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Lionel Messi's legacy solidified in Argentina after taking home the World Cup

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Now that the World Cup trophy is in Argentine hands, it and the team who won it are making the 21-hour journey from Doha to Buenos Aires. They're headed home to celebrate with fans. On Sunday afternoon, Argentina and its superstar player, Lionel Messi, claimed the World Cup for the first time since 1986. Prior to the tournament, Messi had already announced this would be his last World Cup.

NPR's Jasmine Garsd is host of the podcast The Last Cup, a series that is part-Messi biopic, part-memoir. Hey there, Jasmine.

JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: Hi.

KELLY: Hi. So yesterday - such a great game, like, edge-of-your-seat-to-the-very-last-second great soccer. But speak to why it's such a historic deal, such a big deal.

GARSD: Well, a couple of reasons. I mean, first of all, despite being a country where soccer is the religion pretty much, Argentina hasn't won the World Cup in a really long time. Also, I might add, Latin America hasn't won...

KELLY: Yeah.

GARSD: ...A cup in 20 years. As you mentioned, it's Lionel Messi's last World Cup, or so he said. He's one of the best soccer players to have ever lived, but he's never won that title up until now. But not having won that title led to, like, a really strained relationship with Argentina for a long time.

KELLY: Yeah. Just stay with that point for a second because a lot of people might not know that until pretty recently, Messi was not so popular in his home country.

GARSD: Yeah. He was constantly compared to Diego Maradona, who was, like, the original Argentine soccer god. Maradona won a World Cup in 1986, and honestly, up until recently, Messi did not perform so well with Argentina. He was seen - jeez - almost as, like, a hack, like, a guy who played well as long as he was with a European club but never with us.

KELLY: Is it safe to say that yesterday may have moved him beyond the hack category for most people in Argentina?

GARSD: Oh, I think it changed before yesterday. I mean, it took years, but people started to really see Messi for the athlete he is and just how much he wanted to win for his home country. You know, Argentina also got an excellent coach who surrounded Messi with a team that actually played like a team and didn't just expect Messi to do everything. So, yes, Messi is absolutely now in the pantheon of Argentine soccer gods.

KELLY: Step back, Jasmine, and speak to the impact more broadly of this World Cup, of the game yesterday. It felt, to me, anecdotally, like a lot of people here in the States were watching and were glued to it, which is maybe not something you would have seen 20 years ago for the World Cup. Do you see the growth of soccer in the U.S. continuing, the growth, you know, driven in part by immigrant population?

GARSD: Oh, I mean, absolutely. I think that soccer is no longer just an immigrant sport. I think soccer has gone way beyond that. I mean, every World Cup I have gone to this time around here in New York, I had to, like, elbow my way past American fans who, like, maybe didn't speak Spanish or weren't immigrants. I just had to make my way through. I think we can safely say futbol has arrived.

KELLY: It has.

GARSD: And it probably arrived a long time ago.

KELLY: Yeah. Real quick, in a sentence or two, what's Lionel Messi - where's he going next?

GARSD: There's rumors of Inter Miami, the soccer club, and he said he'd love to play for Argentina again. So who knows? Maybe it isn't his last cup after all.

KELLY: All right - maybe round two of another podcast series for you. NPR's Jasmine Garsd. Thank you so much for your reporting, for your great podcast, The Last Cup.

GARSD: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF PHARRELL SONG, "ANGEL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jasmine Garsd is an Argentine-American journalist living in New York. She is currently NPR's Criminal Justice correspondent and the host of The Last Cup. She started her career as the co-host of Alt.Latino, an NPR show about Latin music. Throughout her reporting career she's focused extensively on women's issues and immigrant communities in America. She's currently writing a book of stories about women she's met throughout her travels.