Argentina's Lionel Messi has looked "jaded" and "staccato" in a disappointing World Cup overall despite some magical moments, former England striker Gary Lineker said on Saturday.
The four-times World Player of the Year and Argentina captain scored four times in the group stage, but has been largely shackled in the later rounds as Switzerland, Belgium and the Netherlands all used 'swarm' tactics against him.
"There is something not quite right with Lionel Messi at this World Cup," Lineker, a pundit with Britain's BBC broadcaster, wrote in a pre-match analysis.
"I am the Argentina captain's biggest fan and he is the most wonderfully gifted player since Diego Maradona but, here in Brazil, I have been disappointed with what I have seen."
Lineker, who was in the England team that famously lost 2-1 to Argentina in 1986 thanks to Maradona's "Hand of God" then another goal hailed as the best ever at a World Cup, said Messi was lacking movement and had become easy to mark. "He always scores a lot of poacher's goals by darting into the box late," the Englishman said, yet against the Netherlands "the only time he touched the ball in their box was when he scored a penalty in the shootout."
Rivals' obsession with stopping Messi has, however, given space to other team mates, and been a factor in enabling Argentina to reach Sunday's World Cup final where he hopes to emulate Maradona and bring home the first trophy since 1986.
Lineker, though, said Messi may be simply too exhausted to perform at his best at the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro.
"He has had some magical moments at this World Cup and dug Argentina out of a hole on occasions in the group stage, but his overall performance so far has been staccato," he said. "I had a feeling watching him for Barcelona this season that he was saving himself for the World Cup, but he has clearly not been in brilliant physical condition in Brazil. He is a special player, and he is still scoring goals, but I am not convinced he will play in the way we know he can because he looks so jaded."
Lineker, who scored England's sole goal in the 1986 quarter-final defeat, said Maradona was the greatest rival he had faced "by a million miles."
"Even great players like Zico and Michel Platini - their jaws dropped when he walked into our dressing room," he said, recalling a 1988 friendly game.
"In that 1986 quarter-final, the pitch we played on at the Aztec Stadium was like a cabbage-patch. They had dug it up a few days before and replaced it with really small squares that moved every time you put your foot on one. To score the second goal he got against us that day - the good one - on a pitch like that showed what an absolute genius he was."
And Lineker's prediction for Sunday?
"I have said before now that football is a simple game: 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win."