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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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