Argentina: Lionel Messi
Losing a World Cup final is a tough pill to swallow, so one can only wonder how Argentina fans are feeling heading to Russia this summer after a rollercoaster of a journey over the last four years. Following their loss to Germany in Brazil, Argentina have lost two more major finals, coming up short against Chile in the Copa America 2015 and the Copa America Centenario the following year.
The last 18 months have been no easier with Argentina barely qualifying for Russia, needing the heroics of Lionel Messi on the final day to book their spot. It’s hard to put into words how important Messi is to Jorge Sampaoli’s setup this year. He has received some fair criticism for his performances in Argentina’s final losses, but he has been the only bright spark for Albiceleste fans recently. The 30-year-old became his country’s outright top scorer recently and his return to the international setup coincided with Argentina’s late push in qualifying.
Messi turns Argentina from distinctively average to contenders. In his current form, Argentina look like quite a scary prospect. Messi has played a massive part in Barcelona’s potential domestic double this season, scoring or creating half of the Catalan’s side goals this season. Due to his prominent role for Barcelona, Messi hasn’t fetched much rest over the course of the season and fatigue has plagued his previous World Cup campaigns. Argentina’s World Cup could very well come down to how much they can get out of Messi’s legs.