Muted not magical, Lionel Messi misses World Cup chance again

Written by Reuters | Rio de Janeiro | Updated: Jul 14 2014, 15:31pm hrs
Lionel Messi walked up the steps at the Maracana. It was at the end of 120 minutes of Sunday's gripping World Cup final and the Argentine was collecting a revered golden trophy, one befitting his status as the greatest player of his generation.

Still, though, Messi wore a look of anguish. The trophy he was receiving was the "Golden Ball" awarded to the World Cup's best player, scant consolation for missing out on the big prize which sat within touching distance but as far away as ever.

"It is a sad prize that I won because we wanted to lift the trophy for Argentina," he said, as if the look on his face had not already said it all.

For two hours, in front of almost 75,000 howling football fans, Messi failed to produce that special magic for which he is renowned, and was unable to lead his team to World Cup glory.

Instead, Germany broke the South American stranglehold on World Cups held in the Americas, and won a fourth title to add to the trophies won by West Germany in 1954, 1974 and 1990.

Messi will surely long reflect on this match, one which could have gilded his already sparkling reputation, but which instead will sit like a stain on his resume.

It took him two minutes to get his first touch of the ball with a cushioned chest from a throw-in and 118 minutes later he had his last with a free kick lashed high over the German bar.

Messi's chance of adding a World Cup crown to his staggering haul of football treasure had disappeared in a Maracana cauldron of noise.

The greatest player of his generation grimaced, smiled and looked up into the Rio de Janeiro night sky. The magical Messi had been unable to unlock the world's best team and Germany were champions.

Their 1-0 victory had been a thunderous contest, full of robust tackles and it was a match Messi had been unable to stamp his authority over.

NICE JINKS

There had been some nice jinks and deft touches from the 27-year-old. A shot had gone close, a late header had lifted some sections of the stadium out of their seats.

But in the final analysis, there had been rather too much trotting in the centre of the pitch, in that tight, tidy compact way he has - head a little stooped, legs a little bandy.

Messi was neither the conductor of this Argentine team, nor its heartbeat. He proved on this occasion to be a peripheral character, showing flashes of brilliance but little influence.

Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella stalked on the sidelines, immaculate in a blue suit but often bent at the waist and gesticulating wildly, trying to urge his captain on.

Messi, however, seemed to have little energy or vision. As the first half wore on frustration told and he started charging around after the ball, chasing it as Germans crisply passed it between themselves.

When jinking, he invariably ran into a sea of white shirts and his shooting was unusually off range.

He came closest at the beginning of the second half when a curling shot flashed only centimetres wide. But soon passes started to go awry, always followed by plaintive apologies, and his runs became rarer.

By midway through the second half, Messi resembled a golfer taking a carefree stroll, only really switching on when required to take a shot.

Then it became a slower walk. Then he was standing, hands on hips, leaning on first one leg and then the other.

He managed a header deep in extra time but that was from far out and would never bother the immense Neuer, eventually floating high.

But in the dying seconds the scene was hastily set for a Messi masterpiece and a golden opportunity for redemption.

Fouled by Bastian Schweinsteiger, the Argentine lined up his free kick some 30 yards from Neuer's goal.

The German players formed a defensive wall, their fans squirmed in their seats - everyone has seen what Messi can do in this situation.

But on a clear Brazilian night on the soil of his country's most bitter soccer enemy, he blasted his shot high over the goal and Argentina's last chance was gone.

Messi and his team mates were beaten, Germany had won, Messi once more left the stage without the ultimate vindication of his talent.