Another World Cup, another heartbreak for Messi
(Mario Goetze 113)
- After extra time
Lionel Messi saved his most determined run for after the World Cup final. He dashed through the German guard of honour to collect a runners-up medal he didn't want.
His mood was unmistakable; irritable and angry. For seven matches, he had carried mediocre teammates and the hopes of romantics looking for a narrative that was never really there.
The world's greatest player was supposed to win the world's greatest sporting honour. Surrounded by Rio's hilly terrain, the summit was waiting for him. In the Brazilian moonlight, his star was expected to shine brightest.
His destiny had already been predetermined by over-eager fantasists. He walked with the giant of Diego Maradona, as he led average South American adventurers in their expedition to topple a Teutonic mountain.
But he proved to be an minor character in his own story in the end. The 27-year-old offered brief, entertaining subplots against Iran, Nigeria and Switzerland, but never entirely shook off the suspicion that the World Cup's real story was being played elsewhere.
Against Germany, he toiled from start to finish; his impudent trickery replaced by an alarming listlessness. From the moment he led out his team-mates at the Maracana, head bowed and chewing gum furiously, he looked a distracted man.
The speeding, jinking, teasing, traumatizing pocket dynamo lovingly shaped by Pep Guardiola's sculptor's hands at Barcelona was never required in Alejandro Sabella's safety-first strategy.
Not blessed with Barcelona's playing resources, Sabella deserves great credit in taking Argentina to within seven minutes of a penalty shoot-out in a World Cup final. But, as much as he stifled Holland and Germany, Argentina's cautious coach also stifled Messi.
Bastian Schweinsteiger's redoubtable display, literally shedding blood for the cause, curtailed Messi's forward forays and Toni Kroos was never far away to offer tag-team support.
But the unwanted company was hardly unexpected. Messi has long been the Jennifer Lopez of international football. He can't go anywhere without bodyguards. At Barcelona, he has thrilled in their fruitless chase, winning every club trophy along the way. But he failed to cast off the shackles this morning (Singapore time).
At times, he struggled to look like he was even trying.
In the 67th minute, he floated over a free-kick that defied belief, sailing high and wide of his intended targets. Such frustrating moments gave the impression he was rebelling against his own pedigree.
He came closer in the 75th minute, when he characteristically cut inside from the right, skipped over a flailing leg, then a second and promised us a fleeting glance of the four-time Ballon d'Or winner; a real hint of immortality in the making.
But he curled wide of the target.
Still, fate stubbornly refused to acknowledge that this wasn't meant to be Messi's day, or his tournament.
He was presented with a final shot at mimicking Maradona; a chance of pushing the game to a penalty shoot-out and earning an exclusive pass to unrivalled greatness.
With Argentina 1-0 down and almost on their knees, they earned a free-kick to the right of goal, 25 metres out, squarely in Messi territory. It was the 120th minute. This was his moment. There would not be another.
He sized up the distance, calculated the trajectory and stepped towards the ball; the tension unbearable among the Argentina supporters.
Messi wasn't even close.
The whistle blew seconds later. With hands on hips, he bowed his head; the loneliest man inside the Maracana.
As jubilant Germans collapsed in a heap in celebration, Messi turned away. He remained alone on the pitch. Maradona remains alone at the pantheon.
For a month, Argentina's fans have taunted locals with their popular song insisting Maradona will always be better than Pele. Maradona will always be the best.
Brazilians hate the song. Messi must be sick of hearing it, too.
He still can't escape the other man's shadow. By the time Russia 2018 comes around, it could consume him.
It is a very demanding tournament and it drains everyone physically. He is already among the greatest of all time.
- Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella, on Lionel Messi
He deserved it, because he played a great World Cup. He was a fundamental factor for where we ended up. It was thoroughly deserved.
- Sabella, on Messi being awarded the Golden Ball
Messi wins Golden Ball
Fifa awarded Lionel Messi the "Golden Ball" as the top player of the World Cup, after the Argentina captain led his side to the final at the Maracana where they lost to Germany 1-0 in extra time.
The four-time World Player of the Year had a quiet game by his standards against Germany, but scored four of his team's six goals in the group stage.
He also set up Angel di Maria's winner in the last 16 against Switzerland and shouldered the burden of slotting home Argentina's first penalty in their shoot-out win over Holland in the semi-finals. - Reuters.
ROLL OF HONOUR
- Golden Ball: Lionel Messi (Argentina)
- Silver Ball: Thomas Mueller (Germany)
- Bronze Ball: Arjen Robben (Holland)
- Golden Boot: James Rodriguez (Colombia)
- Silver Boot: Thomas Mueller (Germany)
- Bronze Boot: Neymar (Brazil)
- Golden Glove: Manuel Neuer (Germany)
- Young Player Award: Paul Pogba (France)
- Fifa Fair Play Trophy: Colombia