Jorge Sampaoli’s men are through to the last 16 thanks to a late winner against Nigeria. More importantly, their key player seems to be getting back to his best Former national team coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino said it best this week: Argentinians can’t live without conflict. The team is a microcosm of that culture. So, a day after the country went on a general strike, Argentinians looked to Messi and Co to vent their feelings. And when Argentina scored the winner against Nigeria to put them through to the last 16 of the World Cup, those feelings even spilled through to cable news reports on the economy:
Minutes later the tabloid channel Crónica TV, back at the same park where crying fans were christened the “faces of pain”, led with the easiest joke they could. “Light blue, white … and red” punning off the colors of Argentina’s flag and the surname of Marcos Rojo, who scored the winner against Nigeria.
Earlier in the day, Crónica TV had hired a body language expert to decode the difference between Lionel Messi’s “emotions” in his pre-game routine with Diego Maradona’s during that 1989 warm-up. As always with Crónica, the mission was to rile up the passions of their older viewers. The body language didn’t reveal too much: he threw around the word “kinesthetic”, and talked up El Diego as some 80s rock played in the background.
But to understand the reaction, the context of the five-day lead up is necessary. The prospect of a unspeakably early exit brought about a firestorm in Argentina. Everyone and their mother had something to complain about after Croatia routed Jorge Sampaoli’s best eleven. Hours after the Croatia match, an audio clip spread around WhatsApp. Its authenticity is unclear but it appeared to capture Diego Simeone airing his grievances about the Argentina team to his Atletico Madrid assistant German Burgos. “What’s happening to the team right now is what has happened to Argentina in these last four disgraceful years: anarchy, no leadership from the players, coaches or directors. The team is lost … Right now in the dressing room they are coming to blows. Someone needs to stand up and fight.” The clip ends with Simeone apparently dropping a rhetorical bomb: “Who would you rather have on your team right now? Cristiano or Messi?”
But it turns out Messi isn’t done quite yet. His masterful goal put Argentinaup in the first-half and Sebastian Fest in La Nacion hailed the return of a familiar hero. “[Fans were celebrating] the fact that ha team that had seemed empty, exhausted, even dead, could mutate, change their skin and find something new … and Messi played angry. What great news!” Indeed, Fest believes Monday’s performance will have disturbed Argentina’s next opponents. “France have reasons to be worried: the clearest conclusion is it is impossible to know what to expect from [Argentina]. They can crawl across the grass, as they did against Iceland and Croatia. Or they can set it on fire, as happened yesterday.”
Meanwhile, in Clarín, tribute is paid to Argentina’s unlikely hero, Rojo.“[Rojo’s goal was] a new slap in the face of logic. A correction to all the brainy analysis.”