Argentina manager Jorge Sampaoli is confident star man Lionel Messi can “carry the team on his shoulders” at the World Cup in Russia this summer.
The world’s most talented player will once again have the eyes of the footballing world fixed on him as he chases the one major honour to have eluded him.
Messi has won every honour with club side Barcelona but time is running out on an elusive World Cup as he will be 31 by the time the final takes place in Moscow this summer.
He was named player of the tournament four years ago in Brazil but Argentina were denied at the final hurdle by Germany after extra-time in an evenly-matched final.
Messi fired a hat-trick in the final qualifying game against Ecuador to secure Argentina’s place at this summer’s tournament and Sampaoli is not about to play down his expectations of the maestro.
“This is going to be his team,” Sampaoli said ahead of his side’s friendly against Italy on Friday.
“Messi is the best of all and is in a stage of maturity that can he can carry the team on his shoulders. It is more his team than mine.”
Messi is 9.50 to be leading goalscorer at the 2018 World Cup. In-form Serie A striker Paulo Dybala of Juventus has been left out of the squad to face the Azzurri and Sampaoli admits the 24-year-old is far from certain to be involved this summer.
“It’s complicated for Dybala to get used to our style. We couldn’t improve his performance and we have to evaluate if the current players are better than Paulo, or if we have to keep working with Paulo to improve his performances,” the Argentina boss added.
Argentina are 9.50 to lift the World Cup in Russia, with reigning champions Germany starting as favourites at 5.50.