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L. Messi

‘Angry Messi is something we love to see’ – Argentina superstar going full Maradona in pursuit of World Cup win, says Zabaleta

09:16 GMT 13/12/2022
Lionel Messi Diego Maradona
Pablo Zabaleta says “angry Lionel Messi is something we love to see”, with Argentina’s captain going full Diego Maradona in bid for World Cup glory.
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WHAT HAPPENED? Despite winning just about every major honour available to him at club level, Messi has been unable to replicate the achievements of fellow countryman Maradona when it comes to capturing a global crown on an international stage. The seven-time Ballon d’Or winner has that prize in his sights once more at Qatar 2022, with the emotion he displayed during and after a feisty quarter-final win over the Netherlands considered to be an indication that he is channelling the spirit of a World Cup-winning hero from 1986.

WHAT THEY SAID: Former Argentina international Zabaleta has told BBC Sport of the fire burning inside an all-time great: “I liked Messi's reaction at the end, with his celebrations and whatever he said to [Louis] van Gaal when he approached him afterwards. An angry Messi is something we love to see. It reminded me a little of Diego Maradona - that kind of character - and that is not a bad thing when you are trying to win a World Cup.”

THE BIGGER PICTURE: Zabaleta added on the now or never mindset that is driving a modern day icon forward: “Messi is leading this squad full of young players having their first experience of this tournament, and in every picture I see of him walking out of the tunnel, everyone is behind him like they are his bodyguards. Even on the field, it is like all of them are fighting for Messi, and protecting him. I know from playing with him that he feels he has to set the standard and lead by example, but I also know how much he must be enjoying every minute of this World Cup, knowing he has everyone right behind him. He has always been the main player, so it was the same in 2014 when I was in the Argentina team that reached the final - but he was 27 then, not 35. The difference now is this is his last chance - his last dance, if you prefer - at the end of his career. That makes everything feel more urgent and you can see that from our performances. It would be more special if he wins the World Cup at last, but there is also so much pressure on the team because of what failure means this time - quite simply, it means the end of his dream.”

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WHAT NEXT? Messi and Argentina will be back in action on Tuesday when facing Croatia in the 2022 World Cup semi-finals, with the winners of that contest going on to tackle either France or Morocco for the right to be considered the best team on the planet.