The World Cup 2018 is just under two months away with Lionel Messi’s Argentina amongst the big nations expected to challenge.
The 30-year-old Barcelona forward came out of international retirement after initially hanging up his boots after Argentina lost to Chile in the final of the Copa America in 2018.
Messi, who has scored 43 goals in 53 appearances for club and country this season, is regarded as the best player in the world alongside Cristiano Ronaldo but both have failed to win the World Cup.
Ronaldo’s Portugal won the European Championships with a 1-0 final victory over hosts France in 2016, but like Messi, this is set to be his last chance to become a world champion.
Argentina have a pool of attacking talent but have struggled in matches without the magical Messi, whose hat-trick against Ecuador in October last year secured qualification for the tournament.
But La Albiceleste are struggling for form going into the competition, with confidence seriously dented after being thrashed 6-1 by Spain in a friendly last month.
Messi was not in the squad for the game, but walked off after they conceded the sixth goal, after attempting to lift his side at half-time in the dressing rooms, giving a motivational talk.
Messi after watching Argentina get battered 6-1 by Spain pic.twitter.com/pXX3y5g8Wi
— True Soccer Life (@TrueSccrLife) March 28, 2018
Argentina are struggling defensively, and despite having plenty of options going forward, manager Jorge Sampaoli has struggled to fit the likes of Gonzalo Higuain, Paulo Dybala and Sergio Aguero alongside Messi.
Arch rivals Brazil are impressing ahead of the summer tournament, with Neymar expected to star as they chase a record sixth World Cup title. Germany and Spain are also hot favourites but Argentina have slipped to fifth in betting terms to become world champions for the third time.
In a group with Nigeria, Croatia and Iceland, Argentina should progress to the knockout stages but will face an uphill task from then on.
They reached the final in 2014, but Messi and Argentina will have a lot to do if they are to win the World Cup for the first time since 1986.