Yesterday afternoon, Argentina won their opening 2010 World Cup match against Nigeria by the slenderest of margins: one-nil. The goal came from a set-piece in only the sixth minute of the game, a corner swung in by Veron and met by a well-directed diving header by Heinze.
Messi was easily Argentina's best player. He displayed all the qualities football fans were hoping to see from him in this tournament: deft close control, explosive bursts of pace, mesmerising dribbles, visionary playmaking, and great shots on goal. It took several amazing saves from Enyeama, Nigeria's goalkeeper and the overall man of the match, to deny Messi the goals that would have crowned a memorable performance.
But the biggest star of the game was a short, paunchy, middle-aged man with a greying beard. He was dressed in a dark, finely-cut suit. He prowled the touchline throughout the game, frequently trotting over to retrieve balls that had gone out for a throw-in, before passing them into the outstretched hands of the thrower with a nonchalant flick of his shoe. His body was a living barometer of the match, capturing every twist and turn in its tissues; his face its display. In his playing days, the man had won universal acclaim as the greatest footballer of his generation. In the eyes of many, myself included, he is the greatest footballer of any generation. And yesterday we saw why: Maradona's passion for the game is undiminished; his presence on the field, even when he isn't playing, is undeniable; and his purpose, victory, is undaunted.