Lionel Messi is the best regardless of whether he leads Argentina to World Cup glory, according to Barcelona team-mate Ivan Rakitic.
Messi, 30, is still searching for his first senior trophy with his country, with the pressure again on him to deliver in Russia.
But Rakitic, whose Croatia are alongside Argentina, Iceland and Nigeria in Group D, said the World Cup would not change what Messi was.
“Surely he deserves to win it for who he is. Football isn’t tennis: you can’t put Messi under pressure by saying he alone has to win the World Cup,” he told Marca.
“He does deserve it but there are 32 countries with the same dream. If he wins it at the end, we will all be happy for him.
“However, his story is not going to change if he wins it or not.
“If you are the best, you are it independently of whether you win one or 50,000 titles. One World Cup will not change what Leo Messi means to football.”
— Selección Argentina (@Argentina) June 11, 2018
Messi and Rakitic are set to do battle on June 21, with Argentina favourites to top the group.
While he is desperate to lead Croatia to a win, Rakitic said stopping his club team-mate was impossible.
“In football, no-one has found the formula as how to stop Messi. Not [Croatia coach Zlatko] Dalic, not me, no-one can. What we’ve got to do is enjoy him,” he said.
“We measure ourselves against the best and to have the opportunity to face the best is brilliant. We know that it’s going to be difficult but so will the games against Nigeria and Iceland.
“We realise that it’s just special to go up against Leo but he also knows that we all want to play well against him.”
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