Lionel Messi last night revealed the full depth of his anger and devastation at failing to crown his career by winning Sunday's World Cup final amid a bizarre row about him being awarded the tournament's 'Golden Ball'.
Just minutes after Germany had beaten Argentina to become the first European nation to lift the World Cup on South American soil, a clearly distraught Messi was obliged to collect the individual FIFA award for the best player of the competition.
The 'Golden Ball' decision was made by FIFA's supposedly expert Technical Study Group but there was still general shock that it did not go to either Colombia's James Rodriguez or one of Germany's new team of world champions.
Messi said that the award meant "nothing" as he digested the cost of missing a clear chance to win the World Cup for Argentina in the second half of Sunday's final.
There is a theory that Messi (below) can never reach the same elevated status in football as Pele or Maradona without winning the World Cup and, given that he will be in his 30s by the time of the tournament in Russia in 2018, his best chance may now have passed.
"I'm very hurt at not being able to bring the cup to Argentina," Messi said. "I am very angry at the way we lost, so close to the penalties, especially as we had the best chances. I do not care about the 'Golden Ball'. I am just upset by the wasted chances.
"We had the best chances, with (Gonzalo) Higuain, mine and (Rodrigo) Palacios. We knew we could not dominate the game but we knew what we wanted to do.
"Right now I do not care nothing, not about my prize, nothing. I just wanted to lift the cup and bring it to Argentina. The pain is very great.
"I have been through many sad days with this team. This was our chance to change all that. They had more of the ball but the best chances were ours."
Maradona yesterday dismissed the 'Golden Ball' award to his compatriot as a "marketing plan" while FIFA president Sepp Blatter even admitted that he had not expected Messi to win the prize.
FIFA may now change how the award is judged. The other short-listed players were Rodriguez, Neymar, Angel di Maria, Mats Hummels, Toni Kroos, Philipp Lahm, Javier Mascherano, Thomas Mueller and Arjen Robben.
"Leo is worthy of all the praise – he is the best but when judges award you something you do not deserve to win, it's unfair," Maradona said.
"I saw it as I did and he was not the best of the tournament. That should have been James Rodriguez.
"I would give him (Messi) heaven if possible. But it's not right when someone wins something that he shouldn't have won just because of some marketing plan."
The award used to be voted in conjunction with the media and that may be resumed after the fall-out this year. "There was a long discussion,'' a FIFA spokesman said.
"The decision was by the Technical Study Group. Maybe it will change again. Maybe it will not have so much weight given to the technical group. We're open to suggestions. You can make your own opinion on Messi.''
Blatter said: "Shall I be diplomatic or tell you the truth? Listen, I was myself a little bit surprised when I saw Messi coming up for the 'Golden Ball'. But look at the goals scored by Messi in the different (group-stage) matches. They were decisive.''
Another major controversy in Argentina is the half-time decision of manager Alejandro Sabella to substitute Ezequiel Lavezzi after the Paris Saint-Germain midfielder had been among the best players during the first half.
Sabella said that it had simply been tactical but it was a bizarre change at a time when Argentina had been creating the best chances.
"I don't understand the substitution of Lavezzi – he was phenomenal down the wing," said Maradona.
Jose Mourinho, the Chelsea manager, was equally mystified by Sabella's half-time tactics. "I would like to know later the reason Lavezzi stayed in the dressing-room," Mourinho said.
"I only have to believe that it was because of some injury because in the first half Argentina played with two lines of four.
"Messi could basically walk while the team was in a defensive moment and when the team recovered the ball Messi had fresh legs and the energy to make the difference. When Lavezzi was out, Sabella changed the system of the team. In this moment the team lost a lot of balance."
Mascherano said that the pain of defeat would live with him for the rest of his life, while Pablo Zabaleta blamed missed chances for Argentina's defeat. "The best one was for Higuain but this is a sport," he said. "No more scapegoats must be sought." (©Daily Telegraph, London)