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Lionel Messi proves again that Argentina don’t ‘need everyone’ to find Qatar success

Lionel Messi dragged Argentina to glory over Mexico  (EPA)
Lionel Messi dragged Argentina to glory over Mexico (EPA)

Lionel Scaloni told Argentina that they "would need everyone" to drag themselves back from the brink at this World Cup. In the end, as so many times before, they only needed one.

Lionel Messi delivered for his country when they needed him most, scoring one of the goals of the tournament so far to keep them in it, the 2-0 victory over Mexico leaving their chances of progressing in Qatar still in their own hands.

Struck from the edge of the box with that extra-terrestrially-crafted left foot, it's a goal anyone who has watched one of the greatest players the game has ever seen score countless times before. The emotion after though, Messi screaming in jubilation and running towards his adoring support waiting in the stands, was so very different. This means everything to him, playing here on this grandest of stages for what will surely be the last time with, thanks to his opening - and exorcising - goal at the Lusail Stadium, his hopes of lifting the one trophy that still eludes him in a month's time still intact.

The aftermath of the shock defeat to Saudi Arabia in their tournament opener four days ago was said to be akin to "emotional detonation" in the Argentine dressing room, the prospect of yet another failure suddenly and viscerally all so real once more, the emotional baggage every player to wear the famous blue and white carries with them well and truly back to burden them again.

With this next Group C game coming two years and a day since Diego Maradona's tragic death, manager Scaloni had urged his team to channel their idol for a match they so desperately needed. What he got was a moment of magic from his own deity No 10 every inch worthy of the fellow all-time great that preceded him.

The tone of a disjointed first half was set after just four minutes, Gonzalo Montiel caught with a stray arm in the face and tumbling to the floor, referee Daniele Orsato whistling for the first of 16 fouls in the first period alone.

The exact game Argentina didn't want was established. Mexico, hunting in packs all over the pitch, pressed the life out of a rejigged Albiceleste midfield with the stop-start flow just what they were looking for to interrupt what precious little rhythm Argentina did manage.

Just as against Saudi Arabia, this side so often seemingly has no mechanism to control the game forcing Messi to withdraw further and further just to get even the smallest say on proceedings.

Messi looked forlorn in the first half but changed the game with a moment of magic after the break (REUTERS)
Messi looked forlorn in the first half but changed the game with a moment of magic after the break (REUTERS)

Playing from deep, Rodrigo De Paul was abject, one desperately ballooned cross into the stands visibly drawing Messi's ire in the middle. Real Betis' Guido Rodriguez, one of five changes from last time out, fared little better alongside him in the engine room, Giovani Lo Celso, an injury absentee for this tournament, painfully missed for his ability to simply carry and drive play between the lines.

Ahead of them, an anonymous Lautaro Martinez was completely missing in action amongst Mexico's three centre-backs, a skewed header when well placed just before the break a bad but still comfortably the best of only 10 first-half touches. Julian Alvarez's introduction for him just before the hour came not a moment too soon.

Then came Messi, picking the ball up 25 yards out with a country collectively drawing its breath before arrowing into the bottom right-hand corner. A stadium here - and an entire nation back home - roared, the relief cascading down from the stands towards their hero and radiating back at them from him.

Substitute Enzo Fernandez would later curl home a goal worthy of his captain to secure all three points, but it was Messi who his team turned to at the final whistle, they, knowing as we all do, that their hopes here surely rest so comprehensively with him.

There remains a long way to go and work to do, the Argentina side that has arrived here looking a far cry from the one that went 36 games unbeaten on the run-in to these finals. They will indeed need everyone if they are to make it back here to Lusail with a shot at glory still alive. That they have a chance at all is down to just one.