Lionel Messi will not retire immediately from international football after finally capping an extraordinary career with Argentina’s first World Cup since 1986, preferring to soak up the glory for at least a while longer.
On a dizzying night in Lusail it seemed more than once that Messi could be denied the fulfilment of a lifelong dream at the fifth attempt. But he added to his two goals and virtuoso all-round performance in regulation time with a penalty during a successful shoot-out against France and afterwards confirmed his 172nd cap was not his last.
“Obviously I wanted to complete my career with this – I can’t ask for more,” he said. “Finishing my career this way is impressive. After this, what else? I have a Copa América, a World Cup, almost at the very end.
“I love football, what I do. I enjoy being part of the national team, the group. I want to enjoy a couple more matches being a world champion.”
Messi has previously claimed Qatar 2022 would be his last World Cup and there is no indication he will continue beyond the short-to-medium term. But his manager, Lionel Scaloni, made clear the door would be open in three and a half years’ time if he made himself available for the 2026 edition. Messi will turn 39 during that tournament, which will take place in the US, Canada and Mexico.
“We need to save him a spot for the [next] World Cup,” he said. “If he wants to keep playing, he will be with us. He is more than entitled to decide if he wants to keep playing and what he wants to do with his career. It is such a huge pleasure to coach him. Everything he transmits to his team-mates is something unparalleled that I have never seen before.”
Scaloni, who was visibly emotional at points of his post-match press conference, said positivity was key to Argentina’s recoveries when they were twice pulled back from the brink of victory. He also hailed the self-confidence of his goalkeeper, Emiliano Martínez, who saved Kingsley Coman’s spot kick.
“I told them we had to be optimistic, that is the main thing,” he said. “We knew if we played our game we were going to create chances, going on the attack. In the shoot-out it was the same thing; we had to remain calm [even though] before it we conceded another goal. Emiliano is a very positive guy and told his team-mates he was going to save some penalties. We had so many players who were ready and willing to take them and it shows the trust we have.”
At times Scaloni’s players seemed spurred by a supernatural fervour. “This squad played for the Argentina flag,” he said. “Everyone is pulling for the whole country. This is the greatest pride. The players broke their backs because they understood what they had to do.”
Scaloni and Martínez admitted Argentina had “suffered”, although the goalkeeper said he had been “calm” when facing France’s penalties. Aurélien Tchouaméni also dragged a spot kick wide.
Argentina headed to an organised parade along Lusail Boulevard, adjacent to the venue of their success, two hours after full-time and Scaloni said he would be “open to what the players have to say” about further celebrations in their home country, where they are certain to be received ecstatically. – Guardian