Messi must get the support that Maradona had: Caniggia

Argentina's Lionel Messi (left) tries to get past team-mate Angel di Maria during training in Buenos Aires on Sunday before their friendly match against Haiti today. Besides an Olympic gold in Beijing 2008, Messi has never won a major tournament with
Argentina's Lionel Messi (left) tries to get past team-mate Angel di Maria during training in Buenos Aires on Sunday before their friendly match against Haiti today. Besides an Olympic gold in Beijing 2008, Messi has never won a major tournament with Argentina and he will be seeking to change that at the World Cup in Russia next month.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

BUENOS AIRES • From individual accolades to club trophies, Lionel Messi has won everything in the game bar an honour for his country.

While it is not a black mark against the name of arguably the greatest footballer in history, Messi, 30, will always be unfavourably compared to Diego Maradona once the World Cup rolls around every four years.

To escape Maradona's shadow, Messi will need to match the 57-year-old's feat of winning football's global showpiece.

Since his debut in 2005, Messi, who is the national team's record scorer with 61 goals from 123 caps, has been the reference point for Argentina. But, as brilliant as he may be, even the Barcelona talisman cannot carry Argentinian hopes all on his shoulders without help from his supporting cast if they are to lift the World Cup trophy on July 15.

And former Argentina striker Claudio Caniggia believes the unrelenting pressure on Messi to emulate Maradona, who almost single-handedly led the Albiceleste to the 1986 World Cup, is unfair as his team-mates do not complement him and play to his strengths.

Speaking on world football's governing body Fifa's website, the 51-year-old said: "Messi doesn't get the same support from his team-mates as Maradona did. Every player has a responsibility, even those who don't play much. You can't give all the responsibility to Messi, because then what's the point of you being there?"

However, Caniggia, who was one of the stars as Argentina reached the 1990 World Cup final only to fall to West Germany, feels that if the rest of the squad can get their act together, they can be a real threat to the other 31 teams in Russia.

TEAMWORK IS KEY

You can't give all the responsibility to Messi, because then what's the point of you being there?

CLAUDIO CANIGGIA, former Argentina striker, urging Lionel Messi's team-mates to give him the support which Diego Maradona got during his playing days.

"Nobody is unbeatable. The key is mental strength. What's in our favour is that (Argentina's) best attacking players can put fear into anyone. Their names alone unsettle the opposition," he added.

"The other teams don't think, '(Gonzalo) Higuain is being criticised in Argentina'. They think, 'He's Juventus' top goalscorer'."

Messi's former Barcelona team-mate Javier Mascherano has also called on the team to band together after recent disappointments ahead of Argentina's penultimate friendly against Haiti today (tomorrow, Singapore time).

Argentina are still reeling from their 6-1 friendly thrashing by Spain in March, while the squad have also experienced plenty of heartbreak after losing three straight finals - the 2014 World Cup, the 2015 Copa America and 2016 Copa America Centenario.

"We can't be thinking about becoming World Cup champions, but about arriving as a group in the best way and generating trust that we lack today because of the situations that we have experienced," he said.

"It's fundamental to start the World Cup well, not go crazy thinking about a hypothetical final, and think about it stage by stage."

The South American giants play their final friendly against Israel on June 9 before opening their World Cup Group D campaign against Iceland on June 16 in Moscow.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 29, 2018, with the headline 'Messi must get the support that Maradona had: Caniggia'. Print Edition | Subscribe