Lionel Messi’s legacy is still bright, but not brilliant after World Cup shortfall

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LeBron James, fair or not, will always be compared to Michael Jordan, and the first point of comparison is championships.

Lionel Messi, fair or not, will always be compared to fellow Argentinian Diego Maradona, and the first point of comparison is World Cup titles.

Maradona has one, and Messi has none.

At age 27, having helped his team to the World Cup final, Messi was powerless to prevent Germany from snatching the victory in extra time, while Argentina had nothing in front of goal.

But the biggest difference isn’t necessarily the win or loss of the trophy, but the performances involved. The “Cosmic Kite” won the World Cup in what seemed like a one-man show. “La Pluga” couldn’t.

And that’s the difference.

There’s no doubting Messi is one of the greatest players to have graced this beautiful game.  He has 243 goals in 277 La Liga matches. He has 43 international goals. He has untold amounts of trophies for both individual and team performances, including an unprecedented four Ballon d’Or awards.

source: AP
Wrong trophy: Lionel Messi won the Golden Ball, but clearly wishes he could trade the individual award for a World Cup title.

His national team manager Alejandro Sabella acknowledged that Messi had already secured himself into the category of greats before this team had started, which is entirely true.

“I believe he is already in the pantheon of greats,” Sabella told reporters after the match. “He was there before the tournament and he’s been there for a while.”

Messi’s electricity and dribbling beauty is once-in-a-generation type stuff, and that is not debatable.

But with a gaping hole on his resume, it’s hard to establish Messi as among the best ever, even in his own country.

In this day of communication, technology, and social media, club performances in individual countries mean much more than they used to, but World Cups still define players and careers.

Look at Pele.  He played his entire career in the Brazilian league, which doesn’t have the exposure as some of the larger European leagues (although it had much more pedigree at that time).  But with three World Cup victories, he is unmatched in that category and is indisputably known as the best soccer player who ever lived.

For Messi to stake a claim for the “best ever” designation – or even come close – he needed a World Cup, and it eluded him.

There’s still time for the moment. If he can keep up this level of play another four years, there’s no telling what can happen given another tournament. But he’ll be 31 at that time, and there was no better chance than while in the prime of his career.

Argentina was a good team, but with few individual stars and a couple of key injuries, there’s no question he has a better team at the club level.  It’s difficult – nearly impossible, in fact – for a player to win a World Cup mostly on his own, and that should never be expected of someone.

But Maradona did it, and therein lies the problem.

No credit should be taken away from Messi this tournament, legacy wise.  The world already knows what he’s capable of. He’s still, as Sabella said, in the “pantheon of greats.”

But he did nothing to further his legacy this past month either, and without improvement, he still remains just “one of the greats.” Just ask Johan Cruyff.

And that likely doesn’t sit well with the “Little Flea.”

STREAM LIVE: USMNT looks for 3 more points in Panama

Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
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The United States looks to finish the international break in an automatic qualifier spot in the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying table when it faces Panama in Panama City at 10:05 p.m. EDT Tuesday.

A lot of the faces are the same from the 6-0 demolition of Honduras in California on Friday, though John Brooks and Sebastian Lletget are out with injury.

Jermaine Jones replaces Lletget while Tim Ream moves into the fray for Brooks. Geoff Cameron played Friday’s match with a minor injury, and moves out of the XI for Graham Zusi.

LINEUP

USMNT: Howard; Villafana, Gonzalez, Ream, Zusi; Bradley, Jones, Nagbe; Pulisic, Dempsey, Altidore

Subs: Bingham, Rimando; Beasley, Besler, Camron, Zimmerman; Acosta, Arriola, Bedoya, Kljestan, McCarty, Pulisic; Wondolowski

Reyes header gives Mexico three points in T&T (video)

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Diego Reyes’ 58th minute header off a corner kick gave Mexico a lead it wouldn’t give up in a 1-0 win over Trinidad and Tobago at Hasely Crawford Stadium in World Cup qualifying on Tuesday.

The win gives Mexico a table-topping 10 points, seven ahead of last-place T&T.

[ MORE: Honduras 1-1 Costa Rica ]

The Soca Warriors were in fine, stingy form early, and looked to have gone ahead on the counterattack when Joevin Jones belted a left-footer into the Mexico goal.

The linesman, however, ruled that Jones was offside. He almost certainly was not, as Mexico’s supreme luck in CONCACAF play continued for at least one night.

Hector Herrera hammered a shot off the far goal post early in the second half as Mexico attempted to grab control.

T&T goalkeeper Jan-Michael Williams jammed Miguel Layun’s shot over the bar moments before the breakthrough from Reyes.

Williams then saved Javier Hernandez’s 64th minute offering as Mexico looked to put three points to bed.

Joevin Jones won a free kick in the 76th minute that gave a brief moment of light to T&T’s hopes, but Jones hit the wall and Mexico cleared the ball.

Honduras holds Costa Rica 1-1

AP Photo/Moises Castillo
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Honduras did the United States a favor by taking a point from visiting Costa Rica in Tuesday’s CONCACAF World Cup qualifier in San Pedro Sula.

Anthony Lozano pushed a 35th minute chance past an indecisive Keylor Navas, as Los Catrachos set the stage for a hopeful three points.

[ STREAM: T&T-Mexico, Panama-USMNT ]

Vancouver Whitecaps center back Kendall Waston’s haphazard defending helped allow the goal, but he scored off a late Costa Rica corner kick to ensure Costa Rica will finish the international break in second place.

With four points, Honduras moves ahead of Trinidad and Tobago and the United States before both sides play Tuesday.

Costa Rica beat the U.S. 4-0 in 2016, while the Yanks battered Honduras 6-0 on Friday.

WATCH: Video Assistant calls back Griezmann goal

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France and Spain used the Video Assistant Referee program on Tuesday in a friendly, and the French likely rue that decision.

Antoine Griezmann had an incorrectly allowed goal reverse for offside, while Gerard Deulofeu saw an initially ruled offside goal allowed upon review in Spain’s 2-0 win over France.

[ MORE: Bolivia stuns Messi-less Argentina ]

Here’s an example, as Griezmann’s barely offside goal was overturned in less than a minute (Both calls took less than a minute to decide):

At the risk of sounding like a caveman, I really don’t like these razor thin offside calls being subject to review.

When you consider the improbability of timing the moment of contact with the ball — how many times have you seen a freeze frame conveniently used to make a case? — it just seems to mess with the spirit of sport.

What do you think?