Lionel Messi will have the chance to cement his legacy as one of football’s all-time greats when he lines up in the FIFA World Cup final.
The Argentina and Barcelona superstar has long been regarded by many as the best player on the planet, having helped the Catalan club to a plethora of honours.
Messi’s honour roll at Barca, which includes six La Liga titles, three UEFA Champions League crowns and two FIFA Club World Cups, makes for impressive viewing, but statistics alone barely do justice to a player boasting rare ability.
A hugely accomplished dribbler, passer and finisher, the diminutive 27-year-old set a record for goals in a calendar year in 2012, netting 91 times to break the previous record set by Gerd Muller.
However, the one slight on his illustrious career to date comes in the form of accusations that he has yet to deliver the goods at international level.
Messi was publicly criticised at the last World Cup in 2010 for failing to score as Argentina crashed out of the tournament with a 4-0 quarter-final defeat to Germany.
The Rosario-born attacker has somewhat atoned for previous disappointments at this competition, claiming multiple man-of-the-match awards during Argentina’s progression to the final.
He now has the opportunity to secure his place alongside legends such as Pele and compatriot Diego Maradona, by lighting up the Maracana showpiece.
Argentina have hardly been scintillating in Brazil thus far, but their lack of fluidity has in some ways highlighted the brilliance of Messi.
A wonderful solo goal ultimately proved pivotal as Alejandro Sabella’s men recorded an unconvincing 2-1 victory over Bosnia-Herzegovina in their Group F opener.
Messi then provided a stunning match-winning strike in the dying seconds to see off Iran, before shining again in a 3-2 triumph over Nigeria, a glorious free-kick bringing one of two further goals.
Yet for all his excellence in the group stages, Messi has been kept in check in the knockout rounds, his talent overshadowed by a number of the other players bidding to steal the show at football’s grandest event.
Germany’s Thomas Muller has claimed five goals to Messi’s four and is among those to have arguably shone brighter during the latter stages, while the race for the Golden Boot is still headed by Colombia star James Rodriguez, who delivered a particularly impressive display in his side’s last-16 triumph over Uruguay.
Muller and his team-mates provided the undoubted shock of the tournament with a 7-1 drubbing of hosts Brazil in the last four, a result that would seem to place even greater pressure on Messi ahead of a game that could ultimately define his career.
For many in Argentina, Messi will never be held in the same regard as Maradona, a truly inspirational figure pivotal to the country’s 1986 World Cup triumph that was sealed with a 3-2 final win over Germany.
Yet if Messi can replicate the achievements of Argentina’s largest football icon, then his status as one of the greatest ever will be all but sealed.
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