Argentina stand every chance of securing World Cup glory this summer purely because they have Lionel Messi, says Marcelo Gallardo.
The Barcelona talisman will once again go in search of international honours this summer as football’s global showpiece heads to Russia.
Messi has won just about everything it is possible to win at club level, with collective prizes complemented by five Ballons d’Or as a mercurial individual talent.
He has graced Copa America and World Cup finals in the past, but Argentina have always come up narrowly short.
Gallardo concedes that the Albiceleste will not be among the favourite to go all the way in 2018 and end that drought, but admits Messi will always give them a chance.
The former Argentina midfielder, who graced two World Cup tournaments in 1998 and 2002, told RT: “I think Argentina has always been a leader in global football.
“I think now there are two or three teams in the world better than Argentina - first Brazil, then Germany and Spain, and then us.
“Now that we have Messi on our team, we have a chance to win.
“We have this feeling. We feel like we can become the central team because we have Messi. But three national teams: Brazil, Germany and Spain, are better than us.”
While Messi will once again shoulder the expectations of a nation this summer, Gallardo has called on all of those selected by Jorge Sampaoli to embrace the occasion and the pressure which accompanies representing Argentina.
He added: “I think that the point is you feel like you represent your team and your country.
“I think that it creates a fountain of intense emotions. Very intense because it is not just about patriotism, it is about playing in a jersey that has your country’s colors. You enjoy that the most, the process of playing.”
Argentina will open their 2018 campaign in Group D against Iceland, Croatia and Nigeria, with the 2014 finalists taking at a third World Cup crown to go with their 1978 and 1986 triumphs.