|Lionel Messi during a training session, in Belo Horizonte. (Reuters)
Belo Horizonte: Argentina are playing far below their best, are over-reliant on Lionel Messi and must improve if they are to beat Belgium in their World Cup quarter-finals, according to Diego Maradona.
“We still haven’t got started,” Maradona, who won the 1986 World Cup with Argentina, said in a withering analysis of the team’s performances so far at the tournament in Brazil.
“They need to get it into their heads that we can’t be ‘Sporting Messi’. Maybe he can score a great goal ... but if it doesn’t come off for the kid, we can’t jump on him tomorrow as if he’s guilty of the Argentine disaster.”
He said Argentina’s big-name team were playing at only 40 per cent of their capacity and criticised them for only squeaking past Switzerland 1-0 with a last-gasp goal in extra time.
“Man-for-man, and collectively, Argentina are better. They (the Swiss) may make good watches but they have few footballers,” the always controversial Maradona said.
Messi has won Man-of-the-Match in each game, and scored four of Argentina’s seven goals.
But the wins have all been by one-goal margins and have masked some subdued individual performances by other players expected to make bigger contributions.
“The kid (Messi) is very alone... The team doesn’t have a change of rhythm, movements in its strikers,” added Maradona, saying the players lacked a give-it-all attitude.
Meanwhile, Venezuela’s soccer federation said it has not considered hiring Maradona as coach of its squad. “There has not been a proposal to hire Maradona, despite insistence in recent hours by different media and social networks,” the federation said in a statement.
Maradona had said he could become the coach of Venezuela, the only South American country that has never made it to the World Cup.