An inspired Messi was sublime but Maradona is still the greatest
It is the dream of kids all over the world who kick a football to lead their nation to the pinnacle of the game and take the trophy back home to be joyously greeted by jubilant citizens.
The fact that it meant so much to Lionel Messi, who has won every other major honour in the game, has been obvious from his beaming smile and body language since Gonzalo Montiel swept the final penalty of a sensational final past the despairing Hugo Lloris.
In his 35th year the Argentine magician had conjured up several world class performances to take his team through the group stages and to emerge triumphant at the end of a World Cup final that is widely considered to be the best ever.
Messi either scored or had a decisive touch in almost every goal that Argentina scored.
A lot of credit also must also go to the low-profile manager of Argentina, Lionel Scaloni, who built a team around his ageing super star and allowed him to conserve his energy to create the devastating magic that won games.
The teamwork and tactics were successful, Messi and Argentina triumphant, and the cup went back to Buenos Aires for the first time since 1986.
What of Kylian Mbappè, the other global super star on the pitch? A hat trick in a World Cup final, with, as Ally McCoist so memorably teased ITV viewers, all three crossing the line, would normally have guaranteed a hand on the golden trophy and the winner’s medal.
Anonymous for most of the game, Mbappè exploded into action in the 80th minute dragging a poorly performing team into extra time.
The young pretender was within touching distance of eclipsing the older superstar, but his French team-mates let him down in the critical, final kicks of the game.
At 23 he has already won a World Cup and leads Messi at the same age on goals scored: 222 to 180, assists: 111 to 82 and international goals: 33 to 17. Few doubt that when Ronaldo and Messi bow to the inevitable advance of years, he will become the dominant force in world football.
However, to surpass the achievements of Messi and Ronaldo he has to continue scoring at the same level for at least another decade. Can he avoid injury? How long will he maintain the explosive burst of pace that leaves the world’s best in his wake? And, critically, who will challenge and push him?
Undoubtedly, Messi and Ronaldo have urged each other to ever greater heights. Supporters of both can make strong arguments that their man is the Greatest of All Time (GOAT). If one scored two on a Saturday, the other went out on Sunday to equal or better his rival. Both fed off the rivalry. Both created incredible records.
Messi will probably not sleep again with the trophy that elevated him to the same status as Maradona in the history of Argentine football, but he has now achieved his dream.
Now, reputedly, the richest footballer on the planet, married to an intelligent woman who gave up her dentistry career to build and protect his family and brand, low profile off the field, Messi appears to live a near perfect life.
But is he a greater player than the bloated, flawed, drug addled Argentine genius who died only weeks before the 2022 finals started?
Younger voters for GOAT will undoubtedly, and understandably, go for Messi. Or Ronaldo.
But I would ask them to watch the recent, tragic TV documentaries about Maradona at Napoli and ask themselves: can you imagine this wee guy playing with today’s protection on and off the field?
Ronaldo is sensational. Messi has probably just eclipsed him. But, for me, Maradona is still the GOAT.