There were two reasons I couldn’t sleep the night before playing for Argentina against Germany in the 2014 World Cup final in Rio.
Firstly because of my nerves – the kind of anxiety I’ve never had before – and secondly because of all the Brazilians setting off fireworks outside our hotel at 3am.
The whole team was awake because there was so much noise – Brazilian fans had been going to our games throughout the tournament to support the opposition and now they were absolutely desperate that we weren’t winning the World Cup in their own backyard. , to the legendary Maracana.
I finally managed to get some sleep at one point, and when I woke up my first thought was “today is the day”.
I had already played hundreds of football matches at the time, as a boy and as a man, but when you are about to play a World Cup final, you realize that it is very special and that it will be the greatest match of your life.
It’s always been one of my childhood dreams, and that’s the best way to describe what it feels like when it actually happens, when you get there. I was like a kid again, and it was hard to think of anything but ‘wow, today we can be world champions’.
Waiting for the final this time brings back a lot of memories of 2014, because it was a very long day before kick-off and everything I was worried about, whether it was at the hotel or on the way to the stadium, was whether we were going to win.
By playing for my club’s teams, I knew I had the opportunity to win several trophies each season. Each year was a new chance and a new challenge, but it was different.
The World Cup only takes place every four years and that is one of the reasons why it is very special. I was 29 in 2014 and didn’t know if I would go to Russia four years later, so one of the other things I was thinking about was if I would get the chance to play this game again?
All this made it so difficult to prepare for the game, mentally, as usual, even when arriving on the pitch.
I knew I was only 90 minutes away from glory and I could imagine how amazing it would be to win in front of all of our fans.
I haven’t really considered the other outcome.
Frustration, anger and pain
As soon as the game starts, you forget all about it like the size of the game or your nerves. You are in the zone.
Germany were the big favourites, as they beat Brazil 7-1 in the semi-finals and everyone thought they would destroy us too.
It didn’t turn out that way, however. We were a very good team, defensively very stable and solid, and we had three or four very good scoring chances.
But we missed them all and, just at the end of extra time, Mario Gotze scored the winner for Germany. That was it – it was all over. A tight game but instead of lifting the biggest trophy in football we had nothing. It was hard to take.
And of course it was difficult after the match, we were in tears, crying in the locker room and when we got back to the hotel we went straight to our rooms for two hours.
I was feeling frustration, anger, and pain, but it didn’t take long for us to reunite as a team, and that really helped.
A text message was sent around saying “guys, there’s nothing we can do now”. It took Argentina 24 years to make a final after 1990, so we should be proud of what we have achieved. Let’s have a few beers in one of the kit rooms.
So we all got together in the same room, the whole team, and we had a beer and talked about what had happened.
It was now four or five hours after the game and, although it still hurt a lot, I had already started to realize how lucky I was to experience a game like this.
“I still think about how close we got”
We flew to Argentina the next morning and were very well received by the fans there as well, which also made a big difference.
We had played for our country and played for the shirt so when we saw that we had made our people happy and proud, that was exactly what we needed to get us out of being so low.
I stayed in Argentina for a few days and every time I went out, to a restaurant or just for a walk, a lot of people came to say “thank you for everything you have done”.
The final was also a time when my whole family came together for the first time in years to watch the game at my home, which was special for me personally when I was able to join them.
A World Cup is great for bringing people together like that, and of course seeing them all made me feel better about the result as well.
You never really get over it, and every time I see clips from 2014, I always think about how close we got.
At home, I have the boots I wore in that match, along with my kit and my loser’s medal, and looking at them is still hard now.
When you lose a World Cup final, you don’t know how long it will be before your country gets back in one, but here we are again, eight years later, for Lionel Messi’s last chance.
I remember having breakfast the morning of the final in 2014, when Messi walked into the hall.
I was sitting with Javier Mascherano and told him that I hoped it was Messi who would score some goals to win the game for us.
It was impossible not to think like that, even when I was on the pitch, when I had him in my team. Everyone just thinks ‘pass the ball to Messi’ because he’s the one who will make the difference.
That hasn’t changed – he’s been amazing at this tournament; always the main man and the real leader of the team, and I was so happy to see him having fun in this World Cup.
Whatever the result against France on Sunday, I’m so proud of him and the rest of the team, but what I really want is to see him lift the trophy this time – it will definitely be worth the wait .
Pablo Zabaleta was talking to Chris Bevan in Doha, Qatar