Argentina will still challenge without Messi

CHENNAI • Argentina will fight for major honours despite Lionel Messi retiring from international football after the disappointment of last month's Copa America final shoot-out loss to Chile, the country's former forward Hernan Crespo has said.

The 29-year-old Messi, a five-time World Player of the Year, is Argentina's top scorer with 55 goals and he has played in three Copa America finals (2007, 2015 and 2016), plus the 2014 World Cup final, losing them all.

Despite media reports suggesting the Barcelona forward is reconsidering, Crespo, 41, said the focus should now be on ensuring Argentina remain a force and take the next step to end the country's 23-year wait for a major trophy.

"The Argentina national team are very competitive. If you watch the last three tournaments - two Copa America finals and one World Cup final - you are competitive, you arrive in the final of great events," he told reporters on Saturday.

"I hope to see our national team win but I don't want to say that Messi was at fault. Messi played very well. He is the top scorer of the national team. He is the best player in the world. It's unlucky.

"But it's not about Messi. It's about the last 23 years the national team never won (a major trophy). Yes they won the Olympic Games (in 2004 and 2008) but, at the same time, we have lost a lot of finals. However, we are still competitive. This is just the way."

With European clubs poaching players from South America at a relatively young age, Crespo, who played for clubs like Chelsea and AC Milan, urged aspiring youngsters to stay level-headed when they are in the spotlight.

"The world is changing now... Now it's worse because in six months when you start, somebody (tries to) buy you, and in Argentina you need this kind of money to maintain (hold onto) that level of player," added the Argentinian, who is playing in India's Premier Futsal league this week.

"Maybe they are not mature enough to come to Europe but you never know which is the right way. You need to fill your passion. You need to follow that.

"It's not about sacrifice, your passion is enough to play football. I changed not only the country but the continent when I was 21."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 18, 2016, with the headline 'Argentina will still challenge without Messi'. Print Edition | Subscribe