Legendary Argentina striker Hernan Crespo believes Lionel Messi deserves to win a World Cup – but he does not feel his compatriot needs to lift the Jules Rimet trophy to be considered an all-time great.
It is already widely believed that Messi is up there with the best ever in the game, with compatriot Diego Maradona and Brazil icon Pele, although there remain questions as to his validity to being spoken of in the same breath as players who have won the World Cup, while he hasn’t.
The 31-year-old has won 32 titles in football and a joint record five Ballon d’Ors in 14 seasons at Barcelona, but has never lifted football’s most coveted trophy.
“A lot of players are great in our memories without winning the World Cup,” Crespo told BBC Sport.
“Messi is a fantastic player. I love to watch him so much and he’s a very good guy. He deserves to win the World Cup. If he wins he’s a great player, but he is still a great player if he doesn’t.
“How many great players didn’t win it? I don’t remember Johan Cruyff or [Michel] Platini doing it.”
Messi and Argentina got to the final of the tournament four years ago, losing to Germany 1-0, and have endured a difficult start to their bid to win a third title following a frustrating 1-1 draw with debutants Iceland in their opening game in Russia.
They next face Croatia in their second Group D game on Thursday.
This World Cup is Messi’s fourth. He won the Golden Ball as the tournament’s best player in Brazil and helped La Albiceleste reach the quarter-finals in 2006 and 2010.
Crespo, Argentina’s fourth-highest scorer with 35 goals in 64 games, said Messi’s chances of success with the national team had been undermined by factors away from the pitch.
“We don’t help him so much and by that I mean coaches, presidents of federations etc,” he said.
“It’s a pity because he’s the most important player in the world and we don’t help him. He wants to do it so much. He maybe feels that pressure.
“At Barcelona it has become natural to win but at Argentina we’ve been so unlucky. He’s one of the best in history. If you like football you love to see Messi.”
Under Maradona’s captaincy, Argentina lifted the World Cup in 1986 – when he won the Golden Ball – and were runners-up four years later.
He played 21 games – an Argentina record – in four World Cups. But Crespo thinks it is unfair to compare the country’s two icons.
“I don’t like to compare Diego and Messi because it’s impossible,” said Crespo, who played for Chelsea in the Premier League as well as having spells at Parma, Lazio and AC and Inter Milan.
“It’s impossible in the hearts of Argentinean people. Diego had such an impact for us it’s impossible to compare.
“Diego was not just about football – he was bigger than football. It’s because of that it’s impossible to love Messi as much as Maradona.”
The Barcelona superstar had a chance to put his team into the lead and score what could have been the decisive goal, taking Argentina to a 2-1 win.
However, Messi’s penalty was saved by Iceland goalkeeper Hannes Halldorsson and the game ended with a 1-1 draw.
Maradona believes even the best players can miss a penalty – admitting that even he himself had failed to convert some during his time.
“I missed five penalties in a row and I was still Diego Armando Maradona,” he told Telesur.
“The game and the two points lost by the team are not down to his penalty.
“He showed his face and gave everything he had to give. The ‘kid’ did his duty.
“Seeing him on the field, he was pretty pissed off. Just like I would have been. It was all him, he always had to shrug two players off and when he did, there was no pass open.”
The 1986 World Cup winner instead put the onus of the draw on coach Jorge Sampaoli and believes his tactics weren’t up to the mark.
Meanwhile, Argentina will face Croatia in their next game on June 21.
After Sergio Aguero had put Jorge Sampaoli’s men ahead and Alfred Finnbogason equalised for the underdogs, the Barcelona superstar had the chance of putting his team back into the lead in the 64th minute.
However, Messi missed from the penalty spot as Hannes Halldorsson saved to keep the game at 1-1.
“It hurts me to have missed the penalty, because it was the decisive advantage,” Messi told reporters post-match.
“I feel responsible for not having been able to take the three points. I have no doubt that a goal from the penalty kick would have changed everything.”
Argentina’s next two games in the competition will be against Croatia and Nigeria and Messi believes there is a lot to look forward to.
— FlFA World Cup (@WorIdCupFC) June 16, 2018
“We have not lost our hopes despite the draw, we still have the same desire,” he said. “I think we deserved the victory. We worked hard trying to find spaces in the Icelandic defense, but we couldn’t do it.
“This result doesn’t have to weigh on us looking forward. We have a few days to rest and to prepare the next match.”
Albiceleste will now face group leaders Croatia on June 21, who managed to secure a 2-0 win against Nigeria on Saturday.
“We didn’t plan to start with a draw in the first game, but no team will make it easy for you to win,” Messi said.
“This World Cup is going to be very even, all the matches are very close.”