The Sunday Mail
LIONEL MESSI has it tougher with Argentina than Diego Maradona did, says Claudio Caniggia ahead of the Barcelona superstar’s next shot at World Cup glory.
Despite collecting an enviable haul of major honours at club level, a five-time Ballon d’Or winner is still waiting on a first senior international trophy with his country.
Messi has come close in World Cup and Copa America competition, but has endured heartache in each of his final outings to date.
As a result, he is yet to emulate the achievements of iconic countryman Maradona — who inspired Argentina to global glory in 1986 — and truly cement a standing as the greatest of all time.
Caniggia, who played alongside Maradona at the 1990 and 1994 World Cups, believes Messi’s task is made all the more difficult when representing the Albiceleste as he does not boast the same backing as a legendary predecessor in the No. 10 shirt.
“Messi doesn’t get the same support from his teammates as Maradona did. I think that’s true,” a forward who earned 50 caps for his country told FIFA’s official website.
While conceding that Messi is often expected to carry the weight of expectation by himself, Caniggia feels that Argentina do have the firepower to challenge in Russia this summer.
Jorge Sampaoli’s side are not considered to be among the favourites, but they will be able to call upon the likes of Gonzalo Higuain, Paulo Dybala, Sergio Aguero and Angel Di Maria.
Caniggia added on the class of 2018: “What’s in our favour is that the best attacking players can put fear into anyone.
“Their names alone unsettle the opposition. The other teams don’t think: ‘Higuain is being criticised in Argentina’. They think: ‘He’s Juventus’ top goalscorer’.
“Our weak point is that we’re still not solid at the back, and there are still a couple of places up for grabs.”
Argentina will open their World Cup 2018 campaign against Iceland on June 16 before going on to face Croatia and Nigeria in Group D.
Meanwhile, Messi is in a “good moment” physically and excited for the challenge of trying to help Argentina win the World Cup, according to Jorge Sampaoli.
La Albiceleste are set to face Iceland, Croatia and Nigeria in Group D at the finals in Russia, as they seek to go one better than their loss to Germany in the final in 2014.
Messi was said to have arrived at the previous tournament in Brazil short of full fitness after a difficult season under Gerardo Martino at Barcelona.
“I’ve talked to Messi and I found him very excited about what’s coming, physically he’s in a good moment,” the coach told a news conference.
Messi’s fellow forward Sergio Aguero has not played for his club Manchester City since April due to a knee injury, but Sampaoli declared the 29-year-old fully fit.
“He is working normally since last week,” the coach said.
“Gabriel Mercado is not going to have any kind of major problems. We’ll see how Lucas Biglia arrives in camp.”
Argentina struggled in qualifying, and needed a Messi hat-trick in their final match away to Ecuador to secure passage to Russia.
Sampaoli, though, is confident the team can impress at the tournament, and is planning to pick the players who are able to cope with the pressure of carrying the hopes of a nation on the big stage.
“The World Cup has to be faced without fear, with loftiness, with presence, and those who are more convinced of their game will be closer to the starting line-up,” he said.
“One understands that these players have characteristics that serve us … with time and the desire to play, this will be enhanced, I have great hope and, every time I see them train, the dream grows. — Goal.com