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Can Leo ’22 do a Diego ’90 (or more)?

Cut back from the Lusail Stadium in Qatar on Tuesday afternoon to the San Siro Stadium in Milan on June 8, 1990. Defending champions Argentina, led by Diego Maradona, were expected to breeze through Cameroon in their opening World Cup match. Cameroon, appearing for the second time in the World Cup were minnows hoping to contain the Albiceleste on the hunt for their third title.

After a gritty, goalless first half, the scoreboard moved – Francois Omam-Biyik’s 67th minute goal putting Cameroon remarkably ahead. And the scoreline stays till the final whistle, handing World Cup defenders – Maradona’s Argentina – a defeat that stuns the world.

On Tuesday, at Qatar, Lionel Messi’s Argentina were outwitted, outgunned and, especially in the second half, outplayed by Saudi Arabia, whose manager Hervé Renard had said before the match that his side would do their utmost best ‘but be realistic’. It was Lionel Scaloni’s side that was dealt a reality check.

So, as Messi is put through the scanner, it may seem the worst time to ask the question: Is Messi Maradona’s successor? Barring the fact that Messi has won pretty much every football trophy except the World Cup, there is also the matter of contrasting styles. While Maradona had a wild lifestyle and controversy, a constant angel by his side, Messi is the model ‘first boy’ who has always done things the right way. If Diego was the epic rags-to-riches-tochaos story, Leo is the perfect example of extraordinary talent honed by discipline and structure.
But despite these differences, the comparison with Maradona is a constant in Messi’s life. Messi came close

in 2014 to getting Argentina the Cup. And however dim that seems immediately after the loss to Saudi Arabia, winning it in 2022 is still a chance.

The stakes for Messi are at their highest in Qatar, especially so after the debacle in Lusail. Barring the penalty he put away, and one shot on goal that was disallowed for offside, the Argentine No. 10 failed to pick up play, let alone strut his usual magic. Be that as it may, having won the Copa America and until Tuesday, unbeaten in 36 straight games, this remains arguably the best Argentina team in a decade. With Angel Di Maria and Paulo Dybala fit for national duty, Messi has enough support in the scoring zone to be able to play freely — on a good day

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