In 2021, it was the wiry Argentine’s brilliant lob over Alison Becker that handed Messi and Argentina their first Copa America title since 1993. And on Sunday, on Messi’s greatest night, it was Di Maria’s brilliance down the left that helped the Latin American giants go 2-0 up against France before half-time. Unfortunately, an injury grounded Di Maria when Argentina played the 2014 final against Germany.
In recent years, Di Maria has played most of his football down the right. He was also recovering from an injury that he sustained in the Saudi Arabia game and he wasn’t a certainty for the final. But coach Lionel Scaloni, in a masterstroke, decided to employ the twinkle-toed winger down the left, a position in which he played when he becamethe Man of the Match in the Champions League final in 2014 for Real Madrid.
The move caught French right-back Jules Kounde completely off-guard and the wily Juventus player made a mockery of Ousmane Dembele to earn the first penalty that helped Messi make it 1-0. A little later, it was Di Maria who was the extra man meeting Alister Mac Allister’s beautiful ball from the left to make the scoreline 2-0.
TOI’s FIFA World Cup 2022 XI
<p>Here is TOI’s FIFA World Cup 2022 XI which ended in Lionel Messi leading Argentina to glory, scoring twice against France in one of the all-time great finals.</p>
Di Maria, quite clearly, was running out of steam and had to be taken off midway through the second half, but he had done more than what was expected of him. Many felt it was the Di Maria move by Scaloni that actually tilted the balance in favour of Argentina.
As the match wore on, Di Maria, sitting on the sidelines, couldn’t hold his tears — emotions were simply spilling over as fortunes kept fluctuating. And when it was all over, Messi’s biggest hug was reserved for his old friend, with whom he has won and lost in national colours for 14 years. Now it’s time to savour, sitting on a park bench, the beautiful journey they have shared.