By Sportswriter Michael Place
RIO DE JANEIRO, June 15 (Xinhua) -- It was typical Messi. A darting run from midfield followed by a slick one-two with a teammate, a sidestep around his marker and a fierce left-footed drive that ricocheted in off the post.
Not so typical was the celebration that followed.
The Barcelona forward charged towards a section of Argentine fans at the Maracana stadium with unusual vigor, clasping the bottom of his shirt with both hands and wearing a facial expression that betrayed relief as much as jubilation.
He punched the air with a phantom uppercut before being swamped by teammates, all of whom seemed to sense the importance of the goal to the 26-year-old.
The strike all but killed off Bosnia and Herzegovina's brave challenge at the Maracana stadium.
But in the context of Messi's career, this was a cathartic moment.
It is eight years since Messi last scored a World Cup goal.
Then, he was only a bit-part player in Jose Pekerman's team as he came off the bench to net on his World Cup debut against Serbia and Montenegro in Gelsenkirchen.
Since then Messi has won four Ballon D'Or awards and countless trophies with a Barcelona team described by many as the greatest ever.
But for all the silverware accumulated at club level, Messi's trophy cabinet has been conspicuously bereft of international accolades.
He has been widely chastised for his inability to replicate his own superhuman feats at Barcelona for his country. Critics claim he cannot be rated among the game's greats without a World Cup winner's medal.
The nadir of his international career came at the last World Cup in South Africa, when Diego Maradona's side was bundled out by Germany in the quarterfinals.
Messi, though workmanlike throughout the tournament, failed to score. He was often forced deep, practically adopting a midfield role, due to Maradona's insistence on playing him alongside Carlos Tevez.
It seems Alejandro Sabella has taken note.
Surprisingly, the Argentina manager decided to leave Gonzalo Higuain on the bench on Sunday.
Not because of Higuain's form. The former Real Madrid striker was equal third-highest scorer in Conmebol World Cup qualifying and netted 17 times from 32 Serie A appearances for Napoli last season.
The move was simply to accommodate Messi.
It was a clear indication that the Barcelona No. 10 would be deployed in the false nine role used to such devastating effect for the Blaugrana.
Initially the move appeared to backfire on Sunday as Messi was starved of opportunities by Bosnia and Herzegovina's airtight central defensive pairing of Emir Spahic and Ermin Bicakcic.
But Sabella's introduction of Fernando Gago and Gonzalo Higuain at halftime gave Argentina more fluent delivery into the final third, providing the key needed to unlock Messi's magic.
When the moment came, the emotion etched on Messi's face was almost palpable.
It spoke of a man on a mission to return to the Maracana on July 13 and confirm his place - unequivocally - in the pantheon of football's greats.