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The 27-year-old produced moments of danger in his bid to lead Argentina to glory at the Maracana on Sunday, but was ultimately nullified and defeated by Germany

By Paul Clennam

Lionel Messi approached Sunday's World Cup final hoping to emulate Diego Maradona and inspire a heavily reliant Argentina team to their first world title in 28 years.

He fell agonisingly short, looking jaded and isolated as a superior Germany side eventually wore down their spirited opponents to triumph courtesy of a Mario Gotze goal in extra time.

Goal casts an eye over the 27-year-old's performance and examines what the future holds for this special talent.

PERFORMANCE AGAINST GERMANY

With Angel Di Maria injured and Sergio Aguero not considered to be in condition to start, Messi knew that he would have to defeat the most formidable team in the World Cup with minimal attacking support.

In the end the task proved beyond him, though it was not for any lack of effort. The Barcelona superstar drifted in between the defensive lines to pick up the ball and ran at the German defence at every opportunity.

While not a goal threat himself in the first 45 minutes, Messi's awareness and vision on the run panicked Germany time and again, and on one occasion only a superb interception from Bastian Schweinsteiger denied Gonzalo Higuain what would in all likelihood have been a tap-in.

The big moment came two minutes after the interval. Lucas Biglia's precise pass set Messi running through on Manuel Neuer and the world held its collective breath, but arguably the world's best finisher screwed his low effort narrowly wide of the far post. It was the best chance he would get all match.

As the game wore on Messi visibly appeared to tire, and in extra-time his influence was minimal at best. Perhaps he was preparing himself mentally and physically for the penalty shootout which had begun to look inevitable.

But then Gotze volleyed in superbly to make Argentina's situation desperate. Messi had their last chance - a free-kick lashed wildly over from an improbable angle and distance - and that was that.


HE'D BE PERFECT FOR...

Who would turn down the greatest player of his generation? The 'false nine' has yet to be deployed with any real success in the Premier League - though it might be argued that Arsene Wenger briefly experimented with Theo Walcott and Gervinho occupying the position in the 2012-13 season, and West Ham boss Sam Allardyce was forced to put Ravel Morrison there in the absence of any fit conventional frontmen last term - but there seems little reason why it could not work.

By the end of this summer, it is likely that all of the Premier League's top six will be well-stocked with highly-regarded strikers. Manchester United have Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie. Manchester City's attacking options need no reinforcement. Liverpool have lost Luis Suarez but gained £70 million, and still have Daniel Sturridge. Chelsea are once again going down the target man route with Diego Costa. Arsenal have signed Alexis Sanchez to complement Olivier Giroud and Tottenham are pursuing Wilfried Bony.

That said, any club would be willing to change its plans at the slightest hint that Messi might be available.

WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD?

Messi appears as settled at Barcelona as ever, having signed a new long-term contract in May which keeps around the top of the list of the world's highest-paid footballers.

But from a sporting perspective there is more cause for concern. Barcelona ended last season without a trophy or a manager, and new boss Luis Enrique has the unenviable task of rejuvenating one of history's most successful teams.

The Catalan giants have made a bold start to this process, signing Croatia star Ivan Rakitic for £16 million and securing the brilliant but combustible talent of Luis Suarez for £70m from Liverpool.

On paper a three-man strikeforce of Suarez, Messi and Neymar looks unstoppable in any configuration, but football is not played on paper. Messi and Neymar have yet to add up to the sum of their illustrious parts in tandem, despite the Brazilian's obvious willingness to set his ego aside and play for the main man of the team.

Suarez's work rate and ability is beyond doubt but he was allowed to be a "soloist" by Brendan Rodgers, going for goal himself even with team-mates in more promising positions - an approach which frequently brought him into conflict with Daniel Sturridge, another talented striker characterised by a similar attitude.

History tells us that Messi does not tolerate attacking partners who do not look for him first or shift positions to accommodate him - as Zlatan Ibrahimovic learned - but Suarez is a huge investment, even by Barcelona's standards. If a clash occurs, on or off the pitch, it carries the potential to unsettle both men and the team.

Then there is the issue of a new challenge. Messi is now 27. He has been at Barcelona since he was 14 - almost as long as he lived in Argentina. He has won everything at the club where he is all-time top goalscorer and a living legend. Will he eventually need new surroundings and targets to help him maintain his pre-eminent status in the game?



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