World Cup - 'Exhausted' Messi faces his 'Maradona moment'

Lionel Messi’s father says the Argentina star is utterly exhausted as the World Cup final looms, but destiny, and history, is firmly within his grasp.

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World Cup - 'Exhausted' Messi faces his 'Maradona moment'
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An Argentina's fan holds an image of Argentina's forward Lionel Messi and former footballer Diego Maradona as Saints, before for the Group F football match between Nigeria and Argentina

WHAT HAPPENED

The Barcelona star was key to the South Americans’ progress from the group stages, and at last looked set to enjoy the sort of World Cup many have felt was overdue.

However, Messi has struggled since then, failing to make his mark on the quarter-final against Belgium or the semi-final penalty shoot-out win over Netherlands.

Messi has unsurprisingly been heavily man-marked throughout the World Cup in Brazil, but nonetheless produced match-winning contributions in earlier Argentina fixtures, usually in the closing stages.

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WHAT THEY SAID

Messi's father, Jorge: “Leo (Messi) said it looked like his legs weighed 100 kilos. He was very tired."

Gary Lineker: "I don’t think he’s in brilliant shape and he looks exhausted. I love Messi, but to be honest at this World Cup I have been marginally disappointed with him. There is something not right. He has become very static. I went to the semi-final in Sao Paulo and watched him closely, and there is so little movement now."

Javier Mascherano: "Leo can make you win a match even on those days when he's in a low key, when his shining aura isn't there."

[DAVID JAMES: MESSI LOOKS INJURED TO ME]

WHAT GERMANY SAID

Assistant coach Hansi Flick: "All the players and coaching staff had a great time together watching the match [Netherlands v Argentina]...obviously we saw the way Netherlands were able to keep Messi in check. We've played a lot of matches against Argentina in the past, and we've also got a plan. But we're not going to reveal that here to you."

EUROSPORT'S VIEW

Of course Messi is tired; World Cups tend to be exhausting, and the Argentina game plan is unsurprisingly heavily reliant on him. But statistics earlier in the tournament indicated that he had worked out a way to conserve his energy while maintaining maximum impact.

That wasn't what happened against Netherlands, though, where the tight marking made a difference, and Messi found himself struggling to make his mark on the game.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT

Messi has one more chance to work some magic and ensure his name is forever inextricably linked with this tournament. The Argentina camp are playing down the suggestion that their star man is fatigued; but there is only one way that he can prove that his dad is mistaken - by leading his country to victory in the World Cup final.

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WHAT THE MEDIA SAID

Sam Wallace, The Independent: "As tomorrow’s World Cup final approaches and Messi attempts to inspire his Argentina team against Germany in the way El Diego did 28 years ago in Mexico, it is worth remembering just what a giant, figuratively speaking, he is attempting to follow. Maradona looms over the modern game whether you happen to come from Rotherham or Rosario, Messi’s home city that has an extraordinary lineage of footballers and freedom fighters ... It is hard to resist the prospect of Argentina winning, simply because of the completeness it would add to Messi’s career. He was 27 last month. At the same age, Maradona was already 17 months on from his triumph at the 1986 World Cup finals. It seems unfair to have to compare Messi to him. If he had been Colombian or Uruguayan, he would be out there on his own, but each country has its own heroes and Maradona belongs to Argentina."

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COMING UP

It's the completely pointless third-place play-off between Netherlands and Germany. The Dutch probably can't be bothered - and even coach Louis van Gaal said he was no fan of the game - but Brazil MUST rescue some pride after their semi-final humiliation. The action gets underway at 9pm.

[MATCHPACK: BRAZIL v NETHERLANDS]

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