Led by Messi, Argentina put on football masterclass
No goals, but Messi gets football purists purring with a perfect performance
(Marcos Rojo 15, Javier Pastore 27, Angel di Maria 47, 53, Sergio Aguero 80, Gonzalo Higuain 83)
(Lucas Barrios 43)
There is little left to say about Lionel Messi, so let's try something completely different.
Let's talk about everyone else.
Argentina were mesmerising yesterday morning (Singapore time).
Their 6-1 destruction of Paraguay in the semi-finals of the Copa America was a rare privilege to behold.
They came close to achieving aesthetic perfection in a team sport.
They moved beyond functional attack towards something higher, purer. The faster the football, the slower it looked. Blurred movement became balletic. This was less a physical contest than it was performance art.
This is why we watch football, why we tolerate the 0-0 draws, the inane press conferences and the silly sound-bites; the red cards and the rancor; the parked buses and the back passes. We watch in hope, mostly in desperation, for these moments of alchemy.
This was a game when the clock was an unwanted irritant. It was an exhibition undeserving of a final whistle. It was also a display that Argentina had been building towards.
In four previous Copa America matches, they had scored only four goals in four matches. Their football sputtered with all the poignant grace of a classic car lumbered with malfunctioning spark plugs.
The parts were in place, but the electricity was missing. Nothing quite clicked. The strikers were present, but rarely offered a clear danger.
Against Paraguay, however, they finally functioned. They excelled.
Sergio Aguero justified his selection ahead of quarter-final hero Carlos Tevez and the industrious Gonzalo Higuain.
He was the Manchester City automaton again, a real penalty-box pest, dropping shoulders almost as often as markers.
He stretched and squeezed defenders like they were damp washing. He hung them out to dry. He scored his goal and played decoy for others.
He picked the semi-final for his best Copa America outing, but he wasn't the best Argentinian on show. He wasn't even close.
On Aguero's left was the player who outshone every other Real Madrid star in last year's Champions League final; the player who genuinely shocked the English Premier League by joining Manchester United. Yes, Angel di Maria.
He taunted Paraguay like a cat pawing at a ball of wool. He earned two goals for his tenacity, but the first was the real party piece; a textbook team goal, even though there was nothing textbook about it.
His flawless cross for Aguero's headed finish neatly summarised his outing. He didn't put a foot wrong. Both the pale blue of Argentina and the red half of Manchester must have revelled in his display.
But he wasn't the Man of the Match. He wasn't even close.
Javier Pastore pulled on the national colours of his beloved country and pulled off one of the games of his life.
Played in different positions throughout the tournament as Gerardo Martino tinkered with his attacking pieces to complete the jigsaw, Pastore slotted in to the left of Javier Mascherano in an advanced position and Argentina suddenly looked the perfect picture.
His involvement in di Maria's first goal, slipping into an obscure pocket of space before delivering a pass with forensic precision, was the standout highlight.
But he was a wonderful link man between di Maria and Marcos Rojo, also serving Mascherano and Aguero through the middle and fully deserving his goal.
But the game of his life didn't make him the main man. He wasn't even close.
Pastore, di Maria and Aguero, with able support from Mascherano, passed quicker and ran faster than previous matches at both the Copa America and the World Cup, making them a fantastic four.
But only Superman can fly.
His hat-trick of assists was nothing out of the ordinary, for him.
His scarcely plausible run and dribble for Argentina's fourth goal, sliding past one foolish challenge and nutmegging another before releasing the ball, was routine stuff, for him.
His ability to bend a football environment to his will was another jaunt around the office, for him.
But to do all three in the same game and dwarf the towering performances of his colleagues defied belief, even for him.
Comparisons, yardsticks and all other forms of conventional measurement are pointless because he's making this stuff up as he goes along.
There is no longer a worthwhile comparison to make. There is no precedent. There is just one Lionel Messi.
His teammates gave everything in their quest to reach the Copa America final, but he still gave something more.
Even career bests can't compete with the best career the game has ever seen.
"Winning the Copa America would round off something really spectacular. I think we are coming into the match in good shape, but we will be playing a team with very good individual players (from Chile)."
- Messi on the final against Copa America hosts Chile
By the number
The number of minutes since Lionel Messi scored his last goal from open play.