CAPE TOWN: Lionel Messi came into the World Cup with the expectation that he would light up the tournament, but the Barcelona superstar left on Saturday empty-handed, without a goal and in floods of tears.
It is not something the world footballer of the year and Argentina`s talisman is used to.
Despite being just 23, Messi has won almost every accolade there is and already has an impressive medal collection that few other players, if any, can match.
Sitting in his personal trophy cabinet is already a World Cup winner`s medal, but from 2005 at junior level.
The one still missing is the one he wants the most -- a World Cup winner as a senior.
He must now wait until he is 27 for another chance after Germany crushed Messi and his Argentine teammates 4-0 in the quarter-finals on Saturday, with a brace from Miroslav Klose and goals from Thomas Mueller and Arne Friedrich.
Coach Diego Maradona said he could not explain why Messi failed to score, but defended him, claiming the Barcelona star had a good tournament.
"It was either because the ball was not in the right spot or because the goalies were good. But he played a great World Cup," said Maradona, who revaled that Messi was in tears afterwards.
"To see Messi cry in the dressing room, well, to say that if in some way he didn`t honour Argentine colours then that is stupid."
Maradona gave Messi a free role in the match and the striker opted to operate down the middle.
As expected, he was dangerous whenever he got the ball, blazing past a defender in the first half but his pass to Carlos Tevez was hit too hard and the move fizzled out.
Minutes later he flicked another pass to Tevez but goalkeeper Manuel Neuer was quickly off his line to avert the threat.
Messi was tireless and seeing more of the ball. He had a chance to get his first World Cup goal on 31 minutes but he skied a freekick from 25 yards out.
He had another crack at goal on the half-time whistle, but like his earlier effort it too went whistling over the bar without troubling the goalkeeper.
Argentina were giving him the ball at every opportunity in the hope that he could weave his magic and get them back in the game, but once Germany`s second goal went in his tournament was effectively over.
German coach coach Joachim Loew said his team was successfull in snuffing out the Messi threat.
"We expected the Argentine line-up and knew Messi would fall back into midfield," he said.
"He is a key player so we tried to keep him under control by putting him under pressure and staying close to him.
"We knew that if we attacked Messi in an unfair way, he`d play the ball away and we would have free kicks against us, so our defence was spot on."
It is the second time that Messi has seen his World Cup dream shattered by Germany, after they were beaten 4-2 on penalties at the same stage in 2006.
Back then, former coach Jose Pekerman described Messi as "a jewel" but he benched the youngster instead of allowing him to provide the extra degree of lustre required to see off Germany.
Maradona never had similar thoughts, but despite starting this time Messi leaves empty-handed once again.
BDST: 0314hrs, July 4, 2010