Thursday's World Cup qualifier between Argentina and Uruguay was a wholly unremarkable game. Uruguay set out to play for a draw but lost 1-0. Argentina scored in the first half then had a man sent off. Uruguay couldn't adjust to either event. The result moves Argentina into first place and keeps Uruguay in second, just one point behind. But the game mattered, because it marked the return of Lionel Messi to his national team.
Messi's international retirement lasted exactly zero games. He walked away from Argentina after Copa America and was persuaded to return in time for their next match, this one. And it was a typical Argentina match with Messi in the lineup -- the Albiceleste looked dangerous but couldn't create much until Messi took over. He scored the game's only goal, a deflected effort after he beat multiple defenders by himself.
Paulo Dybala was Argentina's other very threatening attacking player, but he was shown a second yellow card just before halftime and walked off the pitch in tears. Angel Di Maria and Lucas Pratto struggled to give Messi and Dybala much help in attack during the first half, and since they had a lead to defend with 10 men, they didn't have a chance to improve in the second half.
This is often the story of Argentina. Even when another player is excellent, playing to Messi's level, it doesn't all come together. Something goes wrong -- missed finishes, an injury, a sending off. Sometimes, Messi can't bail his team out by himself. On this occasion, he did.
And maybe that's why Thursday's regularly scheduled pitch invasion was a little different than normal. Fans rushing onto the field to hug Messi is common, but this one decided to drop to his knees in order to worship at Messi's feet before he was hauled off by security.
Cuando sos muy fan pero tenés tanta mala suerte que te tropezás y casi lesionás a Messi: pic.twitter.com/xV6ZpQ5ibs— Cristian Phoyu (@CristianPhoyu) September 2, 2016
Messi was heartbroken by losing a third straight international final this summer. That, coupled with frequent problems at the Argentine FA, led to him walking away from his national team. But his country pleaded with him to return, and out of love for them, he did. Then he showed why they need him in his first game back. And now, just two months after he let down Argentina in the Copa America final, his people are worshiping at his feet again.