Enyimba Football Club on Wednesday unveiled former Nigeria international, Finidi George, as the new head coach of the team.
In a social media post, the club confirmed the appointment with a bit of excitement in the caption, “How great is it to have a legend as an Elephant”.
George has put pen to paper on a two-year contract with the Aba side.
He replaces Fatai Osho whose contract expired at the end of August.
How Nigeria’s Ambassador Remawa-Ahmed celebrated in grand style with humanitarian service award.
The last decade in Cameroon has witnessed a media organisation, publisher of the ND Magazine, changing the landscape of the industry, in terms of content, colour and credibility.
One of its creeds aside news dissemination is to appreciate worthy individuals and groups. The company has never been caught promoting vulgarity and dregs of the society.
Hence, its special focus on anyone or group is greeted with applause which naturally adds to integrity of beneficiaries of its honour.
The Nigeria-Cameroun based magazine’s close observation of the newly appointed Nigeria Ambassador to the Republic of Chad, Ambassador Sauda Remawa-Ahmed has resulted in an award, which the company pegged on her humanitarian service over the years.
While serving as Deputy Nigeria High Commissioner to the Republic of Cameroon, Remawa-Ahmed was an outstanding diplomat whose career trajectory, spanning 24 years, remains a reference point to teachers and students of International Relations.
Her appointment to head Nigeria Embassy in Chad is regarded as a pointer to confidence which the Federal Government of Nigeria reposed in her capacity to breathe a new life to the mission in that country and advance national interest of Nigeria.
Her profile speaks volume of her elevation, especially her stint as head of the Economic/Commercial Desk at the Embassy of Nigeria in Madrid Spain (2010 – 2013).
She was also head of the Multilateral Desk at the Embassy of Nigeria in Paris, France (2017- 2020), afterwhich she was appointed ambassador and subsequently posted to Yaounde-Cameroon as the Deputy High Commissioner, a post she assumed on 27th April, 2021.
While presenting the award during the send forth organized by the High Commission in Yaounde, Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of the ND Group of Company, Mr Ismaila Adegbola expressed delight in his team work relationship with the woman.
In an emotional-ladden tone, Adegbola declared: Your Excellency, you have always led with respect. We are proud to have worked with such an ambitious person like you. Thank you for guiding us both professionally and personally. Thank you for your support. Your confidence in us is our biggest motivator. Best wishes and success in your new position. »
For the sake of emphasis, the CEO said, « the ND Group is a Nigerian-Cameroon based media firm that runs activities of Nigerians, public personalities and businesses in Cameroon and other parts of the world on a TV Show. It is also the publisher of the Naija Diaspora (ND) Magazine which specializes in media for corporate and distinguished personalities. The ND magazine has a broad-based readership which includes Nigerian Diplomatic and Consular Missions all over the world. The Naija Magazine bid to have its 10th anniversary next year. »
In his remark, Nigeria High Commissioner to the Republic of Cameroon, Ambassador Olonisakin also commended Ambassador Remawa-Ahmed for the harmonious relationship between him and her, being his deputy.
“She is very hardworking, dedicated and reliable. I wish Her Excellency a very successful tenure of duty in Chad,” said Olonisakin.
The event had in attendance, Cameroonian authorities, members of Diplomatic Corps, members of business communities, home based officers, locally recruited staff of the Nigeria High Commission, members of the Nigerian Community and other invited guests.
Qatar 2022 A review of ground-breaking World Cup with a fairy tale ending
According to FIFA, this was always going to be a World Cup like no other. Lionel Messi was the hero of the highest-scoring World Cup in history.
The first to be hosted in the Middle East, the first to be played in November and December, and the first of its size to be held in such a small geographical area, Qatar 2022 offered a fresh twist on this old and much-loved festival of football.
But while the treading of so much new ground came with opportunities – the novel prospect of attending multiple World Cup matches in a single day, for example – the risks were clear and undeniable.
Gianni Infantino admitted as much earlier this week, when he confessed to pre-tournament concerns “about having so many fans from so many countries, at the same time, in the same place”.
“In a normal World Cup, you have in one city fans of two countries, not more,” added the FIFA President. “Here, you have 32 countries plus all [the] other fans from the world who come to enjoy the World Cup together in the same place.”
Who are the best fans at the FIFA World Cup?
Given that the place in question has a population of less than 2.9 million and its stadiums are all within a 35-mile radius, questions naturally arose about how Qatar and its infrastructure would cope with a such a mass invasion. Others wondered how the on-field fare would be impacted by the tournament taking place in the middle of most players’ domestic seasons, with reduced preparation time an inevitable consequence.
One by one, of course, those doubts were swept away by a tidal wave of fantastic football, flawless organisation and friendly, passionate atmospheres on the streets and in the stadiums.
Jurgen Klinsmann described it as “a World Cup organised to perfection”, while Infantino has been far from alone in declaring Qatar 2022 to be, quite simply, “the best ever”.
Messi becomes the first player to score in every round of the FIFA World Cup
With a goal in the Final, Lionel Messi becomes the first player to ever score in the group stage, the Round of 16, quarter-final, semi-final and the Final itself in FIFA World Cup history.
The same description is, of course, being applied increasingly widely to the tournament’s star man. Lionel Messi was already a leading contender for ‘GOAT’ status but his claims to that title have been further fortified by a truly magnificent month in Qatar.
In the highest-scoring World Cup of all time, it was goals from Argentina’s captain that did most to determine the direction of the title. And not even La Albiceleste’s fiercest rivals could begrudge this wonderful player his well-deserved moment with the prize he has so long coveted.
Qatar 2022 factfile
Goals: 172 (a new record)
Stadium attendances: 3.4 million spectators
Fan Festival attendances: 1.8 million visitors
Volunteers: 20,000 from 150 different nations (selected from a record 420,000 applications)
Third place: Croatia
adidas Golden Ball: Lionel Messi (ARG)
adidas Golden Boot: Kylian Mbappe (FRA)
adidas Golden Glove: Emiliano Martinez (ARG)
Best Young Player: Enzo Fernandez (ARG)
From the butt of the world’s jokes to the worthiest of champions, La Albiceleste enjoyed one hell of a ride. And just as no-one foresaw that opening-match defeat to Saudi Arabia, few could have imagined that they would recover to achieve their long-held dream in such impressive – and dramatic – circumstances.
As for their talisman, what more can be said? Messi is quite rightly a beloved figure far beyond Argentina’s borders, and neutrals across the world were both captivated and converted to his team’s cause by the little magician’s pursuit of World Cup glory.
It took 88 years of attempting for an Africa team to reach the World Cup semi-finals. Morocco were the continental trailblazers.
After sinking Belgium in the group stage, Yassine Bounou, Achraf Hakimi, Hakim Ziyech, Youssef En-Nesyri and Co eliminated Spain in the last 16 and Portugal in the quarter-finals. The Atlas Lions also gave France a strict examination in the last four before losing an end-to-end encounter with Croatia 2-1 in the battle for bronze.
Road to the semi-finals: Morocco
Morocco is in the World Cup semi-finals for the first time in the history of Arab and African teams, watch their journey at Qatar 2022™ so far!
It simply must rank as one of the greatest achievements in World Cup history – a nation inhabited by fewer than four million people finishing second and third at back-to-back editions.
Zlatko Dalic lost several key components of his 2018 side, such as Danijel Subasic, Ivan Rakitic and Mario Mandzukic, but new stars emerged in the shape of Dominik Livakovic and Josko Gvardiol to complement the divine talent of Luka Modric. The Croatian highlight was a stunning elimination of tournament favourites Brazil en route to finishing third.
Would four-time champions Germany or 21st-century titans Spain win Group E? Japan made a mockery of the question the masses were assessing by slaying both those giants to finish top. The Samurai Blue also became only the third team in World Cup history, and the first since West Germany in 1970, to win two separate games in which they had been trailing at half-time.
The highs and lows of the FIFA World Cup™ 2022 group stage
From Japanese joy to German tears, these are the high and low moments for teams of the 2022 FIFA World Cup™ in Qatar.
Lionel Messi: This requires an article all of its own and, fortunately, we have one. Enjoy our detailed rundown on the various national and global records that were rewritten by Messi at Qatar 2022.
Kylian Mbappe: With eight goals in seven appearances, the France talisman produced the highest-scoring World Cup by any individual player since Ronaldo emerged with an identical haul from the 2002 edition. Mbappe also became just the fifth player in World Cup history to score in separate finals, the first to score a final hat-trick since Geoff Hurst in 1966 and, with four goals across 2018 and 2022, is now established as the highest-scoring player in the history of football’s showpiece fixture.
Lionel Scaloni: At 44 years old, the Argentinian became the youngest coach since fellow countryman Cesar Luis Menotti – who was 39 in 1978 – to win the World Cup.
Yassine Bounou: The Morocco hero became the first African goalkeeper to record three clean sheets in a single World Cup edition.
Olivier Giroud: The big Frenchman only started for France due to a late pre-tournament injury to Karim Benzema but certainly made the most of his opportunity, scoring four times to move on to 53 for his country – two clear of Thierry Henry’s previous record of 51.
Neymar: In a tournament that ended in tears for the Brazil No10, he nonetheless equalled Pele’s 77-goal haul to become A Seleção’s joint-record scorer.
Hugo Lloris: The France skipper surpassed Lilian Thuram (142) as his country’s all-time record caps holder and also became the first goalkeeper to reach the milestone of 20 World Cup appearances.
Harry Kane: With his 52nd and 53rd international goals, the England captain moved alongside Wayne Rooney as the Three Lions’ all-time record scorer.
Ivan Perisic: The Croatia wide man scored one and set up two for the Vatreni, meaning that he now has six goals and five assists across the last three World Cups. Only the great Messi (21) can claim more direct goal involvements during the same period.
Goncalo Ramos: The rising Portugal star became the first player to score a hat-trick on his maiden World Cup start since Miroslav Klose in 2002. He was also responsible for the first treble in the knockout stage since Tomas Skuhravy at Italia ‘90.
Qatar 2022How Messi, Argentina won the best rated FIFA World Cup
2022 FIFA World Cup
The night Argentina, Lionel Messi made history in Qatar
Paris Saint-Germain star Lionel Messi steered Argentina to a World Cup victory over France on 18th December 2022, and was bestowed the Golden Ball for being the most outstanding player of the tournament and made history doing it.
Messi had two goals and converted on a penalty to lift Argentina to the win. It’s the second time he’s won the award and became the only player to ever accomplish the feat.
Messi’s first goal came in the first half and he got Argentina on the ball early. France was penalized inside the box and it came down to the legendary soccer player to put his squad up 1-0 in the biggest game in sports. Messi converted and got his teammates up 1-0 early.
With the goal, Messi became the first player in a men’s World Cup to score in the Round of 16, quarterfinal, semifinal and final. Though he finished behind France’s Kylian Mbappe for the Golden Boot, Messi’s conversion gave Argentina some key momentum.
Angel Di Maria put Argentina up 2-0 at halftime. France stormed back thanks to Mbappe and forced extra time. Messi scored in extra time but the squad couldn’t hold off another Mbappe goal.
Both Messi and Mbappe scored in the penalty shootout but it was Argentina that got a clutch stop and a miss to seal the deal.
Night had long since fallen in Doha when Argentina’s team bus rolled out of the Lusail Stadium for the five-mile trip back to their headquarters at Qatar University.
The mood on board was funereal.
Saudi Arabia had just pulled off one of the greatest shocks in the history of the World Cup, beating Argentina 2-1 in their opening group game and ending their opponents’ 36-match unbeaten run in the process. A team who had arrived in Qatar as among the favourites to win what would be their third world title were wounded and looked vulnerable.
Lionel Messi had offered a few words to the media in the stadium’s mixed zone but had said little in the dressing room. As the coach began its journey, however, he decided now was the time to speak.
According to Clarin, the Argentine newspaper, Messi stood up and told the squad that this defeat — far from spelling the end of their hopes — represented the chance to show “what this group is made of, to get stronger than ever, and look ahead”.
As Argentina’s jubilant players and coach Lionel Scaloni’s staff cavorted on that Sunday night on the same Lusail Stadium pitch they had left in abject despair 26 days earlier, their place in history secure after sealing a first World Cup victory since 1986, those words Messi uttered may have been resounding in their ears.
The romantics may like to think that this tournament has adhered to some kind of celestial script, a joyous end to what had been billed as Messi’s last dance on the global stage, but the reality is rather different.
Instead, it was a triumph that stemmed from precise planning, indomitable team spirit, the mastery of a succession of crucial moments — and, yes, the harnessing of a 35-year-old Messi in his golden final years.
It is one of the curiosities of Messi’s gilded career that his dressing-room presence with Argentina was not quite in keeping with his fame. While his influence was always significant, for most of Messi’s career with the national team, midfielder Javier Mascherano was the player considered the squad’s spiritual leader.
In recent years, however, Messi has found his voice — literally.
Footage of his stirring dressing-room speech before the 2021 Copa America final, held in Brazil’s totemic Maracana Stadium, went viral after Argentina’s 1-0 victory over their hosts and arch-rivals, and showed a new side to a footballer who had always been deemed as having simply led by his talismanic presence on the field.
There were changes in public, too. Whereas previously Messi’s utterances to the media were often delivered in idioms and slang from Spain, where he has spent most of his life after moving there at age 13, he now favours Argentine phraseology. For a nation that had initially struggled to warm to a player who had chosen to base himself in Barcelona for the past two decades, it was a significant shift.
So, too, has been Messi’s readiness to put himself front and centre of Argentina’s media activity in Qatar.
Previously, he had the reputation — perhaps a slightly unfair one — of going missing after high-profile defeats or setbacks, preferring to let other senior players do the talking.
After the defeat to Saudi Arabia, however, Messi — the captain — was the one fronting up, urging fans and press alike to keep faith in the players while acknowledging that they felt “dead” following the game.
Within the squad, too, Messi has adjusted to change.
In the past, his most trusted lieutenants were stationed on ‘la mesa chica’ (‘the small table’), where he and his inner circle would eat their meals on international duty. Mascherano, Lucas Biglia, Angel Di Maria, Gonzalo Higuain and Sergio Aguero were all regular dining companions, and it was strictly by invitation only. Mauro Icardi’s failure to settle in the Argentina set-up reportedly stemmed from him occupying an empty seat at la mesa chica, apparently because he felt his elevated reputation in Europe permitted him that same status with the national team. It is said that Messi and his friends were unimpressed.
Now, Messi has had no option but to integrate with others. Mascherano, Biglia, Higuain and Aguero are all retired, either from international football or from playing altogether; of that original circle, Di Maria is the only other one who was still playing at Qatar 2022. Instead, Messi has bonded with the likes of Rodrigo De Paul (the man who has become known, affectionately, as his bodyguard on and off the pitch), Nicolas Otamendi and Papu Gomez.
Leandro Paredes has become a close ally, and not just from them spending last season together as team-mates at Paris Saint-Germain. Spanish newspaper El Pais has reported that when De Paul was a new addition to the national squad in 2019, he and Paredes knocked on Messi’s door and invited him to play cards with them. They still do that now.
Messi still has a special status in the squad. Whereas he stayed in Room 201 at the Qatar University campus on his own (the Pope took Suite 201 in the Vatican following his election in 2013 — a neat coincidence if nothing else), his team-mates shared.
De Paul stayed with Otamendi, a senior figure who is considered something of a minder for the younger players, while Paredes — who runs the squad’s WhatsApp group — bunked with Di Maria. The pair have plenty in common, having both been part of the rumoured South American ‘clique’ in the PSG dressing room which was broken up in the summer.
But younger players such as Lisandro Martinez, Enzo Fernandez, Cristian Romero, Julian Alvarez and Nahuel Molina also bought into the team spirit: they are well known to each other, having grown up playing in Argentina’s youth ranks, and there was never any question of them failing to show sufficient respect for the more senior pros.
Fernandez, for one, will have remembered the letter he wrote to Messi as a 15-year-old, proclaiming his devotion to the No 10 — who had just announced a short-lived retirement from international football — and bemoaning how badly treated he had been by their home country.
The groups of players mixed well at Qatar University, a base that was in contrast to many of Argentina’s World Cup rivals, most of whom opted to stay in one of the state’s many opulent hotels and spa resorts. The college campus was hardly spartan but it was relatively frills-free, and Argentina felt the business-like surroundings would help underline that their squad was there to win, rather than for a holiday.
There were some creature comforts imported from home, most notably 2,600kg (5,700lb) of beef, plus four custom-made grills and a stoker, all of which helped provide the asado – the outdoor barbeque which is an Argentine speciality, and which allowed players to bond while the meat was cooked by team chef Diego Iacovone in one of the campus courtyards.
“My favourite food is the asado, but it’s more than that,” said manager Scaloni. “It creates an atmosphere of union and collective chemistry. It’s part of our culture, the Argentine idiosyncrasy. It’s during that time that we get to talk, to laugh, relax and connect. It’s not necessarily about the meat, although we love it, it’s to be part of a group and the connection that it generates.”
There was downtime for players with their families, too: squad members were given two days off after the last-16 victory over Australia, with relatives allowed to enter the training camp. More time off was granted following the semi-final defeat of Croatia, although Messi was one of the players who opted to stay on-site and prepare for the final.
This was a tournament where he wanted to leave nothing to chance.
Not that Messi was entirely without allies from the old days.
One of the figures who featured most prominently in Argentina’s progress to the final was not even a member of the official party in Qatar — Aguero, who was forced to retire last December, at the age of 33, due to a newly-discovered heart condition.
Aguero, who scored 41 goals in 101 senior games for Argentina, was officially in Qatar to work for ESPN Argentina and to produce his own Twitch videos, featuring interviews with players.
These have generally been well received, although his role did provoke one awkward moment when, after that loss to Saudi Arabia, Aguero outlined why Lautaro Martinez had been the wrong choice to lead the forward line, and that Alvarez should have played.
It was interpreted as an attack on Martinez — who was quizzed about Aguero’s comments in the days afterwards — and created some tension behind the scenes, although the fact that Alvarez was promoted to the starting line-up for the third group game against Poland suggested that the coaching staff had come to the same view.
By the end of the tournament, however, Aguero had become the squad’s lucky mascot, taking part in training — he scored a superb goal in the session that took place three days before the final — and resuming his close alliance with Messi.
The 35-year-old is godfather to Aguero’s son, Benjamin, 13, and takes his duties seriously, even giving him the shorts he had worn in the semi-final victory over Croatia.
Aguero and Messi had roomed together in their time with the national squad and in the build-up to Sunday’s final, the former Manchester City striker moved back in with his old friend to offer support ahead of the biggest game of his life.
Then, in the final itself, Aguero was once again front and centre of Argentina’s celebrations: at the final whistle, he joined the players on the pitch — wearing a No 19 shirt, a number he’d worn playing for his country and when briefly team-mates with Messi early last season at Barcelona, and carrying an enormous drum — before taking his turn to hold the trophy aloft and carrying his friend triumphantly around the field on his shoulders.
By the time the party had retreated to the dressing room, Aguero was still helping to conduct the celebrations, including delivering some crude barbs at, for reasons that remain unclear, France substitute Eduardo Camavinga.
Argentina’s willingness to allow Aguero such an unusually prominent role behind the scenes is testament to his standing within the squad, but also reveals something about the character of the head coach who was happy to let it happen, while also ensuring that this band of strong, emotional personalities could forge a cohesive whole.
Lionel Scaloni was never supposed to coach Argentina.
After the dismissal of Jorge Sampaoli following their 4-3 World Cup round-of-16 defeat to title-bound France in 2018, most commentators were urging the appointment of one of Argentina’s garlanded club-level coaches, such as Mauricio Pochettino or Diego Simeone.
Scaloni, who has never held a club coaching job, was part of Sampaoli’s staff and got handed the role on an interim basis but was not considered a serious option to fill it permanently. Or at least, he was not until the parlous state of the Argentine Football Association’s finances became painfully clear. The ruinous regime of FA president Julio Grondona had left them unable to afford a higher-profile candidate and so Scaloni was given his chance.
Scaloni was aware of the underwhelming reaction to his appointment — Diego Maradona had accused him of being unable to direct traffic, let alone manage the national team — and understood the need to establish a strong support team around him. Most crucially, he knew how important it was to have staff who would earn the confidence of Messi.
His first hire, Pablo Aimar — one of Messi’s childhood idols, and a team-mate at the 2006 World Cup — was pivotal to that.
Aimar’s nickname may be ‘The Clown’ but that belies his influence: he is seen as the emotional heartbeat of this Argentina squad (he was pictured crying on the bench after Messi scored the crucial opening goal against Mexico in the second group game) and has the players’ unwavering respect.
Scaloni’s other appointments have all proved shrewd. Walter Samuel, a former centre-back and a strong, silent presence within the camp, is charged with working with the defence, often calling one-on-one meetings or small group chats to convey his instructions. Roberto Ayala, who was sporting director at Racing Club in Argentina and then briefly Valencia, provides more general oversight.
Scaloni, meanwhile, sets the culture which above all else was founded on pragmatism.
Whereas most Argentine coaches are considered disciples of one of two schools — Bilardismo (the win-at-all-costs mentality of Carlos Bilardo, the 1986 World Cup-winning coach) and Menottismo (named after Cesar Luis Menotti, whose free-flowing philosophy delivered the trophy in 1978) — Scaloni occupies a middle ground. He adapts his tactics to opponents, regularly switching systems and personnel between and during matches.
“The World Cup is won by the intelligent teams, the cautious teams, that know when to attack and when to defend,” Scaloni said before the tournament in Qatar began. “Rarely does a team win by overwhelming. Intelligence forms part of football and we will have to adapt ourselves to know what works for us.”
Scaloni’s refusal to use a settled system has not been met with unanimous approval in Argentina. Even within the coaching staff, The Athletic has been told, there were concerns that the team was not as solid as the one which won the Copa America 16 months earlier, albeit that can largely be attributed to injuries.
The coach has also been content to let Messi be the on-field manager, bending matches to his will.
In that vital group game against Mexico, with Argentina facing elimination, Messi — frustrated by his lack of impact — told Di Maria he needed to get the ball to him in the middle because he sensed their opponents had a soft centre. Sure enough, in the 64th minute, Di Maria delivered the ball in precisely that area and, with no defenders within two metres of him, Messi was able to take a touch and fire in the opening goal.
“He’s like a sniper, or a hunter, he’s looking around all the time,” said the Argentine journalist Martin Mazur, when appraising Messi’s ability to analyse matches as they happen around him. “Now when he’s walking, he’s hunting all the time. It’s like a nature documentary and working out what he’s going to do next.”
Scaloni did, however, intervene when necessary. After the Saudi defeat, when the squad had returned to their training base, he was reported to have called a meeting of his players and staff. It was not an angry dressing-down — more an attempt to lift spirits, especially among those who had no experience in this type of competition.
Whatever disappointment there was in the squad is said to have quickly given way to more positive messages delivered by the likes of Di Maria, Gomez, De Paul and Emiliano Martinez.
The message was clear: do not dwell on this disappointment.
Scaloni’s plan was wise because Argentina’s entire campaign was fuelled by emotion, and not just in relation to giving Messi the trophy his career deserves.
This World Cup also provided proof, if any were needed, that there are few more formidable forces in sport than an Argentina team with a grievance, and in Qatar they found them everywhere.
In the early stages of the tournament, there were grumbles from the travelling media corps that access had been relatively restricted, particularly given it contrasted with Brazil’s open approach.
Whereas their great rivals were happy to put up a variety of coaches and players to discuss tactics and preparations in detail, Argentina were noticeably more prickly. One feisty exchange typified the mood, Scaloni taking umbrage at an inquiry relating to De Paul leaving a training session early. The coach said he would answer the journalist’s question, but only if he revealed his source.
This siege mentality extended to the pitch, and was best encapsulated by Martinez.
The goalkeeper — nicknamed ‘Dibu’ because in his younger days he looked like a character in a TV cartoon of that name — is one of the squad’s most popular and respected figures (Messi credited him with winning Argentina the Copa America last year) but is well known for his combustible approach. When Paredes was asked in a pre-tournament interview to remove from the squad’s WhatsApp group the player with the “hottest temper”, it was Martinez he selected.
The Aston Villa goalkeeper’s antics became increasingly extreme as the World Cup progressed.
His defining moment was undeniably after Sunday’s final, when he celebrated being presented with the Golden Glove award as the tournament’s best goalkeeper by placing the trophy on his groin and thrusting out his hips — apparently a reference to the size of his genitals — but that was far from a one-off.
Emiliano Martinez’s gesture with the Golden Glove trophy typified his approach throughout the tournament
After the bad-tempered quarter-final victory over the Netherlands, which featured a World Cup-record 18 yellow cards and was ultimately decided by Martinez’s brilliant performance in the penalty shootout, the goalkeeper revealed he had taken a screenshot on his phone of comments by Louis van Gaal in the build-up, when the opposition manager claimed that his side’s expertise from the spot would prove decisive if the game went to penalties.
“I showed Martin (Tocalli, Argentina’s goalkeeping coach) and my psychologist and I said to them, ‘Right, he’s lit the fuse now’,” Martinez said. “I saved that article on my phone and I looked at it for motivation every day in the run-up to the game.”
Martinez was not the only Argentinian who felt provoked that night.
Messi, too, struggled to control his irritation, cupping his ears to Van Gaal and his coaching staff after scoring the game’s opening goal from the penalty spot, and then breaking off from a post-match television interview to goad Wout Weghorst, the Netherlands striker.
“What are you looking at, fool?” Messi yelled. “Go on that way, fool. Go away.”
Aguero, who was nearby in the tunnel, then had to intervene as Weghorst went to try to shake Messi’s hand.
And even in their moment of greatest triumph, as they celebrated with the World Cup, and crates of beer, in the dressing room on Sunday night, the players were eager to tease their rivals as well as celebrate their own achievement. One by one, they called for a “minute of silence” for their great rivals — from Kylian Mbappe, whose hat-trick in the final was to no avail, to Kingsley Coman, who saw his shootout penalty saved by Martinez, and then the whole Brazilian nation.
In truth, Argentina were feeding off the energy of their fans as much as themselves.
No country, with the possible exception of Brazil, were better supported in Qatar, the tone set by over 1,000 supporters turning out at the university campus at 3:45am local time to welcome the squad after they had just arrived from a pre-tournament training camp in neighbouring Abu Dhabi.
“We feel like locals, it seems that we are playing in Argentina,” said Martinez. “The support of the people helped us to put the bad game against Saudi Arabia behind us.”
Remarkable stories abounded of the lengths Argentina fans went to, such was their desire to see the team make history.
Back home, things were no less intense.
On the eve of the final, it emerged that a collective of hundreds of witches — the so-called La Brujineta (a play on ‘bruja’, the Spanish word for witch, and ‘La Scaloneta’, the nickname for the national team) — were performing rituals designed to absorb negative energy from Argentina’s players. The group now has over 28,000 Twitter followers.
Each Argentina win was greeted with increasingly chaotic scenes of celebration, with Buenos Aires’ Plaza de la Republica serving as a focal point for jubilant fans.
Each region had its own champion, however, and one of the running themes of Scaloni’s media briefings was the presence of Diego Korol, a journalist with Ole newspaper, who would present Scaloni with a flag, a photo and a message from Pujato, the head coach’s hometown.
Scaloni was gracious, although when Korol conducted his little ritual before that Mexico match, he was visibly irritated. By the time Korol approached him before the final, however, Scaloni had been converted, and when he was shown a video of people in Pujato wishing the team luck, the normally composed coach broke down in tears.
And throughout the tournament, Argentine success has been accompanied by ‘Muchachos’ – the ubiquitous chant which has become a rallying cry for fans and players alike.
Adapted from the 2003 song Muchachos by the Buenos Aires punk band La Mosca, with lyrics rewritten by an Argentina supporter named Fernando Ramos, it celebrates Argentina’s sporting culture and history. All the key ingredients are there — Messi, Maradona, the Malvinas (the disputed islands off the Argentine coast occupied by the United Kingdom, and the subject of the 1982 conflict between the nations) and some teasing of Brazil over that defeat in the 2021 Copa America final.
It has been belted out by fans in the stands and the streets around Qatar, as well as players in the dressing room. Back home, meanwhile, it has become the soundtrack of the summer: after the victory over Australia in the last 16, the driver of a subway train in Buenos Aires had to stop to tell the passengers to stop jumping up and down while singing the song. They carried on. For another 10 minutes.
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