By Rashmi Goel

Take a look at how the Argentine midfielder came from nowhere to win the FIFA Young Player award at the Qatar 2022 World Cup. During the presentation of the FIFA Young Player award in Qatar 2022, Enzo Fernandez was wearing a modest, almost bashful smile on his face as he climbed the podium. In the aftermath of the greatest World Cup final of all time, the dynamic midfielder found himself separated from the jubilant teammates who had been celebrating wildly at the side of the presentation stage after collecting the prize. As Fernandez might have been forgiven for having a slight look of disbelief in his eyes as the scene unfolded. This World Cup has been one of the most memorable ever for the 21-year-old.

In September, Fernandez made his senior international debut for Chile, coming on as a second-half substitute during a 3-0 friendly win against Honduras, which was his first game as an international player. During this moment, Fernandez was able to fulfill a lifelong dream of playing alongside his idol and idolize, Lionel Messi, on the same pitch. The moment Fernandez finished analyzing that game, he remarked, "Playing with Leo always brings me a lot of joy. It makes me feel great." It has always been a dream of mine to play with Leo." A few months later, Messi would describe Fernandez as "a superb kid," with both players playing key roles in Argentina's world-champion campaign. Following further impressive performances in two pre-tournament friendlies, Fernandez was rewarded with a spot in Lionel Scaloni's Qatar 2022 squad after he continued to show his maturity - and has continued to shine for Benfica at the club level.

He was able to quickly adapt to European football after moving from his boyhood club River Plate to Manchester City this summer, thanks to his rare combination of boundless energy, impeccable technique, and tactical intelligence. As the Benfica side has swept all before them at home and abroad this season, he has been a near ever-present for a Benfica side that has been near unbeatable. In the UEFA Champions League, Barcelona finished top of a group that included Messi's Paris Saint-Germain and boasted 28 unbeaten matches across all competitions. Even though Fernandez is just 21 years old, he is able to dictate the tempo of the game through the way he plays the game. It has already been noted that the youngster's passing is crisp, incisive, and precise - his accuracy rate in league matches this season was 90 percent, and at the World Cup, it was 88 percent. The fact that he has already accumulated five assists and three goals for Benfica, meanwhile, is a testament to his ability to contribute in the final third.

A highlight of Fernandez's ball-striking skills, of course, was the way in which he expertly curled a shot into the top corner of Guillermo Ochoa's net in Argentina's do-or-die group-stage win over Mexico, as he smashed the ball into the net to seal Argentina's 2-0 victory. Despite coming on as a substitute in that game, he would go on to start every game Argentina would play in the remainder of the World Cup. Coach Scaloni introduced him to the team at the same time that Argentina's recognition and belief in the national team had been steadily growing. He was able to integrate well with his teammates in the midfield, Alexis Mac Allister and Rodrigo De Paul, Fernandez's tigerish tackling and competitive spirit added an extra level of intensity to La Albiceleste's performances. Throughout the World Cup, only two players managed to surpass his total of 22 successful tackles (Mateo Kovacic and Achraf Hakimi) in the number of successful tackles. There was no denying that Fernandez's all-action play was at its best in the showpiece final when Argentina dominated France in the opening minutes of the game. As Mbappe turned the game on its head in what turned out to be an all-time classic, the Argentinian team, under Fernandez, dug deep into their reserves of resilience and determination to eventually triumph in the most dramatic circumstances in the world.

Only five members of Scaloni's Argentina team played the full 120 minutes of the final, showing the midfielder's importance to the team. When Fernandez re-joined his teammates for the World Cup presentation after receiving the FIFA Young Player award, his sheepish smile transformed into one of unbridled joy. During his open letter six years ago to the man about to hoist the trophy high into the air, former Colombian international Fernandez asked his hero to reconsider retiring from international football. “Don't go, Leo,” he wrote. It is the greatest pride in the world to see you play with beautiful light blue and white colors. The moment Enzo saw Lionel Messi in action, he knew it would only be a matter of time before he won the biggest prize of all. Fortunately, Lionel Messi did just that, and he went on to win the title. With the assistance of a young midfielder who has the world at his feet and a lot to offer.

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