Fans hope Messi doesn't do a Maradona

Argentina faces a genuine threat of missing out on a knockout spot for the first time since 2002. Fans would hope Messi would let them prolong their stay in Russia.

A large number of travelling fans will hope to give strength to Argentina as it faces Nigeria in a must-win league match.   -  Getty Images

Argentina will look to draw strength from its heavy band of travelling fans in its must-win game against Nigeria. A large numbers of Argentines are hopping from city to city, taking advantage of the free train service, to lend their voice to the men fighting it out on the pitch.

They, however, have had very little to cheer for as their team faces a genuine threat of missing out on a knockout spot for the first time since 2002. The current national team looks bereft of leadership almost similar to the 1994 side, which was let down by Diego Maradona, who was removed from the World Cup following a failed drug test ahead of its last group game. The team, without its leader, imploded and lost 2-0 to Bulgaria in its last group game, before surrendering 3-2 to Romania in the round-of-16.

Read: Argentina, Nigeria face off with last-16 spot on the line

In 2018, the South American giant is banking on another inspirational talent, Lionel Messi, to end its 32-year long wait for the coveted trophy. The current Argentine skipper, though, has been far from his fluent best and has cast a forlorn figure on the pitch, hardly ever involved in the game.

The Argentine fans, thankfully, are yet to give up on Messi and are hoping for a match-winning display from the mercurial genius.

“It’s not Messi’s fault. We don’t have a system and we are paying the price for that. (Manager Jorge) Sampaoli has failed to get the best out of his players and he should take the blame,” Jorge, who has travelled to Russia from Buenos Aires, says.    

His childhood friend, Pablo, too echoes the same sentiments. “I hope Messi decides the team against Nigeria. We will do much better without Sampaoli. They (the national federation) should have removed him from the post by now,” he says.

Watch: La Albiceleste in Kolkata on Messi's birthday

As the tube train moves closer to the Saint Petersburg Stadium more fans join in with almost everyone agreeing with the duo. Anastasia, a local city volunteer, adds to the conversation and soon the topic moves to Russia’s undying love for the Barcelona hero. “He (Messi) is the best. He is humble despite all the talent and it’s sad to see him like this,” she says and adds “I hope Saint Petersburg brings him luck and Argentina can kick start its campaign from here.”

Her words draw in the loudest cheer and clearly Messi is still the crowd favourite.

Incase you missed it, here are the possible scenarios:

  • Croatia is through after two victories.
  • Nigeria will qualify with a win over Argentina. A point, too, would be enough if Iceland fails to beat Croatia.
  • If Argentina and Nigeria play out a draw, Iceland will advance if it beats Croatia by a two-goal margin and also score at least one more than Nigeria.
  • Argentina will qualify by beating Nigeria coupled with Iceland losing to Croatia. If Iceland beats Croatia, then Sampaoli’s side can still qualify if it beats Nigeria by two more goals than Iceland's victory margin. If Argentina and Iceland win and finish with identical records the second spot will be decided by their disciplinary records and then a draw of lots. Argentina has three yellow cards to Iceland’s none.

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