Paul Wade tried to remove Maradona's shirt and Robbie Slater actually did. So, there are no two Australians better equipped to judge whether Lionel Messi will go past his legendary countryman as the planet's best footballer should he lift the World Cup on Monday morning (AEDT).
Victory over France in what is likely to be Messi's last World Cup appearance would be the little maestro's crowning glory, matching Maradona's success at Mexico 86 and forever putting him ahead of great rival Ronaldo. But Wade and Slater, who both played for the Socceroos against Maradona's Argentina in a two-leg World Cup qualifier in 1993, stopped short of declaring Messi the best of all time.
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Slater, who was presented with Maradona's playing shirt after Australia's 1-1 draw in the first leg at the SFS, told Yahoo Sport Australia: "When we're talking the greatest ever there's currently Maradona, who sits above the rest. Then there's a group of players led by, I believe, Pele, Zidane and Messi and, to a lesser extent, Ronaldo.
"Messi will never surpass Maradona – and it's disrespectful to say so - but the question is whether Messi can join Maradona this weekend. If Argentina wins – or Messi's the best player on the park but unluckily loses – then he does join Maradona in my mind. That's just the reality.
"Maradona played in two finals and carried the team and Messi's done the same here and in 2014. He's dragged this Argentinian team to the final."
Paul Wade weighs in on Messi-Maradona debate
Wade, who captained the Socceroos from 1990-96, was handed the daunting task of marking Maradona in '93. He stuck so close to him it was joked at the time he was trying to remove the Argentine superstar's shirt.
"Messi's on his way to winning the World Cup on his own, just like Maradona did in '86'", Wade pointed out. "If he can do that on Monday then he's up there with the GOAT (Maradona), but I don’t think he goes past him.
"Messi's a brilliant player but Maradona had a presence that I have never seen before or since. Pele is probably the only one you could compare to Maradona but Messi is definitely in the conversation if Argentina beat France."
Thirty-five-year-old Messi is yet to make a call on his international future, declaring: "After the World Cup I'm going to have to rethink a lot of things, whether it goes well or badly."
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