Stage set for Messi to cement his legacy

It may be via a song rather than through their performances but Argentina have brought the party to Brazil this summer and their captain and talisman can have the final say
By Sam Lee

The eyes of the world will be on the Maracana in Rio de Janiero tonight when Argentina face Germany in the World Cup final but it is Lionel Messi, as ever, who will attract more interest than anybody.

Messi has won almost everything there is to win in his incredible career so far, from his three Champions League titles with Barcelona to four consecutive Ballons d'Or.

But he is missing the greatest of them all, the one trophy which turns great players into legends; the World Cup.

This time, his countrymen are confident he will bring it home. After all, they've been singing it all summer with their take on 'Bad Moon Rising': "A Messi lo vas a ver, La Copa nos va a traer" ("You'll see Messi, he's gonna bring us the Cup").

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It's easy to see why there is such confidence. His memorable performances over the last decade, and particularly since Pep Guardiola took over Barcelona in 2008, have led many to declare him not just the best player in the world but the best of all time.

Those claims have always been tempered by one factor, though; he has not won the World Cup. Sure, the Champions League might now be a better judge of ability than the World Cup, maybe the standard of opposition is much higher these days, but traditionalists are traditionalists, and the World Cup is the World Cup.

Messi can end the debate forever in Brazil. It is almost as if the football public are wishing for a landmark performance, one they can tell their grandchildren about in 30 years' time: I remember when Messi won the World Cup by himself.

If Argentina do win, and certainly if Messi scores, you get the sense that the final whistle will herald a universal acknowledgement that this No.10 is certainly the greatest ever. The debate will be over, Diego Maradona and Pele can argue over second place forevermore.

Messi has contended with Maradona's omnipotence for his entire footballing career. The line of questioning always went like this: how can Messi better his countryman, the icon, the only man, it is widely accepted, to have not only won the World Cup but won it by himself? Now he can do it himself.

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And how bitter it would be for Pele, and his three World Cups, to be there in person for Messi to not only leapfrog Maradona but to even relegate the Brazilian to third on the all-time podium. And surrounded by so many Argentines singing 'Bad Moon Rising'.

The true beauty of Argentina's seminal song is that not only the fans sing it but the players, too. Sergio Aguero, Angel Di Maria and the rest have have jumped around changing rooms all over Brazil crashing out the lyrics, poking fun at their hosts, hailing Messi's greatness also revelling in the last line: "Maradona is greater than Pele".

Messi couldn't join in the fun after the semi-final win against the Netherlands as he was in the mandatory doping control. On Sunday he might not just be in the middle of it, but at the end, too: "Messi is greater than Pele."