A ‘football miracle’, a ‘joy’ to watch, a ‘hero’, a ‘star’ and the ‘best player of all time’.
Those are just some of the superlatives used to describe Argentina and football icon Lionel Messi, who spearheaded them into another World Cup final.
talkSPORT’s Adrian Durham was left in awe of the 35-year-old who is on the cusp of finally winning football’s holy grail.
Messi notched in his fifth goal in Qatar – his 11th overall across his five World Cups – as Argentina breezed past Croatia to set up a final meeting against either France or Morocco.
From being sent off on his international debut within a minute against Hungary in 2005, Messi is one game away from eternal glory.
It will be the second time Messi will have featured in the showpiece match after Germany edged out the South American nation in the 2014 final.
Durham says Diego Maradona would have been watching on from ‘football heaven’ – purring over his successor’s dazzling display.
And in what will likely be his last appearance in the global tournament, Durham was nothing but effusive in his praise for the Paris Saint-Germain forward.
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Speaking after the 3-0 victory against the 2018 runners-up, Durham said: “What a privilege to be here, what a joy to witness this.
“Lionel Messi, sent off on his Argentina debut, he saw red 30 seconds into his Argentina debut. But he recovered quite well, didn’t he?
“He scored on his World Cup debut in 2006, couldn’t excel under Maradona in South Africa in 2010, in 2014 he was voted the best player at the World Cup.
“But he couldn’t overcome the Germans in the final, 2018 the coach was visibly looking to Messi on the pitch to make decisions in game, it just didn’t work.
“Messi considered retirement from the Albiceleste, then he captained Argentina to Copa [America] glory last summer – their first trophy in 28 years, continental champions.
“Are they going to follow it up with World Cup glory? Their first World Cup since 1986 when Diego Armando Maradona was the talisman.
“And now with Maradona watching from football heaven, it’s Messi who is the main man, he’s the hero, he’s the star, and the fans love him.
“Can he take the World Cup back to Argentina? Well whether he does or not, Lionel Messi has richly entertained us tonight, and all his career.
“Quick feet, injections of pace, strength belying his small stature and frame, fouled constantly but never injured, it’s a medical miracle. He’s a football miracle.
“And now all the Argentina players that have gone over to their fans, gathered all in a line, arms around each other, bouncing up and down in celebration, and Lionel Messi is right in the middle of that.
“He’s never looked so happy playing for his country in his life, at times it was a chore, and at times it was a burden too much for Messi to carry.
“But right now he seems happy, the management structure is right, the teammates are right, everything is right for Lionel Messi to get it right in this World Cup.
“So far, so good. For Messi, goals and assists they just keep racking up, it’s more than the numbers though, it’s what we call the eye test.
“Just watch Lionel Messi play, this is the joy of football I’ve been talking about for a couple of years now.
“This is what it’s all about, this is entertainment, the very best player of all time, for me, he doesn’t need a trophy to back it up.
“But Messi – lifting the World Cup – wouldn’t that make a great picture to frame for his mantelpiece alongside his record seven Ballon d’Or trophies.
“Messi makes you smile when you watch him play the beautiful game, more beautifully than anyone has ever played it before.
“Stand up for the main man – the magic man – he’s had to follow Maradona for his country, and he’s done it.
“[Johan] Cruyff and Ronaldinho and others at Barcelona, he’s done it. But he’s done it with pure football joy in his heart.”
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