If Argentina win the World Cup, will Messi finally sit alongside Maradona, Pele?

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Diego Maradona. Pele. Lionel Messi?

After Argentina won their World Cup semifinal against the Netherlands on Wednesday to set up a final with Germany on Sunday at the Maracana, Messi now has a shot at winning the first World Cup title of his career.

Here’s the big question everyone is asking: if Argentina win the World Cup, will Messi be mentioned in the same sentence as Maradona and Pele for the rest of time? Yes.

[ RELATED: Explaining Messi’s stinker ]

Despite some lackluster displays this season, even in this tournament, Messi deserves to be mentioned in the same sentence as Pele and Maradona IF he wins the World Cup. During this World Cup he has created chances and scored four goals, most at pivotal moments, which have helped to drag Argentina through to the final against Germany. This may be the only shot Messi gets at winning the biggest title in soccer. If he wants to be a soccer god, he must lead Argentina to glory.

source: AP
Maradona led Argentina to glory in ’86.

If Messi turns on the magic and shines against Germany his name will be etched into the history books as the man who won it all. Pele and Maradona never won the UEFA Champions League. They never won the World Player of the Year title four times like Messi has (but only because the FIFA World Player of the Year did not begin until 1991) and he has already collected a plethora of club titles neither won.

The only trophy which has so far eluded the 27-year-old superstar is the World Cup. He’s arguably surpassed them both at club level, now his genius must be confirmed by hoisting the World Cup.

He has won the Champions League three times with Barcelona, scoring in both of the finals he played in. However Pele won three World Cups. Maradona won one. Messi, so far, has none. That has to change for him to be considered as an all-time great of the game. It has to.

Argentina win on PKs | Messi’s stinker | Messi the world’s best? |

At this World Cup Messi has captained Argentina and been tightly marked by two, three or four opposition defenders at times. In the opening match against Bosnia he scored a beautiful goal after a jinxing run for just the second WC goal of his career, then in the dying stages against Iran he weaved past defenders and curled a stunning shot in to give Argentina a crucial 1-0 win. To round off the group stages he then scored two against Nigeria, one a sumptuous free kick, as he led by example. However in knockout games against Switzerland, Belgium and the Netherlands he has gone quiet. When Pele and Maradona won the World Cup, they were pivotal in their teams success. Messi has to be the main man in the Maracana on Sunday if Argentina are to topple Germany.

For a number of reasons, as my PST colleague Mike Prindiville explains here, Messi has struggled to deliver the goods in the knockout stage after promising so much in the group stage. Some reasons here: the three aforementioned teams are three of the best defensive teams on the planet, plus Argentina play in a much more defensive nature, so when Messi does get the ball he has little support.

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Pele won three World Cups with Brazil during their golden era.

However when Argentina have really needed him in this tournament he has come up big.

Think back to that curler vs. Iran in the last second of the match. The defense-splitting pass for Angel di Maria to score and beat Switzerland in the round of 16. Those moments show that when his side is up against it, unlike in the past, Messi is the inspirational leader for this Argentine team.

After his side went 120 grueling minutes against Holland and the Germans had an extra day of rest before the final, Argentina’s players will be exhausted for Sunday’s final.

Now is Messi’s time to shine. Now is the perfect time to prove he deserves to be deemed as a soccer god alongside Maradona and Pele. That’s my opinion, below are the facts on how great Messi is, and how great Maradona and Pele were.

THE FACTS

Lionel Messi

World Player of the Year awards: 4
World Cups: None
Continental titles: Three
League titles: Six
Total apps/goals: 457 apps, 354 goals
International apps/goals: 93 apps, 42 goals

Pele

World Player of the Year awards: N/A
World Cups: 3
Continental titles: Two
League titles: Seven
Total apps/goals: 763 apps, 707 goals (including friendlies, 1115 apps, 1088 goals)
International apps/goals: 92 apps, 77 goals

Diego Maradona

World Player of the Year awards: N/A
World Cups: 1
Continental titles: None
League titles: Five
Total apps/goals: 588 apps, 312 goals
International apps/goals: 91 games, 34 goals

Six charged over Hillsborough disaster

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Six individuals, including four former members of the South Yorkshire Police (SYP), have been charged over the Hillsborough disaster in 1989 which left 96 Liverpool fans dead.

Former SYP Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield, who was the match commander of the FA Cup semifinal which saw 96 fans crushed to death, will face charges of manslaughter by gross negligence of 95 of the victims. For legal reasons Duckenfield has not been charged over the death of the 96th victim, Tony Bland, who died four years after the tragedy.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) must apply to the High Court to lift an order imposed on Duckenfield after he was prosecuted privately in 1999. That must be removed before he can be charged with 95 cases of manslaughter.

Families of the victims gathered in Warrington, England on Wednesday and were told about the charges by the CPS, who later released the following statement.

Other individuals who will be prosecuted include the former Chief Constable of Merseyside and West Yorkshire police, Sir Norman Bettison, who is facing four charges misconduct in office following the disaster, while former SYP Chief Superintendent Donald Denton and SYP Detective Chief Inspector Alan Foster have both been charged with perverting the course of justice.

Former Sheffield Wednesday chief executive and designated safety officer Graham Mackrell has been charged with breaching the terms of the stadium’s safety certificate and failing to take reasonable care under the the Health and Safety at Work act, plus SYP solicitor, Peter Metcalf, has also been charged.

The families of those who perished at the Leppings Lane end of Hillsborough over 28 years ago have fought for justice ever since with Liverpool Football Club and the wider soccer community supporting the families in their battle.

From 1991 until 2014 they struggled to cope with the cost of a lengthy legal battle, but that all changed as the UK government have funded the legal costs for all the victims families with the total investigation now spanning four-and-a-half years and costing over $128.2 million.

Last April a verdict of “unlawful killing” was reached for the 96 victims after a new inquest was launched into the deaths following the original verdict from 1991 being quashed by the High Court in 2012 after a report from the Hillsborough Independent Panel.

The new inquest then prompted a new police criminal investigation as Operation Resolve was set up to determine what led up to the deadly crush, and the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) then investigated what happened after the tragedy and allegations that SYP had perverted the court of justice and tried to cover up their own responsibility.

The defendants, apart from Duckenfield, will appear in Warrington Magistrates Court on Aug. 9.

Giovinco strikes twice to lift Toronto FC to Canadian Championship (video)

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Sebastian Giovinco scored twice including in stoppage time as Toronto FC overcame Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla’s fantastic strike to win 2-1 in the second leg of the Canadian Championship at BMO Field on Tuesday.

TFC held the advantage after a 1-1 first leg in Montreal. The Reds advance to the CONCACAF Champions League.

Tabla, who just turned 18 in March, is an Ivorian-born Canadian youth international who now has four senior goals for the Impact.

Montreal veteran Patrice Bernier saw red in the 89th minute, putting the Impact’s chances behind the 8-ball.

[ MORE: USMNT Gold Cup questions ]

Toronto FC entered the match with a road goal advantage, which was undone in the quick flash of a left-foot, as Tabla dug a ball from underneath him and past a flying Clint Irwin to make it 2-1 on aggregate.

The goal was a double whammy for Toronto, which went to the break knowing it would need to score twice (or win in penalty kicks) to advance to the CONCACAF Champions League.

Yet TFC came back after a horrendous pass from Montreal, as Michael Bradley pinged a gorgeous diagonal ball to Sebastian Giovinco. The Atomic Ant recovered from a tough opening touch to bury his chance. 1-1.

And, oh yeah, watch this man work for his second…

Who is Kenny Saief, and other USMNT Gold Cup personnel questions

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Kenny Saief is an 23-year-old American left-sided player with UEFA Champions League experience.

So why do we know so little about the Miami-born man?

The answer is pretty straight-forward: Saief’s entire career has been under-the-radar. After coming up through a series of Israeli teams, he moved to KAA Gent in Belgium. None of those matches, even adding in his representing the full Israel national team twice, got a ton of play on American soil.

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So when Saief filed his one-time switch to represent the United States, paving the way for a USMNT call-up for this summer’s Gold Cup, even those of us who’d followed his career from afar had put a limited amount of actual observation on match footage.

So here’s the long-and-short:

  • Saief turns 24 in December.
  • He moved to Gent from Israeli second tier side Ramat haSharon in 2014.
  • Played a total of 35 minutes in friendlies versus Serbia and Croatia.
  • Saief has 20 total appearances between the Europa and Champions Leagues.
  • Posted a UCL assist versus Wolfsburg in the 2015-16 Round of 16.
  • Had goal, 2 assists in UEL this season, played 180 mins vs. Spurs.
  • Has 15 goals, 9 assists in 107 apps for Gent.

Saief should get an opportunity to make an impact for Bruce Arena’s USMNT, perhaps as soon as Saturday’s friendly against Ghana in East Hartford.

Who else stands a chance to gain the most from this tournament?

Joe Corona — The 26-year-old made his thirst-inducing name in American soccer circles by scoring a pair of goals in the 2013 Gold Cup, but has just 17 caps to his name. His call-up over veterans like Benny Feilhaber and Sacha Kljestan either shows how high he’s risen or how far those veterans have fallen.

Cristian Roldan — Seattle’s hard-nosed midfielder was playing college ball at Washington just three years ago, and it’s not crazy to think strong performances could boost him onto the radar of bigger clubs abroad (let alone make him a mainstay along Kellyn Acosta with the USMNT).

Dom Dwyer — If Roldan’s rise is surprising, Dwyer’s really is astounding. It’s easy to forget that the Sporting KC star forward was playing junior college soccer in 2010 before spending one season of Division I soccer with South Florida. Now he has 57 MLS goals and a look at becoming the clinical finisher the American side has wanted for some time.

Justin Morrow and Eric Lichaj — The 29- and 28-year-old fullbacks would love to prove their mettle is as good if not better than Jorge Villafana, the current front-runner to start at left back should the Yanks complete their revitalized run to the World Cup. Lichaj, a Nottingham Forest veteran, is also adept at right back.

This isn’t to say that Juan Agudelo and Kelyn Rowe won’t benefit from strong tournaments, but the names above have either been rescued from soccer’s scrap heap or at least Jurgen Klinsmann’s prison.

PODCAST: Bob Bradley talks MLS past, USMNT

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Scott Nicholls and Otis Earle welcomed Bob Bradley to their “Beyond The Pitch” podcast to discuss his time coaching the Chicago Fire, the Fire’s current squad, how MLS has evolved, the new generation of players coming into the USMNT and more.

Perhaps most interesting is Bradley talking about previous losses with stinging emotion that sounds like they happened yesterday, including the 2000 MLS Cup.

[ MORE: Latest Men In Blazers pod ]

Since being fired from Swansea City after less than 100 days, Bradley has been linked with the Norway national team gig as well as a return to Los Angeles. Keep up with the U.S. coach here, and check out the podcast here: