- Lionel Messi fails to score in any of the four knockout games after scoring 4 in the group stages against lesser teams.
- Argentina hadn’t scored a goal through 120 minutes of their semifinal, and another 120 in the final.
- Messi wins Golden Ball (Best Player of the tournament), but finds no consolation after failing to emulate idol Maradona.
- The wait for Argentina continues after 1986.
- Argentina arguably creates more chances, but the Germans come closer – hitting the bar twice.
- Higuain misses a sitter in the first half, and Messi misses a regulation (Barcelona) chance in the second half.
- Germany have been the most consistent World Cup team since 2002 – reaching the finals twice (2002 and 2014) and semis twice (2006 and 2010).
- 171 goals were scored in the World Cup.
- Germany remain unbeaten in the 2014 World Cup, only failing to win against Ghana 2-2 in the group stages.
It wasn’t to be.
But surely, this wasn’t only about one player and his destiny. If that was the case, even Federer would have won Wimbledon against Djokovic last week. But these days, legends rarely get fairytale farewells. Ask cricketers and F1 drivers. Unless they’re great enough to script their own farewells, their own paths.
Lionel Messi is great enough to do that.
And it is not too late. He has another starry World Cup left in him. But this was his best and most significant chance, after he dragged a scratchy Argentina team right to the finals. They were gritty, ugly and brave, but none of that mattered when they encountered a bridge too long against the best team in world football.
The Germans started the tournament, and the finals, as favourites – more so after the overwhelming 7-1 mauling of Brazil – and they confirmed their status in the first half after coming close several times. But somehow, this seemed to be Argentina’s game. This seemed to be one of those rare World Cups where deserving teams often won the important games, but Argentina were on their way to upset all those statistics and pull off the greatest coup since, well, Greece in Euro 2004.
They couldn’t do it.
After going to extra time and penalties on three occasions, this last period of extra time against the fitter and fresher Germans proved to be too much. That is not to say that the German football team were comfortable throughout the final. How could they be when they failed to score for 90 pulsating minutes before a lull in extra time? Surely, their fans must have been expecting the worst if it went to penalties, especially after they had peaked throughout the tournament and were failing to score against a team led by a boy on the verge of his ultimate footballing destiny. But then, another young turk named Goetze – who was singled out my Maradona at the beginning of the World Cup as a star to watch out for – came on and scored an incredible goal – a volley past a hopeless Romero after it seemed like both teams were playing for sudden death. Perhaps the coaches didn’t want penalties as much as the players did, but just for a split second, Argentina let their intensity slip, and Goetze capitalized – something his teammates failed to do for 114 minutes before him. It would arguably be the goal of his life, because all hope was lost after that for the South Americans, and even Messi seemed doomed when he took that last minute freekick. It went so far and high above the post that it was impossible to believe he had anything left in him. He had surrendered to the better team, but couldn’t understand why. Because everything had come so easily and smoothly for him in club football for Barcelona, he found the going tougher than usual for his national team. Still, he managed to win the Golden Ball, but that seemed more like a FIFA managerial decision than anything, because even Messi would admit he was far from his best in the final two games.
He didn’t seize the moment.
His team suffered their first and only defeat of the tournament in the final, after being on the verge of exits many times. The Germans, meanwhile, led so admirably by Lahm, fulfilled their destiny and won a World Cup that was in the making since Klinsmann changed the face of their football style back in 2006.
The ex players and Klinsmann can afford to feel this is theirs too, because what they had started has resulted in this after two consecutive painful third place finishes. Klose was the only player to play in the 2002 final when the Germans were still a bloody-minded defensive team led by Kahn, and he played in 2013 again as a legend and the highest-ever scorer in World Cup History after scoring against Brazil in the semis – his 17th, poetically passing Brazilian legend Ronaldo in his penultimate World Cup game. A Klose header was long overdue, but he couldn’t do it in the final, instead leaving the glory to his younger teammates – who no doubt have confirmed the belief that German football right now is the perfect mix of erstwhile Brazilian football and Spanish discipline, starting an era of domination in international football too after Bayern Munich capped one of the most successful club football years in 2013.
Meanwhile, Messi will live to fight another day. But perhaps, he may not be mentioned in the same breath as Pele and Maradona just yet. And that might really rankle his fans, because a World Cup – however momentary – is still the ultimate prize in football.