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Russia 2018 World Cup may hold without Messi

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Argentina’s Lionel Messi. PHOTO: AFP/ALFREDO ESTRELLA

Argentina’s poor run of results in the South American qualifiers has left everyone contemplating the unthinkable: a World Cup next summer without Lionel Messi.

The dreaded question looms large after an uninspiring draw at home to last-placed Venezuela this week left Argentina adrift of the automatic qualifying places for Russia 2018.

Veteran coach Cesar Luis Menotti described the latest performance as “scary” and had some choice words for coach Jorge Sampaoli, who like his predecessors is struggling with how best to use Messi’s verve in a team, which has failed to find its spark.

“The truth is; it was a shock. Seeing all this was a shock! I played two games against Venezuela: in Caracas we won 7-0 and in Rosario 11-0. Eighteen goals in two games! And now, I see that it’s hard for us to beat Venezuela? There’s something that we’re not doing well,” said Menotti, who led Argentina to World Cup glory in 1978.

The goals have dried up. Argentina were on a run of 309 minutes without scoring in these qualifiers when they finally got an own-goal against Venezuela.

Menotti levelled most of his scorn at the tactics used by Sampaoli, the former Chile and Seville coach. “I don’t understand the team.

“It’s not the same thing to lead Seville as it is Argentina. Especially if you have Messi.”

The diminutive 30-year-old cuts an increasingly isolated figure on the pitch, bereft of teammates who can give him the right pass at the right time, according to former Argentine international, Alberto Marcico.

“Messi is more isolated, in the past he was better served by those around him.”

Messi’s current lieutenants, Juventus’ Paulo Dybala and Inter Milan captain, Mauro Icardi, haven’t been able to provide the service the star is used to in his slick club side Barcelona, and more often than not he is crowded out by defenders waiting to pounce when the ball finally comes.



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