BUENOS AIRES (AP) — World Cup winner Lionel Messi regretted his testy exchanges with the Netherlands coach and players during their controversial quarterfinal in Qatar, he said in an interview aired on Monday.
Messi gave his first interview since lifting the trophy in December to radio Urbana Play of Buenos Aires. The Argentina captain spoke about the feisty clash with the Dutch which the South Americans won in a penalty shootout. A record 17 yellow cards were issued, including one to Messi for dissent.
When Messi scored from the spot in regular time, he stood in front of Dutch coach Louis van Gaal and cupped both hands to his ears. After the game, he gesticulated to the Dutch bench and insulted striker Wout Weghorst, who scored twice in regulation.
“I don’t like what I did, I don’t like what happened afterward,” Messi said. “These are moments of a lot of tension, a lot of nerves. It is very quick and people react the way they react. Nothing was planned, it just happened.”
That quarterfinal was surrounded by controversy. Before the encounter, Van Gaal said his players were better prepared than their rivals for a penalty shootout. He also said “Messi did not touch the ball” in the semifinal between the teams in the 2014 World Cup; Argentina also won that tie in a penalty shootout.
Messi said his teammates told him what Van Gaal said to stimulate him.
About his moment with Weghorst, Messi said it was “natural.”
“I reacted that way. There had been many things with this player, moments of tension like these . . . I was at the mixed zone, it had just happened,” Messi said. “I don’t like to leave that image, but these things happen.”
Messi also said Argentina “in general was better than its rivals” and picked Mexico, its second group opponent as “the toughest.”
“It was the worst match we played because of all the things involved in winning it or not,” Messi said. Argentina lost its opener to Saudi Arabia 2-1 in one of the biggest shocks in World Cup history, and had to beat Mexico to stay in playoffs contentions. Mexico was beaten 2-0.
Messi said he has not watched the final against France. Argentina won the final on penalties to win its first World Cup title since 1986.
“Since that day, everything changed for me,” he said. “By luck, what we dreamed about so much happened. I wished that so much in my career and, at the end, it came.”
Asked what he would tell Messi in his childhood if he could, the star said: “Something extraordinary awaits, you can’t imagine. You will have a beautiful path, with some tough moments that you will have to overcome, but never give your dreams away because at the end you will get your most desired reward. Your film will have a happy ending.”
More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.