What you should know about FIFA – that’s the football World Cup, which you couldn’t watch last night, but want to sound smart about, at the office water-cooler today.
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Here’s your name-dropping check-list for Day 11, Argentina vs Poland
During his illustrious career, Carlos Mac Allister shared the pitch Diego Maradona, playing along side the legendary forward at Boca Juniors and Argentina. On Wednesday, he was in the stands of Stadium 974 in Doha watching his son, Alexis, share the stage with one of the greats of this generation – Lionel Messi.
And after a dramatic World Cup night on Wednesday, Mac Allister received ultimate recognition from his idol. Messi was named the man of the match by FIFA for his remarkable performance against a Polish team that did everything possible to stop him. Messi, however, handed over that award to Mac Allister, who wasn’t content merely playing along side Messi. He scored the goal – his first international goal – that paved the way for Argentina’s 2-0 win over Poland, helping them enter the last-16 of the World Cup, ran the Polish defenders ragged, created chances and also saved Messi the blushes, after the captain missed a first-half penalty.
It was quite an evening for the 23-year-old, far removed from the once shy boy he once was around Messi. During their first meeting – at a national team training camp – Mac Allister had turned red seeing Messi. “Completely red,” he told The Athletic in an interview. “I didn’t want even to say hello. I was really nervous even to meet one of the best players in the world, but it was fantastic, of course.”
He added: “It’s something I’m not going to forget. It was magic when my dad played with Maradona and I could train with Lionel Messi.”
He’s more than trained now.
On a dramatic night, Messi had a penalty saved in the first half by Wojcieck Szczesny, who frustrated Argentines throughout the 45 minutes by pulling off some stunning saves. With Argentina needing a win to be assured of a place in last 16, there were moments of anxiety for the fans during half time. And they found inspiration from the most unlikeliest of sources.
A minute after restart, Mac Allister latched on to a pass from Nahuel Molina and although he didn’t make a clear connection with his right foot, he managed to find the far post to beat Szczesny.
It was his first international goal, one which seemed to have calmed down Argentina, who scored a second Julian Alvarez to put the result beyond doubt.
Although he found his name on the scoresheet, Mac Allister is known more for making other – equally important – contributions, be it providing assists, flicking on long balls from the defence in the direction of his attack partners or doing what he does the best – creating chances from setpieces. That’s what he’s done at his club – Brighton and Hove Albion – and that’s what he’s done for Messi and Argentina in his 10 international appearances.
Curiously, though, Mac Allister didn’t have the most warmest of welcomes to the senior team dressing room when he was called up two years ago. Allister’s Irish descent earned him the nickname “ginger” – because of the colour of his hair, owing to his Irish ancestry – which he didn’t really approve of. It was Lionel Messi who stepped up for him.
“I remember everyone called me Colo, which is ‘ginger’ in Argentina. I don’t like it much and Messi told the teammates,’ He doesn’t like to be called Colo, so don’t call him that!’,” he told The Athletic.
Messi protected him back then. He covered up for Messi this time.