Lionel Messi's celebration aimed at Louis van Gaal was 20 years in the making with hidden meaning
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Lionel Messi busted out a new celebration after scoring in Argentina's World Cup quarter-final victory over the Netherlands - but you may not know the significance of it.
The seven-time Ballon d'Or winner played a vital role at the Lusail Stadium on Friday evening, setting up the opener for Nahuel Molina in the first half.
Messi doubled Argentina's lead from the penalty spot in the second half after Denzel Dumfries fouled Marcos Acuna.
He made no mistake, leaving goalkeeper Andries Noppert rooted to the sport after burying the ball into the bottom right corner.
The Paris Saint-Germain superstar wheeled away in celebration, making a point of pointing at the Netherlands bench as he passed it.
Messi jumped into the air and cupped his hands to his ears as thousands of Argentina fans inside the ground let out a huge cheer.
He soaked in the adulation as well as the furious gaze of Van Gaal. He knew a ghost of the past had reared its ugly head.
Back in 2002, Van Gaal returned to Barcelona for an ill-fated second stint as manager. The Dutchman lasted half a season before being sacked in January 2003, with Barcelona languishing in 12th place.
At the Camp Nou during that time was Juan Riquelme, who replaced Rivaldo the same summer van Gaal arrived.
Riquelme is regarded as one of the greatest midfielders of his generation and one of the best Argentine players ever.
Despite costing £11 million, Van Gaal wasn't a fan of Riquelme and dubbed him a 'political signing' following his public fallout with Rivaldo, per The Guardian.
Van Gaal didn't manage to maximise Riquelme's talents, regularly playing him out of position to send a message to the Barcelona board.
What was Riquelme's signature celebration? The ear cup. Who idolised Riquelme growing up? Messi.
You don't need to be an expert to put it all together at this point.
As a youngster, Messi was fascinated with Riquelme as a fellow left-footer.
Former Barcelona coach Josep Minguella said back in 2020: "Sometimes Leo would come around for a barbecue and I remember one time when Riquelme, [Fabio] Rochemback, [Thiago] Motta and some other players came, and I can still see Messi sitting at the bottom of the table looking at Riquelme as if he were Jesus Christ.
"For him Riquelme was his great idol, he was left-footed and played in the number 10 position in Barcelona's first team. However, Leo would only look at him because he was very shy, you had to force words out of him."
Messi's celebration was 20 years in the making. You get the feeling he enjoyed that one.