Diego Maradona says teams have lost their fear of Argentina and believes Lionel Messi is disguising serious problems in the side.
Jorge Sampaoli’s men scraped into the World Cup with a dramatic 3-1 win over Ecuador in their final qualifying match in October, in which Messi struck a hat-trick.
Concerns about their strength in depth were laid bare once more in November, though, as they surrendered a 2-0 lead to lose 4-2 to Nigeria in a friendly match in Krasnodar.
Maradona, who inspired his country to a World Cup triumph in 1986, has offered a withering assessment of the set-up and is particularly concerned about their midfield options ahead of the tournament in Russia.
“We have no midfield deserving of the name,” he told El Popular. “[Lucas] Biglia… with all the respect in the world that he deserves from me, how could it be imagined he’d be wearing the national team shirt?
“Today, except for Messi, people have lost respect for the Argentina team. Nobody is afraid of us. Look at the last game with Nigeria. We almost conceded eight goals. You know what happened in my time in a game like that.
1 – Lionel Messi is the first player to reach double figures for both goals (20) and assists (10) in La Liga this season. Monologue. pic.twitter.com/FPDqzEgDZk
— OptaJose (@OptaJose) February 5, 2018
“But Sampaoli is lucky. If the baby [Messi] is on fire, he will cover for all the mistakes.
“We have a 60 per cent chance of being champions [at the World Cup]. Why? Because the others can make up the choir, but they can never replace him as the singer. He’s the only singer.
“It hurts me a lot, but the reality is that it’s going badly for us and I can’t see a way out. The title would be: ‘After Messi, what next? After Messi, there is nothing…'”
Maradona thinks part of the problem is a desperate search for a regular number nine and cannot understand why Sampaoli prefers Inter captain Mauro Icardi to Juventus’ Gonzalo Higuain.
“It’s embarrassing to rely on Icardi. Pipa [Higuain] is 10 times better than Icardi,” he said. “That guy [Sampaoli] doesn’t know anything. The only thing he knows is what he’s going to eat at his friend’s house. Pipa has to have a new chance.”
The 57-year-old also feels Boca Juniors veteran Carlos Tevez deserves a chance at the World Cup this year.
“Of course. It’s not a debate,” he said when asked if Tevez should be included in the squad. “We don’t have anything else. We’re scraping the barrel to get a number nine.”
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