When the final ended, Argentina had failed to score a single goal in the last five hours and 22 minutes of the Cup. They hadn’t had a single shot at the goal all of the 120 minutes of the final. Hard to believe Lionel Messi was part of this team.
With the Golden Ball award, and his glum face beamed all across the world, the world is once again talking, debating the stricken man’s place in the pantheon of greats. Even Diego Maradona, blunt-talking, World Cup winning genius put the albatross around Messi’s neck, alluded the awarding of the trophy to a “marketing plan”.
“Messi?” said Maradona, “I would give him heaven if possible. But it’s not right when someone wins something that he shouldn’t have won, just because of some marketing plan.”
Messi concurred, not the marketing plan bit, but that the award meant little compared to losing a World Cup final this close. Argentina had trailed for only seven minutes in all of this World Cup.
“I don’t care about the prize. I don’t care about anything. Right now, nothing can console me – not the award or anything else,” he said. “I wanted to take Argentina to the World Cup for all the people,” Messi said.
“I believe this World Cup deserved another final because we had chances. We reached the final… but we’re disappointed not to have won this game. There’s a lot of anger,” he added.
But Messi needn’t bother. Whatever he does, it will never equal Maradona in the eyes of his countrymen. “If Messi wins the World Cup, he will come at par with Maradona. But he will never be bigger. Maradona did it on his own, Messi needs a team to do it,” said Rosariobased lawyer, Osvaldo Burgos, before the final.
On Sunday, the team Messi needed to help him win, failed him. “If you take Enzo Perez off and bring Gago on you’re playing for a draw. If you take Klose off for Gotze you’re playing to win,” Maradona said.
Messi was philosophical in defeat. “There is sadness to finish in this way, I think we deserved a little more today. The better chances were ours and between the forwards we couldn’t take them,” he said. “We had three clear chances – mine, Pipa’s (Gonzalo Higuain) and Rodrigo Palacio, but we couldn’t get it.”
There were moments in the game when he would be seen remonstrating at either Sergio Aguero or Palacio to read the situation early and show more urgency.
Argentina failed to register a single attempt at goal – the first time since 1990 when Maradona’s bruising side, intent on playing anti-football in the final against Germany, only to get to the penalties, marked up the dubious record.
So what happened? “It is not so much a psychological or a mental problem,” said former Chilean striker Ivan Zamarano. “It is more a physical problem. It was very clear and all players who have played at this level, can easily see that after the group phase, Messi was very exhausted.”
“It is a natural progression. You cannot hope to play over 70 matches in a season, play till the last day of your domestic league and then be fighting fit for a highly intense competition like this,” Zamarano told TOI.
The world will debate his place among the greats. While he is undeniably good, is he a great in the tradition of Maradona, or even Zidane or Ronaldo? Each of them failed at least once in their quest for a World Cup, but eventually got there. This is Messi’s third World Cup and he’s failed again.
The answer lies in what you want to see. If it is goals, assists, overall impact, then Messi was disappearing by way of his direct influence from the quarterfinals onwards, but that was because his team had picked up speed that he had single-handedly set in the group stage, and he wasn’t required in direct conflict all the time. But the simple truth is that Messi has been exceptional at the World Cup. Four goals, a dozen assists, and a tournament high of 23 chances created.
He had 46 successful dribbles and only Maradona (53, 1986) and Jairzinho (47, 1970) have completed more in a single World Cup.