Argentina’s line-up revolves around one man: Lionel Messi
Argentine football fans have never warmed to Lionel Messi, but they worship Diego Maradona. At 30 years old, the Barcelona target man is approaching the twilight of his career and Russia 2018 may be his last chance to propel his country to World Cup glory.
Having won everything at club level, can the five-time Ballon d’Or winner achieve true greatness this year? Let’s assess his chances…
Signs Messi won’t win the World Cup
Lacklustre performances on international stage
Messi is one of the best two players in the world at club level, but some believe he rarely shows the same flair on the international stage. He was voted Player of the Tournament in 2014, yet Maradona was among those who claimed he didn’t deserve the honour.
He can’t do it on his own
The key reason pundits and fans cite Maradona as the greatest-ever player is because of his glorious performance at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. Maradona was instrumental in every aspect of the national team’s success in 1986; he was by far the best player in the world at the time and capitalised on his abilities.
By contrast, Messi can’t do it on his own. While there are some great players in the Argentina squad, none come close to Messi.
The team as a whole is probably a few steps behind the likes of Germany, France, Brazil and Spain – and a host of old and new bookies agree, which is why most have Argentina down as fifth favourites. In 1986, Argentina were outright favourites from the start.
Argentina struggled to qualify for Russia, 2018. Yes, the was due to a few strokes of brilliance from Messi. But Maradona is the only player in the history of the World Cup to be surrounded by fans and still win the competition; the likes of Brazil, Germany and even England all achieved glory with great squads.
Reasons Messi can win the World Cup:
It’s well established that Messi is a brilliant player. While Argentina didn’t perform well in the qualification stage, Messi proves time and time again that he can pull something out of nothing.
He frequently saves Argentina
He achieved this against Iran in 2014, when his team looked like getting dumped out of the competition before the knockout stages. Still at 0-0 in the 91st minute, he scored the winner to save Argentina from an embarrassing premature exit. This same was true in 2017 when he scored a hat-trick against Ecuador to take Argentina to the World Cup in 2018.
The notion that Messi doesn’t do the business from his country is nonsense. He’s often the savour of a mediocre Argentina side.
Messi is not alone
That said, the notion that Messi has to win the World Cup alone is also ridiculous. The likes of Angel Di Maria, Sergio Aguero, Paul Dybala and Mauro Icardi would make most teams in the world much better. The fact that Argentina are fifth favourites despite a poor showing in qualification is testament to the quality in the squad as a whole.