If anything, the pain of this will sting more than any of the others. Not just because of the opponent: an unheralded and unfancied Saudi team that had been cast as little more than a sacrificial lamb, advised before the tournament to focus more on “enjoying themselves” than winning by no less than their kingdom’s crown prince, Mohamed bin Salman, not a man who seems like the sort to believe that it’s really the taking part that counts.
The real difference, though, was Argentina itself. For the first time in years, the country had somehow concocted a national team that was not entangled in an intricate web of neuroses and complexes. Under Lionel Scaloni, the low-key coach who had initially taken the job on a temporary basis and proved surprisingly good at it, Argentina had fostered a system designed to provide an older Messi with the support he needed.
In the years before the tournament, it had played 35 games and not lost any of them. More important, it had ended its…
This article was written by Rory Smith and originally published on www.nytimes.com