In one of the best and most scintillating finals of the FIFA World Cup, Germany overcame an inspired Argentina in 120 minutes in an awe-inspiring match, thanks to a lone goal from Mario Götze, to win the trophy at the 2014 edition of the tournament in Brazil on June 13.
On their way to the finale, Germany had beaten Portugal 4-0, USA 1-0, drew against Ghana 2-2 before beating Algeria 2-1 in the round of 16. Then in the knock-out stages, Germany beat France 1-0 in the quarters before humiliating host and favourites Brazil 7-1 in the semis and then went on to beat another South American giant Argentina for the title of the most prestigious football trophy in the world.
All this while, the winning mentality of the Germans was credited to team effort and the Philipp Lahm-led side was considered the team to beat by many.
On the contrary, Argentina scrapped almost all through the rounds. They beat Bosnia and Herzegovina 2-1, Iran 1-0, Nigeria 3-2 in the league rounds, thanks to some magic from its international star Lionel Messi, before beating Switzerland 1-0 in the round of 16.
However, in the knock-out stages, especially against the Netherlands, there was nothing much the Argentine superstar could do. He walked around practically in the second half of the match. Argentina managed to scrape through yet again, thanks to their keeper Sergio Romero, who made two saves in the penalty shoot-out against the Dutch.
Though in the final match against Germany, there were glimpses of some magic from Messi. He had an opportunity where he could have sealed it, when he was one on one with Manuel Neuer, the German keeper, in the second half but the ball went wide of the left post.
Moreover, with just three minutes to go and Germany leading, Argentina had a free kick just 25 metres away from the goal, but Messi hit it wide and high above the post; a far cry from the one he kicked against Nigeria. He could have sealed the fate of the final with it. But...
In the knock out stages, Lionel Messi was a far cry from what he was during the group stages; he failed to score too. However, with 4 goals in 7 matches and one assist, he was awarded the Golden Ball for the best player of the FIFA World Cup 2014.
But this award did not come without criticism. Many people wondered whether Messi really deserves the Golden Ball, considering his dismal performance and failure to score in the bigger matches of the tournament.
Argentina icon and legend Diego Maradona was the first to criticise FIFA for awarding Messi with the Golden Ball for the best player of the tournament.
He felt that Messi was given the award just for commercial reasons.
"Messi? I would give him heaven if possible," Maradona was quoted as saying while adding that "it`s not right when someone wins something that he shouldn`t have won just because of some marketing plan."
On the contrary, it was expected that Thomas Muller, winner of the Silver Ball should have won the Golden Ball instead, considering he scored 5 goals (including a hat-trick against Portugal) in 7 matches and had 3 assists.
Besides, stellar performances from Arjen Robben, Bronze Ball winner with 4 goals in 7 matches with 1 assist, and James Rodríguez (Colombia), winner of Golden Boot for being the top-scorer of the World Cup with 6 goals, were seen as tough competitors for the trophy.
But at the end of the day, Messi walked away with the Golden Ball trophy which many felt he did not deserve.
Though the `Little Flea`, as he is fondly known to the media and the footballing world, felt no individual award could console him from not winning the main trophy, doubts exist if he should have really won it in the first place.
64 percent of voters on the website of leading sports channel SkySports felt that the Argentine did not deserve the trophy.
Moreover, 28 percent of voters on Goal.com felt that Oranje star, Arjen Robben should have won it with James Rodríguez being their second choice.
There is no denying that Lionel Messi is a legend in his own way and is one of the greatest footballers of all time. His four consecutive Ballon D`Or awards from 2009-12 speak for himself.
But legends and stars too have their off days and the final stages of the FIFA World Cup 2014 are a phase that Messi would want to forget soon, and sooner the better. All that four consecutive man of the match performances in the earlier stages culminated into much nothing at the bigger stage and the German star Mario Goetze outshone him in the match that mattered the most in the last one month.
Messi was merely a shadow of himself in the final stages compared to the earlier stages, resulting into almost nothing. At last, the question remains the same - did Lionel Messi really deserve to be awarded the Golden Ball as the best player of the FIFA World Cup 2014?