The comparisons between Lionel Messi and Diego Maradona can be a little tiresome, but they’re understandably natural. Both supreme masters of their craft, both Argentinean No.10’s, both left-footed, both deistic figures for their compatriots. And on the cusp of the 2014 World Cup final, both potentially winning captains on the biggest stage of all.
It was 28 years ago when Argentina last won the World Cup, inspired by a marriage of Maradona’s majesty and opportunism. In the final, the Albiceleste triumphed over a Germany side that were a formidable outfit, one that ticked all the boxes when fulfilling the age old cliches when it comes to Die Mannschaft.
Maradona was a marked man in that final, with Lothar Matthaus tasked with shadowing the diminutive genius. Overall, the German did a pretty decent job, as the Argentina skipper had a very limited effect on the game. But Maradona wriggled free of Matthaus’ attention late on and played a tremendous pass into the path of Jorge Burruchaga, who slotted home the game winning goal.
You suspect a similar fate awaits the Argentina skipper 28 years on, as Messi looks to make his imprint on the biggest match in the game. Throughout the knockout stages, teams have tried to pin the Barcelona man down with a myriad of different tactics, and such is his indisputable talent, expect Joachim Low and his Germany side to have their own specific plans in place.
But if the Albiceleste are to savor World Cup glory for the third time in their history, Messi must find a way to influence the game in a manner comparable to Maradona’s heroics back in 1986. And after starting the World Cup in scintillating form for Argentina, the Barcelona man is due a strong performance.
Back in 1986, Maradona put in a pair of stunning individual performances against England and Belgium in the quarter-final and semi-final respectively. He scored a brace in both games and dazzled the opposition with his quick-feet, sensational dribbling and composed aura in front of goal.
While Messi put in performances of vigor and endeavor in the group stages — helping himself to four goals in the opening three games—we’ve yet to see the best of him in the knockout phases; he’s yet to put in a showing that is comparable to Maradona’s virtuoso displays back in 1986.
Sure he slotted home under pressure in the penalty shootout against the Netherlands in the semi-final and he set up the winning goal for Angel di Maria in extra time against Switzerland in the last-16, but Argentina’s opponents have “parked the bus” and tried to quash Messi’s influence. Subsequently, he’s struggled to make an impact comparable to the early stages of the tournament.