before he thwacked the ball. It went sailing over the goal post, it was not to be, it was not to be. It was just not Argentina’s day —not after Gonzalo Higuaín missed the sitting duck of a goalpost by a mile in the first half of the game. There are blunders that hang on your neck like an albatross, and then there are blunders that hang on your opponent’s neck like a world cup.
Phlegm has replaced the constriction in my throat since that night, and I am down with flu. A million words have sprouted elsewhere as I scribble this too, a zillion columns filled complimenting the Germans for their rhythm and perseverance, pooh-poohing the Argentines for their missed chances. I hear of records broken over Twitter and elsewhere.
Now I have always admired Germany as a nation and for the grit and determination of its citizens. The moment must be especially sweet for them as they kiss the cup as a united land and I congratulate them. I’d be the last clown to cast an evil eye on their fortune, try and dampen the dazzle of Goetze’s perfect goal. But my heart goes out decidedly to Messi, the man who can waltz through a bunch of bulls and yet not lose the ball, the man who can lob the one pound sphere over a clump of unbelieving heads into the net like a lark, but the man who may never play in a World Cup Final again, nevertheless. And then he deserved so much more than the Golden Ball that he would rather not take.
Don’t cry foul for an award Mr Maradona, you should be grateful to Messi that his heart is still with Argentina rather than Spain, his foster country. Perhaps you should be grateful too that he was the spark that ushered the team to the finals and almost led them through it.