TV View: Priceless Lionel Messi ensures all is right with the world
French and Danish players should have been forced to watch a replay of their match
Messi after scoring his team’s first goal against Nigeria at Saint Petersburg Stadium. Photograph: Alex Livesey/Getty Images
It was only 24 degrees in Moscow when day 13 got under way with France v Denmark, leaving us all wondering what it must be like to live in a temperate climate rather than somewhere like, say, Qatar or Ireland. Only Kasper Schmeichel and Steve Mandanda were wearing gloves, though, the rest of the players opting to brave the elements. Yet over the next 90 minutes not one of them warmed the cockles of the viewers’ hearts.
“If it was boxing,” said Clive Tyldesley, “the referee would call the two fighters together and demand some action.”
Better, as punishment come full-time he should have made them all sit in the VAR room and watch a replay of the entire game.
So, we had our first 0-0 of the tournament, and if Jacqui Hurley, Damien Duff, Michael O’Neill and Didi Hamman don’t get People of the Year awards after having to discuss that muck for nigh on half an hour then there is even less justice in this world than we first feared.
The only upside to it all was that at least we now understand how France and Denmark felt watching us against Egypt in 1990 and Norway in 1994.
It was actually a relief to see that RTÉ still had the rights to the World Cup after Liam Brady had risked Fifa withdrawing them the night before, his allegation being that this VAR business simply allows sinister people from “up above” whisper sweet nothings in referees’ ears, along the lines of “you can’t send Ronaldo off – he’s Ronaldo”.
Darragh Maloney, the colour draining from his face, warned Liamo that this was a very serious allegation, but there was no stopping his panellist.
“It’s MY opinion that the boys upstairs [makes the shape of a telly with his fingers] all know the importance of Ronaldo to this tournament….” he said, before reassuring Darragh that “Fifa can sue me, they don’t need to sue RTÉ”. By then, though, Darragh’s will to carry on living had diminished.
VARgate rumbled on all day, and no matter how often the likes of BT Sport’s Des Kelly argued that moaning about it is akin to blaming CCTV for a burglary, there was no sign of the fury abating.
But this being Messi Survival Day, and with all due respect to France, Denmark, Australia, Peru, Iceland, Croatia, Nigeria and the other 10 Argentinian players, his continuing presence in the tournament was all that mattered.
Otherwise, it seemed, we could delete everything he had ever achieved in football and dub him the Danny Drinkwater of Argentina if he failed to single-handedly drag his nation out of their 2018 World Cup group. And could we cope with any more slow motion montages, over exceptionally mournful music, of Messi looking sad? In a word, no.
But Liamo and Richie Sadlier didn’t fill us with much hope, Richie spotting an issue or two with Argentina, “Messi’s demeanour, his performances, their reliance on him, the absence of anyone else taking responsibility in attacking areas, they were overrun in midfield, they’re completely vulnerable in the centre of defence, they’ve a debutant in goal and they’ve a manager the players wanted sacked.” Apart from that, all good.
The Dunph, though, was reasonably heartened by Jorge Sampaoli’s line-up, especially by the inclusion of Gonzalo Higuain.
June 26, 2018: “Higuain, a top player in Europe …. we see here what a good player he is [playing for Juventus], what a killer finish he has – he’s a very good player.”
April 19, 2017: “Higuain is an expensive donkey!”
(If a certain Mayfield man had tuned in he might have been shouting “he has become a caricature!” at his telly)
Devoid of hope
But, on the whole, the panel left our Messi-loving hearts devoid of hope. “For me,” said Richie, “Argentina’s tournament ends tonight.”
“They need the little guy to have one of his great nights,” said Liamo.
Fourteenth minute. Ah here. Messi looked to the skies and thanked the gods. But they said, “no, no, thank you , you, you celestial being”. And then we saw a shot of Maradona hugging himself and barking at the moon, before nodding off. Tired and emotional, that lad.
Still, come half-time the panel had a sense of foreboding. Especially when Argentina had a huddly team-talk, Sampaoli’s presence not required. “It’s a coup d’état,” said Eamon, “not the first one in South America.”
Second half. Penalty. Nigeria. Victor Moses. Cucumber-ish. 1-1. All over? Argentina going home? Cue another slow motion montage of a sad Messi?
Hold yer horses. Marcos Rojo. And which one of us didn’t predict that he’d score the most of exquisite of late winners? Cough.
The final whistle.
“It doesn’t make sense, there are more important things in life,” said The Dunph, “but look at Lionel Messi, that’s priceless.”
All is right with the World Cup.