Dan’s World Cup diary by Dan Smith
You don’t need to be an expert in body language to recognise when standing for his national anthem, Messi was feeling the weight of expectation on his shoulders. In fact between the players, manager and fans in the crowd I’m yet to see an Argentine crack a smile at this World Cup.
Even before kick off against Russia you sensed this is not a happy camp, maybe it how they qualified but it’s almost like they are crippled by a fear of failure. Messi’s demeanour suggest something isn’t quite right and the moment they do exit the competition don’t be surprised if you hear stories of preparation not being right, bored in their day time, cliques, etc you know the usual excuses you get from the big teams every 4 years.
Messi though is not new to this. Pressure to be the main man, media obsessed with him, defenders ganging up on him, he’s faced all of that for over a decade. While some like to suggest he’s never produced his club form at international level, he still was player of tournament in Brazil and as recently as Ecuador away (in the last qualifier) he got a hat trick to yet again get his country out of jail.
So you could argue that this is the few times we have seen him freeze, not embrace the pressure, showing his opponents they are getting under his skin. It be going too far to say his talents are waning as he’s just won a domestic double with Barcelona. The only conclusion is something is troubling the best player in the world. It echoes Wayne Rooney’s rant into a TV camera after a 0-0 draw with Algeria. That told us all was not well behind the scenes in South Africa and that may be the case with the South Americans.
When they fell behind vs Croatia, they had 30 mins to get a goal. They were chasing an equaliser with an attack of Messi, Dybala and Higuain, Aguero started the game. Those are names who week after week are trusted to score in big matches, have won titles in Spain and Italy who are paid thousands to take moments by the scruff of the neck. How many El Classicos has Messi produced in, how many last min goals in his career, how many time the heroes for the Catalans.
Yet yesterday he lost his composure , his temperament and his nerve. Normally I back him to redeem himself against Nigeria but something for once is not right with Messi.