FROM BUENOS AIRES: If one were to say three years ago that Lionel Messi would be cheered and given all the affection he needed in Buenos Aires and not Barcelona, they would be asked from what parallel universe did they come from.
It was both ironic for soccer fans as well as comforting for Argentines to see that bit of energy that he showed Wednesday night. There was a certain bit of solace that you saw in the first half when Messi attacked non-stop and was serving some impressive dagger-like, defense-splitting passes to Di María, Lavezzi, Palacio and even to Hugo Campagnaro at right back.
The goals didn’t come at a fast and furious pace, but the chances were being generated against a Soca Warrior backline that at times could not keep up with the constant movement of the Argentine attack and the pressure that they would place on the visitors when they looked to play the ball out of the back.
He even came close on various occasions to scoring. In the first half, Messi had two chances to score. One of the efforts saw Messi’s shot drift just wide of the Trinidad goal after a series of passes that put him in front of target and could have opened up the scoring for the Albiceleste.
In the dying moments of the first half, Ángel Di María pulled a rabbit out of the hat and ended up all alone in front of goal. Instead of taking the shot and making it 1-0, Di María decided to give the ball to the oncoming Messi to slam it home in front of an empty net. As soon as he was about to touch that ball with his right foot, Messi had the ball deflected by a Trinidadian defender. The eventual result on that play was a header by Rodrigo Palacio off the ensuing corner. The play was truly an embodiment of the selflessness that the squad has in knowing who needed to score a goal in order to be able to reaffirm himself. At the same time, his teammates were there to back him when the ball was not going in.
For those that constantly harped on how Leo Messi was saving himself for the World Cup, the answer was for all to see on Wednesday night’s match between Argentina and Trinidad. There was little doubt that he looked refreshed — both mentally and physically — as he ran at Soca Warrior defenders for a greater portion of the match at El Monumental. More importantly, Messi was looking for contact.