The magician with 1000 feet puts on a special show in his 1000th game: Lionel Messi magics Argentina into the World Cup quarter-finals and even blocks Australia's voodoo doll magic. The Socceroos scrape past the sensation, the stadium bows to the magician.
Thousand. Did you want to express as a child that there were a lot of people there? Or that you wanted as much of something as possible, then you used this number. One tried desperately to imagine the thousand tiny feet and legs of a centipede. Thousand. Such an unimaginable figure at the time. Actually still today. What have you, dear readers, done a thousand times already. Brushing your teeth doesn't count. Lionel Messi creates something unimaginable not only for children on this warm Saturday evening in Doha. In a hard-fought 2-1 win against Australia in the World Cup round of 16, he completed his professional game number 1000.
Once again beaming at the ball children with reverent eyes in the players' tunnel. Once again, all eyes in the world are on the 169 centimeter tall Argentinian from the industrial city of Rosario as he steps onto the pitch with a focused gaze. As likely in at least 900 of his previous 999 games with 788 goals and 54 hat-tricks. "La Pulga" (The Flea) is already incredibly good as a teenager, with its debut at 18 years and 49 days. As if he himself had thousands of legs and feet.
The rest is history. But who knows, maybe this incredibly glorious career hasn't reached its peak yet. Perhaps the Champions League titles, Ballon d'Or trophies, winning the Copa America are all just the prelude to his biggest coup. Everything will depend on whether Messi can put his country on the road to the World Cup against Australia. The next two weeks could define his career in a way never seen before.
The squads will be announced on the large screens in the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium - named after the ex-emir of the same name and home of Al Rayyan FC, one of the emirate's most popular football clubs, for which ex-Bayer James Rodríguez also played until recently. The stadium explodes when Lionel Messi is named. The second loudest cheer? There's Enzo Fernández, the new darling of the Argentines.
That Australia is in the quarter-finals of the World Cup is no less impressive than all the Messi records. Of course, the Socceroos try to stop the superstar in his game number 1000 with all means. For those Down Under, the game starts at 6am, yet Tumbalong Park in Sydney attracts thousands (there it is, that number) of football madmen. The newspaper "The West Australian" even procured a Messi voodoo doll before the duel, which she pierced with a needle.
In case the black magic doesn't help, the Socceroos attack La Pulga hard from the start. The game is determined by many fouls, St. Pauli's Jackson Irvine quickly picks up yellow and starts without many goal area scenes. The Albiceleste defensive easily intercepts Australian long balls, it will be the expected "handball" game around the sixteen of the Australians, who are deep with a 4-4-2.
But a Lionel Messi knows this game of course. One would almost like to claim: He has already experienced this 1000 times. In the well-known manner, the playmaker keeps falling, picking up the balls from behind and staying patient. Hectic is not in the vocabulary of the old master, he initiates the first chance through Gomez from 25 meters with a pass from the ankle.
Australia then fought their way midway through the first half, taking the first corner of the game and building confidence. But so far that hasn't posed a threat to Argentina's defence, who haven't conceded another goal after losing 2-1 to Saudi Arabia. Nevertheless: The Socceroos are now playing along and daring to step forward more and more often.
But it is precisely in this mini urge phase that Messi shows, as so often, with his first real action of the game why he is one of the greatest of all time. After a deep, fast pass from Alexis Mac Allister, Nicolas Otamendi drains the ball briefly and La Pulga needs just a tiny touch of the ball with one of his 1000ft to blast the other 999, as accurate as ever, flat to the bottom left of the post. As against Saudi Arabia and Mexico, he hits ice cold to 1-0.
There it is again, that magic that should carry the Argentines to the final. Up to game number 1003 for her number 10. The magic stronger than any voodoo. The magic, in a game where nothing is actually happening, that is freaking out millions of fans around the world at this moment. The spectators in the stadium pay homage to Messi by standing up and bowing again and again. Crazier and fittingly, it's his first World Cup goal in the knockout stages in the 1000th game (Cristiano Ronaldo hasn't scored one yet, by the way).
Argentina stays in their own ranks for a long time after the opening goal and slows down. Everything under control, the Socceroos pant behind. If the German national team had copied this tactic typical of the Albiceleste, this withdrawal and just going for possession of the ball in their own half and control of the game, maybe they would not have collapsed after the opening goals against Japan and Costa Rica. It should be exciting in the quarter-finals, because the Netherlands are waiting for the Argentines there, who have played similarly calmly so far.
With Australia pressing further up the field in the second half, Argentina have space. Messi initiates a counterattack himself and has the first shot after the break, but slips on the shot. A brief increase in the tempo of the Albiceleste then leads to Australia suddenly feeling the voodoo against itself. Rodrigo de Paul and Julián Álvarez squeeze keeper Mathew Ryan. As if he had been abandoned by 1000 good spirits, the goalkeeper starts to dribble against the two Argentines, loses the ball and Álvarez, Erling Haaland's striker colleague at Manchester City, slides in to make it 2-0.
A preliminary decision? Minutes later it's Messi again bewitching the Socceroos - the voodoo doll really should be re-examined by the Australian newspaper. On the center line, the ten takes the ball under pressure, turns around its own axis and with this movement alone takes two opponents out of the game. Out of nowhere he switches on his turbo and dribbles his centipede through the opposing half like in his best Barcelona days.
The ball sticks to its 1000 feet. The entire stadium rises. After a one-two, Messi can no longer finish properly, but he still has to grin because of the renewed magic. But then suddenly it's the Socceroos who score out of nowhere. Maybe the "West Australian" has drilled a bit and repositioned needles in the doll. Aziz Behich's cross is actually harmless, but Otamendi puts it in front of the penalty area, where substitute Craig Goodwin shoots directly. After his shot was deflected by Enzo Fernandez, goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez looked at him in amazement.
And that's not all: A few minutes later it's Behich again, who narrowly misses the equalizer after a great solo run. Suddenly fire is at play here again. Is there a surprise as thick as a fist - or better: a thousand feet thick? It's going wild back and forth now. Messi puts another solo full of dribbling magic on the lawn and serves substitute Lautaro Martinez at the right moment, but he forgives freely in front of the keeper.
A few minutes later, deep in stoppage time, the copy of this move again does not lead to a decision. Shortly thereafter, the superstar himself circles the ball just past the triangle. Almost with the final whistle, the only 18-year-old Garang Kuol has the sensation on his feet. An outcry ripples through the arena. But Martinez parried the turning shot great. Then the referee whistles. Messi's magic propels his nation into the last eight in his 1,000th game. Everything is possible. The dream of the 1003rd game and the culmination of a world career also survived Australian voodoo.