Messi, the bisht and a World Cup celebration


It was an iconic moment that will live forever in World Cup history and Middle East imagery.

The great Lionel Messi was called up on stage to lift the trophy he had craved for so much of his glittering and unparalleled career.

At the other end of the podium were his Argentina team-mates, ready to party after overcoming France on penalties in one of the greatest finals ever witnessed.

At his end, Messi shook hands with FIFA president Gianni Infantino and Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim, who twice playfully clipped the 35-year-old round the head.

Messi was then adorned in a black bisht – a traditional men’s cloak popular in the Arab world – before doing a jig and lifting the famous trophy.

Not only was it Messi’s moment, but it was Qatar’s too – on its national day, bringing to an end the first World Cup to be held in a Muslim country.

It may have been a big honour for Messi to be dressed in the Arab attire, but others have seen it as disrespectful and overshadowing the day he had been waiting for.

“It is a dress for an official occasion and worn for celebrations,” Hassan Al Thawadi, secretary general of Qatar’s tournament organising committee, told BBC Sport. “This was a celebration of Messi.

“The World Cup had the opportunity to showcase to the world our Arab and Muslim culture. This was not about Qatar, it was a regional celebration.

“People from different walks of life were able to come, experience what was happening here and get to understand that we may not see eye to eye on everything, but we can still celebrate together.”

Sheikh Tamim said on Twitter: “We have fulfilled our promise to organise an exceptional championship from the Arab countries.

“It provided an opportunity for the peoples of the world to learn about the richness of our culture and the originality of our values.”

Argentina and Lionel Messi lift the World Cup trophy (Photo: Skysports)

Dreams of ‘Muchachos’ come true

It almost didn’t happen for Argentina.

The brilliant Kylian Mbappe wanted his say with a hat-trick – the first in a World Cup final since England’s Sir Geoff Hurst in 1966 – but Argentines always believed the late Diego Maradona was watching over them.

In the end, the hopes and dreams of Messi and all of Argentina eventually turned into reality at a rocking Lusail Stadium.

The song that has swept through Qatar and all the way back home in Argentina was on repeat once again.

The one where Don Diego is looking down from the sky, “cheering Lionel on, and to be champions again, and to be champions again”.

‘Muchachos’ is a cover of the track by Argentine band La Tosca, with the verse translating as: “Boys, we have got our hopes up again.”

More than three decades of hurt were banished as Lionel Scaloni’s men, led by the mercurial Messi, celebrated their third World Cup triumph, after 1978 and 1986, in their sixth final.

Lionel Messi of Argentina celebrates with World Cup and Golden ball trophies after winning the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Final match between Argentina and France at Lusail Stadium on December 18, 2022 in Lusail City, Qatar. (Photo by Khalil Bashar/Jam Media/Getty Images)

‘Where’s Messi?’ There is your answer

The tournament started in shocking manner for Argentina.

“Where is Messi? Where is Messi?” the Saudi Arabia fans were asking after their side’s incredible 2-1 victory in the opening group game.

Those jibes were echoing around Doha in the following days and went viral on social media.

But come the showpiece on Sunday, the question was emphatically answered as Messi confirmed his footballing magnitude, standing on the podium with his captain’s armband on his bicep and the golden prize lifted above his head.

As soon as we landed in Qatar’s capital city on November 16, it felt like a Messi World Cup – the sense that expectation and excitement may carry the little magician to the one piece of silverware missing from his cabinet.

Argentina shirts bearing his famous number 10 were everywhere – in the streets, the souq and the stadiums, and worn by men, women and children alike.

A few Maradona ones were scattered around, but not anywhere close to those of the main man on today’s global stage.

That ‘Muchachos’ song echoed around the metro and shuttle buses too. There was no escaping it, not even in your sleep.

And it was no different on the day of the final.

Argentina flags were hanging off rooftops and balconies, and in shop windows in local neighbourhoods of Doha. There was only one team they wanted to see taking home the trophy.

En route to Lusail, about 11 miles north of Doha, you got carried by the wave of thousands of Argentina supporters, singing their songs and breaking out into chants of “Messi, Messi”.

A section of raucous fans from the South American country had been inside the stadium long before kick-off, smashing their drum, jumping up and down and swinging blue-and-white scarves over their heads.

When pictures of the players getting off the bus flashed up on the big screen, a deafening roar reverberated around for star player Messi, and he was given the same ovation when the teamsheet was read out.

It had to be the man-of-the-moment Messi who scored the opener from the penalty spot, coolly sending Hugo Lloris the wrong way.

Team-mates piled on top of him when he slid off to celebrate, sharing a warm embrace with Rodrigo de Paul.

There was further joy when Angel di Maria swept home a second to cap a stunning team move, with ‘Muchachos’ ringing out once more as the fans bounced up and down in the stands.

But Mbappe had other ideas.

Kylian Mbappé of France celebrates after scoring to make it 3-3 during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Final match between Argentina and France at Lusail Stadium on December 18, 2022 in Lusail City, Qatar. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Tears of joy

France’s own superstar Mbappe netted a quick-fire double – just 97 seconds apart – to take the game into extra time.

Messi thought he had won it, pouncing from close range, but Mbappe showed his credentials for one day being in the ‘greatest of all time’ debate.

Argentina kept their nerve in the shootout to spark incredible celebrations, substitutes piling on to the pitch and a group of players surrounding Messi in a circle by the halfway line.

Then came the tears, coach Scaloni, penalty shootout hero Gonzalo Montiel – all followed by man of the match and player of the tournament Messi, who waved up to his family in the stands.

Argentina players celebrated with their families on the pitch, posing for photographs with the trophy in front of one of the goals – supporters staying behind long after the final whistle.

Having carried their burden, Argentina players paid one final tribute to Messi by lifting him on to their shoulders and carrying him around the pitch with the trophy aloft.

The show was over. The baton had been passed from Maradona to Messi.

Greatness was confirmed. The debate was over. (BBC Sport)

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