Lionel Messi is still man of the tournament for me, says Baichung

Aditi Tyagi

Argentina and Netherlands have set up a semifinal clash of the FIFA World Cup 2014, as they beat Belgium and Costa Rica, respectively on Saturday. In an exclusive chat with Aditi Tyagi of Zee Media, former Indian skipper Baichung Bhutia said that Gonzalo Higuain scored at a crucial juncture of the tournament. He also felt that FIFA should investigate Neymar`s collision with Colombia’s Juan Zuniga, which ended the World Cup campaign of the star Brazilian striker.

Excerpts from the conversation:

Gonzalo Higuain finally scored in this World Cup, your take on it?

Higuain scored at a crucial match of the World Cup. His goal came at a time when his team needed it the most. He was the sole goal-scorer in the match against Belgium. And the way he scored it was quite amazing.

Do you think the big match pressure took a toll on Belgium?

Belgium certainly failed to perform in the quarter-final match against Argentina. Throughout the tournament, the Red Devils played some amazing football, but in the quarter-final clash they were all over the place.

How do you rate Argentina`s performance?

Finally, we have seen some team work from Argentina. They didn`t look solely dependent on Lionel Messi, like the past matches where the individual brilliance of Messi took them to the quarter-finals. Everyone contributed well, which is good sign for the upcoming matches.

Messi failed to score in the match, do you still feel he is the top contender for the man of the tournament?

Messi didn`t score in the match but he did create chances. He gave good passes to Ángel di María and Higuain to take the ball forward and attack. Messi got the best chance to score a goal in the dying minutes of the match but he lost the golden opportunity as Belgium goalie defended it. Still you can`t deny the fact that the Argentine skipper single-handedly took his team to the quarter-finals. And for me he still deserves to be the man of the tournament, as no one stands near him to be rewarded with the golden ball award.

Who according to you was the hero of the match between Netherlands and Costa Rica, which the Dutch won in the penalty shootout?

I think the substitute goalkeeper Tim Krul was certainly the hero of that match. In each team there is a penalty shootout specialist. And Krul did the trick for the Dutch by saving two shots. He is a giant man. His height is more than 6 feet. which gives him an psychological edge. So for me he was the star of the match.

Now Argentina have set up a semi-final clash with Netherlands, what you have to say on that?

There is not much difference in both the teams. Argentina have reached this far in the tournament after 24 long years. And they are peaking at the right time. Especially after the match against Belgium they have shown that they are not solely dependent on their star striker Messi. So it`s going to be a tight match.

Brazilian team went to hospital to meet injured striker Neymar and it was an emotional moment for all of them...

It was true team spirit by the Selecao. It feels bad when you leave such a big tournament in the middle, due to an injury. And it`s undoubtedly the biggest setback for the host nation as now they have to meet resolute Germany in the semis.

There is a debate started on the way Neymar got injured, do you think Colombia’s Juan Zuniga was at fault?

Zuniga literally hit his knee against Neymar`s back, which I feel was quite intentional. But I am sure even Zuniga wouldn`t have thought that his action could end Neymar`s World Cup campaign or he could have suffered such a serious injury. In the heat of the moment, such things generally happen, which a footballer realises in the hindsight. But FIFA must investigate the matter.

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