The Barcelona ace was at his breathtaking best for Edgardo Bauza’s side.
Last night’s World Cup 2018 Qualifier between Argentina and Colombia was already crucial, even at this relatively early stage in the qualifying campaign.
With just five of the ten sides from the South American CONMEBOL group set to head to 2018’s Russian showpiece, Argentina sat in sixth place, with a string of disappointing performances leading fans worldwide to question whether Messi could miss out on the tournament altogether.
Colombia, on the other hand, sat precariously in fourth, knowing that a loss to Argentina coupled with a Chilean win over Uruguay would see them fall out of a qualification spot.
Jose Pekerman’s side are no slouches, though, currently ranked fifth in the FIFA world rankings and boasting an attacking trident of James Rodriguez, Juan Cuadrado and the in-form Radamel Falcao.
The beginning of the game did not resemble one with two sides aware of the fact that they could not afford to lose, with a hectic pace seeing chances go abegging at both ends.
While chances were plentiful, there was a major lack of composure in front of goal. That is, until Argentina won a free-kick a little more than 25 yards out with ten minutes played.
Cometh the hour, cometh the world’s finest player.
After sizing up the placement of David Ospina’s wall, Messi proceeded to bend the most delicious of free-kicks past the despairing dive of Arsenal-man Ospina and off the underside of the bar to put his side one up.
It was a moment of sublime technical quality, with the position of the free-kick far more suited to a right-footer rather than a leftie like Messi.
But the little Argentine knows no bounds, with his passionate celebration proving just how much it means to the captain to be back and playing for his country.
From here on in, it was Messi’s game. Everyone else was just playing in it.
Dropping into pockets of space between Colombia’s back four and midfield, the world’s finest player was a constant thorn in the side of Pekerman’s team, creating chances at will.
In the 23rd minute, one of these chances was put away, as Messi cut in from the right flank onto his trusty left peg and lifted a sumptuous delivery tantalizingly over the away side’s back line and onto the head of Lucas Pratto.
While the Messiah had made it look so easy, it was far from so. The lack of backlift utilised, combined with the precise nature needed to play the ball just out of the reach of Colombia’s centre halves, made the delivery nothing less than breathtaking.
After their second, Argentina cruised. Messi remained at the heart of everything positive produced by the home side, as Angel Di Maria’s 84th minute strike just put the icing on the cake.
With world-class names the likes of Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain left to watch from the bench for Bauza’s side last night, it must be genuinely worrying for fans of the Albiceleste to imagine their side without their mercurial number 10.
He makes everything tick for the national side, with himself and Barcelona teammate Javier Mascherano the sole reason that this side made it anywhere near the World Cup final in 2014.
A Messi-less World Cup in 2018 does not bear thinking about. It would be a crime against football.
But with individual performances the likes of which he produced last night, I don’t think we need to be too worried. He’ll be there.