Welcome back, the Messi-ah of Argentina
Mercurial forward's U-turn on retirement the perfect tonic for Argentina
Forty-six days were the difference between Argentina's life without Lionel Messi.
They did not kick a ball in anger during those two months, following a successive Copa America final defeat, but it remains a period that neither they, nor he, will wish to revisit again soon.
La Albicelete's sense of loss was incomprehensible; that one of the world's greatest players had chosen to turn his back on his country just days after his 29th birthday.
That healing process finally began yesterday morning (Singapore time), as Messi recreated former glories by donning those iconic sky blue and white stripes again.
Even with a generous deflection off Uruguay's Jose Gimenez, the Barcelona talisman's return to scoring prominence could not have been better timed for Argentina's World Cup qualifying campaign as they leapfrogged their closest challengers.
Dragged through the courts, off the pitch, by the Spanish authorities on tax evasion charges and eclipsed by Cristiano Ronaldo, on it, he had decided to walk away from international duty at a time when nothing appeared to be going right for him.
Losing a third showpiece in as many years, a second at the holy grail of South American football which had extended Argentina's 23-year silverware drought in the process, appeared to be merely the straw which finally broke the camel's back.
To those in his homeland, however, it felt like a slap in the face and vindicated those who had refused to allow the adulation of him across Europe and beyond to become universal.
His relationship with Argentina has been one regularly tempered by accusations of treachery; that he only turns on the style when Barcelona are the sole beneficiary - ironic given the exemption Diego Maradona enjoyed during a two-year playing hiatus.
Maradona's own absence for Argentina at the peak of his playing career is often conveniently forgotten, not least by the man himself after delivering a stark warning before the Copa America final defeat by Chile at the end of June.
"If you don't win, don't come back", was the World Cup winner's ultimatum to some of his former players.
Yet Messi continues to remain the shadow of his esteemed predecessor despite appearing to be a more superior all-round player.
Deriding his country's football association as "a disaster" for the mismanaged travel plans during the Copa America was also a driving factor in extending the disparity which currently exists between him and the national side.
Backdrops of friction remain a largely alien concept for a player whose simplistic outlook on both football and life continues to mirror his youthful appearance, in spite of the current bleached blond hair and beard ensemble.
It is football which has continually provided an outlet for Messi to channel his frustrations and can do so again as he looks to revive his fortunes for both club and country.
He has more than enough motivation, with the onerous task of helping Barcelona wrestle back the Champions League from Real Madrid and exercising damage limitation in the face of Ronaldo's unassailable status as the next winner of the Ballon d'Or.
With Argentina, too, there is ample ambition to fulfil although the prospect of missing Wednesday morning's follow-up with Venezuela, rock-bottom of the Conmebol standings, due to a groin problem will be something a chagrin so early into his comeback trail.
But what is plain for all to see is that Argentina are just relieved to have their talisman back.
(Lionel Messi 43)
Messi: I did not deceive anybody
Lionel Messi scored the winning goal on his return from a short-lived international retirement yesterday morning (Singapore time), as Argentina defeated Uruguay 1-0 to take control of South America's 2018 World Cup qualifying race.
Messi had stunned the footballing world in June after vowing to never play for Argentina again, following an agonising defeat by Chile in the final of the Copa America Centenario.
However, after a meeting with new Argentina coach Edgardo Bauza - who flew to Europe to meet with Messi - the Barcelona star elected to return to the national team.
That tearful farewell in June was a distant memory at Mendoza's Estadio Malvinas yesterday morning, as the Barcelona superstar orchestrated a 1-0 victory over the two-time World Cup winners.
Messi lashed home the winner on 43 minutes, with his low shot taking a wicked deflection to deceive Uruguay goalkeeper Fernando Muslera at the near post.
Messi insisted that he did not attempt to fool anyone with his decision to retire, believing it was the right call to make at the time.
"I am very grateful (to return to the national team)," Messi told TV Publica. "But I did not deceive anybody when I retired, I felt that.
"We were very disappointed with what had happened but, after that, I thought better.
"I had a conversation with the Paton (Bauza) and the people as well accompanied me through it."
The 29-year-old paid tribute to the rapturous applause he received throughout the match.
In the dying minutes, one young fan sprinted onto the pitch and nearly flattened the five-time World Footballer of the Year with a congratulatory hug (left).
"I am grateful to the people for the treatment, for the love," Messi said.
Messi, however, may be rested for Argentina's next match against Venezuela on Wednesday morning with a niggling groin problem.
"My groin is hurting a lot, from before this match," said Messi.
"We'll see, I always want to be (in the team) but there are also a lot of important matches coming up."
Argentina's win came after a superb backs-to-the-wall defensive effort in the second half, when they had been reduced to 10 men following the dismissal of young Juventus striker Paulo Dybala just before half-time.
Dybala, 22, was escorted from the pitch in tears after the red card.
Argentina's win leaves them in first place in South America's marathon round-robin qualifying campaign with 14 points from seven games.
Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez was full of praise for Messi, who was the clear Man of the Match, pulling the strings of the Argentina attack in one of his most dominant displays for the national team.
"All the Argentina attacks were through Messi," said Tabarez.
"He is a player you cannot describe - you can only see him, marvel and admire what he does.
"Argentina have some great players with a lot of experience and they have Messi who is a player with a level above anybody else.
"We knew it would be a very difficult game, but the qualifiers are far from over." - Wire Services.