Raul: Di Maria injury piles more pressure on Messi

The Real Madrid winger has picked up a thigh strain and the former Spain international says coach Alejandro Sabella has no obvious replacement

Angel di Maria's unavailability for Argentina's World Cup semi-final against Netherlands piles more pressure on Lionel Messi, according to Raul.

The Albiceleste booked their spot in the World Cup last four with a 1-0 victory over Belgium at the Estadio Nacional de Brasilia on Saturday but their win was marred by the loss of Di Maria to a thigh strain.

The Real Madrid winger will now miss Wednesday's meeting with Netherlands in Sao Paulo and Raul believes his absence will make Argentina even more reliant on Messi, who carried his country through the group stages.

“Messi played from a little behind the strikers [against Belgium] and I expect this to be [coach Alejandro] Sabella's ploy again,” the former Spain international told The Times of India.

“This forces the opposition defenders to move up to keep an eye on him and creates space for others.

“Di Maria's skill and speed would have been ideal to exploit such a scenario. His absence means the pressure on Messi will increase, and the prospect of the world's best player shouldering additional responsibility in his first World Cup semi-final makes this all the more interesting.

“They [Argentina] were too reliant on him in the previous matches, and this win suggests they are a ready to rally around him and play a team game. They must keep it up, as the side they face now is looking keen to settle a few old scores.

With Brazil starlet Neymar already having been ruled out of the remainder of the World Cup with a broken vertebrae, Raul believes the likely loss of Di Maria is as big a blow for the neutrals as it is Argentina.

“After Neymar's broken back, this is another big setback for South America, because I don't think Alejandro Sabella has substitutes who can be as effective as the Real Madrid midfielder," the Madrid icon argued.

“Whatever it is, this is not good for the competition, as it will miss two of the world's finest players in action at a critical juncture.”