Mascherano: Messi still the best in the world

The Barcelona midfielder has been baffled by criticism of the former Ballon d'Or winner and says he can lead Argentina to glory in Brazil

Argentina star Javier Mascherano has backed compatriot Lionel Messi to deliver at the World Cup, amid criticism over his form.

Messi endured a frustrating season with club side Barcelona last term as he struggled with injuries, while his team failed to defend its Liga title.

Despite his injury-hit campaign, though, Messi still scored 41 goals in all competitions for the Blaugrana and will captain Argentina at the World Cup in Brazil.

Mascherano, who also plays alongside Messi at Barcelona, has been baffled by criticism of the star, saying he is the best footballer in the world and can lead the national side to glory in Brazil.

"If you're the best in the world and you don’t depend on him [Messi] then who will you depend on?” Mascherano was quoted as saying by SPORT.

“It sounds ridiculous to me to doubt [Messi]. If you have the best then you will try to squeeze the maximum [out of him]. Messi has to feel that we play for him to show his virtues."

Alejandro Sabella's side will be looking to add to their two World Cup titles when they arrive in Brazil for the tournament.

And Mascherano has admitted that the players want to go further than four years ago when the Albiceleste were knocked out of the World Cup by Germany at the quarter-final stage.

"I see a massive amount of hope in Leo. We are in such an important competition; we only care about the World Cup,” the 29-year-old said.

“As the leader of the group, we have to enjoy it. Everyone is dreaming about a different World Cup to those we've had previously, and [we want] to advance further than in other World Cups."