Revered by the Barcelona faithful, Lionel Messi is not treated with such adulation in Argentina.
Despite the national side’s dependency on the little master, he receives unflattering comparisons with Diego Maradona. A major black mark against his name: unlike Maradona, he is yet to lift the World Cup.
Messi on the verge of further greatness?
That could change within the next week, should Argentina beat Holland in the semi-final, before overcoming either Brazil or Germany in Sunday’s final.
So far in the tournament Alejandro Sabella’s side have been accused of letting Messi carry them, while other stars such as Angel di Maria and Gonzalo Higuain have failed to make a similar impact, at least in the early stages.
In the quarter-final, that was less of the case, as the entire eleven appeared to come into their own more, admittedly against a poor Belgium outfit. In midfield, too, Javier Mascherano, formerly of West Ham and Liverpool, put in a phenomenal shift in getting The White and Sky Blue to the last four.
Nonetheless, Messi - who could have played for Spain, having moved from his native Argentina aged just 12 to join the Barcelona academy - has been a positive influence throughout, even when he has not been at his optimum.
However, whether Argentina can be described as a one-man team or not, Messi remains fit and raring to go for the last two rounds. Brazil, on the other hand, may find themselves punished for their over-reliance on Neymar, who has been ruled out for the rest of the tournament after breaking a bone in his back following a clumsy challenge by Juan Zuniga during their quarter-final with Colombia.
The hosts’ strike-force of Fred and Jo must step up to the plate if they are to lift the most famous prize in world football. Argentina, though, have several attacking options besides Messi. In fact, they have gone from being possible contenders to firm favourites among several bookmakers.
Argentina to make history?
Were Messi and Co. to be successful in achieving that feat, he would surely receive heroic status from Argentina’s fanatical, hyper-critical fan base. All the more so, were he to do it in their arch-enemy’s backyard of the Maracana.
Germany and Holland, the only two sides still representing Europe, look altogether more rounded. Thomas Muller has shone for Germany, while Arjen Robben has been the key man for the Netherlands, but neither look lost without their lynchpins.
Brazil and Germany will contest the first semi-final on Tuesday, while Argentina and Holland will face off for a place in the final the following day.
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