- Former right-back Javier Zanetti is Argentina's most-capped player
- He gives his thoughts on La Albiceleste's chances at Russia 2018
- Zanetti: "Argentina always have their trademark fighting spirit"
Some people's credentials speak for themselves. Take Javier Zanetti, for example: who better to discuss the Argentinian national team than their most-capped player, who represented La Albiceleste no fewer than 145 times over a 17-year period.
Given this pedigree and perspective, the former right-back was the ideal choice to talk to *FIFA.com *about the team who had Argentinian fans on tenterhooks before booking their spot at the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™.
FIFA.com: Argentina laboured on the road to Russia. What's your take on that campaign? Javier Zanetti: It was very tricky because we changed coach midway through qualifying. Such changes are never easy. South American qualifying is always tough, and this time, Argentina had real trouble. We were on the brink: the last game against Ecuador was make-or-break in terms of reaching the World Cup.
*How did you handle the nerves? *I live in Italy, but based on what my family and friends told me, I know the country was at a standstill, because Argentinians are hugely passionate about football and the World Cup is very important to them. On the one hand, I'm really pleased [that we've made it], but on the other hand, we've got lots to improve on.
*Are you excited by [Jorge] Sampaoli's vision? *Yes. I'm impressed because he has clear ideas, but he needs time to implement them. He knows that he has some top players at his disposal and he himself is experienced, which is very important at a World Cup.
You mentioned the upheaval during the campaign, which is epitomised by the situation at centre-forward. Gabriel Batistuta was a nailed-on starter in attack in his day, as was Hernan Crespo later. Things are different now…There's been a lot of change in personnel. Until recently, Pipita *[Gonzalo Higuain] was the undisputed No9. Now Mauro Icardi has got his chance, which is richly deserved because of what he's doing for Inter Milan. Mauro can be useful for the national team, but that doesn't mean Higuain shouldn't be in the squad. Argentina are lucky enough to have an embarrassment of riches up front, from *Pipita to Icardi, [Paulo] Dybala, [Lionel] Messi and so on. They've got so many options. I hope they can all go to the World Cup because they'd give the squad great strength in depth.
*What shape are Argentina in right now compared to other countries like Germany and Brazil? *We're a step behind them. They've got teams who have been working together for a while and that shows on the pitch. Still, we've got good players, and if we do good work between now and Russia, we can have a great World Cup. It's not going to be easy, but Argentina always have their trademark fighting spirit, which can go a long way at a World Cup.
*Is Messi alone enough to win it? *Messi is an extraordinary player, but your squad is pivotal: at a World Cup, the 11 players on the pitch and everyone else in the group can all play an important role. We know that he's the guy who can produce something special out of nothing, who can make things happen and be the match-winner, but Sampaoli has to come up with alternatives.