For the rest of his life, Argentine forward Gonzalo Higuain should consider praying at the statue of Jesus Christ the Redeemer under whose watchful gaze at the Maracana Stadium his team lost the World Cup final to Germany 1-0 on Sunday.
Redemption would otherwise be difficult for Higuain,
who is unlikely to be forgotten and forgiven by Argentine supporters for missing a near-open goal in the 20th minute of the first half of a fast and pacy game that lived up to its reputation of an epic clash between the best team in the world and the best footballer of his generation.
Germany lived up to the best-team tag by scoring in the 112th minute, when Mario Gotze balanced a cross on his chest and sent it in the right corner of the Argentine goal, triggering a German celebration from the beaches of Rio to the pubs of Berlin.
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Argentina's Gonzalo Higuain scores in off-side during the World Cup final match between Germany and Argentina at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday. (AP Photo)
Messi, however, lost the match and also his reputation. In the 47th minute, he had just the German goalkeeper to beat. On any other day he would have deposited the ball in the right corner. But on his big night he dragged the shot wide off the target. He walked away sheepishly after the failed attempt and was largely invisible after that.
This is certainly curtains for the legend of Messi.
The Redeemer, whose statue towers over Rio de Janeiro, has the best view of the Maracana. Even he would be wondering how just one goal was scored in a game that resembled a boxing bout in intensity and a table tennis match in speed.
Germany kept building up attacks with quick, short passes and some delightful crosses down the flanks. The combined might of Thomas Muller and Andre Schurrle, who was the star of the final. Argentina attacked mostly on the counter or through some dazzling runs by Messi.
Though Germany had lots of chances and both the goalkeepers had to make many desperate saves, it was meant to be meant to be Argentina's day. But they didn't seem to want it and kept throwing away goal-mouth opportunities.
Throughout the first-half and for some time in the second till he was replaced, the ball kept following Higuain, who even netted a shot in the 30th minute and flew into a celebration before the referee's flag grounded him.
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Lionel Messi shoots as Germany's Benedikt Hoewedes tries to block. (AP Photo)
Again, in the 97th minute, Rodrigo Palacio failed to beat Manuel Neuer after a brilliant looping pass from Marcos Rojo found him right in front of the German goal.
But just as the game appeared headed for spot kicks, Schurrle raced down the left flank and looped the ball into the Argentine D, where Gotze was waiting for his tryst with destiny.
Argentina was stunned. So was Gotze, who couldn't believe that he was in the company of Helmut Rahn, Gerd Muller and Andy Brehme, the winning goal scorers for Germany in their previous three triumphs in finals.
In 1986, Argentina had gone home from Mexico with the World Cup and the legend of Maradona's hand of god. On Sunday evening they went back just with the aching pain of letting the Cup slip away from their grasp and the tragic tale of Higuain and Messi's feet of clay.
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