There is often a subjective quality to great moments in sport; where you saw it, who you were with and in what circumstances — these can be as important to the recollection of the moment as the achievement itself.
There is a strong subjective component to my favourite moment of the World Cup group phase — Lionel Messi’s goal against Bosnia in Argentina’s opening fixture.
It was the first game of the tournament I was watching from inside the ground. The setting was the historic Maracana stadium, in my adopted city of Rio de Janeiro. The atmosphere, buoyed by some 30,000 travelling Argentines, was extraordinary.
And the player who scored the goal was one I have followed with huge pleasure ever since ‘discovering’ him nine-and-a-half years ago in Colombia for the South American Under-20 Championships. Messi’s goal, then, was a powerful personal occasion.
But it also seems to be turning into an important moment in an objective sense. Messi ended the group phase as the World Cup joint top scorer, with four goals. The hard work is still to come, but he has made a splendid start in a tournament that almost certainly will mark his definitive statement as an international footballer.
Pantheon of greats
Without shining in a World Cup, when his place in the pantheon of greats is discussed, there will always be a ‘yes, but’ after his name. That goal against Bosnia, cutting in from the right, exchanging passes with Gonzalo Higuain and guiding his shot into the far corner, was the moment that the ‘yes, but’ began to be removed.
The match was a struggle for Argentina, which laboured through a dismally unimpressive first half. After going through World Cup qualification with a bold 4-3-3 formation, coach Alejandro Sabella appeared to lose his nerve once he arrived at the competition, instead attempting to give his side more defensive protection in a 3-5-2 system. His side looked entirely without conviction and, recognizing his error, Sabella made two substitutions at the interval and reverted to 4-3-3.
Messi’s goal — which turned out to be the winner — gave his team confidence in what they were doing, and filled the man himself with confidence as well. To produce such a goal on such a night in such a setting was a magnificent way for Lionel Messi to begin his World Cup campaign.
The goals have been flowing ever since. Perhaps they will flow all the way back to the Maracana on July 13th, when the competition reaches its climax. If so, I will be able to recall with pride and pleasure that I was there when it all got going against Bosnia.
Tim Vickery is a soccer columnist based in Brazil