The World Cup could cost Lionel Messi the Ballon d’Or. The Argentine outshone Cristiano Ronaldo at Brazil 2014, but ultimately missed out on the title as Mario Gotze’s goal sealed success for Germany. And he’ll probably lose out in the battle for Fifa’s foremost individual honour as well.
Messi’s early months of 2014 were all about pertinent preparation for the World Cup. Having won everything and more with Barcelona in recent years, the forward tailored his training and fitness programme in order to peak during the game’s greatest competition. Playing on South American soil and at the age of 26 when the tournament kicked off, this was supposed to be Messi’s moment.
And it almost was. The Argentine attacker was in inspirational form in the group stages, scoring four goals as Alejandro Sabella’s side sealed top spot in Group F ahead of Nigeria, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Iran.
Leo then set up Angel Di Maria for the winner in extra-time against Switzerland in the last 16, before playing a part in the sole strike scored by Gonzalo Higuain versus Belgium and dispatching his penalty in the semi-final shootout success over Netherlands.
But Messi missed the chance to become eternal in his country’s colours as he dragged a shot wide at the Maracana in the final and was unable to conjure up a victory for the Albiceleste. Instead, Gotze’s goal gave Germany the World Cup and Leo looked on in sadness. “I told Gotze to go out and show the world he is better than Messi,” coach Joachim Low said afterwards.
He may not have shown that, but the strike did deprive Messi of the trophy he had desired most – and it now also looks set to sabotage his hopes of a fifth Ballon d’Or when the Fifa award is handed out in January.
“Without Messi, Argentina wouldn’t have got to the final,” Diego Simeone told Goal in his role as Sony ambassador after the competition had finished. And Barca president Josep Maria Bartomeu said: “Messi is the best player in the world – even without the World Cup.”
That maybe so, but Messi’s 2014 has been disappointing by his high standards. Had he won the tournament, the forward’s career would have been complete. The Argentine attacker has lifted every major trophy at club level and some of those on several occasions. But failure to claim the title at Brazil 2014 and a first year without silverware since 2008 at Barca means Ronaldo is more likely to win the Ballon d’Or this time.
The Portuguese endured an even tougher time in Brazil, struggling with injury and ending the competition with only one goal as Portugal crashed out in the group stages – albeit in a more difficult group than that of Argentina.
Judged on his World Cup performance, Ronaldo would not merit the Ballon d’Or, but the Portuguese set a new record for Champions League goals en route to La Decima, also won the Copa del Rey and added the one trophy he had been missing in European football as Madrid claimed the Uefa Super Cup – thanks to his two goals against Sevilla – back in August.
“If any other player wins, they should be ashamed given what Cristiano has been doing, beating lots of records, scoring 17 goals in the Champions League last season,” Ronaldo’s Real and Portugal team-mate Pepe said recently. “These things are almost impossible.”
Playing the starring role in a World Cup win would still supercede all of that, but Messi couldn’t quite do it and Gotze’s goal means Leo looks set to miss out for the second year running, leaving Ronaldo right on course for a second straight Ballon d’Or.