When Argentina lost the World Cup final in 2014, there was a sense that the window for their success may have just closed. Messi won player of the tournament while carrying the team on his back and the team still could not get their first World Cup title since 1986.
Fast forward to today and we see that Argentina struggled their way through their qualification and look a shell of the great sides from years past.
Apart from the fact they possess the best player on the planet.
And that is exactly why they will win the World Cup. Lionel Messi.
Messi has won everything in his club career. His list of honours is quite staggering:
Nine La-Liga titles
Six Copa del Rey titles
Seven Spanish Supercups
Four Champions Leagues
Three UEFA Super Cups
Three World Club Cups
Oh, and that does not even include his personal honours: Messi is truly swimming in trophies.
But on the international stage, Messi has a knock against him. His Argentina side have failed to achieve anything beyond an Olympic gold medal in 2008.
Messi, therefore, has the motivation. This will be the last World Cup in which he will be at the peak of his powers and thus he needs the rest of the team to be playing at 100% while he guides his team to glory.
552 goals in 637 games for Barcelona is simply astounding but the international record for Messi is not quite as superb. 64 goals in 124 games is still brilliant, but it is not the levels that Messi has reached at Barcelona.
This World Cup will allow Messi to slay the dragon that is his international career and a victory would complete his already stupendous legacy.
Argentina boasts the oldest squad at the World Cup, and therefore they have arguably the most experienced side.
Look across the team and you see leaders and stars. Javier Mascherano, Marcos Rojo, Nicolás Otamendi, Angel di Maria, Ever Banega, Lucas Biglia, Gonzalo Higuain, Sergio Aguero, Lionel Messi and Paulo Dybala.
That is a squad oozing with quality, leadership, and goals. Yes, there are weaknesses particularly in net and at full back, but the spine of this team is as strong as any.
If these stars do their jobs while allowing Messi to torment then Argentina have as good a chance as any team to win the tournament.
In 2015 Jorge Sampaoli led Chile to an unlikely Copa America victory, defeating Argentina in the final.
Sampaoli navigated an unlikely victory for the hosts of the competition while playing with the pressure of an expectant fanbase. Chile was not expected to win but the fact they hosted the tournament meant that their fans would demand a decent showing.
At that tournament Chile went undefeated, they finished top of their group with seven points. They then defeated Uruguay 1-0 in the quarter-finals before dismantling Peru 2-1 in the semi-finals. A 0-0 draw with Argentina in the final led to a penalty shoot-out which his side won.
If Sampaoli can deal with that pressure, then dealing with the expectations from Argentina should be doable. Argentina have a coach who knows the rigours of tournament football and can get the best out of him in that setting – they will be the best-prepared nation at the tournament.
If Messi is firing on all cylinders Argentina have as good a chance as any side of winning the competition. They came close in 2014, but now they are better, more experienced and more prepared. Could they end their 32 year World Cup drought?
Listen to the RealSport football writers discuss Group D in Kremlins in the Basement: RealSport’s daily World Cup podcast.
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