x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Messi's flash of brilliance lights up Doha

A late goal gives Argentina their first win over Brazil in the last six meetings between the football-furious South American neighbours.

Argentina's Lionel Messi celebrates after scoring against Brazil.
Argentina's Lionel Messi celebrates after scoring against Brazil.

DOHA // Just when an electric meeting in Qatar seemed destined for an unfitting goallessness, a little blur went tearing up the pitch at Khalifa International Stadium and wrought a measure of drama uncommon for a friendly.

That torrential sight would be a familiar light-blue No 10 shirt, and by the time Lionel Messi had finished a fine dash of his singular flair in the wane of added time, Argentina had its first win over Brazil in the last six meetings between the football-furious South American neighbours.

Just beyond one minute into the two added on, Messi started a move in midfield, sending a ball to teammate Ezequiel Lavezzi, a half-time replacement for Gonzalo Higuain. In a brisk second Lavezzi back-passed it to a charging Messi.

As if determined to curtail an odd national-team drought that had seem him score only once in his past nine Argentina matches and twice in his last 17, Messi moved forward barely noticing the four Brazilian defenders surrounding him.

Feigning right, he darted left to elude David Marinho and Thiago Da Silva before setting up a left-footed strike that took the ground route past a wrong-guessing Victory Bagy in the Brazilian goal.

Those clad in light blue in the sold-out crowd of 52,000 exulted, as did some Qataris hoping for goals and as did Sergio Batista, Argentina's former player and newly-appointed manager overseeing just his fourth game for the national side and first since a 1-0 loss to Japan brought his lone blemish thus far.

Messi, bolting to the left corner to celebrate, became mobbed by teammates almost as if the match counted in some competition.

It did count to Qatar in the competition for the 2022 World Cup, as the small Gulf nation showcased the Brazil-Argentina match as part of its final push to convince Fifa of its worthiness for the event football's governing body will bestow in Switzerland on December 2.

All through the day, vendors sold Argentina and Brazil scarves and flags at traffic circles. Fans of each side turned up hours before the match and stood in orderly lines, while some of the 1,000 Brazilian citizens who reside in Qatar sought tickets and noted the difficulty of attaining them in recent weeks.

The stadium lit up part of the city and buzzed with anticipation leading up to kick-off. Some Qataris wore Argentina or Brazil flags over their thobes. The attending football dignitaries included Sir Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United manager, and the retired French World Cup winner Zinedine Zidane, both supportive of the Qatar bid and seated adjacent to each other in easy chairs in the stadium.

Once underway, the match proved full of the expected creativity even as neither side could score all the way through the first 90 minutes. Messi had several chances for Argentina, including a searing drive in the 39th minute that squeezed just past the left post. Ronaldinho and Robinho, meanwhile, created chances for Brazil, the former looking vivacious on his return to the national side after a 19-month absence and the latter missing the target on two occasions from the edge of the box.

In the 22nd minute, Ronaldinho, the AC Milan playmaker, delighted the crowd by using his right heel off a corner kick in a vain attempt to surprise Nicolas Pareja, the Argentine goalkeeper.

Ronaldinho was eventually substituted in the 73rd minute, just before Robinho's best chance brought some gasps in the five minutes from regulation time, and 17 minutes before the game seemed to end on scoreless until Messi started running.

 

cculpepper@thenational.ae