Ireland 0-1 Argentina

Messi lights up dull Aviva opener

August 11, 2010
By Kevin Palmer
(Archive)

There were two distinctive noises that rang out with increasing irritation during this summer's World Cup, with the first of those being those plastic weapons of audible destruction known as a vuvuzela.

The other defining legacy of South Africa 2010 was sound of smashing reputations, with some of the game's biggest stars left to lick their wounds much earlier than they might have expected in June. Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo were among the biggest flops, but they were not alone.

Seeing a crestfallen Lionel Messi trudging off the field after his Argentina side were roundly thumped by Germany in the quarter-finals confirmed that the player holding the undisputed title of best on the planet had spurned his chance to give his career the defining seal that comes with a World Cup triumph.

While Messi was far from the worst player on the game's ultimate showpiece, he was a flop by his own extraordinarily high standards as the World Cup tipped by many to belong to him passed with only a few assists and some sparkling near misses to remember him by.

Lionel Messi, Argentina
GettyImagesLionel Messi was back to his dominant best

When you have built your hopes up to the extent Messi must have done ahead of his trip to South Africa, a half-decent epitaph was not what he would have been hoping for, so it's safe to assume his last few weeks have been spent coming to terms with the reality that he failed his biggest test yet.

Footballer of the Year awards and even Champions League medals are not quite as glorious as a World Cup triumph and the four years he has to wait to have another crack at glory must have seemed a long way off as he pulled on his Argentina No.10 shirt for the first time since that tragic fall against the Germans.

The spectacular Aviva Stadium in Dublin provided a fitting stage for a football master who probably drew a bigger crowd on his own than the presence of host nation Ireland on this historic occasion at their new home and the 57 minutes of magic they were treated to did not disappoint.

Like his World Cup story, a golden goal was not to come Messi's way before his classy performance drew to a close, but his each and every touch and pass confirmed that there was a player in a league of his own in this disappointing pre-season friendly international.

With Barcelona's season still some way from kick-off, Messi would probably have rather spent this week training in a more sedate setting, yet national duty called as Argentina began life without departed coach Diego Maradona with a controversial 1-0 victory.

Only Danish referee Peter Rasmussen and his confused assistant failed to spot a blatant case of off-side in the build up to Angel Di Maria's 20th minute winning goal, with the Irish feeling hard done by once again as bumbling match officials proved to be their biggest rivals in a story akin to their World Cup heartache against France last November.

Such officiating incompetence and the general lack of atmosphere at this fixture gave weight to the notion that friendly internationals in mid-August are a bad idea, but the sight of Messi weaving his magic made the trip to Ireland's capital well worthwhile.

Even if he is not at the peak of physical fitness or anywhere close to being mentally on top of his game, the sublime touch he showed every time the ball came near him drew gasps from the Irish fans looking on in awe. His incisive and speedy passing was also impressive, with his legendary dribbling skills also in fine working order.

Messi so nearly christened this new stadium with a perfect opening goal, as he picked his way through the Irish defence before conjuring up a brilliant little chip that nearly beat Ireland keeper Shay Given after nine minutes. His pass that carved open the Irish defence after 27 minutes deserved to create a second goal for Argentina, with Messi's robust nature also on display as he bounced up from a crushing tackle from Richard Dunne that would have broken many who share his diminutive stature.

Granted, he was hardly up against a fearsome opponents on the right flank as he attacked the veteran Kevin Kilbane at will, but Messi still delivered flashes of the genius only he possesses and the standing ovation he received from the Irish fans as he left the pitch confirmed the Irish fans appreciated his efforts.

Aviva Stadium
GettyImagesAviva Stadium witnessed a flat opening match

The cheer that greeted Messi's exit was arguably the loudest on what was a muted first night of international soccer at this space age stadium, built on the same plot of land that once housed the creaking and crumbling Lansdowne Road stadium for so many years.

It's premature to judge the ambience of a sporting venue after a meaningless friendly, with Ireland's Euro 2012 qualifiers a more accurate judge of what this stadium will offer the home side, yet this felt like an anti-climatic start for a venue that will host the Europa League Final next May.

With Ireland boss Giovanni Trapattoni missing this game due to illness, assistant Marco Tardelli fielded questions from the media after the game. "I am disappointed by the result, but I felt the young players we tried played very well, especially in the second half," said the Italian.

"We played against a very experienced team and hopefully we will see the benefit from this match in the months ahead. Maybe we have found some new players and that is what you want from this sort of game. I have spoken to Giovanni Trapattoni and he is happy with the performance of our players.

"We are unlucky to lose when you see the goal and I was wondering if they have changed the off-side rules, but we should not have conceded the goal even if the officials made a mistake."

Interim Argentina coach Sergio Batista admitted his side were"'fortunate" with their winning goal as he offered words of praise for his side's resilience in the second half, yet the truth was his side were worthy winners after a fine passing display as he gave his side eight out of ten for their performance.

With Messi at the hub of all their best work, any suggestion that a disappointing World Cup would knock the game's greatest player off his pedestal will soon be dispelled.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Lionel Messi

Few players shone on this disappointing night of action, but it is always worth paying the admission money to watch Messi. What a class act.

AVIVA STADIUM VERDICT: The venue looks spectacular and the playing surface seemed more impressive than the shoddy pitch Wembley provided after it opened for business. Like any new venue, needs time to find its soul.

TRAPATTONI UPDATE: The Ireland manager is expected to stay in hospital for a few more days as he recovers from minor surgery he underwent on Wednesday afternoon. It seems as if food poisoning is not the problem for Trapattoni, as was previously reported.

MISSED OPPORTUNITY: Celtic's Cillian Sheridan would have been disappointed by his performance on a night when he could have staked a claim for a key role in the Euro 2012 effort. Wolves striker Kevin Doyle will not be ousted from the side after this poor showing.

KEANE HONOUR: Ireland captain Robbie Keane earned his 100th cap on this historic night for Irish soccer. He has been a fine servant for the national team cause.

ARGENTINA VERDICT: Life after Maradona will be far less entertaining for the watching world, but the next Argentina coach will inherit a squad overloaded with talent. They will be a threat come Brazil 2014 so long as their defensive flaws are addressed.