'Messi is running on empty'

LONDON - Lionel Messi is struggling at the World Cup because he is suffering from exhaustion, his father Jorge has claimed ahead of Argentina's final showdown against Germany tomorrow.

The Argentina playmaker, who was being hailed as potentially the star player of the tournament, has faded to become a peripheral figure in his past two games.

The Barcelona star neither scored nor provided an assist in the 1-0 quarter-final victory over Belgium or the semi-final win on penalties against Holland.

He did provide two match-winning moments in the two games prior to the Belgium clash, the group-stage victory over Switzerland and the round-of-16 clash with Algeria but on each occasion his vital contribution came in the final minute.

He has been heavily man-marked throughout the tournament, partly explaining his cameo performances in the tournament's latter stages.

And the burden of expectation appears to be taking its toll on the Argentine talisman. After speaking to his son recently, Messi's father Jorge told Brazilian newspaper Folha de S.Paulo that he is suffering from extreme fatigue.

“Leo (Messi) said it looked like his legs weighed 100 kilos. He was very tired,” he said.

Meanwhile, Germany say they have formulated a plan to stop Messi, but assistant coach Hansi Flick insisted: “We’re not going to reveal it.”

Benedikt Höwedes, the Germany left-back, said that Messi must be collectively neutralised and knows that the 7-1 win against Brazil will be rendered meaningless should they lose.

“Messi is a fantastic player, one of the best in the world, but so was [Cristiano] Ronaldo,” he said. “You can’t play alone against him. We’ve got to work as a collective against him because we’re not going to be able to beat him one-on-one. If we can defend decently as a team we’ll contain him.

“Many people are giving us slaps on the back but we can’t make the mistake that it’s already over, far off it. People are saying in Germany that the title is almost in our pocket but the Argentines will fight to take the title home. If we don’t win, the semi-final will just be consigned to the archives of history.”

The striker dedicated Wednesday's victory over the Netherlands to Argentine journalist Jorge Luis Lopez who died earlier in the day after his taxi was hit by a stolen car in central Sao Paulo.

"Big hug to all of Argentina and a very special keepsake for Jorge 'Top' Lopez. This victory is especially for you, buddy. A big hug to the family. Courage," wrote Messi on social media. – Agencies

Today

Brazil v Holland 9pm

Tomorrow

Germany v Argentina 9pm

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