The magic of Messi
Argentina talisman's wonder strike lights up the Maracana
(Sead Kolasinac 3-og, Lionel Messi 65th)
(Vedad Ibisevic 85)
The stars are out in Brazil.
Last Thursday, Neymar threw down the gauntlet to his fellow galaticos with two goals against Croatia.
This morning (Singapore time), Lionel Messi rose to the challenge, scoring a wonderful individual effort to break Bosnian and Herzegovinian hearts.
If Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo matches their efforts tonight against Germany, this could be one of the greatest World Cups in history.
It all seemed so different at half-time.
Despite leading through an early Sead Kolasinac own-goal, Argentina were flat and lifeless, Messi was as ineffectual as any of his teammates.
Deployed in an ill-fitting 5-3-2 formation, Bosnia could count themselves unfortunate to be a goal down at half-time.
Messi had cut a subdued figure, launching the occasional run into Bosnia's half but without ever being able to make the sort of progress seen so often in La Liga.
Added to his inability to open up the defence was a concerning lethargy off the ball that seemed to suggest fatigue.
That impression could not have been more misplaced. He was just getting warmed up.
Argentina had taken the lead in the third minute and it seemed as though the floodgates might open.
Messi lofted a free-kick into Bosnia's box, Marcos Rojo nodded the ball on and it bounced into the goal off the leg of the unfortunate Kolasinac.
But, instead of capitulating under assault from one of the world's most dangerous attacking sides, Bosnia took a deep breath and took control of the game. Orchestrated by the outstanding Daniel Pjanic, they moved the ball with composure and confidence, stretching Argentina all over the pitch.
Had they been able to mobilise more support for Edin Dzeko, they might have snatched an equaliser before half-time.
Argentina boss Alejandro Sabella had seen enough.
Despite leading the game, he rang the changes at the break, hauling off Maxi Rodriguez and Hugo Campagnaro and sending on Gonzalo Higuain and Fernando Gago.
The back three was dumped and replaced with the more familiar 4-3-3 that served them so well in qualifying.
He will know now that he should never have deviated from the norm.
Now Messi was invigorated, running from deep with markedly more success.
HIs team looked more confident and Bosnia were forced to take drastic, physical measures.
Emir Spahic was the first to enter the book for an unnecessarily robust challenge.
But Messi could not be intimidated.
Picking up the ball just outside the centre circle just after the hour, he exchanged a quick one-two, ripped through the blue lines, jinked across the edge of the box and sent a shot whistling into the goal off the post.
It was only the second World Cup goal of the 26-year-old's career and one that would light up any tournament, even one that has been as exciting as this.
Argentina's supporters had laid claim to Brazil's most iconic stadium, the Maracana, but they were as subdued as Messi by the end of the first half.
After his wonder goal, they were bouncing so enthusiastically that you could only hope and pray that the stands would hold together.
This was what they had travelled north to see. This is why they believe they can spoil their neighbours' carnival.
Bosnia can take solace from their performance. They struck a consolation goal with five minutes to play, a neat finish from Vedad Ibisevic.
They should be more than a match for lowly Iran and there's no reason why they can't pick up three points against Nigeria.
But it doesn't matter how well you play when you come up against a player of Messi's class.
When a superstar goes into overdrive, mere mortals might as well sit back and watch.
BLOW BY BLOW
What a start for Argentina! Lionel Messi’s free-kick swirls into the penalty area, Marcos Roja nods it on and it’s poor Sead Kolasinac who turns the ball into his own net. That’s not the start he or his country wanted to make to the World Cup.
Alejandro Sabella isn’t happy at all. When was the last time you saw a coach make a double substitution at half-time when his team are winning 1-0? He’s changing the formation too. No more back three. Will it be enough to spark his team?
What a footballer! Messi, so much better since Sabella’s tactical shift, blows through the Bosnian lines like a hurricane and deftly tucks the ball in off the post. So much better from Argentina and so much better from Messi. This is much more like it.
Hang on a moment. Have we got yet another late shock on the cards? Bosnia refuse to accept defeat and it’s the substitute Vedad Ibisevic who tucks the ball home from close range. Luckily for Argentina, they manage to hold on for all three points.
LIONEL MESSI (Argentina)
There were huge concerns at the end of the first half, but they were forgotten by the end of the second.
Lionel Messi, so powerless before the break, was a man transformed afterwards.
In truth, much of the credit should go to his coach Alejandro Sabella who had the courage to tear up his prematch plan of playing with a back five and revert to his usual 4-3-3.
The introduction of Gonzalo Higuain meant that the Bosnian back four had to cope with the Napoli man, and Sergio Aguero, and then they had to deal with Messi. It was all too much.
There are few players in the world who can do what Messi does.
To open up the throttle so deep in the pitch, to pick out a teammate with a pinpoint pass, to know where to run for the return ball.
And that was only the start. Messi still had so much to do. But this man makes it all look so simple.
Bosnia simply couldn’t stop him and even the excellent positioning of goalkeeper Asmir Begovic wasn’t enough to keep the ball out. Messi simply bounced it in off the post.
This hasn’t been a vintage season, but his extraordinary standards.
No La Liga title, no Champions League title, no Ballon d’Or.
Just the 41 goals in all competitions, as opposed to the 60, 73, 53 and 47 over the previous four years.
But we have always known that Messi is one of club football’s greatest players.
What we want to know this summer if if he can be one of international football’s greatest ever players too. He’s already doubled his World Cup goal tally.
Where will his summer take him now?