It's all in or nothing for Messi
Barca superstar needs to lead Argentina to glory and not the other way round
GERMANY v ARGENTINA
(Tomorrow, 3am, SingTel mio TV Ch 141, StarHub TV Ch 223 & MediaCorp okto)
Lionel Messi will not be the best footballer of all time.
Not with the way he's been playing in the last two matches.
It is incredible to think that Argentina could win the World Cup and Messi could still fail to win everyone over.
With his twinkle toes and wonder goals, the 27-year-old Argentina captain has been described as out of this world, and just about amassed almost all there is to win in world football.
He has six La Liga titles, three Champions League trophies, one Olympic gold medal and four World Player of the Year gongs.
It is a frequent suggestion that Messi has to lead Argentina to World Cup glory before he can justify being placed alongside the divine duo of Pele and Diego Maradona, who have been there and done that.
Most definitely, Messi can claim to have single-handedly hauled Argentina out of Group F, with winning goals against Bosnia & Herzegovina (2-1) and Iran (1-0) and a superb double in the 3-2 victory over Nigeria.
But how about the knockout rounds, against superior opponents?
In the Round of 16, he was handed his fourth consecutive Man-of-the-Match award after that one glorious assist for Angel di Maria to score a 118th-minute winner over Switzerland, despite Gokhan Inler and Valon Behrami's outstanding midfield performance for much of the game.
By the same measure, Messi has appeared to be, gasp, a mere mortal, in the quarter-final win over Belgium (1-0) and penalty shootout triumph over Holland in the semi-final.
The stage was set for the star, but not for the first time in a World Cup, he seemed to suffer from performance anxiety.
He didn't score and he didn't get an assist.
Against Holland, he didn't even seem keen to defend as rain poured down at the Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo, anonymous with or without the ball.
The one who is used to wowing crowds is now making people wonder why he was given the captain's armband.
When the team were looking for a pick-me-up, it wasn't their skipper who came forth. Rather, it was Javier Mascherano who was throwing himself around and about.
NOT IN BEST 11
The Barcelona attacker spoke to the team at full-time. But when muscles were cramping and minds were losing focus, it was the Barca defender who gave the pep talk in extra time as Messi sat, head bowed, on a cooler box.
Interestingly, Fifa's own Castrol Index ranking does not even have Messi in it's best 11, placing him 14th with an average rating of 9.39, far below the top player, Germany's Toni Kroos on 9.79.
Instead of inspiring Argentina to their third world title, it almost seems as if his team - especially the defenders and midfielders who stepped up - have been carrying him to the cusp of making it a holy trinity with Pele and Maradona.
But for someone who has accomplished so much, has Messi done enough to earn this tag?
Pele was a model of consistency to score 11 goals in 13 matches when he won his three World Cups in 1958, 1962 (one goal in two matches, after which he was injured) and 1970.
And the Guardian brilliantly summarised Maradona's seven-game tournament-winning exploits in 1986: "One: Sets up three goals against South Korea. Two: A volley past world champions Italy. Three: Sets up another against Bulgaria.
"Four: Hits bar and has goal disallowed against Uruguay. Five: England! Six: Belgium fall to another ludicrous solo goal. Seven: Sets up World Cup winning goal."
The good news for Messi is he is in the World Cup final and he has another 90 minutes against Germany to make up for the previous 210 minutes that have slipped by.
It's Messi versus machines.
And he has to conjure the magic he's known for - unlock Germany's defence, go on a mesmerising dribble, or score a blockbuster goal - to win it for Argentina.
To win all the doubters over and to, once and for all, win the argument that he deserves a place next to Pele and Maradona on the pantheon of football greatness.
He will be 31 in Russia 2018, his powers may wilt and he may not get another World Cup final to shine.
As his sponsor adidas so aptly puts it: It's all in or nothing.
He doesn’t need to win the World Cup to be considered an historical player in this decade. But, for me, he is not the greatest player of all time.
- Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho on Messi
If Argentina win, he’ll be up there with Pele and Maradona, no doubt.
- Roberto Rivelino, one of the stars of Brazil’s 1970 World Cup-winning side