Lionel Messi's journey to World Cup glory was not without its controversies and moments of self-reflection. His celebration against the Netherlands in the 2022 World Cup quarter-final stands out as one such instance where a momentary act of defiance led to a wave of regret and introspection.
As Messi slotted away Argentina's second goal from the penalty spot, he cupped his hands to his ears, a gesture directed towards Netherlands manager Louis van Gaal. Van Gaal's pre-game comments at the World Cup had criticized Messi's overall contribution, igniting a spark of defiance within the Argentine maestro.
In the heat of the moment, Messi's celebration was seen as a sign of disrespect and arrogance. However, upon reflection, the Inter Miami forward revealed his immediate regret, realizing that his actions could fuel the Netherlands' comeback at the World Cup.
“I came up with the ‘Topo Gigio' right there, and I automatically regretted it,” Messi confessed to ESPN. “As soon as I did it, I thought, ‘What an idiot. They can still tie it.' These things usually happen.”
His fears materialized as Wout Weghorst scored two goals to level the score for the Netherlands. Despite the momentum shift, Argentina prevailed in a penalty shootout, advancing to the semi-finals of the World Cup.
Messi's post-match comments further highlighted his frustration with Van Gaal's remarks and the excessive chatter from some Dutch players.
“I feel disrespected by Van Gaal after his pre-game comments, and some Dutch players spoke too much during the game,” Messi stated.
The Argentina-Netherlands clash was a tempestuous affair, with 14 yellow cards brandished combined. Van Gaal's post-match comments fueled the fire at the World Cup, suggesting the match was rigged in Argentina's favor.
“I do not really want to say much about it,” Van Gaal told reporters. “When you see how Argentina scored their goals and how we scored our goals, and how some Argentina players overstepped the mark and were not punished, then I think it was all a premeditated game.”
Despite the controversies, Messi and his teammates found their redemption, embarking on a remarkable run to World Cup glory. They defeated Croatia and France in the semi-final and final, lifting the coveted trophy for the first time since 1986.
Messi's World Cup journey is a testament to his resilience and unwavering determination. Though regrettable, his celebration against the Netherlands became a stepping stone towards ultimate triumph, showcasing his ability to learn from mistakes and rise above adversity.