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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.

source:
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

VIDEO: Jeison Murillo’s incredible bicycle from a corner kick

MILAN, ITALY - JANUARY 17:  (R-L) Jeison Murillo of FC Internazionale celebrates his first goal with Geoffrey Kondogbia during the TIM Cup match between FC Internazionale and Bologna FC at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on January 17, 2017 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
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Look away now, Andy Carroll. Take a bow, Jeison Murillo.

[ VIDEOS: All in a week’s work — Messi free kick no. 1 | Messi free kick no. 2 ]

Just three days after Carroll scored the bicycle-kick goal of the year (so we thought), here comes Murillo, Inter Milan’s 24-year-old Colombian striker, to steal his thunder (below video). The fact he did it directly from a corner kick, with the ball traveling nearly 50 yards before flinging his body into the air and striking the ball so cleanly, (somehow) trumps Carroll’s accomplishment from Saturday.

[ MORE: PL Power Rankings — Tight at the top… and bottom ]

Sensational goals come in twos now, apparently, as Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Olivier Giroud scored stunning scorpion-kick goals (WATCH HERE and HERE) just days apart earlier in the season.

FA Cup roundup: Burnley, Crystal Palace advance to 4th round

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 17: Christian Benteke of Crystal Palace (C) celebrates scoring his sides first goal with Andros Townsend of Crystal Palace (L) during the Emirates FA Cup third round replay between Crystal Palace and Bolton Wanderers at Selhurst Park on January 17, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images
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A roundup of all of Tuesday’s action in FA Cup third-round replays…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Burnley 2-0 Sunderland

Sam Vokes and Andre Gray grabbed goals for Burnley, who opted for a largely first-choice lineup in Tuesday’s replay. Sunderland, meanwhile, went with a mix-and-match bunch and slumped to six games without a win (all competitions), meaning they can focus solely on Premier League survival from here on out. Burnley will host Championship side Bristol City in the fourth round next Saturday, Jan. 28.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

Crystal Palace 2-1 Bolton Wanderers

Sam Allardyce picked up his first win as Palace boss, courtesy of a Christian Benteke brace scored nine minutes apart in the second half, as the Eagles came from behind to beat League One side Bolton at Selhurst Park. James Henry put the visitors three minutes into the second half, but Benteke hit back in the 68th and 77th minutes to improve Allardyce’s record to one win, two draws and three losses (all competitions). Palace will host Manchester City in the fourth round next Saturday.

Tuesday’s FA Cup scoreboard

AFC Wimbledon 1-3 Sutton United
Barnsley 1-2 (AET) Blackpool
Fleetwood Town 0-1 Bristol City
Lincoln City 1-0 Ipswich Town

AFCON: Ayew propels Ghana to victory; Egypt struggle vs. Mali

FORTALEZA, BRAZIL - JUNE 21:  Andre Ayew of Ghana celebrates scoring his team's first goal during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group G match between Germany and Ghana at Castelao on June 21, 2014 in Fortaleza, Brazil.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
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A roundup of all of Tuesday’s action in the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations…

Ghana 1-0 Uganda

PORT-GENTIL, Gabon (AP) Andre Ayew scored a penalty as Ghana beat Uganda 1-0 on Tuesday in a lackluster opening to the four-time champions’ bid for a first African Cup of Nations title in 35 years.

Ghana took control of Group D after seven-time champion Egypt struggled in a 0-0 draw with Mali in the other group match.

Ghana has three points, Egypt and Mali one each and Uganda zero.

Ayew, a West Ham winger, netted in the 32nd minute after Asamoah Gyan was held back by Isaac Isinde in the penalty area in Port-Gentil.

Avram Grant, a former Chelsea manager, is looking to lead Ghana to a second successive final but go better than 2015 when his team lost to Ivory Coast.

Uganda has also finished runner-up in the continental championship but the trip to the final in 1978 was the last time it qualified until making the Gabon event.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

Mali 0-0 Egypt

Later, 44-year-old Egypt goalkeeper Essam El Hadary became the oldest player in tournament history when he came on for injured Ahmed El Shenawy midway through the first half.

El Hadary, who celebrated his birthday two days ago, is participating in his seventh African Cup, having picked up winners’ medals in 2006, 2008 and 2010.

Egypt’s standout forward Mohamed Salah struggled and was replaced midway through the second half.

Mali, looking to improve on its third-place finishes in 2012 and 2013, produced many more chances.

Egypt failed to qualify for the last three editions of the tournament.

Wednesday’s AFCON schedule

Gabon vs. Burkina-Faso — 11 a.m. ET
Cameroon vs. Guinea-Bissau — 2 p.m. ET

Vertonghen to miss 2 months with ankle ligament damage

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 14: Jan Vertonghen of Tottenham Hotspur receives treatment from the medical team during the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and West Bromwich Albion at White Hart Lane on January 14, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images
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Jan Vertronghen is expected to miss at least two months while recovering from ankle ligament damage, and it couldn’t have come at a worse time, with Tottenham Hotspur currently second in the Premier League, seven points back of leaders Chelsea.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Vertonghen suffered the injury in the 65th minute of Saturday’s 4-0 thrashing of West Bromwich Albion, when he went full-stretch to clear the ball along the sideline before landing on the outside of his left foot, causing the ankle to roll violently. The 29-year-old Belgian international was in clear, visible agony as he sat on the field at White Hart Lane and eventually limped down the tunnel.

The Guardian described the injury as “a tear lying between grades two and three, damage which had left Vertonghen in tears as he departed the turf at White Hart Lane and would normally rule him out at the very least until mid-March.”

[ MORE: PL Power Rankings — Tight at the top… and bottom ]

In the meantime, Kevin Wimmer and Ben Davies will be tasked with filling the void for a Tottenham side which has conceded the fewest goals in the Premier League this season (14 in 21 games). (As a small aside, 19-year-old American center back Cameron Carter-Vickers is likely set for a handful of appearances as well, perhaps in the Europa League round of 32 and FA Cup fourth round, with Wimmer and Davies called upon for additional PL service.)

Wimmer filled in for Vertonghen for nearly three months last season, at the exact same point of the campaign (Jan. 20 through April 2). In Wimmer’s 10 PL starts during that stretch (Vertonghen out with knee ligament damage), Spurs conceded seven goals (seven wins and two draws). The loss of Toby Aldeweireld, for nearly two months back in October of this season, proved a far greater blow (two wins in six PL games), and Spurs should once again manage just fine for as long as Aldeweireld remains healthy alongside Eric Dier, Wimmer and Davies.