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HARD MEN PUT MESSI IN SHADE.

Byline: OLIVER HOLT

MARIO GOTZE chested the ball down like one of the lads playing football on Copacabana beach.

He let it drop, volleyed home and turned away. He and everyone else knew it was a goal worthy of winning any World Cup Final.

And in that moment we all knew the argument would rage on.

Because as Germany savoured their victory the debate about whether Lionel Messi deserves to be elevated to the pantheon where Pele and Diego Maradona reside was left unsettled.

We wanted closure on that argument last night. We wanted proof Messi could rise to this kind of occasion, especially here in the Maracana, the stronghold of his greatest enemy.

That was the picture all the photographers wanted - Messi, football's Little Master, holding the World Cup above his head.

But in the end it wasn't about Messi because even though it was settled by a wonderful goal this was not a flair final.

It was a final about football's lesser-valued arts. A match that was supposed to be about the world's greatest attacker turned into a game about the kind of men whose job is to stop him.

It was about football's hardmen, about Jerome Boateng, Mats Hummels and the heroic displays of Javier Mascherano and Pablo Zabaleta. It was about uncompromising, unforgiving tackling.

It was about Ezequiel Garay's brutal, unpunished challenge on Christoph Kramer, Manuel Neuer's brutal, unpunished challenge on Gonzalo Higuain, Sergio Aguero's unpunished smack to the face of Bastian Schweinsteiger.

It was about a bloodyminded Argentina team that all Brazil had dreaded reaching this point.

That they reached this far was maybe down to Mascherano as much as the inspiration of Messi.

Last night Mascherano was the best player on the pitch by a distance.

However, one thing was impossible to ignore - this final was a party without a host who had been planning it for 64 years.

And it was full of guests that the host really didn't much care for. Argentina had revelled in Brazil's discomfort and they turned Rio sky blue and white for the weekend.

All over the city, on Copacabana, on Ipanema and especially outside the Maracana, Argentine fans bounced around in groups singing their favourite song. "Brazil," they screamed delightedly, "tell me how it feels to be bossed around in your own house".

Rio and Brazil got a kind of revenge last night but there was great honour in defeat for Mascherano and his dogs of war.

CAPTION(S):

TOUGH LUCK Schweinsteiger consoles Messi at full-time

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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jul 14, 2014
Words:419
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