Argentina coach Diego Maradona has expressed his belief that Lionel Messi can emulate his own achievements from 24 years ago.
Argentina begin their Group B campaign in Johannesburg on Saturday against Nigeria, ironically the team against whom Maradona made his international swansong at the 1994 FIFA World Cup™. However, it is for his exploits in 1986, when he almost single-handedly won the FIFA World Cup, that Maradona is most remembered, and the 49-year-old believes Messi can be every bit as influential this time as he was back then.
"I would love to see that, I certainly would appreciate it if he had the same impact on the World Cup as I had in 1986," he said. "But I think behind Lionel there's a whole team that should back him up and he should be the cherry on the cake.
I would love to see that, I certainly would appreciate it if he had the same impact on the World Cup as I had in 1986.
"But when you look at the team of '86 and what they achieved, it wasn't just about the attackers, although they scored. I just wish from the bottom of my heart that Messi gets to showcase his talents and has his best performance of all time."
However, Maradona admitted that the little left-footed wizard may suffer after a long hard season with Barcelona. "Messi has played 63 matches, (Barcelona coach Pep) Guardiola would take off other people such as Xavi but he wouldn't take off Messi.
"But Messi knows very well that he can make the difference in a match, that he can create goal-scoring possibilities and if it's a very tight match, he can always score in the next one. But this is what the World Cup is all about, there's no margin for error and there's no guarantee that your players will be playing at the top of their game."