The free-kick in the dying moments of extra time saw Lionel Messi in a position where he could etch himself into immortality. He was not going to win the match at that point, but if he had scored, Argentina could have flirted with victory at least. The problem was Messi blasted the ball over Manuel Neuer’s net, not even forcing him to make a proper save.
With that last fleeting hope gone, the final silver bullet went astray. It was all over. The breath was sucked out of fans as Germany were already clamoring for the final whistle to blow to begin celebrating. Messi knew it as did the fans in attendance at the Estadio Maracanã. It seemed like a story that would have a different ending judging by the opening minutes against Germany. However his impotence was evident. Yet in all of this, he knew that the questions would arise and things would become grim once more as his team failed to end a 21-year trophy drought.
Messi started out the match running at the German defense as Argentina saw chances in the Die Mannschaft’s left side. However I doubt that showing up the few times he did does not make him the top choice for the Golden Ball in this tournament.
The big issue with Messi was not his overall performance. Let’s be honest. If Messi did not make an impact in the matches that he did in this tournament then we would be singing a completely different tune. If Messi failed to score against Iran or against Bosnia, things would have been completely different for Alejandro Sabella’s men.
He carried them to a certain point, but as the tournament pressed forward, the squad began to find its footing. Was it Messi’s fault that he was not able to perform in these instances? I am not sure I would go that far. Every time you saw Messi get the ball, he would immediately be surrounded by two defenders at least and would not be permitted to position himself to cause Germany any havoc.
The problem was that we just saw bits and pieces of what Messi could do. There was talk that he was not 100 percent, although he was one of the players with the most minutes played. All of what Argentina couldn’t do shouldn’t be blamed on Messi as players like Gonzalo Higuaín, Rodrigo Palacio and Sergio Agüero were not even close to being able to contribute to the cause on a consistent basis. Palacio missed two vital chances against Netherlands as well as in the final, while Higuaín seemed out of sync in this entire tournament.
This was why we saw Messi struggling to find a player to associate with. He’s been a player that thrived on feeding off of what other players can do. Unfortunately, Messi never was able to find that player in this cycle. Yet, in that process something greater occurred – Argentina found themselves.
Sabella’s Argentina were not a squad that was tiki-taka, jogo-bonito or any other style you would think they could play. What you saw on the pitch at Maracanã was what Argentina provided from a collective standpoint — a team-effort.
It was the end of the road for him. He came up short of what many saw as his destiny. It was his chance to finally consolidate his name amongst the Olympus of soccer.
Yet I am confident that he was not the best player of the tournament. Selecting him would be putting down some of the truly great performers like Arjen Robben, Thomas Müller, Toni Kroos, Javier Mascherano and even James Rodríguez (to me, the deserved winner). Messi, just should not be in this conversation. Although, the Barcelona man was the team’s leading goalscorer and was able to show his brilliance, those moments were too few and far between.
He played too alone at times and he had no one to associate himself with.
So what was Messi’s verdict? Adequate, at least for me if you see what he did at times and where the team got to. Still, if you are a talking about a middle of the road role player, “adequate” is good enough in a World Cup. Messi is a different story. Adequate for Messi is still not good enough. He’s on a different standard. His standards and records put him on a sometimes – unforgivable performance curve. That curve will always be just a bit steeper because of his game being so superior until the injury bug began to affect his play.
Is he the best player in the world still? You’ll have to make some debate for it, but he’s in the discussion at this point. Was he the best player of this World Cup? Absolutely not. Still at this stage of his career, Messi did get to a final. So if you want to compare him to Cruyff, honestly, that is not a bad person to be compared to at this stage of his career.