When he walked up to receive the Golden Ball on Sunday night at Rio's Maracana Stadium, Lionel Messi's glum face said it all. The Golden Ball is given to the FIFA World Cup's most influential player, but deep within, the talismanic Messi knew he had failed to inspire Argentina in the all-important night against Germany. (Argentina receive heroes' welcome at home)
The Golden Ball to Messi has created a lot of controversy. Even FIFA president Sepp Blatter said he was surprised to see Messi winning it. Diego Maradona has been extremely critical, too. (Argentina press lauds 'heart of champions')
"Messi?" said Maradona, "I would give him heaven if possible. But it's not right when someone wins something that he shouldn't have won, just because of some marketing plan." (Pope Francis skipper World Cup final to stay 'neutral')
Messi said the award meant little compared to losing a nail-biting World Cup final. After all, Argentina had trailed for only seven minutes in the entire competition before losing by a 113th minute goal scored by a German super-sub. (Messi already a great, says Argentina coach)
"I don't care about the prize. I don't care about anything. Right now, nothing can console me -- not the award or anything else," he said. "I wanted to take Argentina to the World Cup for all the people," Messi said. (Mix of tears and cheers in Argentina)
"I believe this World Cup deserved another final because we had chances. We reached the final... but we're disappointed not to have won this game. There's a lot of anger," he added. (Messi did not deserve golden ball)
Pele, Zinedine Zidane and Ronaldo all scored decisive goals in finals, while Maradona created the goal that settled the 1986 tournament, but Messi found himself upstaged by Mario Goetze's sensational extra-time winner for Germany.
Messi would be haunted in particular by a glaring opportunity early in the second half, when he found himself with only Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer to beat, but whipped his shot wide.
Messi was philosophical in defeat. "There is sadness to finish in this way, I think we deserved a little more today. The better chances were ours and between the forwards we couldn't take them," he said. "We had three clear chances -- mine, Pipa's (Gonzalo Higuain) and Rodrigo Palacio, but we couldn't get it."
With 354 goals in 425 games for Barcelona, many of them works of art, Messi's genius cannot be denied, but as he himself has admitted, there is no substitute for a World Cup winner's medal.
"I would give all my personal records to be world champion," Messi had told German tabloid Bild ahead of the final. "I'd prefer to win the World Cup than the Ballon d'Or. As a player, winning the World Cup is the biggest thing there is. It's something you dream of as a youngster and that dream never fades away."
Where Maradona had broken down in tears after Argentina lost to West Germany in the 1990 final, Messi looked merely numb.
(With agency inputs)