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'I will always remember Messi's crying'

ESPN staff
March 5, 2014 « Jose's incredible mind games claim | Chartbeat test »
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Argentina legend Diego Maradona said he was "delighted" Cristiano Ronaldo won the Ballon d'Or because he believes it will inspire Lionel Messi to success at this summer's World Cup.

Barcelona star Messi, 26, was named the world's best player for four successive years before Real Madrid's Ronaldo ended his run by claiming 2013 award.

However, Maradona feels the disappointment of missing out will ensure Messi - who has returned to top form after three months out with a hamstring injury he sustained in November - has all the motivation he needs to inspire his country in Brazil.

"Thanks to his age and the experience gained in these years, this is the World Cup which is best for [Messi]," Maradona, who coached Argentina at the 2010 finals, told La Nacion.

"Even the time out with injury was good for him. I was also delighted when they gave Cristiano the Ballon d'Or. He who adjusts himself best will win, and Leo has already adjusted."

Maradona's performances as Argentina won the 1986 trophy cemented his status as the best player of his era, but he said Messi does not need to replicate his own World Cup heroics to secure his standing among the greats.

"Messi does not need to win the World Cup to be the best player in the world," he said. "That has nothing to do with it - we should not confuse being fat with a swollen belly.

"To win the World Cup would be monstrous for Argentina, it would be monstrous for the fans, and it would be monstrous for Leo. But winning a World Cup or not winning a World Cup does not take away any of what he has done to be where he is."

Maradona said that both he and Messi still feel the pain of Argentina's 4-0 exit to Germany in the quarter-finals of the 2010 World Cup.

"I have the memory of South Africa," he said. "I can still hear, and I believe I will always be able to hear, the sound of Leo crying when we were knocked out against Germany.

"He came up to me and I told him that he would have a pile of World Cups to get revenge. I said it to him with the heart. They were all thinking about the return, about their tickets... and he was there, distraught, crying.

"That is something very strong, something that the Argentine people need to know. Because when people say he does not 'feel' the shirt, does not sing the anthem -- those who say that are fools.

"For Leo it will be a test of character, to take out all the hurt he has inside his heart. Brazil 2014 could be his great revenge. "

Asked about the other challengers for the 2014 World Cup, Maradona said Germany -- who also ended Argentina's hopes in 2006 -- and reigning champions Spain would be major threats along with Brazil, although he suggested an overreliance on Neymar may hinder the hosts.

"Spain and Germany are there, Brazil are there, with a tremendous defence," he said. "When you think of Brazil's defence, six or seven names come into your head. You think of their attack and you only think of Neymar."

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