The Barcelona star broke free to set up Angel Di Maria's late winner against Switzerland on Tuesday to book the Albiceleste a place in the quarter-finals, earning a fourth consecutive Man of the Match award following his decisive displays in all three group-stage games.
And team-mate Zabaleta insists the rest of the side will keep basing their game on the No.10’s quality in their bid to win a third World Cup.
"We know he is our main player, our captain, the best player in the world. This team is playing for him as we know how important Messi is for this team. We are so lucky to have Messi in Argentina," Zabaleta told reporters.
"[The Man of the Match award] is what we expect from him. The best player in the world will always make the difference in every game, more so when you see that he is enjoying himself at the World Cup.
"Every time we recover the ball we try to pass to him as he is the best player we have in the team and he will score goals."
And as Argentina stand within 270 minutes of a first world title in 28 years, Zabaleta understands the comparisons drawn between Messi and Maradona.
"Messi has been one of the best players in the world for many years and you always expect a lot of things from them, like Maradona many years ago," he added.
"That is why we need to keep working hard. This team is doing well in the World Cup. We try always to keep a clean sheet as we know we have enough quality to score goals. That is what happened on Tuesday."
Alejandro Sabella's side face Belgium in Brasilia in the last eight, and Zabaleta is sure they'll benefit once again from the magnificent backing that has been a feature of their run so far.
"Even Argentinian fans without tickets are here. It is fantastic to see a lot of Argentinian supporters coming to Brazil," said the Manchester City full-back.
"We know how special it is for all the Argentinians to compete in this country. You see 30 or 40,000 in every match, singing for 90 or 120 minutes, until the end. The game against Switzerland had been long finished and they were still singing in the stand.
"This is something we feel very proud about and obviously we are trying to give our best to give them some trophy."
The last eight fixture against Marc Wilmots’ men kicks off at 18:00CET on Saturday.