Chris Rattue at the World Cup
Herald writer Chris Rattue blogs from the Fifa World Cup

Chris Rattue: Marvellous Messi's star outshines Maradona's sideline act


Lionel Messi owned the night even though Diego Maradona tried to steal it.

Argentina won their opening World Cup match 1-0 over Nigeria at Ellis Park, the famous rugby ground in Johannesburg which became a home away from home for coach Maradona's team, their fans having draped the place in flags and banners.

The biggest of them read "Los Maradoniano", although it should have said "Messi-ah" to honoura little man who rescues the gamefrom some of the modern, ego-driven trappings with his astonishingskill and modest nature.

Lionel Messi is the best player in the world, an impish dribbling supremo who taunted Nigeria although even he didn't cover as much ground as his teammate Carlos Tevez.

Messi didn't score the goal either - it was defender Gabriel Heinze who smashed home a header from acorner.

But the Barcelona winger was the brightest light, taking the ball from deep or wide and roaring towards and past the Nigerians or constructing trouble with teammates.

Messi flies about with inbuilt insurance - if the ball bobbles away in traffic he often recovers possession because of his fast reactions.

He doesn't shirk work either. Along with Tevez, he harried the Nigerians - who had magnificent moments oftheir own - and tried to trickthem into giving away the ball.

The World Cup was waiting for Messi and yesterday he delivered.

The judges - the public - voted the Nigerian goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama the man of the match.

Enyeama was outstanding, but only a home-continent decision could have denied Messi the award.

Maradona has a team to challenge for the trophy. Messi alone makes it possible, and having both he and Tevez flying around like manic pinballs is a defender's nightmare.

Messi is the new Maradona, not that the old one is ready to give him all the limelight. Maradona patrolled the edge of his technical area, even crossing the dotted line at times like the good showman who wears his heart on his sleeve. He should be charged with overacting.

Out there, alone, Maradona gesticulated, pleaded, put an arm around his men at halftime, returned the ball, kissed players whom he had substituted, and etched every emotion he could on his pleading face.

It goes without saying that he celebrated the goal as if Argentina had won the World Cup.

Messi is the new Maradona, another showman, but only in the purest soccer sense. He has laid down a massive challenge to Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and the few other players who could challenge him to be the star of this World Cup.

Rooney wasn't in Messi's league at the Rustenburg game. Ronaldo can't emulate Messi's involvement, although he has a wonderful trick or two and is somehow more famous in many parts.

In truth, there is little chance of any player coming close to matching the amazing Argentinian.

- NZ Herald

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