There is no side in Russia that divides opinion quite like Argentina – contenders to lift the trophy for a third time or prime candidates to be 2018’s major flop. So how can opinion vary so much?
The Messi factor
Argentina’s hopes lie with one man. Luckily that one man is the world’s best player, Lionel Messi and for the simple reason that he will be wearing the Albiceleste in Russia, some at least give Jorge Sampaoli’s side a shot.
Four-years-ago, Messi dragged Alejandro Sabella’s Argentina all the way to the final. A disappointing display against Germany ended in heartache but as the mercurial number ten picked up the tournament’s Golden Ball award, talk of Messi-dependence echoed loud.
Three coaches later and this dependence is greater than ever.
Messi’s hat-trick in Quito in the final round of CONMEBOL qualifying booked Argentina’s spot in Russia but the entire campaign was something of a one-man show.
Suspension and injury saw Messi miss a large chunk of the action and the effect was clear.
Argentina with Messi: Won 6; Drawn 3; Lost 1; Win percentage 60%
Argentina without Messi: Won 1; Drawn 4; Lost 3; Win percentage 12.5%
Seven goals from his ten qualifiers made Messi Argentina’s leading scorer ahead of Angel Di Maria, Lucas Pratto and Gabriel Mercado with just two apiece. Over the last six matches (a duration of almost a year) no other Argentina player managed a goal and so Messi will be in Russia once more as creator, scorer, leader and everything in between.