Lionel Messi emerged from the shadow of his fellow Argentinian 'phenomenon' Diego Maradona by leading his country to World Cup glory, says 1994 runner-up Arrigo Sacchi.

Messi clinched the World Cup Golden Ball after producing a series of talismanic displays in Qatar, scoring seven goals and adding three assists during a dream campaign.

The seven-time Ballon d'Or winner scored twice in Sunday's thrilling final against France, also converting in the subsequent penalty shoot-out as he became the first Albiceleste captain to lift the trophy since Maradona in 1986.

Sacchi, whose great Milan side battled with Maradona's Napoli in the 1980s, refused to compare the two Argentina greats but was delighted to see Messi replicate his compatriot's success.

"When Messi raised the World Cup to the sky, his eyes were wet with tears," Sacchi, who led Italy to the 1994 final, wrote in La Gazzetta dello Sport.

"I thought of Leo's entire journey, of what he won with Barcelona, of his dribbling, of his goals, of his acrobatics, of the many Ballon d'Ors he placed on the bulletin board. 

"Then, however, there was that sort of curse which he could not shrug off. Too often he was forced to play with the shadow of Maradona weighing on his shoulders.

"Too often they asked him what he could not give, and then he felt sad. He felt the responsibility to give happiness to an entire people and the fact of not succeeding in it pained him. 

"Now all of Argentina is at his feet. I don't feel like saying whether or not he has reached Maradona's level.

"I don't agree with these comparisons between champions who belong to different eras of football. 

"What I know is that Maradona was a phenomenon, and I knew him well, and I know that Messi is too, albeit in a different way."

Lionel Scaloni was left saddened by a sudden realisation late Argentina great Diego Maradona was unable to enjoy their World Cup success in Qatar.

Scaloni's side beat France 4-2 on penalties following a remarkable 3-3 draw after extra time at Lusail Stadium on Sunday.

It was Argentina's first World Cup triumph since Maradona inspired them to glory in 1986, earning Lionel Messi his maiden success in the competition.

Maradona, who played for his national team between 1977 and 1994, died in November 2020 at the age of 60 after suffering a cardiac arrest.

His death was followed by three days of national mourning, putting into context just how significant a figure he was in Argentina.

And for Scaloni on Sunday, being reminded of Maradona's passing was difficult.

Asked what he would say to Maradona if he had been present, Scaloni told reporters: "Well, you make me realise that he's not here, otherwise you'd think he was amongst us.

"Well fortunately we managed to lift this trophy, something we've been dreaming of for so long, we're such a football passionate country.

"I hope he enjoyed it from above. I'm sure if he was here he'd have enjoyed it so much, he'd have been the first one on the pitch.

"Now you ask me this you make me realise he's not here. I wish he was here to enjoy this moment."

Brazil great Pele sent congratulations to Argentina after their breathtaking World Cup final victory, describing Lionel Messi's success as the moment "his trajectory deserved".

Pele, confined to hospital recently, has been attentive to events at Qatar 2022 and said Argentina's trophy win would have delighted the late Diego Maradona.

The big moment for 35-year-old Messi means he finally has a World Cup victory to his name, matching compatriot Maradona who was the driving force behind Argentina's Mexico 86 triumph. Maradona died in November 2020 at the age of 60.

"Congratulations Argentina! Certainly Diego is smiling now," Pele wrote on Instagram.

There was sympathy from 82-year-old Pele for Kylian Mbappe, who finished on the losing side despite scoring two penalties and a stunning volley to complete only the second hat-trick in a men's World Cup final, after Geoff Hurst's 1966 treble for England against West Germany.

Argentina lifted the trophy after a 3-3 draw on Sunday, winning the penalty shoot-out 4-2 after misses from Kingsley Coman and Aurelien Tchouameni.

Messi scored twice in a classic match before both he and Paris Saint-Germain team-mate Mbappe converted penalties at the beginning of the shoot-out.

The Golden Ball, for the tournament's best player, went to Messi for a second time, while Mbappe finished as top scorer with eight goals, earning the Golden Boot.

Three-time World Cup winner Pele hailed Mbappe's feat of hitting the back of the net four times, including the shoot-out, and he also offered praise to Morocco, who finished fourth after becoming Africa's first World Cup semi-finalists.

"Today, football continues to tell its story, as always, in an enthralling way," Pele said. "Messi winning his first World Cup, as his trajectory deserved.

"My dear friend, Mbappe, scoring four goals in a final. What a gift it was to watch this spectacle to the future of our sport.

"And I couldn't fail to congratulate Morocco for the incredible campaign. It's great to see Africa shine."

Diego Maradona Junior wept tears of joy as Argentina laid their hands on the World Cup for the first time since his father led the Albiceleste to Mexico 86 glory.

Two years have passed since superstar Maradona's death at the age of 60, after a tumultuous life that was defined by his World Cup achievements.

Now Lionel Messi has followed Maradona into the history books as the captain, number 10 and driving force of a team that has conquered the world.

Maradona Junior posted on Instagram a video of himself sobbing, while saying: "We're champions."

He added in a post: "The cup is going to Buenos Aires."

Argentina landed the trophy in Qatar on Sunday by beating France 4-2 in a penalty shoot-out after a sensational 3-3 draw that featured a hat-trick from Kylian Mbappe and two goals from Messi.

Maradona's Instagram account, now administered by his children, showed a merged picture of Daniel Passarella, Maradona and Messi – captains of the country's 1978, 1986 and 2022 winning teams – each holding the World Cup trophy.

"ARGENTINA WORLD CHAMPION!!!" its caption exclaimed.

"I imagine your pride, old man.. Thanks for a new joy."

Many thought Lionel Messi's World Cup hopes had evaporated in the Kazan sun four and a half years ago when Argentina were beaten 4-3 by France in the quarter-finals of Russia 2018.

Qatar 2022 brought the possibility for revenge, but again those chances looked to be vanishing as a Kylian Mbappe-inspired France simply refused to go away in Sunday's utterly enthralling final, which ended 3-3 after extra time.

But with Emiliano Martinez doing the business in a penalty shoot-out for the Albiceleste, Argentina would not let the most elusive of opportunities slip from Messi's grasp again.

As the story goes, he still has sleepless nights because of the 2014 final defeat to Germany; those nightmares will be overwritten with the 2022 final replaying in his dreams for the rest of his life.

After all, for Messi, everything came down to this.

He reiterated this week that Sunday's showpiece would be his last World Cup game. Everyone assumed that would be the case anyway, but the final confirmation only served to increase the anticipation.

This was essentially France against the world. There has arguably never been a World Cup final more one-sided in terms of support, and it was all because of one player.

For years the debate over the 'greatest of all time', or 'the GOAT', has swirled around Messi. While the majority have not needed any further convincing of his entitlement to such a status, there have always been dissenters.

Messi's detractors pointed to one caveat: a lack of success with Argentina. Technically, that was accounted for last year with Copa America glory, but for him to definitively silence the most stubborn of doubters, he would need to match Diego Maradona and win the World Cup.

Even before Argentina and Les Bleus served up their feast at the massive golden bowl of Lusail, there had been countless signs that something was different about Messi this time.

There has been an anger, a vengeance to his performances and aura in Qatar. From ice-cold goal celebrations to embracing – leading, even – the needle in the quarter-final shoot-out win over the Netherlands, Messi has looked like a man possessed by in the pursuit of one final ambition.

He very much picked up where he left off against Croatia here. The first 20 minutes went almost as well as it could have, Messi at the centre of practically everything.

France looked petrified in the face of Argentina's intensity, their aggression; the Albiceleste seemed to relish the expectation on their shoulders.

Les Bleus routinely conceded possession in their own half, inviting pressure and, ultimately, a goal. Angel Di Maria skinned Ousmane Dembele easily and then lured him into a clumsy foul in the box.

The wait for Messi to take the kick felt like an age, but he dispatched it with the nonchalance of a man who already knew his destiny.

It was a just reward for Argentina's ferocious start, and more was to come in the form of an instant all-time classic World Cup final goal.

Again, Messi was crucial. His improbable flick after receiving a tricky pass was devilishly effective. Releasing Julian Alvarez into the France half on the counter, the striker had the awareness to feed Alexis Mac Allister and his perfectly weighted pass into the box left Di Maria with an easy finish.

It capped off a first-half performance that left Didier Deschamps utterly shellshocked, with the France coach's double withdrawal before half-time a first for a World Cup final.

But Argentina shrunk after the break and their plan to sit on a 2-0 lead proved ill-conceived. France did not initially threaten, but once they did, Lionel Scaloni's men were suddenly in a sorry state – oh, how the tables turned.

Mbappe slammed home one penalty, and just 97 seconds later found the net again – a clinical finish after a clever one-two with Marcus Thuram. It was Messi who yielded possession in the build-up to what had only five minutes earlier looked an impossible equaliser.

While Mbappe had gone from 0-100 in the blink of an eye, Argentina's captain suddenly looked exhausted, physically and emotionally. It was slipping through his fingers in the most excruciating way. 

And yet, even in the face of the newly inspired Mbappe, Messi stood out as the man most likely to deliver the telling blow.

Indeed, Argentina thought Messi had won it when he tapped in after Hugo Lloris failed to hold Lautaro Martinez's strike in the second half of extra time.

But back came France. Again. Another Mbappe penalty brought despair to the Argentina team, bench and crowd. A shoot-out beckoned, and even then only after Emiliano Martinez had saved brilliantly from Randal Kolo Muani at the death.

And so it was that the most outrageous of World Cup finals was going all the way; Messi's last tango was going to be as agonisingly intense as possible.

Mbappe stepped up first and scored, of course, but Messi matched that with a penalty so cool-headed that his team-mates must surely have drawn inspiration from it.

Emiliano Martinez's save from Kingsley Coman and Aurelien Tchouameni's woeful miss proved decisive. Argentina cried; France stood in shock having come so close to their own seismic moment in history, fighting back twice in defence of their title, only to leave with nothing.

But this was all about Messi. The greatest player of all time finally got his chance to lift the most coveted prize in football, the one trophy his greatness demanded. Argentina flocked to him, barely a dry eye in the stadium.

"Messi! Messi! Messi!" fans sang at full-time as the huge crowd in Lusail revelled in the gravity of what they had just witnessed.

This was what World Cup finals are supposed to be like, but in virtually every way there will probably never be another like this.

It was the football equivalent of man setting foot on the moon for the first time; in future years people will reminisce over where they were when Messi won the World Cup, and the sheer lunacy of the game will only add to what was already a captivating tale.

At long last, Messi took his own giant leap, finally conquering his final frontier.

Lionel Messi has won the World Cup Golden Ball, becoming the first man to do so twice, after inspiring Argentina to a penalty shoot-out victory over France following a scintillating Qatar 2022 final.

Messi, who steered La Albiceleste to their first world title since 1986, scored a double in an undulating classic that finished 3-3 after extra time, before scoring in a shoot-out that Argentina won 4-2 to make history in Doha.

Having been named the Golden Ball winner eight years ago at Brazil 2014, when Argentina were edged by Germany in the final, the 35-year-old twice looked poised for heartbreak again after Kylian Mbappe's hat-trick.

But after Emiliano Martinez saved Kingsley Coman's spot-kick, Gonzalo Montiel's decisive penalty ensured he claimed the greatest prize of all in his last World Cup game.

It means Messi emulates countryman Diego Maradona once more, too, with Maradona the player of the tournament in Argentina's previous triumph 36 years ago.

The seven-time Ballon d'Or winner departs World Cup football after one of the most influential tournament performances of all time on a match-to-match basis, taking his total of Player of the Match wins to 11 across five tournaments.

He was named the Player of the Match in five games, including all of their prior knockout fixtures and the final, besting the record of four he previously jointly shared with the Netherlands' Wesley Sneijder after his performances in 2014.

Mbappe, meanwhile, won up the Silver Ball and Croatia's Luca Modric - the previous Golden Ball winner at Russia 2018 - was named the recipient of the Bronze Ball.

Lionel Messi is on a par with Diego Maradona and deserves to lift the World Cup for the first time on Sunday, believes his former Argentina team-mate Javier Zanetti.

Argentina will appear in their sixth World Cup final at the Lusail Stadium on Sunday, when they will look to prevent France from becoming the first team to retain the trophy since Brazil in 1962.

Messi will claim the World Cup appearance record outright by playing his 26th and likely final game at the tournament, while he could become the first player to record 20 goal contributions in the competition (currently 11 goals, eight assists).

The Argentina captain's talismanic displays in Qatar have been compared with those of Maradona during the Albiceleste's 1986 triumph, and Zanetti cannot split the legendary duo.

"Messi is a great player, I think he's on a par with Diego," he told reporters in Doha on Thursday.

"I think a lot of people want Messi to win because of what he represents in the world and because of the way he interprets football.

"Leo deserves it and the boys are making a great effort to get to that moment. He is the strongest player in the world and he makes a difference on the field."


However, the Inter great is not taking victory for granted, adding: "I hope that Argentina can bring the World Cup to our country. 

"I'm worried about [Kylian] Mbappe, [Antoine] Griezmann, [Olivier] Giroud, if [Adrien] Rabiot plays he is a quality player, and they have a great goalkeeper. 

"It's a group that has been working for a long time with this coach. It's a very complete team, very organised. But it's a final and anything can happen."

Meanwhile, fellow former Argentina international Diego Milito hailed Messi's displays as he said both sides were deserving of their place in the final.

"We know him, we know what he is capable of, that he is the best player in the world," Milito said of Messi. "He is having an extraordinary World Cup and he deserves it.

"The best two teams reached the final. It's a very difficult match but we are confident in the team.

"We are happy to be able to be in the final. Hopefully this Sunday will be a good final and we can achieve what we have been looking forward to for a long time. 

"This team has given much joy to the people, they have come on a path from the [2021] Copa America, and must be very happy and excited."

Lionel Messi became the player with the most assists on record in World Cup knockout matches on Friday, surpassing Pele when he teed up Nahuel Molina's goal against the Netherlands.

Messi produced a trademark assist as Argentina hit the front 35 minutes into their quarter-final clash with the Oranje, slipping a fine reverse ball behind a packed defence for Molina to finish.

Since such records began in 1966, no player has matched Messi's tally of five assists in knockout ties at the tournament, with Pele managing four.

Molina's goal also gave Messi his seventh World Cup assist overall – all of which have come for different goalscorers.

Since 1966, only fellow Argentina great Diego Maradona has laid on more goals at the tournament as a whole, recording eight assists.

Lionel Messi has now gone past Diego Maradona for World Cup appearances and goals – and the Argentina number 10 has pulled exactly level with his predecessor on two important statistics that showcase their creative brilliance.

Saturday's hard-fought 2-1 win over Australia carried Argentina into the quarter-finals, with Messi scoring the ninth World Cup goal of his career to put Lionel Scaloni's team 1-0 in front in the first half.

That nudged Messi ahead of Maradona's career haul of eight goals, while he has moved to 23 World Cup appearances during this tournament, two ahead of his late compatriot and fellow number 10 shirt wearer's previous national team record.

Messi is just one behind Gabriel Batistuta's record of 10 World Cup goals with Argentina, and he may have that in the back of his mind ahead of Friday's last-eight clash with the Netherlands.

The Paris Saint-Germain forward is picking off records as he goes during this tournament, and he will surely overtake two more Maradona marks in that clash with Louis van Gaal's team.

That is because Messi and Maradona are now exactly level when it comes to chances created and open play chances created at the World Cup.


They have both created 67 chances, and with each man, 48 of those chances have come about in open play, Opta data shows.

Messi created four chances in all against Australia, including a golden opportunity for Lautaro Martinez that the substitute ballooned wastefully late in the game as Argentina looked to put the game beyond their gallant opponents.

Where Maradona beats Messi is in goal assists. Maradona's eight from 1982 to 1994 beats Messi's haul of six assists to date, since his World Cup debut at the 2006 finals.

Maradona was the driving force behind Argentina's 1986 World Cup triumph in Mexico, and later coached the national team, notably at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

He died in November 2020 at the age of 60.

Saturday's game against Australia was the 1,000th of Messi's career for club and country.


Lionel Messi says Diego Maradona would be "super happy" after he overtook the late Argentina great as his country's most capped player at a World Cup.

Paris Saint-Germain superstar Messi played a full part in Wednesday's 2-0 win over Poland that secured Argentina top spot in Group C and a last-16 tie with Australia.

Messi, who had a penalty saved by Wojciech Szczesny with the game level, was making his 22nd appearance in the competition – one more than his former coach Maradona.

"I only learned about this record recently," Messi said when told about his latest achievement. "It's a pleasure to be able to continue achieving these kinds of records.

"I think Diego would be super happy for me because he's always showed me a lot of affection. He was always happy when things went well for me."

Messi could yet take another record from Maradona, as the 63 chances he has created at World Cups in recorded history is second only to his compatriot, who created 67.

The 35-year-old's blank against Poland came on the back of netting in the shock 2-1 loss to Saudi Arabia and 2-0 win over Mexico in Argentina's opening two games in Qatar.

The seven shots he amassed against Poland is his highest tally without scoring in a match for Argentina since a 1-1 draw with Iceland at the 2018 World Cup (11).


Second-half goals from Alexis Mac Allister and Julian Alvarez ensured Argentina secured the win they needed, though, and they are now strong favourites to overcome Australia.

"After the first goal, everything went our way," said Messi, who was part of the Argentina squad that finished runners-up to Germany at the 2014 World Cup.

"We started doing again what we had been trying to do since the start of the World Cup, but which we hadn't been able to achieve for various reasons.

"Having been able to do it today, it gives us confidence for the future."

Messi will be looking to score in the knockout stages of the World Cup for the first time on Saturday, with all eight of his previous goals coming in the group stage.

He has had 23 efforts without finding the net beyond the first round, though he did assist in the last 16 in each of the 2010, 2014 and 2018 editions.

Lionel Messi is set to break Diego Maradona's record of the most World Cup appearances for Argentina after being named in their starting XI against Poland.

The late, great Maradona played 21 games at World Cup tournaments and Wednesday's match at Stadium 974 will be Messi's 22nd on this stage.

But Messi will be hoping that is not the only way he can eclipse Maradona at the 2022 World Cup.

Argentina find themselves in a tricky position heading into the Group C encounter, with elimination a real possibility.

If La Albiceleste lose, they will be knocked out, while a draw may not be enough to take them through to the last 16 either.

Although regarded by many as the greatest player ever, Messi's legacy will forever be tinged by World Cup failure if he does not lift the trophy Maradona inspired his nation to in 1986.

On the other hand, success in Qatar would arguably see Messi conquer the final frontier of the "GOAT" debate.

Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni made subtle changes elsewhere in his starting XI, with Julian Alvarez coming in for Lautaro Martinez up top, while Lisandro Martinez was replaced at centre-back by the fit-again Cristian Romero.

Enzo Fernandez, scorer of a stunning clincher in the 2-0 win over Mexico last time out, was named among the midfielders, while Scaloni swapped out Gonzalo Montiel at right-back for Nahuel Molina.

Argentina will be looking to progress to the knockout stages for a 13th time in their last 14 World Cup appearances, with their only group stage elimination during this period coming in 2002.

Meanwhile, Messi is only two short of Gabriel Batistuta's record of the most World Cup goals scored for Argentina (10).

Jorge Burruchaga believes "you can feel" the absence of former team-mate Diego Maradona at the first World Cup since the ex-Argentina captain's death in 2020.

Maradona, who skippered La Albiceleste to glory in 1986, was remembered at an event to mark the second anniversary of his passing from a cardiac arrest at the age of 60.

Burruchaga – also part of that victorious side in Mexico 36 years ago – paid tribute to "a unique legend," whose presence he claims can be felt among his former team-mates.

"The last time we spoke was a couple of months before his passing," the former attacking midfielder told La Gazzetta dello Sport.

"We reunited when I returned to Argentina to coach Gimnasia La Plata. I can't say we were close friends, perhaps we had a closer bond on the pitch than off it, but we respected each other after a long path together.

"This is the first World Cup without him, and you can feel it. He is a unique legend, football lost its most valuable treasure. But I can feel his presence here among us, and I am not being rhetorical."

Burruchaga and Maradona combined for the winning goal in the 1986 final victory over West Germany, who recovered from 2-0 down to level at 2-2 with six minutes remaining at the Azteca Stadium.

The mercurial Maradona's perfectly weighted first-time throughball released Burruchaga, who raced away from the defence before scoring to seal their nation's second World Cup triumph.

"Diego was angry after Germany’s equaliser and told us a few things," the 60-year-old remembers. "We were up by two goals, I am not saying it was an easy match, but we had it in hand.

"Diego saw an upset Jorge Valdano [after Germany’s equaliser], but told him: 'No worries, we are going to win this.' And he made us win. After my goal, he celebrated and looked to the sky. I was so proud to see him happy thanks to my strike."

Argentina's latest quest for a third title – and what could be Lionel Messi's final shot at glory – began with a shock 2-1 defeat by Saudi Arabia in Group C, from which they will seek a response against Mexico on Saturday.

The ultimate prize in football is the only one missing from Messi's well-stocked cabinet, but Burruchaga hopes that will be rectified this year.

He added: "Over the last 40 years, the God of football has been Argentinean, and Messi would deserve the World Cup to crown an extraordinary career."

The FIFA World Cup Golden Ball award should be renamed in Diego Maradona's honour, according to ex-Argentina team-mate Nery Pumpido.

The former Argentina captain, who won the award after leading his country to World Cup glory in 1986, was remembered at an event to mark the second anniversary of his death.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino said Maradona should be remembered at each subsequent tournament with a day of celebration for his significant impact on football.

Pumpido - goalkeeper of the victorious side in Mexico 36 years ago - believes his former team-mate could be honoured with a subsequent renaming of the Golden Ball, awarded to the best player at every World Cup Finals.

"It would be great if the award for the best player of the World Cup was renamed Diego Armando Maradona," he said. "It's a good idea."

Pumpido was one of many former Argentina players in attendance. Among them were 1978 World Cup-winning goalkeeper Ubaldo Fillol, who felt "a tremendous source of pride" at honouring Maradona.

Meanwhile Jorge Valdano - the scorer of La Albiceleste's second goal in their 1986 final win over West Germany - fondly remembers his former captain's impact on the tournament in Mexico.

That included his inspirational display against England in the quarter-finals - the infamous 'Hand of God' goal accompanied by one of the greatest individual efforts in history.

"Like the great maestros of painting, he made sketches during the [1986] World Cup," Valdano said. "I remember the game against Uruguay in the round of 16, where Diego was unstoppable,

"I thought that it was impossible to play better than what Diego played that day, but no, that was just a sketch for his definitive work and like all maestros, he chose the right day, the right opponent, the right place for his work - against England.

"[Against England] he completed his most wonderful work that took him to another place. From that day, he became a hero, he became a legend, he became a symbol and that is why we are here.

"He did nothing more than elevate the Argentine national team and also world football. I propose that, despite the fact that the remembrance is necessarily sad, to remember him with joy. 

"If Diego has left us something, it is a debt of happiness and gratitude. I am very happy that he is still so present in all of us as this extraordinary call shows."

Argentina's latest quest for a third World Cup title - and what could be Lionel Messi's final shot at glory - began with a shock 2-1 defeat by Saudi Arabia in Group C, from which they will seek a response against Mexico on Saturday.

The ultimate prize in football is the only one missing from Messi's well-stocked cabinet after an astonishing career, but former midfielder Daniel Bertoni, who lifted the trophy in 1978, insists the Paris Saint-Germain forward needs help in his mission.

"Messi's legacy? He has to be a champion," he said. "It's not an obligation, the World Cup is not won by one player alone.

"Messi is the ace of spades, you have to put the other cards around him, I think he has to be accompanied by the team."

Diego Maradona should have a day of celebration dedicated to him at every World Cup, according to FIFA president Gianni Infantino.

The legendary Argentine died at the age of 60 in November 2020 after suffering a cardiac arrest.

Paying tribute during the Qatar World Cup at an event to mark the second anniversary of Maradona's death, Infantino said the mercurial figure should be remembered at each subsequent tournament for his significant impact on football.

"Diego is immortal, he is with us," Infantino said. "We not only need to pay tribute but to celebrate also Diego. I would like that from now on, at every World Cup we would take one day to celebrate Diego Armando Maradona, because he made so many people fall in love with our sport, football.

"I am Italian and an Inter supporter. I am not Argentinian nor a Napoli supporter, and of course Diego made Inter and Italy cry many times, but we love him.

"I am proud because after our arrival to football, mine and Alejandro [Dominguez, CONMEBOL president], Diego came back to be with us at the World Cup in Russia, and personally I had the chance to speak to him many times and start a friendship, and it was then when I realised his depth.

"Diego was a great leader in Argentina, South America and in all the world. We need to keep celebrating him. I feel great emotion, we would have liked him to be here at this World Cup, but he is in all our hearts."

At Argentina's press conference ahead of their crucial Group C encounter with Mexico, head coach Lionel Scaloni also acknowledged the anniversary of Maradona's death, saying: "It's a very sad day for everyone, tomorrow we will hope to bring some joy for Diego if he is looking down on us.

"Every time we see an image of him, it's unbelievable that he's not here with us. Tomorrow hopefully will be a happy day for all of us."

The Albiceleste were surprisingly beaten 2-1 in their opening World Cup clash against Saudi Arabia, and striker Lautaro Martinez reiterated Scaloni's comment that he and his team-mates will look to honour Maradona by securing a better result against Mexico.

"This is a very special day" the Inter forward said. "We have him in our minds as Argentinians but he was a very important player for everyone in global football, not just us.

"We hope tomorrow we can bring some joy."

Argentina head to their first World Cup since Diego Maradona's death but the Albiceleste great will be there in spirit.

That was the message from Maradona's former agent Guillermo Coppola at the opening of CONMEBOL's 'Tree of Dreams' in Doha to celebrate South America's rich football heritage.

Lionel Scaloni's side are among the pre-tournament favourites in Qatar ahead of Tuesday's Group C opener against Saudi Arabia, searching for a first World Cup crown since a Maradona-inspired triumph in 1986.

There has not been a South American winner of FIFA's top tournament since Brazil in 2002, but Coppola hopes that will change for Argentina in their first outing since Maradona passed in November 2020.

"This is going to be the first World Cup that [Maradona] is not physically with us," said the 74-year-old. "But Diego will always be with us.

"The most precious good for Diego was the football. It wasn't life, which is the most precious good that human beings have.

"It wasn't freedom – to be able to decide and to do – which is the second one, the freedom for him was the ball.

"Where a ball rolls there is Diego, do not forget this, when you see a ball rolling say, there is Diego."

Argentina ended a 28-year wait for major silverware by beating Brazil in the 2021 Copa America final.

That makes this the first World Cup they enter as champions of South America since USA 94 and former Argentina captain Javier Zanetti expects his country to come out fighting as a unified group.

Speaking alongside World Cup winners Oscar Ruggeri and Mario Alberto Kempes, Zanetti added: "It means a lot to have a united, consolidated, solid group.

"I trust that Argentina is a group that came to Qatar knowing well what they want."

While Zanetti, now Inter vice-president, acknowledged the ill-timing of the November World Cup, he has little doubt Argentina will hit the ground running.

"We cannot know about the physical condition because this World Cup is atypical," the 49-year-old continued. 

"It is being played in November and many consecutive games were played recently, so there is a lot of fatigue.

"But in general, I trust that players and national teams will arrive in good condition."

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