Another edition of the FIFA World Cup is upon us and it’s the big guns again that are under the spotlight, and rightly so.

Germany, Spain, Brazil and France, all four teams are heavily loaded with astounding talent and look as good candidates for the trophy.

While Argentina clearly aren’t the favorites, no team with Lionel Messi in its ranks can be ruled out. Having dragged Argentina on his own to the World Cup final in 2014, only to fall short in the final by a 113th minute Mario Götze winner, much of the same is expected of him again.

Lionel Messi's Argentina
The now famous picture of Messi staring at the World Cup trophy after coming agonizingly close to winning it

The Argentina squad looks decent and if they can step up to play the supporting cast to Messi, they might just do it. One win and all the negativity surrounding the team will vanish away like it never existed.

Let’s take a look at the factors that will make all the difference for Argentina:

Messi’s Form

It is hard to think of any team that depends as much on one player as Argentina do on Lionel Messi, and it isn’t their fault really. The little genius’ heroics have spoiled Argentina over the years.

If it wasn’t for him, they probably wouldn’t even be here in Russia. In 8 qualifying rounds that Messi missed, they picked up only 7 points, while in the 10 rounds that he played, they ended up picking 21 points.

Lionel Messi's Argentina
Messi scored a hattrick against Ecuador to seal a place in Russia

It still needed a defining Lionel Messi hattrick against Ecuador in the last qualifying round to take them through to Russia.

A lot of Argentina’s chances in this World Cup depend on which version of Lionel Messi will turn up in the tournament. The Barcelona talisman had another astonishing season with Barcelona, finishing at the top of the goalscoring chart in Europe.

With Barcelona’s campaign in the Champions League ending early and the La Liga title wrapped up, Messi got plenty of rest by the end of the season and should come all guns blazing in Russia.

The diminutive Argentine’s motivation to win the World Cup is another factor that should see him at the top of his game in the tournament, especially after coming agonizingly close to winning the only trophy missing from his cabinet.

Also Read: FIFA World Cup 2018: Does France Have What It Takes To Go All The Way?

Lack of Defensive Quality

While everyone is aware of Argentina’s firepower in attack, the same can’t be said about their defense. In fact, there is serious lack of quality at the back.

With veteran Javier Mascherano playing as a defensive midfielder for Argentina, their defense is short on experience.

Lionel Messi's Argentina
The defensive partnership of Otamendi and Fazio will be key

Nicolas Otamendi, who had a fantastic season under Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, will have to lead the defense alongside the experienced Federico Fazio of Roma, who also helped Roma reach the semi-finals of the Champions League.

The full-back department is perhaps the weakest link in the Argentine squad, with no player of distinguished quality. The absence of veteran Pablo Zabaleta means that the full-backs will be inexperienced too.

Underperforming Frontline

La Albiceleste’s attacking options can make even the best of teams envious. On paper, having the likes of Lionel Messi, Sergio Agüero, Paolo Dybala and Angel Di Maria in your team would mean scoring truckloads of goals in every match.

Lionel Messi's Argentina
Argentina’s attacking options

However, the reality is far from it. Argentina were the second-lowest scorers in the CONMEBOL qualifiers, scoring just 19 goals in 18 matches.

Messi scored more than one-third of those (7 goals), with no other player managing more than 2. In fact, as pointed out by Sports Bible, the last time someone other than Messi scored for Argentina in a competitive game was 19 months ago.

This is a worrying sign for Argentina. Higuain has bottled big chances in crucial matches time and time again, Aguero has never scored in the World Cup finals having now played 2 of them while Dybala has never scored for the national team.

Javier Mascherano told the Guardian,

“It’s clear Leo conditions our collective performance; I hope as his team‑mates we can meet his standards”

Messi dragged the team to the finals in 2014 and he even brought them here in Russia on his own. It’s about time that others step up. After all, for how long can you depend on one man to drag the team all the time?

Coach Jorge Sampaoli’s tactics

When Jorge Sampaoli took over from Edgardo Bauza, the Argentina national team was in shambles. They were 5th in the standings, outside the automatic qualification spots.

Lionel Messi's Argentina
Jorge Sampaoli being presented as the Argentina national team’s coach

Although it wasn’t as if the team’s fortunes changed drastically after he took over, but people knew he was the right man for the job.

Having won the Copa America with Chile and leading Sevilla to one of the Champions League places in 2016/17 campaign, Sampaoli has earned a lot of praise from the footballing fraternity.

Also Read: Is England Good Enough To Win The World Cup 2018 In Russia?

What is worrying, though, is that he is yet to know his best XI. He has one job to do, build a team that best suits its talisman, Lionel Messi.

As he confessed after qualifying for the World Cup,

“Argentina is more of his (Lionel Messi’s) team than mine”.

And so, the big question arises:

Can Lionel Messi’s Argentina go all the way to win it?

If Lionel Messi is at his usual best and their backline can keep its shape to remain defensively solid, then why not?

After all, winning the World Cup doesn’t necessarily require a team to be at its absolute best. All it needs is the team to be efficient. Solid at the back and getting the job done up front.

Lionel Messi's Argentina
Winning the World Cup in Russia will cement his legacy as the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time)

Going all the way to win it will surely require a superhuman effort from that man again – Lionel Messi. And if he does succeed, it will cement his legacy as the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time).

Had this been some other team, some other man, they could have been easily written off for their inconsistency. But it’s Messi.

Football gives you hope, and Lionel Messi is football in its essence. 


Image Credits: Google Images

Sources: ESPN, Telegraph, Sports Illustrated + more


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