Argentina coach Edgardo Bauza has rejected claims he operates a 'friends of Lionel Messi' selection policy.
Pressure on the Argentina boss increased with a 1-0 defeat at home to Paraguay in 2018 World Cup qualifying last Tuesday, leaving the South American giants outside of the top four in the CONMEBOL section and without a win in three.
Angel Di Maria endured a disappointing match in Cordoba while Sergio Aguero failed to convert a penalty, with Bauza criticised for not substituting either player.
Bauza's decisions have led to allegations his team selection is based around the whims of talisman and captain Messi, who is reportedly responsible for Mauro Icardi's ongoing absence from the squad due to his friendship with Maxi Lopez, whose former partner, Wanda Nara, is now married to Icardi.
However, Bauza insists this is not the case and he has not selected Icardi because he rates Gonzalo Higuain and Lucas Pratto ahead of him.
"When Messi sees something in the team he doesn't like, he says so, but it doesn't hurt the team," Bauza said in an interview with Fox Sports.
"It is not true what is said that there are players who cannot be selected because they are not liked by the group.
"If I want to select him (Icardi) I will, but today he is below Higuain and Pratto."
Despite Argentina having lost the finals of the 2014 World Cup and last two editions of the Copa America, the coach is confident this squad will end the wait for silverware.
"I remain confident in my dream. I am convinced that we will be world champions," Bauza said.
"I feel in the centre of the storm, and it is normal that I am the most responsible.
"We lost at home and it is expected that the criticism is strong, but I do not like it when they are branded bad players. They were very hurt.
"The players gave a lot to the team and do not feel valued, finishing second is not a failure."