SAO PAULO: Lionel Messi says Argentina have “one little step left” to climb against Germany in the World Cup final on Sunday where he has the chance to emulate Diego Maradona.
If Messi can match Maradona and captain Argentina to World Cup glory this will be remembered as his tournament.
Success will be even sweeter with the title coming in arch-rival Brazil’s own backyard.
Wednesday’s tense 4-2 semi-final penalty shoot-out win over the Netherlands kept Messi on track to emulate the Maradona-inspired 1986 title win.
After the game the Barcelona legend was unable to celebrate with his team-mates in the dressing room after being dragged away for a doping test by FIFA, before he was marshalled out of the stadium without talking to the waiting media.
But via a posting on the photo-sharing website Instagram he said: “I am proud to be part of this squad.
“They are all phenomenal. What a performance they put in. And we are in the final!!
“It’s crazy. Let’s enjoy it. We have one little step left.”
Messi will always be compared to Maradona, the captain of the Argentina teams that won the World Cup in Mexico in 1986 and were beaten by West Germany in the final four years later in Italy.
Wednesday’s match saw Messi win his 92nd cap for his country, passing Maradona’s total number of appearances and moving into sixth place in his country’s all-time list.
Maradona played in four World Cups altogether and won one.
Now Messi, at the age of 27, is presented with the chance to equal his great predecessor in what is his third World Cup.
The four time world Footballer of the Year’s impact in Sao Paulo was hindered by the man-marking he was subjected to for the first hour by Nigel de Jong.
Messi confidently dispatched Argentina’s first spot-kick, but before that he offered little on a dreary and cold evening at the Corinthians Arena.
A disciplined defensive display by the Dutch ensured that the gruelling Sao Paolo semi-final ended goalless after extra-time.
De Jong was handed the task of shadowing Messi everywhere. For an hour, there were shades of Claudio Gentile’s infamous performance against Maradona in Spain in 1982, when the Italy defender shackled the young genius as holders Argentina bowed out in the second phase.
Against a superbly-drilled Dutch defence marshalled by Ron Vlaar, Messi only really threatened from an early free-kick that goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen saved.
The Barcelona man was pivotal in taking Alejandro Sabella’s side to this stage, with his match-winning performances in Group F wins over Bosnia-Hercegovina, Iran and Nigeria.
In the last 16, penalties loomed against Switzerland when his jinking run late in extra time set up the winning goal for Angel di Maria, and he helped set up Gonzalo Higuain’s quarter-final clincher against Belgium too.
And if his individual performance on Wednesday was not up to his usual sky-high standards, he can surely expect to be afforded more space against a Germany side who, unlike Holland, will have faith in their ability to really take the game to Argentina. AFP