Diego Maradona said that Argentina’s qualification chances for the 2018 World Cup to be held in Russia would be doubtful in the absence of Lionel Messi. Messi has been banned for four matches for insulting a match official. His ban was announced hours before Argentina’s qualifier against minnows Bolivia, which they then went on to lose.
“We are screwed,” said Maradona when asked about the effect Messi’s absence could have on Argentina’s qualification chances, “Without Messi, qualification is doubtful.” Argentina, who were the runners up in the last edition of football’s premier tournament in Brazil, are placed fifth in the South American qualification group. Only the top-four get automatic qualification for the World Cup finals while the fifth placed team qualify for one of the two Inter-Continental play-offs.
Brazil, who top the group, have already sealed their qualification for the 2018 tournament. Argentina, on the other hand, have 22 points and are followed closely by Ecuador. After their loss to Bolivia, Argentina also sacked their coach Edgardo Bauza and are yet to announce a replacement.
Despite being filled with attacking talent like those of Sergio Aguero, Angel Di Maria, Gonzalo Higuain and now Paulo Dybala, Argentina have been reliant on their captain for inspiration. Messi has in the 2014 World Cup and last year’s Copa America Centenario pushed Argentina to the finals with his goals and performances. Argentina lost the Copa America on two successive occasions in the finals to Chile, the second of which led to a frustrated Messi declaring his international retirement. He reversed that decision later on.
Argentina are one of the most successful teams in football. If they fail to qualify for the Russia 2018 World Cup, it will be the first time since 1970 that the tournament will be played without the presence of the two-time champions.