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Argentina rally behind Messi ahead of key Croatia Group D clash

Nizhniy Novgorod, Wednesday @PeopleSports11

Argentina are rallying around captain Lionel Messi as the South American giants prepare for their crucial Group D clash with Croatia here on Thursday.

Messi made an unhappy start to the World Cup on Saturday, missing what would have been a winning penalty as Argentina were held to a 1-1 draw by minnows Iceland.

It was a result that has renewed doubts about Argentina’s ability to mount a sustained challenge at this World Cup, four years after they reached the final in Brazil.

Another adverse outcome on Thursday and many may even start to consider the unthinkable — that Argentina could be on their way out at the group stage, mirroring their shock first round exit in 2002.

Legend Diego Maradona called the Iceland result a “disgrace” and warned coach Jorge Sampaoli he would not be able to return to Argentina with similar performances. Adding to the sense of disappointment, Messi’s missed penalty was accompanied by 11 unsuccessful shots, the most in a World Cup game without return by a single player since Italy’s Luigi Riva in 1970.

Argentina’s players however have been quick to close ranks around the Barcelona superstar.

“We are all with him, he knows that he can count on the support of all of us more than ever,” said Argentina striker Paulo Dybala.

“We are here to help him every moment, and of course we will be at his side,” Dybala added. Defender Cristian Ansaldi meanwhile insisted Messi was in good spirits despite the Iceland setback.

“We all know what Messi represents to our team and to our country,” Ansaldi said. “Not only is he the best player in the world on the pitch, he is also best player off the field. He’s in good shape and that’s good for us.”

Despite the solitary point against Iceland, Argentina can take solace from a performance which saw them muster 26 shots and have 72 per cent possession against Iceland.    -AFP

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