Romantic denouements in football are a big ask and no mistake


It doesn’t matter how big a star you are: the World Cup doesn’t really do fairytale endings. Take Zinedine Zidane, the embodiment of France 98, sticking the nut on Marco Materazzi in 2006 and traipsing off down the tunnel in disgrace, his chances of a second title following in lockstep. Garrincha’s reward for sprinkling stardust at the 1958 and 1962 tournaments was to be kicked all over the shop in 1966, his last international a 3-1 defeat to Hungary, the only game for the Seleção he ever lost. Or how about Alcides Ghiggia, Uruguay’s matchwinner of 1950’s legendary Maracanazo, ending his World Cup career in 1957 by getting sent off while representing Italy in a 2-1 qualifying defeat to Northern Ireland. Italy didn’t make it through to the finals; that sort of news used to be a big shock back then.

There’s the pharma-infused downfall of Maradona in 1994, too, but like Zizou, the Little Bird and Ghiggia, at least he’d already etched the biggest prize in the world on to his resumé. Compare and contrast with poor Diego de nos jours Lionel Messi, so close yet so far away to the fairytale required to secure his legacy, moving him out of the Really Quite Good But Let’s Wait And See Again A Dozen Years Down The Line, Attitudes Change, After All Remember How People Used To Be Quite Aggressively Insistent About That Tiki-Taka Spain Side category and instantly into Not Up For Debate. Hey, we don’t make these rules, and in any case you’ve only had to watch Argentina’s games this last couple of weeks to see how much it means to him. Uncharacteristically emotional, Messi knows the score. These romantic denouements are a big ask and no mistake.

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The Netherlands stand between Messi and a semi-final showdown with Croatia. (We’re pretty sure Brazil will at some point implode under the pressure of being Brazil, so why not on Friday afternoon.) History isn’t much of a guide before their showdown. In 1974, the Netherlands (trading as Holland, pedantry being less of a thing back then) did a four-goal number on Argentina; at France 98, Dennis Bergkamp smothered them with silk. However the Albiceleste have semi-final (2014) and final (1978) victories over the Dutch to boast about, so it’s kind of swings and roundabouts. Swings and roundabouts if you factor out Argentina’s winners’ medals, that is, plus the fact neither Bergkamp nor Johan Cruyff can be called upon for the slightly more orchard-variety Oranje of 2022. But you get the general gist.

Football Daily is surely not going too far out on a limb by saying the majority of the watching world will be pulling for Messi. But plenty would like to see a happy ending for the enigmatic Louis van Gaal too, especially in the wake of his health issues. So one beloved name is guaranteed to feel that awful hollow pang of late-career disappointment. But for the loser, all is not lost! Unburdened with either semi-final or final action to prepare for, they’ll have the opportunity to relax, charge their glass, sit back, kick off their shoes, put up their feet, grab the popcorn, and enjoy the inevitable Where’s My Fairytale Ending You *£&$ing *^£%^£s!!! meltdown that’s almost certain to play out entertainingly elsewhere. We’re pretty sure that’s on the cards one way or another, even if Portugal end up winning the whole thing.


Join Scott Murray from 3pm GMT for MBM coverage of Croatia 1-2 Brazil, before Rob Smyth is on hand to guide you through Netherlands 1-1 Argentina (aet, 4-3 pens).


“Against Australia, it was like the essence of his 1,000 games, the aroma of everything he’s been. Even as a madridista, I’ve always thought that whoever doesn’t love Messi doesn’t love football. I won’t allow anyone to say he is less than anyone ever” – it’s always interesting to hear from Jorge Valdano. Which is what Sid Lowe did.

Jorge Valdano talks all things Maradona, Messi and the 1986 World Cup.
Jorge Valdano talks all things Maradona, Messi and the 1986 World Cup. Photograph: Juan Mabromata/AFP/Getty Images


“May I be one of the 1,057 pedants to congratulate you for bringing back picture captions” – Conor McKeogh (and no others).

“Re: ‘for anyone born between Berwick and Penzance. England may be a proud sporting nation …’ (yesterday’s Football Daily letters). Berwick to Plymouth, surely, as there’s the increasing view that Kernow is most definitely Not Part of England. Otherwise, keep up the work” – William Preston.

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