Marcos Rojo has revealed how Lionel Messi implored even defenders to attack for Argentina prior to his remarkable late winner against Nigeria on Tuesday night.
Messi had sent Argentina into the lead with a wonderful strike in the second half but Jorge Sampaoli’s team found themselves staring down the barrel of a group stage exit after Victor Moses levelled from the spot.
As the minutes ticked down, with Argentines collectively praying for a hero, Marcos Rojo strode into the box and smashed home a sumptuous volley to take his country into the last 16.
Speaking after the game, Rojo explained how Messi’s words at half time and during the second half inspired Argentina towards a memorable victory.
“Messi came up to us and told us to calm down and not be stressed,” he said. “We felt nervous and that message helped us a lot and gave me personally a huge confidence boost.”
“Messi is our captain and he’s the best captain in the world, it was amazing to score that goal.
“Messi told everyone that it was either life or death. It could’ve gone badly. We could’ve conceded but Leo was stubborn. He told me to run forward. Even Mascherano. He told everyone to attack no matter what. He truly read the game and risks. He’s a leader. The best.”
When Argentina win, the whole of the country wins. When they lose, on the other hand, it is Messi who is depicted as the real loser, such is the burden on the 31-year-old’s shoulders at this World Cup.
As mad celebrations erupted all around him at the full time whistle, Messi stood there silently, having what looked like a prayer or perhaps just a moment of pause. The pressure on him is immense, compounded in these three games by nobody else in his team stepping up and making an impact.
Until minute 86 in game number three, that is. It was the Manchester United defender – not Gonzalo Higuain, not Paolo Dybala, not Angel di Maria, not Sergio Aguero – who finally gave Messi a helping hand.