RIO DE JANEIRO – The World Cup title comes with a pretty gold trophy, four years' worth of bragging rights and the party to end all parties back home.
For Germany or Lionel Messi, there will be an added benefit: Shedding that "underachi
ever" label once and for all.
"We're here to become world champions," Toni Kroos said after Germany's 7-1 thrashing of Brazil.
It may seem a bit unfair to call either Germany or Messi underachievers, which is just about the worst possible label you can give a player or team. May as well just come right out and say they're squandering their talent. That they should have a heck of a lot more to show for their considerable gifts.
It's not as if either is a slouch. Germany is a three-time World Cup champion, and Sunday's game against Argentina will be its second trip to the final in 12 years after losing to Brazil in 2002. All it did in between was reach the semifinals in 2006 and 2010.
As for that guy Messi, he's only the best player on the planet. He's the only four-time winner of the Ballon D'Or, given to the world's best player, and he's got more titles than a royal thanks to all those championships Barcelona has won in Spain and the Champions League.
But the World Cup is the only prize that matters in soccer and, without at least one title, Germany and Messi's long list of achievements will always be blemished with an asterisk's smudge. Any debate about where they rank among the all-time greats will be accompanied by a "Yeah, but …"
"We now need to take the next step," Germany coach Joachim Loew said before the semifinals.
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This is, by far, the best team Germany has had since 1990, when Jurgen Klinsmann — you may have heard of him — led the Germans to their third World Cup title.
With a lineup that includes Kroos, Thomas Mueller, Mesut Oezil, Mario Goetze, Andre Schuerrle, Lukas Podolski AND all-time World Cup scoring leader Miroslav Klose, it can pile up the goals. Just ask the Brazilians.
Its ruthless efficiency may mask its finesse and style. But when it is playing well, as it did against France and Brazil, its pinpoint passes, organization and flowing attack are breathtaking.
"The best German performance ever in a World Cup!! Simply fantastic!!" Klinsmann said on Twitter after the Brazil game.
Yet not only has this group not won a major international title, it has made only one other final: Losing to Spain at the 2008 European Championship.
Which explains why the Germans didn't go nuts after demolishing Brazil. It was only one step on the way to their ultimate destination.
"There's still a final ahead of us," Kroos said. "We have come here to become world champions and nobody has become the world champion in a semifinal.
"But I'm convinced we're going to deliver another great performance. … That's our purpose and goal."
Of course, that's Messi's goal, too.
No one denies that Messi is brilliant. It's as if he's got the ball on an invisible string as he weaves through traffic, and even a video game maker couldn't dream up some of the goals Messi has scored.
But the knock on him has always been that he hasn't had the same success with Argentina that he's had at Barcelona, the suggestion being that his brilliance may not be all his doing. That some of the credit should go to the Barcelona system or the galaxy of All-Stars who surround him.
Argentina lost in the quarterfinals in Messi's other two World Cup appearances. It hasn't won the Copa America, the South American championship, since 1993.
It's ridiculous, of course. Watch Messi play — in any uniform — and it's clear you're seeing greatness. Maybe the greatest player of all time.
Without a World Cup title, however, there will always be those who say Messi shouldn't even be in the conversation. Yes, Pele, this means you.
"As a player, winning a World Cup is the best there is," Messi said in an interview earlier this week. "It's something you dream about when you are a kid, and it never disappears."
That, of course, is what Sunday's final is all about: Being World Cup champion.
But silencing the critics in the process wouldn't be bad, either.