Reports of Lionel Messi Fitness Fears Denied Ahead of 2014 World Cup Final

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Reports of Lionel Messi Fitness Fears Denied Ahead of 2014 World Cup Final
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Lionel Messi faces a battle against "exhaustion" ahead of the World Cup final, according to quotes allegedly given by Jorge Messi, the player's father.

Messi played the entire 120 minutes of Argentina's semi-final against the Netherlands but struggled to make an impact against a packed defensive unit.

"Leo said it looked like his legs weighed 100 kilos. He was very tired," Jorge reportedly said, according to Brazilian newspaper Folha de S.Paulo, via Gregory Walton of The Telegraph. However, Sky Sports' Guillem Balague—who published an autobiography on the player—insists this is far from the truth, noting in his Bleacher Report UK column:

Many have commented on Messi’s lack of dynamism, particularly in the last match. He hardly runs, he is not fast, he is not the same, he must be carrying an injury. All that has been said. Even some words have been put in the mouth of his dad about how exhausted he is and his legs feeling like 100 kilos. All lies. His family vehemently deny having spoken to anybody about it.

Such physical fatigue—if true—couldn't come at a worse time for the Argentinian star, who will attempt to secure the Albiceleste's first World Cup triumph since Diego Maradona led the team to victory in 1986.

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Despite scoring four goals in three games during the nation's group stage dominance of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iran and Nigeria, Messi has struggled to influence matches in the knockout stages. He is consistently being marked out of space, with multiple defenders closing down his position to ensure Argentina can't utilise the iconic star's creativity.

Messi managed to find an inch of space during extra-time in the round-of-16 clash with Switzerland, setting up Angel Di Maria with a classy pass. In the proceeding clashes with Belgium and the penalty win over Louis van Gaal's Netherlands, the Barcelona forward registered just 1.5 shots on goal each match and a pass accuracy of 79.5 percent, down from stats of 5.2 shots per game and 85 percent in La Liga, noted by WhoScored.com.

The player's alleged exhaustion doesn't appear to stem from his being particularly overworked. Messi is 30th in FIFA's rankings of most distance covered at the tournament, having traversed a total of 51.9km (32.25 miles) across 573 minutes of play. Wesley Sneijder remains top of this particular chart having run 69.6km (43.25 miles) in 585 minutes.

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Javier Mascherano, Pablo Zabaleta, Ezequiel Garay, Marcos Rojo and Gonzalo Higuain have covered further ground for the Argentina squad. Higuain's placement in this list is particularly surprising considering he has played 80 minutes less than Messi.

The stats are unlikely to impress Antonio Cuccitini, Messi's grandfather, who slammed the player's form before Argentina headed into the knockout stages. He demanded more in an interview with Channel 3 from Rosario, which was reported via AS:

Right now Leo isn't running, I'm not convinced by him. I’m truthful and I don't have time for hot air. I think he’s been pretty poor. In Spain he’s got more zip, he goes round 22 players. He needs to get his spark back.

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Cuccitini reminded listeners "you can't demand everything" from his grandson; many will, of course, much like they did during Maradona's rise to the top.

The legend himself believes Messi will be used as a scapegoat if Argentina fail on the big stage, saying that "if the kid doesn’t get the help he needs [from teammates], he will end up being blamed for a catastrophe," per John Cross and Martin Lipton of the Mirror.

Despite winning four Ballon d'Or trophies, 21 pieces of silverware with Barcelona and 2008 Olympic gold with Argentina, Messi's one shortcoming—for detractors, at least—is the lack of a World Cup victory. He is now on the brink of ensuring that argument can never be used against him again, but it appears one almighty effort is needed until the trophy is secured.

Germany's 7-1 thrashing of Brazil ensures Joachim Low's side enter Sunday's final as favourites. Unfortunately for Messi, the European side showed boundless energy during their semi-final victory and managed to effectively overpower the Samba Boys' attacks, which lacked any real focus.

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The likes of Sami Khedira, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Mats Hummels are sure to pinpoint Messi in the showpiece. Germany only had to play 90 minutes and enjoy an extra day's rest ahead of the Maracana matchup, a factor that could help decide the outcome.

If Messi really is suffering like his father insists, it could also determine just how much impact the forward has on the game. Argentina didn't need the goals of Maradona to overcome West Germany in the 1986 final, but they will need the performance of Leo to push beyond Low's supremely well-drilled squad.

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