I started playing football watching Diego Maradona and I retired from football watching Lionel Messi. While people debate about who is the better player - Messi or Cristano Ronaldo - for me the question is between Messi and Maradona. And every time I am asked the question I find it very difficult to answer. Both come from the same country - Argentina. Both have a very similar style of playing. Both are left-footed, both are short, both are very very quick with the ball.
If you ask a Barcelona fan, they will surely pick Messi. But when you ask a die-hard Argentina fan, they will say Maradona.
That's one of the best things about football. Fans have such varied opinions about players even Messi and Maradona. As a fan of Argentinian football, it is very difficult for me to pick a name between the two. Amongst all the similarities between the two players, the only difference I find is when you tally the international tournament records. And on Sunday, Messi has a great opportunity to inch closer to Maradona's greatness at the finals for Copa America 2016.
No one can deny the caliber and achievements of Lionel Messi. But fans and critics have always given the upper hand to Maradona given his marvelous career in international football representing his home country, something that is missing from Messi's career chart.
Messi may have been blessing for Barcelona but has been very unlucky in international tournaments. He has come close to winning a trophy for his country a few times reaching the finals during the 2014 World Cup and the last Copa America. Argentina lost to Chile in the last Copa America finals, the same opponents they are facing in Sunday's final. Argentina also lost the 2014 World Cup final to Germany.
Chile no pushover
However, the road to greatness is never easy. In Copa America, Chile has been always been a force to reckon with. They are one of the strongest teams in Copa America, have been in great form and the Argentinians have a huge challenge ahead of them. Chile also has a psychological advantage having beaten them in the finals, four years ago. And Argentina has not won a major senior title since 1993.
However it must not be forgotten that Argentina defeated Chile 2-1 in the group stages. Chile's prospects rest on Alexis Sanchez, Mark Gonzalez and Vargas. They have been fantastic throughout the tournament. On the other hand, Chile, despite losing their match to Argentina, won all the other matches quite comfortably. Chile's Eduardo Vargas is the leading goal scorer in this Copa America with 6 goals, followed by Messi and Gonzalo Higuaín with 5 and 4 goals respectively.
Argentina will expect Gonzalo Higuain to fire against Chile in the finals. But no player can be under more pressure than Messi. It is absolutely crucial for Messi to add the Copa America title to his name to reach that iconic level that Maradona enjoys and to silence critics everywhere who feel that Messi will always be inferior to Maradona.
The Copa America finals, I strongly feel, will be one of the best finals we have seen in recent times. Both teams who have a similar attacking style of play pitted against each other will be very interesting to watch. Unlike the last Copa America finals when the match ended without a goal and the winners were decided through penalty shootouts, this time I hoping to see many goals. But more than anything else I am hoping to see Argentina winning the title so Messi can finally reach the iconic position in international football history that we have only seen Mardona achieve.