Messi is an Argentina icon after World Cup final win over France

The love for Messi, now an icon in Argentina, may even rival the god-like reverence for Maradona, another mercurial attacker who wore the famous No. 10 jersey for his national team. And just like Maradona, Messi transcends national boundaries.

Ahmed Edi from Saudi Arabia was watching Sunday’s final at a fan park event in Doha, Qatar. He said he was supporting Argentina for one reason.

“Because Messi,” said Edi, 22. “I love Messi.”

Argentina has amassed thousands, if not millions, of fans in places like Saudi Arabia and in South Asian nations like India and Bangladesh, thanks to an affinity that goes back at least to Maradona’s 1986 triumph. The surge in support during this tournament was largely down to one man.

“I think it’s to put it simply, I really enjoy watching him play,” said Pratik Bhattacharjee, 21, from Bangladesh, currently studying at Hong Kong University.

“It’s just sheer brilliance. The way he plays, I don’t see it in any other player. That’s why I support Messi.”

At times standing still or strolling, Messi can change the course of a game in a heartbeat with a pass no one else saw coming, or a slaloming run that baffles viewers and opposing  defenders alike.

He matches this rare style with a devastating effectiveness: Messi is Argentina’s all-time leading scorer, with 98 goals in 172 games.

He added two to that tally on Sunday, in a final that was the stuff of sporting legend.

Even the most seasoned soccer observers were almost lost for words.

“I thought they were deserving winners in the end,” said Christopher Davies, a British soccer journalist who has reported from eight World Cups, including Argentina in 1978, when the host nation won the trophy for the first time.

He said the final Sunday was the most entertaining of them all, in no small part thanks to one man’s display.

“I don’t think it’s possible to be better than Messi. For me no one rides him close,” said Davies. 

After Sunday, across Argentina and beyond, there may be fewer who disagree.

Elizabeth Kuhr and Kriti Gandhi contributed.

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