Sunday 26 October 2014

Messi's genius gives us plenty to look forward to in knock-out stages

Joe Molloy

Published 25/06/2014 | 02:30

Lionel Messi smiles during a training session
Lionel Messi smiles during a training session

Greetings from Belo Horizonte. We're a six-hour drive west of Rio, surrounded by hills and bathing in a very pleasant 25 degrees most afternoons. In recent days the city has played host to some rather glum, lost-looking England fans; their newly sunburnt skin offset delicately by the pale, ghostly complexion of people struggling to digest what's just happened.

Roy Hodgson spoke on Monday in his pre-match press conference of a "realm of pain" he didn't know existed. Indeed.

More pleasant scenes on Saturday though, as we witnessed genius fully realised in the form of Lionel Messi delivering the spectacular.

I let out an involuntary howl as the ball nestled into the top corner against Iran.

The Estadio Mineirao, comprising of mostly Argentinian fans, lost its collective mind. Our stand bounced for several minutes.

As is so often the case with great players, Messi draws the eye throughout the game. For much of the encounter he strolls around, shoulders hunched, seemingly disengaged from proceedings. But he is watching. One senses that the eyes are darting at all times, quickly sizing up various patterns of play. And then, all of a sudden, in a millisecond he springs to life.

Messi's acceleration over five yards remains effortless. His touch is razor-like. Instant panic tends to ensue in his immediate vicinity. The crowd roars. We are watching genius at work.

This World Cup has gripped the nation. There was giddiness in the air on Monday night after Brazil beat Cameroon. The games have been incident-packed and goal-heavy.

If I'm not watching football on TV, I'm watching ads with Pele, Cafu or Neymar at all times. At the outset it was billed as Brazil v Argentina; Neymar v Messi and it looks like we're headed in that general direction, with both men accepting the burden of expectation lightly.

Throw in the Dutch and Arjen Robben and the various flaws in all of the favourites and it appears we have much to look forward to. The group stages have lived up to their billing and been befitting of a Brazilian World Cup. Here's hoping the knock-out stages do likewise.

Irish Independent

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