Following Argentina’s 1-0 loss to Germany in the World Cup final Sunday, Lionel Messi was awarded the Golden Ball for the tournament’s best player.
The only problem is, most people feel he didn’t deserve it.
“Nobody (thought he) did,” CBSSports.com World Cup guru Jason La Canfora said on Ferrall on the Bench. “It was a weird scene – and it was the first time that FIFA did this internally without a media vote. At times, it can be a little bit of a popularity contest. I think there were five players, at least, who deserved it before Messi.”
That includes, most notably, Dutch winger Arjen Robben.
“Arjen Robben, to my eye, might have been the best player in the entire tournament,” La Canfora said. “He just had such an impact game after game after game.”
You could also make a strong case for Germany’s Thomas Muller, who, with five goals, was the best player on the World Cup winner. And then there’s Colombian striker James Rodriguez, who scored a tournament-high six goals.
Heck, you could even make a case for Neymar, the Brazilian striker who fractured a vertebrae in the quarterfinals.
“If you force me to give it to Messi or Neymar, I would maybe give it to Neymar,” La Canfora said. “And how (Brazil) fell apart in his absence spoke volumes as well.”
Messi, already considered the best player in the world, was trying to cement his legacy as the greatest player of all time. He’ll have at least one more chance to add a World Cup title to is resume, but if he does, it won’t happen until he’s 31.
“Messi had an okay tournament,” La Canfora said. “By most people’s standards he had a very good tournament. By his standards, I believe he had an okay tournament. His club form and his international form just aren’t the same. It’s a shame. His legs, to me, looked more run down as the tournament went on and as the minutes piled on top of one another and we had these extra-time games and everything else. I just feel like he started (the final) on a pretty good spurt the first 25 minutes and then really kind of sputtered out after that.”
It also hurts that Argentina was without Angel Di Maria, who injured his thigh in a 1-0 win over Belgium in the quarterfinals.
“That’s a forward who he seemed to really link up with,” La Canfora said of Messi. “He could chip a ball ahead, and Di Maria had the pace to run onto it and do something special with it. It didn’t seem like Messi had a whole lot of faith in setting other people up, and so at times he forced it himself. A couple of free kicks (were) wasted where he probably should have put the ball in the box and let somebody else try to get a head or a foot onto it.”
Messi actually had a few decent chances against Germany but was unable to finish any of them. For many, he’ll remain in the vast shadow of Argentine legend Diego Maradona – even if Messi has a trophy that says otherwise.
“He did not deserve that award,” La Canfora said. “You could tell by his facial expressions that he kind of knew it.”
And with that, Russia is four years away, but Brazil left us with some great memories.
“It just seemed to be a beautiful celebration of sport – and that’s what you want the World Cup to be,” La Canfora said. “It seemed like a melting pot of cultures and people from all over the world partying as one. I thought they did a great job. Now look, I can’t comment on what this truly means for the economy and whether they got bang for their buck and whether they got hoodwinked by FIFA. I mean, they probably did. The money that some of these countries spend on these events, I don’t know that they can ever get that economic impact back. But it was a celebration, to me, of everything that’s right about sports – not just soccer, but sports in general. There’s some social unrest there – justifiably so – and hopefully they do get some economic gains and some infrastructure support through this in the upcoming Olympics. But in terms of their ability to put on a tournament, they did a hell of a job.”