The stage was set for arguably the best match of the World Cup 2018. France and Argentina were taking on each other in what was the first match of the knockout round. Much was expected of this game, given the quality both the teams have within their ranks.
But by the end of 90 minutes, football and World Cup had experienced one of the greatest ever matches to have played. France edged out Argentina 4-3 in a roller coaster of a match. It had drama, excitement, action, skills and everything needed to make a match successful.
Though, one thing was missing from the fixture, and that was the performance of Lionel Messi. The statistics would say the Argentina skipper had two assists to his name, but in reality, he never arrived in the match.
Messi has been going through loads of criticism for his performances in the tournament. In the first match against Iceland, which ended 1-1, the No.10 missed a penalty, and struggled to influence.
Everyone expected it to be a one-off, but his display against Croatia was even worse. Argentina were thrashed 3-0, and their talismanic skipper was nowhere to be seen. It was arguably his worst performance in national colors.
With pressure on him and his team, Messi stepped up against Nigeria, scoring his side's opener in a 2-1 win. In the early stages, Argentina were dominating, and their skipper was pulling the strings.
But the fact was that except the goal and couple of other bright moments, he was again mediocre. Overall, he was nowhere near the Messi everyone knows about.
His fans and sympathizers claim Messi can't do it all alone, and receives barely any support from his teammates. But all those claims were put to bed against France, where the influential No.10 was anonymous, and his other teammates were putting their best.
On one side, France's No.10 Kylian Mbappe was running the show, terrorizing the Argentine defense with his pace and skill. But on the other end, Messi struggled to create any kind of impact.
In the first half, Argentina were poor, but Messi was worse. France were all over the 2014 finalists, and were heading into the half with a deserved lead through Antoine Griezmann's penalty in the 13th minute.
But on the stroke of half time, Angel di Maria curled a beautiful effort to equalize. Soon after the break, Argentina took the lead through a huge slice of luck.
Messi took an effort from the edge of the box, which would have been easily saved by the keeper. But midway, Mercado got a touch, and the ball crept in the back of the net with Lloris wrong footed.
This was the first assist of the night for Messi, though, he had no intention in this case. Soon after, France struck back as Mbappe scored a brace, and Pavard scored a stunner in the space of 10 minutes to give their side a 4-2 lead.
Then was the time for Messi to influence the game and bring his side back in it. But instead, he strolled across the park without much care. Though, he produced a moment of brilliance in the final minute of stoppage time, putting a great ball in the box for Sergio Aguero to score.
But that was it! So much was expected of Messi ahead of the match, but he literally went missing. Mbappe, on the other side, produced one of the performances of the tournament.
In a clash of two No.10's, the France man outshone one of the greatest ever.