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Messi And The Cup: Epic For The Sport

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New York– Sunday morning in New York City and hours prior to kickoff for an important slate of NFL hysteria with playoff implications the pregame NFL shows are in full swing as they always are prior to kickoff.

But this particular Sunday morning the routine was different because days before the Christmas holiday all eyes and attention were focused on a soccer match thousands of miles away at Lusail Stadium in Qatar.

France and Argentina played their version of football and this FIFA World Cup Final for a few hours provided a match of epic proportions. An NFL Sunday that included three overtime outcomes could not top the Argentina and France battle in the pitch.

And this OT shootout World Cup win for Argentina will be talked about for a long time, except soccer and the World Cup does not generate a buzz in America because of the NFL, MLB, NBA, and the NHL, to name a few of the mainstream sports.

The demographics have always said the World Cup is an international event, a rooting interest every four years and most of the names associated with the sport are not known here. The names are not everyday talk and national pride is significant to those with a rooting interest.

They are not the Yankees’ Aaron Judge, LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers, or Tom Brady of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who is on his last legs of a Hall of Fame career.

According to FIFA, the Argentinian champions will receive $42 million compared to $4 million more than France when they won the 2018 World Cup.

Regardless the particulars of revenue sharing, who gets the remaining $404 million to be divided with 31 other competing teams, does not seem significant to the runner-up France or Argentina.

What mattered here was two hours of non-stop play in the pitch. What mattered was national pride and over 84,000 fans wearing their national flag and bypassing the concession stand or rest rooms.

They came to root and watch Lionel Messi. He ran and observed a defense as the game advanced now in annals as one of the greatest to play this game. And it was poetry in motion because Messi, Argentina, and this sport of soccer go together.

Messi gets the ball and attempts to find holes in the defense. He disappears and changes direction, then again he has always been a player that hardly misses opportunity.

Again, Sunday, Messi was on the counter attack with those in front of him. The mainstream sports fans, those who tuned in for a moment before their Sunday NFL meal, were fortunate to get a glimpse of an unheralded and superstar of the sport.

He is now a World Champion, not a MLB, NFL, NBA, or NHL icon that wins the big prize, only because those sports and their superstars get more mainstream attention. But Messi got the prize that has eluded him.

This was for Argentina, for every Latino that takes pride in the game. And not since the great Brazilian, Pele, who at one time tried to put the sport into the mainstream in the United States, have we seen someone like Messi.

“It’s anyone’s childhood dream,” Messi said. “I was lucky to have achieved everything in this career and this one that was missing here. It’s madness. Look how she (World Cup) is, she’s gorgeous. I wanted her so much, I had a vision that this would be the one. She was getting closer.”

He propelled Argentina to their World Cup and is now in the books with Diego Maradona when they won the 1986 Cup in Mexico. Then, the sport was also struggling to get mainstream sports attention in the United States,

The 35- year old thought about retiring after this but there will be more of Lionel Messi, perhaps taking a lucrative contract to play for Miami of the MLS (Major League Soccer) a league embarking on a $1.2 billion streaming deal with Apple TV.

Apple and the league will need the Lionel Messi name. The MLS, a league with franchises in key American cities, needs this attention as the league continues to struggle with losing prime names to international leagues that offer lucrative contracts.

But Messi, with those two goals and one in the shootout, let’s say he arrived, whether your rooting interest or not. This was soccer on display, a sport that deserves more attention and rightfully so.

Five years ago, I was one of those skeptics and Lionel Messi was just another name. And The World Cup had no meaning, but you get to appreciate Messi and these athletes more with viewing and attending a match or two in the pitch.

Viva Argentina, France, all the rest. And the sport of soccer. They gave us a show.

Rich Mancuso is the senior writer Twitter@Ring786 Mancuso. Watch “Sports With Rich” with Rich and co-host Robert Rizzo Tuesday evening live 8pmET on the SLG Network and YouTube

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