Ah Aziz. You did it now. The second it happened, Argentinian players knew there was only one way for it to end. Anyone who has watched Lionel Messi a lot has, and there has been plenty to watch. As they left the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium, the scene of his 1,000th game, team-mate Alexis Mac Allister was laughing, at the seeming inevitability of it all. Australia had the wrong guy: it’s not a knife, this is a knife.
With 10 minutes to go before half-time, there had been few signs of a breakthrough, and Messi had given away the ball the last two times he had it, when he and Aziz Behich faced off on the right sideline. The Dundee United player burst in, grabbed his shirt and had a word or five. Shortly after, he also gave a free kick, for a foul on Alejandro Gómez. Messi took the free kick, fast. Within seconds, Argentina had taken the lead and their captain scored his 789th career goal – seven hundred eighty nine – and his first in a World Cup knockout.
Opposite the touchline, Messi had rolled it towards Mac Allister, turned around and continued towards the area. “I always try to give him a pass, to get the ball to him because if he has it, everything is much easier,” said the midfielder, three hours later, but this this time it was different. Yet if one of those rare moments when he wasn’t looking for Messi, he found him anyway, as if the ball had its own will. And, let’s face it, which feet would you rather the ball land on?
“The pass was for Otamendi, but it came to Messi, which was a bit of a surprise,” admitted Mac Allister, mission accomplished so accidentally. Otamendi lost control – ‘I told Leo it was an assist,’ he later joked – but Messi saved him, took a throw-in and then played another pass, that times in the net. The shot went through the legs of Stoke’s Harry Souttar – alas it wasn’t wet or Wednesday – and past Matty Ryan’s dive. It was Argentina’s first shot on target and his first time in the box.
“It’s probably the only chance I’ll ever have to share the pitch with arguably the greatest to ever do it. [and] it’s a bit surreal, a moment of reflection at the end: looking back and saying to yourself that you have to compete with one of the greats, ”said Australian Jackson Irvine. “What stands out is his understanding of the game, the way he picks and chooses his moments to come to life. And when he does, it’s hard to stop. We controlled him so well for most of the first half, but it’s that little moment, that half yard that you give him. We’ve seen it hundreds of times: so ruthless, so clinical, and ultimately that was the difference.
There was just a doubt. Did Messi choose this moment himself? Or had Behich – who, it must be said, came close to scoring the World Cup goal when he was for a moment more Messi than Messi – had he chosen it by chance for him? A rule dating back years reads: do not get mad “La Pulga”. Behich had done that, awakening something in him, the animal within, and the payback was quick. After all, when it was later suggested that the Argentine players’ first thought upon seeing the foul was “oh, you fool”, that they could see it coming, Mac Allister laughed. “Sure, sure,” he replied.
“When those things happen, it brings out the fire that he has inside, the personality that he has, and it makes him even bigger than he is,” said the midfielder of Brighton. “He always tries to give his best, but those moments work for him, they are useful: he plays even better and in games like that he is even better. It has those keys that pop up out of nowhere and win you the game.
“He’s the most important player we have: he knows it, he helps us a lot and we’re proud to have him,” said Mac Allister. “I like playing with him, it makes me happy: for me, he is the best player in the history of the world.”
Not everyone agrees at home. Mac Allister’s father, Carlos “Colorado” Mac Allister only played three times for Argentina, his international career lasted less than a month and played two matches against Australia in the qualifiers that led them at the 1994 World Cup and a friendly against Germany. the middle. At least he can still say that his captain was then the other great Argentinian number 10, Diego Maradona. Her son’s captain is the man who tries to imitate her.
“We still have that argument,” Mac Allister Jr. said. “For my father, Maradona was very important, not just in his career but in his personal life and he is very grateful for that. For me, it’s a pride to be next to Leo and to play with him. For me , it’s obviously the best in history. We argue: he says Maradona is the best ever; I say it’s Messi. It’s a discussion that I think will never end.