Will Messi seize his Maradona moment at the Maracana?
The Argentina wizard offered little against Holland, but he can make history in the final
The talents of Lionel Messi, regarded as the greatest player on earth, were conspicuous by their absence last night as Argentina ground out a grim 0-0 draw with Holland in the semi-final of the World Cup. But now that his side have secured their place in the final, after a penalty shoot-out, he has the chance to shine on the biggest stage of all.
It is testament to just how dire the game was that much of the post-match analysis is dedicated to the prospect of Messi finding some kind of form and space to play in against Germany on Sunday.
Can he finally establish himself as a player to rival the feats of the great Diego Maradona by inspiring his team to World Cup glory agaist Germany, just as Maradona did in 1986?
The pair have little in common apart from their nationality and ability with a football, but comparisons are legion.
"The two narratives span the gap between the golden age of renegade street footballers and one-man corporations," says Paul Hayward in the Daily Telegraph. "But the purpose has not changed. Argentina is one of those countries that seeks prestige not only through the production of gifted individuals but bragging rights on the international stage."
After making no imprint on the semi-final, Messi can still seize his Maradona moment. "He has a final now against El Diego's own grandest opponents to decorate with his World Cup-worthy talent," says Barney Ronay in The Guardian. "After a deeply uninspiring match here it is to be hoped for the sake of the spectacle that both teams come to win rather than avoid defeat, and that the attacking talent both have is allowed to breathe."
In the final of 86 Maradona was "tightly marked by the West Germans but still managed to sweep that pass through for Jorge Burruchaga to beat Harald Schumacher and win the trophy", recalls Henry Winter in the Telegraph. Likewise, "Messi was closely shadowed by the Dutch and he faces a huge task to unravel Germany's defence".
The Germans "will have looked at Argentina and know they are superior, particularly if they can ensnare Messi as the Dutch did", says Winter.
But while Messi was "bogged down in a game of numbing caution from both sides", according to Matt Dickinson in The Times, Argentina's fans will hope he was quiet only because "he is saving something special for the Maracana".
If he does inspire his team it will not only elevate his status, but also inflict "one more humiliation" on Brazil, who would have to contend with the sight of "the Maracana packed full of triumphant Argentinians on Sunday night, spilling out on to Copacabana beach to celebrate victory in the World Cup final".