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Messi humbled

Lionel Messi stood a few yards away from the ball as it lay on the penalty spot. He waited. Behind him, in the stands at the side of the pitch, Argentina fans bowed down theatrically to the living deity. Behind the goal at the Spartak Stadium, more fans chanted his name, slowly and rhythmically. High to his left, sitting in a VIP box, Diego Maradona watched from behind a garish pair of sunglasses.

Messi took his normal short run-up. Everyone expected him to score. That goes without saying. Messi had scored 64 goals in 124 games for Argentina before this match.

But it was not a good penalty and the Iceland goalkeeper, Hannes Halldorsson, guessed correctly. He dived to his right and the ball was hit just high enough and just low enough for him to parry it away to safety.

There were still more than 25 minutes to go but Messi must have thought his Argentina nightmare was beginning again. If his club career with Barcelona has been defined by a series of stunning individual and team triumphs, his international career has been beset by disappointments. He has played in four major finals for Argentina and lost all of them. Now the demons were back.

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Sentinel Group