FIFA World Cup 2018: Lionel Messi’s Argentina face difficult group stage

Nine league titles and four European Cups, among other major titles, into his Barcelona career, there is little debating Lionel Messi’s status as one of the greatest in football. There is, however, a gaping hole in the diminutive forward’s career: the absence of a major international honour, a 2008 Olympic gold notwithstanding.

In an international career spanning over a decade with Argentina, Messi has been a losing finalist at the 2014 World Cup and the Copa America in 2007, 2015 and 2016. It could have been far worse for the Argentines in 2018 with them being on the brink of elimination ahead of their final qualifier against Ecuador. It was a Lionel Messi hat-trick that saved them from humiliation.

Faced with a difficult group stage, Argentina could face Spain in the last-eight in Russia. A slip in the group could see them face France in the Round of 16.

Ever Banega, Javier Mascherano and Angel Di Maria will be crucial to making the team tick while there is enough firepower up front to support Messi in the form of Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala.

Croatia can cause a few surprises. One of the world’s best midfielders, captain Luka Modric is the engine and will be hoping to take his Real Madrid form to Russia. He is ably backed by the likes of Mateo Kovacic, Milan Badelj and Marcelo Brozovic. Ivan Rakitic is an invaluable option at No 10 while Ivan Perisic will be a player to watch out for on left flank. In Mario Mandzukic, Andrej Kramaric and Ante Rebic, among others, they have a variety in attack.

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