Argentina’s World Cup hopes in Russia are hanging by a thread following a humiliating 3-0 loss to Croatia as Jorge Sampaoli’s side delivered a lifeless performance.
Zabaleta was stunned by his country’s performance against Croatia and feels that the chance to win a major international tournament may now have passed Messi by after the Argentina captain endured a miserable night against Croatia.
Messi previously retired from international football two years ago before performing a U-turn, and the Barcelona star, who will turn 31 on Sunday, will make a decision on his Argentina future after the World Cup.
“I just feel so sorry for Lionel Messi,” Zabaleta told the BBC. “This was his last chance to win something with Argentina - so I wouldn't be surprised to see him retire from international football after this.
“He'll be so disappointed and it's another four years until Qatar.”
Argentina capitulated after goalkeeper Willy Caballero’s howler gifted Ante Rebic the opening goal on 53 minutes before Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic struck late on to earn Croatia a convincing win.
Zabaleta added: “The people in Argentina will be so angry now. You expect more from those players.
“They were so close to winning it in Brazil then they lost two Copa Americas in a row.
“The people in Argentina are so hungry for this World Cup, and they will not accept this.
“The manager has to sit with the players and have a real conversation about what's going on.
“I've never seen a performance like this by Argentina. Never before. There was a lack of spirit and it's very strange to see.
“In the second half we weren't good enough. I think after the Willy Caballero mistake it was mentally very difficult for the players to come back and win the game.
“All Argentina's players play for big clubs - they should have done much, much better.
“I've never seen Nicolas Otamendi look so uncomfortable in a game - he was making all sorts of mistakes - at Manchester City you never see him miss a pass.
“And Marcos Rojo has been playing for Manchester United - in a back three - so I can't see why he was left out today.”