Friday 30 January 2015

Dion Fanning: Exhausted Lionel Messi couldn't provide the inspiration for Argentina

Dion Fanning

Published 13/07/2014 | 23:13

Germany's Mario Gotze celebrate winning the World Cup after the FIFA World Cup Final at the Estadio do Maracana, Rio de Janerio, Brazil. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Sunday July 13, 2014. See PA story SOCCER Final. Photo credit should read: Mike Egerton/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only. No commercial use. No use with any unofficial 3rd party logos. No manipulation of images. No video emulation.
Germany's Mario Gotze celebrate winning the World Cup after the FIFA World Cup Final at the Estadio do Maracana
Germany's players lift the World Cup trophy as they celebrate their 2014 World Cup final win against Argentina at the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro July 13, 2014. REUTERS/Michael Dalder (BRAZIL - Tags: SOCCER SPORT WORLD CUP)
Germany's coach Joachim Loew lifts the World Cup trophy beside his team after they won the 2014 World Cup final against Argentina at the Maracana stadium
Germany's goalkeeper Manuel Neuer lifts the Golden Glove as he celebrates with teammates being named as the best goalkeeper at the end of their 2014 World Cup final against Argentina at the Maracana stadium
Germany's Bastian Schweinsteiger celebrates with the FIFA World Cup Trophy and team-mates after winning the FIFA World Cup Final at the Estadio do Maracana
Mario Goetze of Germany (L) celebrates scoring his team's first goal with Thomas Mueller during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Final match between Germany and Argentina at Maracana
Germany celebrate defeating Argentina 1-0 in extra time during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Final match between Germany and Argentina at Maracana
Bastian Schweinsteiger celebrates defeating Argentina 1-0 in the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Final match between Germany and Argentina at Maracana
A dejected Lionel Messi of Argentina reacts after being defeated by Germany 1-0 in extra time during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Final match between Germany and Argentina at Maracana
Gonzalo Higuain of Argentina shakes hands with head coach Alejandro Sabella as he exits the game during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Final match between Germany and Argentina at Maracana
Germany celebrate defeating Argentina 1-0 in extra time during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Final match between Germany and Argentina at Maracana
Thomas Mueller (L) and Bastian Schweinsteiger of Germany celebrate after defeating Argentina 1-0 in extra time during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Final match between Germany and Argentina at Maracana
Bastian Schweinsteiger and Miroslav Klose of Germany celebrate defeating Argentina 1-0 in the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Final match between Germany and Argentina at Maracana
Mario Goetze of Germany (L) celebrates scoring his team's first goal with Jerome Boateng during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Final match between Germany and Argentina at Maracana
Mario Goetze of Germany celebrates scoring his team's first goal in extra time during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Final match between Germany and Argentina at Maracana
Mario Goetze of Germany scores his team's first goal in extra time during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Final match between Germany and Argentina at Maracana
Lucas Biglia (L) and Javier Mascherano of Argentina challenge Bastian Schweinsteiger of Germany during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Final match between Germany and Argentina at Maracana
Argentina's Rodrigo Palacio (R) shoots but fails to score a goal past Germany's goalkeeper Manuel Neuer during extra time in their 2014 World Cup final at the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro
Argentina's Lionel Messi (R) misses a goal opportunity during their 2014 World Cup final against Germany at the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro
Germany's Benedikt Hoewedes (R) misses a chance to score during their 2014 World Cup final against Argentina at the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro
Argentina's Lionel Messi (C) attempts a shot on goal against Germany's goalkeeper Manuel Neuer as Germany's Mats Hummels (R) challenges during their 2014 World Cup final at the Maracana stadium
Argentina's Marcos Rojo (L) fouls Germany's Thomas Mueller (C) during their 2014 World Cup final at the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro

In the final minutes of the World Cup final at the Maracana, Argentina had an opportunity to release Lionel Messi who was lurking -he did a lot of lurking in this tournament - on the right-hand edge of the box. Instead of playing the ball to his feet, Lucas Biglia hit it over Messi’s head and sent the world’s best player scurrying towards the touchline in pursuit of the ball, wasting the energy he was trying to conserve.

Messi couldn’t keep the ball in, the moment was wasted and Argentina prepared to lose the World Cup.

Moments later, Messi blew Argentina’s final chance when he sent a free-kick over the bar, looking at that point like a caricature of Messi rather than the real thing.

If the first incident suggested that Messi was cursed to have to play in such a limited side, the second illustrated that he never did enough in this final to transcend his team-mates’ limitations.

Perhaps the achievement was reaching the final. Messi vomited during the first half and the real story about his fitness or energy levels may emerge in the coming days.

He had started the final as if he had one last bit of energy to give but by the second half, after he had missed his best chance, he looked worn down and when extra-time came he could find nothing either side of Mario Gotze’s winning goal.

German soccer fans celebrate after the World Cup final between Germany and Argentina in downtown Frankfurt, Germany, early Monday, July 14, 2014.  Germany beat Argentina 1-0 to win its fourth World Cup title. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)
German soccer fans celebrate after the World Cup final between Germany and Argentina in downtown Frankfurt
German soccer fans celebrate after the World Cup final between Germany and Argentina in downtown Frankfurt
German soccer fans celebrate after the World Cup final between Germany and Argentina in downtown Frankfurt, Germany
German soccer fans celebrate after the World Cup final between Germany and Argentina in downtown Frankfurt
German soccer fans celebrate after the World Cup final between Germany and Argentina in downtown Frankfurt
German soccer fans celebrate their team after Germany won against Argentina by 1-0 at the World Cup final in Rio de Janeiro
A Lebanese fan supporting Germany's national soccer team performs fire breathing as he celebrates with others after Germany won the World Cup final match against Argentina, in Beirut, Lebanon
Fans of Germany sing at a party after Germany's victory over Argentina in the 2014 Brazil World Cup final match in Rio de Janeiro
German fans celebrate after a public viewing of the 2014 Brazil World Cup final match against Argentina, at Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro
German fans celebrate at the 'Reeperbahn' red light district in Hamburg after Germany won the World Cup soccer final against Argentina
German fans celebrate as they drive along the 'Reeperbahn' red light district in Hamburg after Germany won the World Cup soccer final against Argentina
Argentina supporters react after Argentina lost to Germany in their 2014 World Cup final soccer match in Brazil, during a screening at a beach in Rincon de la Victoria, near Malaga
German soccer fans react after the final match of the Brazil World Cup 2014 between Germany and Argentna played in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, at a public viewing area called 'Fan Mile' in Berlin
An Argentina supporter reacts as she watches a screening after Argentina lost to Germany in their 2014 World Cup final soccer match in Brazil, at a beach in Rincon de la Victoria, near Malaga
Fans of Germany celebrate after Germany won the 2014 World Cup final match against Argentina, in Kolkata
An Argentina supporter reacts as he watches the 2014 Brazil World Cup final soccer match between Germany and Argentina, at an Argentinian restaurant in Toronto July 13, 2014. REUTERS/Mark Blinch
An Argentina fan crosses her fingers as she watches a broadcast of the 2014 World Cup final against Germany at the Argentine Embassy in Brasilia, July 13, 2014. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Argentine fans react during the broadcast of the 2014 World Cup final match against Germany at Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro July 13, 2014. REUTERS/Pilar Olivares
Argentine fans react during the broadcast of the 2014 World Cup final match against Germany at Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro July 13, 2014. REUTERS/Pilar Olivares
An Argentina fan reacts while watching a broadcast of the 2014 World Cup final against Germany at the Argentine embassy in Brasilia, July 13, 2014. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
An Argentina fan reacts while watching a broadcast of the 2014 World Cup final against Germany at the Argentine embassy in Brasilia, July 13, 2014. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
An Argentina fan reacts while watching a broadcast of the 2014 World Cup final between Argentina and Germany at the Argentine embassy in Brasilia, July 13, 2014. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Argentina's fans watch a broadcast of the 2014 World Cup final soccer match in Brazil, between Germany and Argentina at a public square viewing area in Buenos Aires, July 13, 2014. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado
Argentina's fans watch a broadcast of the 2014 World Cup final soccer match in Brazil, between Germany and Argentina at a public square viewing area in Buenos Aires July 13, 2014. REUTERS/Martin Acosta
An Argentina supporter reacts as she watches the 2014 Brazil World Cup final soccer match between Germany and Argentina, at an Argentinian restaurant in Toronto July 13, 2014. REUTERS/Mark Blinch
An Argentina supporter reacts as he watches the 2014 Brazil World Cup final soccer match between Germany and Argentina, at an Argentinian restaurant in Toronto July 13, 2014. REUTERS/Mark Blinch
German troops from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) watch the 2014 Brazil World Cup final match between Germany and Argentina at a NATO base in Kabul July 13, 2014. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani
German troops from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) watch the 2014 Brazil World Cup final match between Germany and Argentina at a NATO base in Kabul July 13, 2014. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani
Argentina supporters react as they watch the 2014 Brazil World Cup final soccer match between Germany and Argentina, at an Argentinian restaurant in Toronto July 13, 2014. REUTERS/Mark Blinch
Argentina supporters react as they watch the 2014 Brazil World Cup final soccer match between Germany and Argentina, at an Argentinian restaurant in Toronto July 13, 2014. REUTERS/Mark Blinch
Fans of Germany react as they watch the 2014 World Cup final between Germany and Argentina in Brazil at a public screening of the match in Berlin July 13, 2014. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
Musician Mick Jagger looks on during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Final match between Germany and Argentina at Maracana on July 13, 2014 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)
Fans of Germany watch the 2014 FIFA World Cup Final between Germany and Argentina at the Fanmeile public viewing at Brandenburg Gate on July 13, 2014 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Target Presse Agentur Gmbh/Bongarts/Getty Images)
Fans of Germany watch the 2014 FIFA World Cup Final between Germany and Argentina at the Fanmeile public viewing at Brandenburg Gate on July 13, 2014 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Target Presse Agentur Gmbh/Bongarts/Getty Images)
Fans react at a watch party during the World Cup final match between Germany and Argentina July 13, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Eric Thayer/Getty Images)
Musician Mick Jagger looks on during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Final match between Germany and Argentina at Maracana on July 13, 2014 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)
German fans at Hophaus get into the spirit while watching the 2014 FIFA World Cup Final match between Germany and Argentina on July 14, 2014 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)
Football fans supporting the German national team watch the FIFA World Cup final on a big screen in the 'Bavarian Beerhouse' pub in East London on July 13, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)
German fans gather for the big game
Football fans supporting the German national team watch the FIFA World Cup final on a big screen in the 'Bavarian Beerhouse' pub in East London on July 13, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)
Football fans supporting the German national team watch the FIFA World Cup final on a big screen in the 'Bavarian Beerhouse' pub in East London on July 13, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)
German fans at Hophaus react after conceding a goal that was later ruled offside while watching the 2014 FIFA World Cup Final match between Germany and Argentina on July 14, 2014 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)
German fans at Hophaus react while watching the 2014 FIFA World Cup Final match between Germany and Argentina on July 14, 2014 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)
Lena, girlfriend of Julian Draxler of Germany, looks on during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Final match between Germany and Argentina at Maracana on July 13, 2014 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Martin Rose/Getty Images)
Israeli soldiers watch the 2014 World Cup final match between Germany and Argentina in a cafe on the sixth day of Israel's operation 'Protective Edge' on July 13, 2014 in Sderot, Israel. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
Football fans supporting the German national team watch the FIFA World Cup final on a big screen in the 'Bavarian Beerhouse' pub in East London on July 13, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)
Former England international David Beckham and sons Brooklyn Beckham (L), Cruz Beckham (2nd R) and Romeo Beckham (R) prior to the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Final match between Germany and Argentina at Maracana on July 13, 2014 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
Former Brazilian international Kaka, former Brazilian international Pele and former England international David Beckham look on prior to the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Final match between Germany and Argentina at Maracana on July 13, 2014 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Beforehand, it was hard to know who would be the more fitting champion. A German victory would be a reward for long-term planning, sensible strategy and it would probably result in people using the word ‘structures’ a lot. It would be a victory for all the things we consider essential in the administration of sport, and as such it should be applauded but it was hard not to wish for the romantic outcome, the triumph of the only genius taking part in the final. No, not Martin Demichelis, Messi.

Messi had moments but as the game wore on he dropped deeper and deeper when it was clear that Mats Hummels was a weakness for Germany. Argentina had Rodrigo Palacio running at him when it could have been Messi.

Argentina clung on mainly thanks to Javier Mascherano who held them together. If Messi’s state of fitness is one of the great mysteries of this World Cup, another is how this Argentinian defence conceded only one goal in the knockout stages and that was the goal that won the tournament for Germany.

Joachim Low had named the same side as the semi-final victory but Sami Khedira injured his calf in the warm-up and was replaced by Christoph Kramer, the young Borussia Monchengladbach midfielder. Germany had been so assured with their midfield three of Khedira, Schweinsteiger and Kroos that this would pose them a problem. Argentina knew all about problems -  Angel di Maria and Sergio Aguero weren’t fit to start and, as a consequence, they were even more dependent on Messi.

The contrast in the sides was clear in the opening minutes. Germany were incisive and cohesive while Argentina hoped for something on the break and hoped that Messi would provide it. Philipp Lahm was a dominant figure from right-back but Messi looked as interested and dangerous as he has been at any time in the tournament, making two devastating runs which bookended the first half and which had German defenders scrambling.

Germany’s tactics were curious as they seemed to be inviting to run at him as they pushed up, gambling that he would prefer to play a more withdrawn role but it was a pretty big gamble.

Argentina took their own risks, They looked uneasy every time the ball was anywhere near their box even if Germany made the first critical mistake when Toni Kroos headed towards his own goal, unaware that Gonzalo Higuain was hovering.

Higuain was through but pulled the shot wide, the start of a miserable evening as minutes later, he failed to time his run from an Ezequiel Lavezzi ball when he had a goal disallowed for offside. Then, in the second half,  Manuel Neuer clattered into him as he punched clear. Argentina looked for a penalty. Neuer had got the ball but amazingly the referee penalised Higuain. His substitution after 77 minutes left Argentina with no fully fit member of  the forward line so celebrated before the tournament but Alejandro Sabella had decided that Rodrigo Palacio offered more.

Messi had started the move that led to Higuain’s disallowed goal in the first half with a glorious pass, emerging from one of his quiet periods to release Lavezzi who would shortly return the favour, but it was a signal that he was intent again, conducting a brief terror campaign against Germany’s defence in the first-half, accompanied at times by Lavezzi.

Argentina’s good spell coincided with the withdrawal of Kramer whose head had smashed violently into Ezequiel Garay’s shoulder, an early sign that the game was going to have an aggressive edge. Kramer left shortly afterwards with Andre Schurrle replacing him and Mesut Ozil moving into centre.

Argentina were saved a few times by the referee and just before half-time, Benedikt Howedes headed against the post, exposing Argentina’s weakness.

Lavezzi didn’t look like one of them in the first half so he must have been injured for Sabella to make a change at half-time, replacing him with Aguero. Sabella would have hoped that Aguero would push Germany back but still they invited Messi to get behind them. When he did just after the interval, he was through on goal, bearing down from a familiar position and his shot beat Manuel Neuer but went the wrong side of the post.

Argentina were put out by Neuer’s challenge on Higuain and took some retaliatory action.

Messi had faded since the chance early in the half and when he did get on the ball, he was less willing to run at defenders, although one interchange with Pablo Zabaleta saw him drift across the box but his shot never bothered Neuer.

Both sides were tiring but Argentina looked more vulnerable in that condition and they could have been trailing except Toni Kroos side-footed wide after the sort of German move that had torn Brazil apart.

Germany looked too tired to do that again and in injury-time, Messi lifted himself again. He chased back to win the ball off Ozil, in fact it was if he had to win the ball off Ozil, and played a dangerous ball towards Palacio but he couldn’t bring it under control.

Messi hadn’t scored since the group stage and when the game went to extra-time, it meant Argentina had scored only one goal inside 90 minutes during the knockout stages. This meant that they were relying on their unorthodox defence although the protection offered by Mascherano made sense of their record in this competition.

Within seconds of the restart, Sergio Romero had to save from Schurrle and then the defence looked panicked again with only Pablo Zabaleta and Mascherano in front of them staying calm.

When Argentina did find space, they blew it. Aguero wasted an opportunity to find Messi before Palacio found himself with only Neuer to beat after Hummels was caught under the ball. With the goalkeeper advancing, Palacio’s attempted lob dribbled wide.

The game which had promised so much now appeared to be limping towards penalties, perhaps fitting as the players hobbled around the Maracana.

But in the end, the Argentina defence was exposed when Schurrle crossed and Mario Gotze was unmarked in the box and volleyed past Romero who had got his angles wrong.

Argentina were losing and inevitable all eyes turned to Messi. He couldn’t oblige and he ended the game in a familiar pose, staring at the ground, just another person looking elsewhere for inspiration.

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