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Can ‘Messidona’ beat Maradona?

— Photo: AP

Lionel Messi.

Maracaibo (Venezuela): The player touted as Argentina’s next Maradona has a chance to claim a championship never won by the soccer great: The Copa America.

Lionel Messi will be a key player when Argentina takes on defending champion Brazil in the final on Sunday, and the 20-year-old referred to as ‘Messidona’ in Spain, will hope to avoid repeating the Copa futility of his famed predecessor.

Diego Maradona played in three South American championships in 1979, 1987 (in Argentina) and 1989 but couldn’t take his side to the final even once. Maradona has been the unrealistic benchmark for Messi ever since his soccer talent was publicly hailed at the age of 13. Maradona even anointed Messi his successor, telling the BBC last year: “I have seen the player who will inherit my place in Argentine football and his name is Messi.”

Striking similarities

The parallels are impressive.

Both stout left-footers were crowned the best player in Argentina’s 1979 and 2005 championship runs at Under-20 World Cups, and both made their debut in Europe for FC Barcelona, Maradona at 21 and Messi at 17. When Messi dribbled out of Barcelona’s half, past six defenders, and scored against Getafe in the Copa del Rey semifinals in April, the goal was celebrated around the world, and compared to Maradona’s solo effort against England in the 1986 World Cup.

Drawing comparisons

Last month, a sneaky touch-in with his hand drew more comparisons with Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’ goal in the ’86 World Cup. A gold medal on Sunday would indeed be a perfect finish for Argentina and Messi at the Copa America. — AP

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