By Ben Hayward
Argentina legend Mario Kempes says that his nation's World Cup hopes depend on the fitness of Barcelona's Lionel Messi.
Kempes fired his country to World Cup glory in 1978, claiming the Golden Boot with six goals as the Albiceleste lifted the trophy on home soil.
The South Americans claimed the trophy for a second time in 1986 and Kempes, now an analyst for ESPN, feels that Messi's fragile fitness will be the key to a third success next summer.
"There is still a year to go," the 59-year-old told Goal. "The season is long and there are so many games, so let's hope [Messi] arrives in good shape physically. If he arrives in good shape, I believe Argentina will have a good chance."
Argentina can seal qualification for the World Cup by beating Paraguay in Asuncion late on Wednesday and, should passage to Brazil 2014 be achieved by Alejandro Sabella's side in that game, Barcelona plan to ask the Albiceleste to pardon Messi from the last two fixtures - against Peru and Uruguay in the middle of October.
Back at Barcelona, meanwhile, Kempes believes that the forward can continue to build his partnership with Brazilian summer signing Neymar and describes the alliance as a "very special tandem in world football".
"Messi and Neymar will be a very, very special tandem in world football because they are both young players," he added.
"One who has won it all but is still hungry [for success], the other who has just arrived in Europe and wants to show that what we saw at Santos was no lie, but the real thing. The two can achieve wonders together and even more so given the style of football at Barcelona."
The Catalan club are also coached by an Argentine these days and Kempes backs compatriot Gerardo Martino to be a hit at Camp Nou.
"He was a good choice," the former Valencia forward opined. "Even though he had never coached in Europe, his philosophy has always been to play good football, like in his last season at Newell's."
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