LIONEL MESSI finally got his hands on football’s greatest prize as he led Argentina to World Cup final glory against France.
It is obvious and understandable that all the headlines are about him and all the spotlights are on him.
GettyLionel Messi won the Golden Ball as best player at the World Cup[/caption]
GettyMessi was backed up by his team-mates as Argentina won their first World Cup since 1986[/caption]
But he did not do it alone.
Football is a collective sport and this always looked like the best, most functioning team that Messi has ever been part of in an Argentina shirt.
The man of the match for the first hour was his long time team-mate Angel Di Maria.
When Messi and Argentina won the gold medal in the 2008 Olympics it was Di Maria who scored the only goal of the final.
When Messi and Argentina won last year’s Copa America – a vital stepping stone on the way to this triumph – once more it was Di Maria who scored the only goal of the final.
And it was Di Maria who did much to befuddle the French defence.
This time he was used wide on the left.
He often operates on the other flank, sometimes as a wide midfielder in a 4-4-2 rather than as a winger.
He can even play in the midfield trio.
Whatever the team needs, he does.
It is hard to think of another world class player with such little ego.
Julian Alvarez was brought into the side when it became clear that Messi would be a more sporadic figure than Argentina had planned.
They needed the extra mobility of the Manchester City man, a striker with the soul of a midfielder.
And his partnership with midfielder Enzo Fernandez, his old colleague from River Plate was vital to the campaign – and a pointer to a post-Messi future.
Rodrigo De Paul provided midfield thrust, Alexis Mac Allister was full of subtlety and the centre back combination of Cristian Romero and Nicolas Otamendi creaked occasionally but came through the competition better than anyone could have expected.
And behind them Emiliano Martinez proved to be the best goalkeeper that Argentina has produced in decades.
Over the course of the competition he did not have a great deal to do, but came up with vital saves in both open play – the one from Randal Kolo Muani at the end of extra time averted disaster – and in the penalty shoot outs.
This was a team effort.
As a collective they had to dig deep when they could have been shattered by having victory snatched from them – in the last minutes of normal time against both Holland and France.
On both occasions they bounced back well in extra time, snatching back a momentum that seemed to have been stolen by the opposition.
For this to happen, everyone had to be on board.
A few moments of genius from Messi would not have been enough to guarantee the title.
It is fitting, then, that the last kick, the decisive penalty that confirmed Argentina as champions of the world, came from the boot of Gonzalo Montiel, the reserve right back and one of the least glamorous players on the field.
It might have been Messi’s World Cup, but he could not do it alone, and there was a kind of poetry in the identity of the last Argentine to take a penalty.
GettyGonzalo Montiel scored the winning penalty in the shootout[/caption]