But with Messi serving a four-match international ban for insulting an official during Argentina’s win over Chile on March 24, the same can’t be said about Argentina’s prospects of staying in contention to qualify for 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.
Diego Maradona feels that their chances of qualifying for the quadrennial event without Messi aren’t bright. “We are screwed,” the 1986 World Cup winner told Radio Rivadavia. “Without Messi, qualification is doubtful.”
Argentina felt the impact of Messi’s absence in the very next match -- after he was banned -- as they lost to Bolivia 2-0. He was suspended just hours before the kick-off by FIFA for his foul-mouthed rant against the official. He was also fined USD 10,000.
While Neymar-led Brazil have already qualified for Russia 2018, Argentina are currently fifth in the South American qualifying standings with 22 points, two adrift second-placed Colombia.
Messi will also miss three of Argentina’s next four remaining matches. While on paper only one of those encounters looks to be a tough one but based on results in first legs none of them will be a walk in the park.
Argentina’s next game will be on August 31 against Uruguay, who are third in the standings, and anything other than a win will dent their chances of taking the fourth and final automatic qualification spot. The remaining matches aren’t easy as well as they had lost to Ecuador and were held by Peru and Venezuela respectively in the earlier qualification games.
Despite abundance of talent, Argentina are heavily dependent on Messi to produce desired results. The Albiceleste have won just one of the eight matches which the forward has missed but have recorded five wins in six matches he has played in.