Sunday night’s World Cup final was meant to be Lionel Messi’s career-defining glory. Instead it turned into disaster.
For months, fans had anticipated that the Argentina man would cement his place amongst the immortals by leading his country to success in the home of their fiercest rivals.
However, Messi and his team collapsed inside the Estadio Maracana, falling to a Mario Goetze strike in extra time to let Germany become the first-ever European team to lift football’s ultimate prize on South American soil.
Goetze’s volley broke the hearts of thousands who had made the trip across the border to Rio de Janeiro, along with millions more watching the game back home, but Argentina can have no complaints about the outcome.
Throughout the night, particularly during the initial 90 minutes, it was the South American giants who squandered all of the game’s best chances.
Messi ranked high on the list of culprits after missing a glorious chance early in the second half.
Argentina failed to score in more than four hours of football from the semi-final onwards. It is evident that the Albiceleste were missing that cutting edge in the final third.
After all of the pre-tournament plaudits regarding manager Alejandro Sabella’s wealth of attacking options, it was unquestionably the lack of firepower that let the South Americans down.
What makes matters 10 times worse is the fact that, according to Jamie Sanderson of Metro, the answer to their problems was sunning it up in Disney World rather than dazzling fans on the biggest stage of all.
Argentina needed Carlos Tevez, and Sabella managing to strain the relationship between them to a point where the Juventus man felt he could no longer represent his country simply has to be remembered as his greatest blunder.
The 30-year-old striker was once a prominent feature in the Albiceleste squad and had amassed 51 caps and 13 goals prior to Sabella’s reign.
However, the new manager instantly took a dislike to the Ciudadela-born attacker and continued to overlook Tevez throughout his three years in charge of the national side.
Argentina’s former hero had accepted his fate long before booking his summer holiday in April, conceding that he would not be on the plane to Brazil as early as last year. In December 2013, a philosophical Tevez told Argentine radio station La Red (h/t Goal.com):
Even if I score 30 goals this season I don't think I'll stand a chance of being included in Argentina's World Cup squad. That's very clear to me.
I don't have to explain anything to the fans. It's not me who has to explain why I'm not playing for Argentina.
Sabella is entitled to his decisions. I have to be a grown up person and accept it.
Tevez ended his maiden campaign in Italy as Serie A’s third-highest goalscorer en route to helping Juventus claim another league crown.
He had previously won three Premier League crowns during his time in England, split between Manchester United and Manchester City, as well as the Primera Division in his homeland with Boca Juniors—a club who still regard the striker as one of their greatest icons.
Fans in the Argentine capital adore the former Boca star and view him as somewhat of a working-class hero.
According to David Rallis of the Express, there "were pro Tevez demonstrations in Buenos Aries" both before and after Sabella’s squad announcement, while a musician even composed a song entitled "Sabella, You Have Forgotten Carlitos."
In addition to his working-class roots, Tevez is also heralded for his unwavering determination on the pitch.
His bulldog-like approach and never-say-die attitude have helped him win the hearts of millions during his time in Europe, and that workmanlike quality would have certainly benefited Argentina on Sunday.
There were long periods on Sunday when both Messi and Gonzalo Higuain appeared particularly labored in their body language. At times, you had to question whether they were really willing to put everything into the cause.
That is something that has never been asked of Tevez in his entire career.
It is also worth noting that, without the tireless efforts of Angel Di Maria, Argentina failed to score against either Germany or the Netherlands.
In Di Maria’s absence, Tevez could have replicated that energy, and it may have made all the difference.
Sabella took five strikers to Brazil, and each of them played at least five times during the tournament. However, they bagged just five goals between them—four of those came from their skipper.
Perhaps more worryingly, though, is the fact that Higuain’s strike against Belgium was the only goal scored by an attacker in any of the four knockout games.
That in itself paints a pretty clear image and certainly raises the question: Why didn’t Sabella take a striker who hit 19 goals in one of Europe’s most difficult leagues?.
Only the 59-year-old could tell you.
Throughout his reign, Sabella opted for Sergio Aguero over Tevez, and that decision is absolutely understandable as the Manchester City star is far less temperamental.
Footballers have to deal with disappointment all the time and the Juventus man could have accepted this. What remains unforgivable is the manager’s awful handling of the situation.
As fans of the English Premier League will confirm, Tevez is an emotional player who plays with his heart on his sleeve and clearly requires the feeling of affection. There is no doubt that he loved representing his country and his alienation from the national squad is a great shame to international football.
Aguero's questionable fitness on Sunday only compounds Sabella’s error, as he managed a WhoScored.com average match rating of just 6.08 in the tournament.
This was Argentina’s best chance to end the 28-year wait for a third world title, and the coach's lack of man management has to be cited as one of the chief reasons for their failing.
Would Tevez had started? Quite possibly not. Nevertheless, he would have been a fantastic option from the bench and his work ethic could have caused havoc on the tiring legs of opposing defenders.
With Chris Waugh of the Daily Mail reporting that Sabella will officially step down from the managerial role, Tevez may be offered a chance to resurrect his international career under the next Albiceleste boss.
But with the Juventus star set to turn 34 by the time Russia 2018 rolls around, that may not be a viable outcome.
Tevez should have been in Brazil in some capacity, and his omission is one of the most mind-boggling decisions of the entire World Cup. Argentina fans will forever be pondering this what if.
Do you think Tevez could have fired Argentina to the title? Post your thoughts below.
Unless otherwise noted, player stats courtesy of Soccerway.