Can Messi shoulder Argentina’s hopes?

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 02 Jun 2018 11:13:41


BUENOS AIRES,

(IANS),

RUNNERS-UP at Brazil 2014, the Copa America in Chile in 2015 and again in the US in 2016, football powerhouse Argentina has been the perennial bridesmaid in recent years. The South American nation are two-time World Cup winners, yet only booked their ticket to Russia at the last minute after a turbulent qualifying campaign led by three different head coaches.

In their opening qualifier, Argentina were without talisman Lionel Messi through injury, and embarrassingly lost 2-0 at home to Ecuador. Messi had temporarily withdrawn from international football in 2016 before returning to help save Argentina’s chance of qualifying for Russia, reports Xinhua news agency.

The last qualifying match ultimately proved decisive, as Messi rescued his team with a hat-trick to beat Ecuador 3-1. A five-time Ballon d’Or winner, Messi has been repeatedly challenged to prove his standing as one of the all-time greats by winning the World Cup with Argentina. The Barcelona forward has won everything at club level, but remains without a major trophy for his country.

Argentina stepped up their World Cup preparations with a 4-0 victory over 108th-ranked Haiti on Tuesday thanks to a hat-trick from Messi, who also turned provider with an assist for Manchester City forward Sergio Aguero. Following the confidence-boosting win against admittedly limited opposition, Messi said after the game that a good start will be crucial to their progression.