FIFA Club World Cup
An angry Lionel Messi is good for Argentina — and scary for opponents
FIFA Club World Cup

An angry Lionel Messi is good for Argentina — and scary for opponents

Updated Dec. 12, 2022 5:07 p.m. ET

DOHA, Qatar — Lionel Messi is angry, and your reaction to those words will mean something different depending on who you are, where you come from and what you wish to happen from this closing week of the World Cup.

Messi being royally ticked off is a headache in the here and now if you’re a Croatia player, coach or fan. It’s not great news if you’re tied to France or Morocco, either; though in that instance, it likely feels like a problem for future days.

For everyone else, especially those who wish well for Argentina’s soccer maestro, one of soccer’s enduring human treasures, Messi getting annoyed is a really, really good thing.

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Because now the best player of his generation (either including or apart from Cristiano Ronaldo, depending on your preference) has an extra fire in his belly, a burning need to win this tournament instead of just a fierce desire to do so.

There is a difference, and we will first see how it plays out on Tuesday against Croatia (2 p.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports app) in the first semifinal in Qatar.

Oh, Wout Weghorst, what have you done?

Weghorst scored two high-quality goals to bring the Netherlands back into its quarterfinal with Argentina before the South Americans prevailed in a penalty shootout, one of his strikes coming from perhaps the most innovative free-kick you’ll ever see.

And yet Weghorst’s most lasting impact on the World Cup might be that he enraged Messi at the end of that last eight clash, so much so that the typically calm Paris Saint-Germain star broke cover as he stood for a television interview being beamed back to his homeland.

"What are you looking at, stupid?" Messi raged at Weghorst — and it should be pointed out here that it is unclear what, if anything, was said or gestured by Weghorst to prompt the reaction. "Move on, stupid," Messi continued.

Netherlands vs. Argentina Recap: Lionel Messi steps up and sets the tone

Messi didn’t copy so many of his teammates in immediately turning to taunt the Dutch once the winning penalty went in on Friday, but he wasn’t holding back. He strode toward the Netherlands bench at the end and barked at head coach Louis van Gaal, assistant Edgar Davids and other members of the Netherlands back-up staff.

He’d taken umbrage, it seems, with some of Van Gaal’s media mind games in pre-match, as the coach claimed his team would have the edge if it went to penalties and that Messi did little to help his team when he doesn’t have the ball.

He was also peeved by the refereeing of Spanish official Mateu Lahoz, and while it is unlikely FIFA would ban him for the semifinal, the governing body’s executives were taking another look at his comments on Monday.

"I don’t want to talk about referees because then they will sanction you, but we were scared before the game because we knew what was coming," Messi told reporters. "I can’t say what I think, but FIFA have to look at this. They cannot put a referee like that on this game when he is not up to the level."

We haven’t seen much of this side of Messi before, but it is a known thing in Spain from all his years at Barcelona that you don’t tug on his cape, or he’ll come out and try to destroy you with his brilliance. Pregame news conferences from teams opposing him are usually quite deferential for that very reason.

Messi lives a quiet life, enjoys being around his family and rarely gets involved in this side of the soccer soap opera. When he does, it is usually enough to help him find a little extra sparkle.

There is a lot at stake for him here. His relationship with the Argentinian public is finally at the highest point possible after years when he felt excessive pressure when representing the national team and his performances suffered because of it.

No longer. He is a man on a mission now, knowing his legacy as one of the all-time legends of the sport is secure but that adding a World Cup — the only major prize to elude him — would be a spectacular addition.

Lionel Messi goes BEAST MODE for Argentina

Argentina made a dismal start to its World Cup campaign, in losing 2-1 to Saudi Arabia, but has been impeccable since. Messi uses his energy resources and silky powers carefully. At 35, he must be judicious with his physical expenditure and has been charted as the player at this World Cup who walks during a game more than any other.

When he is active though, he is lethal, scoring one and setting up the other against the Dutch with a brilliant pass.

He was already at the top of the soccer tree, but now he’s angry, too? It might just be enough to give him the prize he wants more than any.

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Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and the author of the FOX Sports Insider newsletter. Follow him on Twitter @MRogersFOX and subscribe to the daily newsletter.


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