The Case for El Albiceleste
Cheering for Lionel Messi and Argentina is the only sensible move for the World Cup. You can’t change my mind.
The World Cup, which starts Thursday, has lots of great storylines, but only one team you can cheer for, because of one player.
If asking a generational superstar to foist spare-parts teammates on his back and drag them up a seemingly insurmountable summit to avoid humiliation before everyone feels like he’s about to ride into the sunset feels like déjà vu, watch re-runs of the Warriors parade from Tuesday (and also Argentina’s opening game of Group Play against Iceland on Saturday at 4 p.m.).
This situation requires a heroic effort from Messi, making him the perfect protagonist. He’s arguably the greatest footballer ever, and yet rooting for him doesn’t come with the stigma of being a front-runner. He’s never won a single title with the national team, but he’s had the heartbreaking moments of near-victory: World Cup final loss in 2014, back-to-back Copa America finals losses the next two years. This year, Argentina nearly missed the World Cup for the first time since 1970, but then Messi saved the day with a hat trick (of course).
Plus, he comes conscience free! He never did an excruciating TV special to declare he was taking his talents to South … Korea.
If you tell Steve from work you’re pulling for La Albiceleste (The White-and-Blue Sky), he might give you a hard time, but don’t worry, he’s just projecting insecurities. Seriously, though, evaluate the rest of the field. Finding the balance of a competitive team that has a realistic shot to win a game (sorry, Australia) and isn’t a prohibitive title favorite (same to you, Belgium and France) and didn’t engage in a massively damaging war to continue taxing your country without representation (still mad, England), is difficult.
Argentina is perfect, though, because they’re not the sleeper pick everyone’s talking about — cough, Iceland, cough — or the random one everyone in America seems to be rooting for (Nigeria). They’re not the heavyweight favorite (Germany), or the scripted-for-TV redemption story (Brazil), or the team only fashionable because their jerseys are (Senegal), or the bandwagon sinking under the weight of everyone drawn to Mohamed Salah highlights (Egypt). Or the boring one (Spain), or the only African team to qualify without allowing a goal thanks to its sleepily sinister defense (Morocco).
Plus, no matter how many games you watch, you get the pleasure of watching Messi! That should be reason enough, seeing the gnome wizard who cuts a strikingly sympathetic character compared to the Greek god Cristiano. Messi plays like someone who, in the best sentence I’ve ever read about him, “does not seem to control the ball so much as to moderate the ball’s obsession with him.”
The real excitement lies in getting to invest in a team you didn’t expect to and the joy of learning about the game from another perspective. That, and remembering you’re cheering for a man trying to cap a legendary career by taking the biggest prize back to his homeland, and therefore you’re cheering for the people.
This Argentina team that has a realistic, albeit outside, shot at actually winning. For Americans, it could be a welcome change.
“In the end, it is about whether God wants us to be in the final, but I know that is what God wants. This time we will not need the Hand of God, because it is the will of God.”