Argentina star Lionel Messi did not have the World Cup final that would have ended any arguments against his status as one of the best soccer players ever. It's not surprising, then, that a prestigious award did little to lift his spirits after the match.
Minutes after the final whistle of Germany's 1-0 victory in extra time, Messi was named as the winner of the Golden Ball, the award given to the World Cup's top player. He did not seem particularly enthused to take the trophy:
Messi is not alone in winning the award while losing the final. In fact, he makes it five straight players to have won the Golden Ball without achieving complete glory, with Brazil's Romario serving as the last dual World Cup and Golden Ball winner in 1994. The 2014 award easily could have gone to many of the other nine finalists, but Messi was the expected and deserving winner. He carried Argentina throughout the tournament, scoring four of their eight goals, assisting on two others, and serving as the basis of virtually everything they did in attack. It's arguable that no other player meant more to the success of his side — except maybe Brazil's Neymar, another finalist, whose team crumbled in embarrassing fashion without him.
While champions Germany failed to claim the World Cup's top individual award, they did grab one of the major trophies. Manuel Neuer took home the Golden Glove as the tournament's best goalkeeper, joining countrymen Oliver Kahn (2002) on the list of honorees. Neuer finished with 24 saves in seven matches, second in the tournament to Tim Howard of the United States, who was surprisingly not named among the three finalists for the award despite making 27 saves in three fewer matches. Yet a goalkeeper's contributions are not always explained best by save totals, and Neuer wowed fans and analysts with his sweeper-keeper performances in the knockout stage. Finalist Keylor Navas of Costa Rica would have been a fine choice for the trophy, as well, but it's hard to get too upset about Neuer's victory.
In an award that required no voting, James Rodriguez, who turned just 23 years old on Saturday, nabbed the Golden Boot as the World Cup's top goalscorer. Rodriguez scored six goals, finding the net in each of his five matches and adding two assists for good measure. He was also the breakout star of the tournament, with several amazing performances and one of the best goals of the month.
[Pictures: Argentina fans crushed by World Cup defeat]
Yet Rodriguez was too old to win the World Cup's Best Young Player Award, given to an athlete 21 years or younger. Midfielder Paul Pogba of France, who turned 21 in March, won the award for his combination of strong attacking and defensive play in his five matches. However, neither he nor the other two finalists — French defender Raphael Varane and Memphis Depay of the Netherlands — looked especially dominant. There is some good news for France, though, because the previous two winners of the award, Lukas Podolski (2006) and Thomas Muller (2010), both featured for Germany in this World Cup.
In truth, the World Cup's single team award — one decided purely by statistics — will be the most controversial. Colombia have been given the Fair Play Award for the best disciplinary record in the tournament, having earned only five yellow cards in their five matches. Yet Colombia were also involved in one of the most brutal matches of the tournament, the quarterfinal with Brazil that resulted in the end of Neymar's tournament and the subsequent debacle of the semifinal with Germany. In truth, this match should have involved many more yellow cards — maybe even a red or two — for Colombia and Brazil. Like most awards, it doesn't begin to tell the full story of the tournament.
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