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Is it now or never for Messi?

The weight of expectation on Messi’s shoulders is enormous

Argentina gets their World Cup campaign underway in Moscow when they take on Iceland. Albiceleste boss Jorge Sampaoli is aiming to guide his side to a first World Cup victory since 1986. Sampaoli has already named his starting XI, 24 hours ahead of the Group D clash. Chelsea’s Willy Caballero starts in goal. Sergio Agüero gets the nod ahead of Gonzalo Higuaín. Skipper Lionel Messi will operate in a free role behind the Agüero.

Starting XI

Willy Caballero, Eduardo Salvio, Nicolas Otamendi, Marcos Rojo, Nicolas Tagliafico, Lucas Biglia, Javier Mascherano, Maximiliano Meza, Lionel Messi, Angel di Maria, Sergio Aguero.

Reliance on brilliance

It’s easy to understand why a teammate would want to pick out Messi rather than looking for another option. Could that be part of the problem as to why Argentina have not been successful in the Messi era?

Messi is undoubtedly the best player in the world capable of inspiring the team to the extent that, if they are maybe not having a good day, they end up having the best day. Seeing him, their enthusiasm grows, and this is closely tied up with emotions. Diego Simeone, Coaches Voice

Lionel Messi has scored 64 goals in 124 internationals. With Barcelona he’s won pretty much everything there is to win at club level, yet the quest for international glory has been elusive. It’s disrespectful to suggest that Argentina are a one-man show. Just like in 1986 they had another brilliant No.10 in Diego Maradona. He, of course, went on to win the World Cup supported by a well-balanced side. The current Argentina squad doesn’t have the overall quality of nations such as France, Spain or Germany.

Messi is so good that he’s often able to paper of the Argentinian cracks. Whether or not those cracks will be exposed at this year’s World Cup remains to be seen, however, there are plenty of superstars with the ability to do just that.

Success is built from the back

There’s no question that Argentina’s front line is superb but World Cup success will also depend on their ability not to concede goals. Marcos Rojo will line up alongside Nicolas Otamendi at centre back. Unlike Otamendi, Roja hasn’t had much game during the 2017/18 season. He had just nine starts during Manchester United’s Premier League campaign. Argentina were battered 6-1 by Spain in a recent friendly. Group D opponents Iceland, Nigeria and Croatia will take some comfort in the knowledge that Argentina were woeful without their brilliant skipper.

Supporting cast

Di Maria and Agüero have had fine seasons for their respective clubs. Agüero’s domestic season has been a busy one. He must take his club form on to the international stage. Di Maria will pick up his 95th cap against Iceland. The No.11 is real threat on the wing, he had 11 assists in Ligue 1 for PSG. Mascherano now plays his club football in China. The midfield veteran won’t have much time to adapt to a much higher standard of football. Higuain scored 23 goals in all competitions for Juventus. The No.9 is likely to feature as an impact sub.

Tick Tock

Time is running out for Messi’s quest for international honours. The 2018 World Cup isn’t beyond Argentina’s capabilities but it will be a tough ask. Much will depend on how well Messi plays. Questions will also be asked of his teammates, especially if Messi has an off-day. It’s now up to Sampaoli to find the best system to suit Messi.

Having the best player in the world should be an advantage, but it has been nullified by having three coaches in the last four years. Now, with Sampaoli, it is still not clear if the team is going to defend with a back three or a back four. We’re playing Russian roulette. Sergio Levinsky

Featured image by Micaela Ayala – Creative Commons

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