While many have criticised Argentina for being overly reliant on Lionel Messi so far at the World Cup, teammate Pablo Zabaleta does not see that as a negative.
Despite picking up maximum points on their way to topping Group F, Argentina have largely underwhelmed thus far, requiring extra-time to overcome Switzerland 1-0 in the last 16, while relying on moments of individual brilliance from Messi to rescue them in all four games.
However, Zabaleta believes that it’s entirely normal for a side to depend so heavily on a star of their captain’s calibre and has rubbished the talk that the team’s performances have been substandard up to this point.
‘We know he is our main player, our captain and the best player in the world,’ he said. ‘This team is playing for him as we know how important Messi is for us. We are so lucky to have him in Argentina'.
‘The best player in the world will always make the difference in every game, more so when you see that he is enjoying himself at the World Cup,’ he added. ‘Every time we recover the ball we try to pass to him as he is the best we have and he will score goals.
‘Messi has been one of the best players in the world for many years and you always expect a lot of things from them, like Maradona many years ago.
‘That is why we need to keep working hard. This team is doing well in the World Cup. We try always to keep a clean sheet as we know we have enough quality to score goals. That is what happened on Tuesday.’
While nobody doubts Messi’s ability to star on the club level, the Barcelona playmaker’s form for Argentina has come in for criticism in the past, despite an impressive record of 42 goals in 90 games, although his displays over recent weeks have certainly lived up to his glowing reputation.
Boasting names such as Angel di Maria, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Gonzalo Higuain, Alejandro Sabella’s side are certainly not a one-man team but, with Saturday’s quarter-final clash with Belgium a far from easy proposition, the rest of the line-up will need to up their game if they are to add a third World Cup title to their collection this summer.