GABRIEL Batistuta has warned that Argentina can’t rely on Lionel Messi at the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia like they did so abundantly in its qualifiers.
La Albiceleste managed merely seven points from a possible 24 without ‘The Atomic Flea’ in their preliminary campaign. With him they seized 21 points from a possible 30, culminating in a come-from-behind 3-1 victory in Ecuador that ensured Argentina didn’t miss out on their first World Cup since Mexico 1970.
“Messi is a player who can play in any team,” said Batistuta. “I’d always want him in my team, but depending on a player doesn’t seem fair to me, for with the level of the national teams we are going to face at the World Cup, depending on a player is very dangerous.”
Over-reliance on Messi is not the only problem to which coach Jorge Sampaoli must find a solution. Nobody has made the striker’s position their own, with the likes of Sergio Aguero, Dario Benedetto, Gonzalo Higuain, Mauro Icardi and Lautaro Martinez among those in contention.
“For me the No9 should be Higuain, and [I think] the coach thinks the same,” said Batistuta. “There’s a lot of pressure on him – every touch has to be a goal. Let’s hope that in the World Cup every one will go in.” Argentina are in Group D at Russia 2018, alongside Iceland, Croatia and Nigeria.
Batistuta is the only man to have scored a hat-trick at more than one World Cup, having done so against Greece in 1994 and Jamaica in 1998. ‘Batigol’ was Argentina’s record marksman for 20 years – he shared the distinction with Diego Maradona for 15 months – until being surpassed by Messi in 2016.