In what promised to be a closely contested rematch of the…
Argentina’s 1-0 loss to Germany in the FIFA World Cup Final brought an end to Argentina’s and Messi’s hopes of winning the elusive title since Diego Maradona’s side in 1986. The theme for Argentina was whether or not they can match that achievement, guided by the 4 Ballon D’Or winner number ten from Barcelona, much like how Napoli’s number ten did so 28 years ago. Alas, at the final hurdle, the South American side fell 1-0 to Mario Goetze’s goal in extra time.
Before the tournament began, many pinned Argentina’s offense as the catalyst that would lead Argentina to their third world title. Led of course by the great Lionel Messi, Argentina had perhaps the best forward line in world football. Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero, Napoli’s Gonzalo Higuain, Paris Saint Germain’s Ezequel Lavezzi, Real Madrid’s Angel Di Maria, and even Inter’s Rodrigo Palacio were forwards that would easily slot into any other International side without hesitation. Yet it was their systematic defense that saw Messi’s side in the final. Quesions were raised, in particular after Germany’s 7-1 mauling of Brazil in the semi final, whether that same defense would hold on against the German juggernaut.
It did, until the 112th minute, and yet it was perhaps Martin Demichelis’ slack marking of Mario Goetze that led to the goal, it was the Argentine offense that ultimately let the South American nation down. Gonzalo Higuain scuffed a golden oppurtunity, when he was put 1 on 1 with German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer by Toni Kroos’ terrible defensive header. Having all the time and the world to pick his shot, he rushed it and dragged it horribly wide of the net. Rodrigo Palacio was as bad, when, late on, he attempted to chip Manuel Neuer after Germany defender Mats Hummels failed to deal with a cross, the Argentine forward collected the ball, but chipped the ball wide of Germany’s net. Yet it will perhaps be Lionel Messi’s missed opportunity that many will point to as the defining point of the match. Early on the second half, the South American Captain was put through on goal. On his favorite left foot, less than 20 yards away from net, not under any real pressure, Messi shot the ball agonizingly wide of Neuer’s left hand post. The last moment of Extra Time seemed to fool through for the Argentine as well, as his 25 yard free kick well went above Neuer’s goal, which essentially confirmed Germany’s status as World Champions while relegating the South American side to the Runner’s Up mantle.
The truth is, the entire offense failed. One should not overlook the status of players like Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain, who have established themselves as stars in the British Premier League and the Italian Serie A respectively. There were numerous chances throughout the knockout stages that these high profile forwards were able to make names for themselves, and for the most part, they failed miserably. Again, it was the defense and the goalkeeping by Sergio Romero that was the main driving force of Argentina’s knockout campaign. In the end though, it was this exact star-studded offense that failed Argentina. Messi might not have been extraordinary in latter parts of the competition, but he was certainly much more contributory than the names around him up front in terms of attracting the attention of numerous defenders and making impressive runs into the opposition half.
Many will compare Lionel Messi to Diego Maradona, as they have done ever since the Barcelona star became a modern great. For Argentines, Messi would probably fall short of Maradona’s status for now, and that’s understandable. Messi’s form in the World Cup simply does not compare to that of Diego Maradona, especially in the knockout stages of the competition, where Maradona absolutely thrives in. However, from a holistic perspective, Messi IS a living great; 4 Ballon D’Ors at the age of 27 is and always will be a remarkable achievement. At club level, he has already secured a legacy for himself. Like Johann Cruyff and George Best before him, Lionel Messi does not need a World Cup trophy to solidify his standing in the game. At Russia 2018, Messi has perhaps one last chance to truly become on the level of his predecessor.