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

Brazil’s Gremio wins Recopa Sudamericana in penalty shootout

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PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil (AP) Brazil’s Gremio has won the Recopa Sudamericana, beating Argentina’s Independiente 5-4 in a penalty shootout Wednesday night.

The two-legged final ended 1-1 on aggregate, with no goals scored after 120 minutes in the second.

The winners of last year’s Copa Libertadores overcame the holders of Copa Sudamericana after goalkeeper Marcelo Grohe stopped the last penalty of the series, taken by Independiente’s striker Martin Benitez.

The Recopa is played between the champions of South America’s two most important tournaments.

Independiente played most of the match down to 10 players after defender Fernando Amorebieta was sent off after 38 minutes.

The Brazilians made most of the pressure until the end of extra time, but failed to score.

Gremio also won the Recopa in 1996.

CCL wrap: FC Dallas disappoints; Club America struts (video)

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The CONCACAF Champions League returned Tuesday with Toronto FC’s 2-0 quarterfinal first leg win in Colorado, and a trio of ties began Wednesday across Panama, Costa Rica, and Honduras.

[ WATCH: Fred’s vicious free kick ]

Tauro 1-0 FC Dallas

Veteran striker Edwin Aguilar scored a big goal, and goalkeeper Oscar McFarlane did plenty of good things as the Panamanian side struck a wild first blow against its MLS visitors.

Here’s a random fact underscoring how remarkable of a failure this would be for FC Dallas: Only six of Tauro’s roster members have their own Wikipedia page.

Deportivo Saprissa 1-5 Club America

Cecilio Dominguez and Mateus Uribe each bagged a brace, and Renato Ibarra also scored as the tournament’s top team sauntered into and out of Costa Rica on Wednesday. Club America has been to seven CCL finals, and one every single one.

Motagua vs. Club Tijuana — 10 a.m. ET

Honduran hosts hope to have a leg to stand on — pun intended — once the tie heads to Mexico.

West Ham to friendly neighbors Dag & Red: “Will help save our club”

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English Conference Premier side Dagenham and Redbridge has seen better days, and is getting a hand from a Premier League pal.

[ WATCH: Fred’s vicious free kick ]

West Ham United will pay a visit to Dag & Red as part of the latter’s #SaveTheDaggers campaign, and the March 21 date will cost fans between $7 and $21 to see a top flight side at 6,000-seat Victoria Road.

Dagenham and Redbridge chairman Paul Gwinn said, “It really will help save our club.”

“So please come on down to the Chigwell Construction Stadium for an additional night of football. Bring a friend, or two, or more and we can use the gate takings to help get us back on track,” reads a press release.

Dag & Red was founded in 1992 and climbed as high as League One in 2011, and plays just 2.5 miles from West Ham United’s training ground. Newcastle’s Matt Ritchie and Dwight Gayle are among Dag & Red alums in the Premier League.

It’s a terrific gesture from West Ham, and is even more impressive in the United States where the growing club game is increasingly cutthroat (especially between non-synced leagues).

Angry Di Francesco extremely quotable after Roma loss

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AS Roma manager Eusebio Di Francesco absolutely roasted his charges after i Lupi tossed aside a Cenzig Under-inspired lead to fall 2-1 at Shakhtar Donetsk in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie on Wednesday.

Di Francesco had praise for Edin Dzeko, who assisted Under’s goal, as well as goalkeeper Alisson, but was mostly enraged by his side.

[ MORE: Recap + Fred’s vicious free kick ]

Rather than construct a narrative, we’re going to point out our five favorite selections from Di Francesco’s post-match talk.

4) “The difference was that in the first half we tried to hurt them while in the second we were looking to hold on – to what? I don’t know.”

— “To what? I don’t know” is hilarious. Di Francesco’s side has posted some serious wins this season, including killing off Chelsea 3-0 at home and coming back from 2-0 to draw the Blues at Stamford Bridge. He doesn’t preach sitting back.

3) “There were far too many schoolboy errors – even by players with a wealth of international experience.”

— Schoolboy errors!

2) “I saw two completely different teams out there today. There were lots of players I should have taken off after we conceded the first goal.”

— Again, one mistake by a number of players on Facundo Ferreyra is enough for Di Francesco. He’s not just happy to be here.

1) “I can’t imagine we’d get arrogant just because we’re winning an important game. It’s not as if Roma are used to reaching the final every year.”

— When you’re willing to essentially rip an entire club’s history — Roma’s been to just two UCL quarterfinals since losing the final to Liverpool in 1984 — you’re putting your footprints in new cement.