He hasn’t scored since his double in the group game against Nigeria as Argentina edged their way nervously into the World Cup final, but Lionel Messi now has the stage on which to underline his status as the world’s best player.
And when his country face Germany at the Maracana on Sunday in a repeat of the 1978 final, following their shoot-out triumph over Holland in Sao Paulo, Messi will take on Thomas Muller in a battle for the Golden Boot.
Muller needs one to draw level on six goals with Colombia’s long-departed James Rodriguez, while Messi is a goal further back on four for the tournament. It will be a fascinating battle to see if either can take the prize, or if Miroslav Klose can add to his all-time record 16 World Cup goals.
Barcelona maestro Messi was unable to add to his tally in the goalless draw against Holland, a game far removed from the previous evening’s rout of Brazil but tense nonetheless.
This time there was to be no goalkeeping substitution from Louis van Gaal, who had already made his three changes. The new Manchester United manager replaced the Ajax keeper Jasper Cillessen with Newcastle’s Tim Krul for the shootout against Costa Rica.
It worked then, but here he was forced to stick with Cillessen and the keeper could have done better with two of Argentina’s successful kicks. Van Gaal vindicated, or was Cillessen’s confidence undermined ahead of the shootout on Wednesday, from which Sergio Romero emerged the hero in a 4-2 win?
Race for the Golden Boot
6 – James Rodriguez (Colombia).
5 – Muller (Germany)
4 – Neymar (Brazil), Messi (Argentina).
3 – Van Persie, Robben (both Holland), Benzema (France), E Valencia (Ecuador), Shaqiri (Switzerland), Schurrle (Germany).
2 – Kroos, Klose (both Germany), Oscar, Luiz (both Brazil), Cahill (Australia), Mandzukic (Croatia), Suarez (Uruguay), Gervinho (Ivory Coast), Depay (Holland), Perisic (Croatia), Martinez (Colombia), Sanchez (Chile), Dempsey (USA), Bony (Ivory Coast), A Ayew, Gyan (both Ghana), Musa (Nigeria), Slimani (Algeria), Ruiz (Costa Rica), Djabou (Algeria).