His name was ringing out into the darkness on the long road home to Uruguaiana, on the Argentine border, and well beyond, last night. Lionel Messi’s compatriots had made the 11-hour trek by road to belong to this World Cup campaign in some small way, and for the tens of thousands who did not even step inside the stadium, the journey was worth it because of him.
His relationship with his country has been a complicated one, ever since he left for Spain on an Aerolineas Argentinas jet as a 13-year-old.
The Buenos Aires locals expect their nation’s stars to play for one of the city’s clubs before they leave. But in one hour of football Messi added to the real notion that this tournament will all boil down to a two-man shoot-out between Neymar and him. Single-handedly, the Barcelona men have borne their countries into the second round. They have both scored four goals at this World Cup.
The Brazilians are ready for that match-up. Though the affection for Messi is something of a guilty secret in Sao Paulo, where shirts bearing his name are seen in a way that the detested Diego Maradona’s never were, Brazil feels its totemic player is the more complete of the two. But the Argentine is playing with an ease, conviction and a broad smile on his face. It will take something special to stop him travelling all the way to the Maracana on July 13. Another absorbing test of Louis van Gaal’s quality may lie ahead, when the Dutch are scheduled to meet the resurgent force of nature in a semi-final.
The suspicion remains, as it has throughout these past three weeks, that flaws exist around him. None in blue and white could hold a candle to his presence. No other member of the so-called ‘fantastic four – Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain and Angel di Maria – has found the net in this competition. The defence looked suspect. But the performance suggested that this nation is ready to unfurl itself on the knock-out stage, for all that.
Keshi keeps mum
over Suarez’s biting
As the world awaits the outcome of investigations
into the alleged biting incident involving Uruguay’s Luis Suarez, coach Stephen Keshi stayed out of the controversy when asked his opinion on the matter.
He looked round and asked back ‘’Did it happen? Are you sure it happened?. I don’t know. Please, no comment on that”, he said. Help also came his way from the FIFA official at the post match conference who informed the media to restrict their questions on the Nigeria and Argentina match.
FIFA has reportedly launched an investigation into
If there’s one thing that the governing body cares above all else, it’s the protection of its high-paying sponsors’ exclusivity. The rule ensures players don’t have underpants made by non-FIFA sponsors peeking out of their shorts.
The underwear alarm went off at FIFA headquarters when Neymar’s were partially exposed after he swapped shirts following Brazil’s 4-1 win over Cameroon. And if you think that this is all a big joke, consider that Denmark’s Nicklas Bendtner was fined €100,000 ($125,797) by UEFA (European football’s governing body) when he celebrated a goal by lifting up his shirt to reveal the name of a betting firm on the waistband of his underpants at Euro 2012. This isn’t the first time Neymar’s underwear has raised concerns from the football brand police. When a similar situation occurred while he played in a Champions League match for Barcelona two months ago, his press agent had to deny that it was an intentional marketing strategy.