Riquelme lauds Messi, warns of Neymar danger

Juan Roman Riquelme has showered Lionel Messi in praise, but rued Argentina’s inability to cope without him. La Albiceleste have won all three of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ qualifiers in which the 29-year-old has played, but have triumphed in just one of seven in his absence. It has left Edgardo Bauza’s side fifth – the inter-confederation playoff position – in the South American standings, one point clear of Paraguay and two above Chile.

“Let’s hope Messi doesn’t get injured,” Riquelme said. “ Because if he does, any team can beat Argentina. We have the best player in the world. It’s logical that when Messi plays, we’re a strong team, and when he doesn’t, we’re average.

“I said that the day that Messi gets injured, we’ll go to being an average team, and they said I was speaking negatively. But when he gets injured and we don’t get points, we beg him to come back.

“It’s always him. We have faith in him. He’s unique. He’s taken us to several finals, which is not easy.”

Argentina are away to Brazil on Friday 10 November, before hosting Colombia the following Tuesday. Riquelme believes victory in the Estadio Mineirao, where a Messi wonder goal sunk Iran at the last World Cup, would do wonders for Argentinian confidence, but he is also wary of one Brazilian magician.

“Hopefully Messi does well against Brazil and Colombia,” said the 51-times-capped former playmaker. “Hopefully we don’t suffer in the qualifiers. We’re still dreaming of Messi gifting us the World Cup Trophy.

“The national team squad has been there for a long time. Now we have a good opportunity to beat Brazil and gain confidence. But we’ll suffer there too, because over 90 minutes Neymar will do something, just like Messi.”

Riquelme helped set up 18-year-old Messi’s first World Cup goal in a 6-0 victory over Serbia and Montenegro in 2006. With Messi as an unused substitute and Riquelme taken off, however, Argentina lost on penalties to Germany in the quarter-finals in a captivating shootout famous for Jens Lehmann reading notes he retrieved from his socks (follow the ‘Lehmann’s legendary notes’ link to the right to read more).