Former Argentina striker Mario Kempes says the only people who would be happy to see Lionel Messi miss the World Cup are fans of Diego Maradona.
Argentina are in a precarious position heading into their final qualifying match against Ecuador in Quito on Tuesday, having drawn their last three games and scored only one goal in the process.
Jorge Sampaoli’s side are sixth in the South American standings but a win over Ecuador would be enough to secure at least a play-off place, with Peru and Colombia, the two teams above them, playing each other.
Kempes, who won the trophy in 1978, says it would be “a catastrophe” to see Messi miss next year’s finals in Russia but believes it would add weight to claims that the Barcelona star has never reached Maradona’s level.
“A World Cup without Argentina and without Messi would be a catastrophe,” he said on Super Deportivo Radio de Santa Fe.
“The only ones who would be happy if Messi doesn’t go to the World Cup would be Maradona fans because, that way, they can keep saying that he’s the best.”
— OptaJavier (@OptaJavier) October 6, 2017
Kempes also rubbished the idea of a mental problem within the squad.
“I don’t understand it when it’s said that the problem is psychological,” he said.
“If you told me they’re boys who don’t have experience and who had been called up for the first time, who find themselves in front of full stands, I could believe that the problem is psychological, that they’re scared.
“But in this situation, there is no psychological problem.
“There’s 90 minutes for Sampaoli to show that he’s the real saviour because everyone said he was the saviour for Argentina.”
Paulo Dybala caused something of a stir last month when he claimed it is difficult to play alongside Messi, as they perform very similar roles at club level.
Kempes, however, says the Juventus star is absolutely right.
“What Dybala said is amazing,” he added. “It is very difficult to play beside Messi and whoever understands it any other way is a fool.”
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