'Higuain is vital' - Messi defends Argentina team-mate from final criticisms

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The Barcelona star opened up on his international team-mate, while he also backed Sampaoli and explained why a Newell's return is a difficult prospect

Lionel Messi has defended Gonzalo Higuain from his critics in the Argentina team, insisting that the Juventus forward deserves to be in the side. 

Higuain has been the focus of frustrations in his native country for his sub-par performances in the World Cup final and in successive Copa America deciders. 

He has since featured just once in Jorge Sampaoli's squad, and is a doubt to travel with the Albiceleste for Russia 2018. 

Were it up to his captain, however, Pipita would definitely make the cut. 

"Pipa has suffered a lot from criticism and we have talked about it a lot of times," the Barcelona star said to TyC Sports

"But I think that this time away from the national team has done him good, now he is seeing things in a different light.

"He has to be [in the team] because he is vital, he is one of the best forwards in the world and he always shows it." 

Argentina Peru Eliminatorias Sudamericanas 05102017

Sampaoli has endured a tough start to life as Argentina coach, as the Albiceleste secured qualification by the skin of their teeth. 

Diego Maradona was particularly tough on the coach after his team went down to future World Cup opponents Nigeria in a recent friendly - but he has Messi's support. 

"Argentina is a big step up. At Chile, [Sampaoli] was not obliged to win every game, here he is," he added. 

"Jorge was judged even before he came to Argentina, a lot of people had written him off before he started working. He has told me on many occasions I am the best player in history."

Messi put pen to paper last week on a fresh deal for Barcelona that will take him up to June 2021, when the star will be 34. 

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When asked whether he could still play for boyhood club Newell's, he admitted that the situation in Argentina is discouraging him from taking his family back home. 

"I have said many times that my dream is to play for Newell's but I don't know what will happen; part of that doubt is because of the situation in my country," he said. 

"I have a family and my children come first. I want them to grow up in peace, enjoying a safe life. It is horrible to see the things happening in Argentina, to go out on the street and be killed in an attempted robbery."

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