Argentina’s former right-back Pablo Zabaleta has said the Argentina captain Lionel Messi is under a lot of stress and looks unhappy at this World Cup.
With Argentina unable to fix their issues so far, they have largely expected Messi to get them out of trouble. Too many times he was not provided with the means with which he could help his team. The concern and the pressure Messi might be feeling was all too evident during the national anthem before Argentina’s match against Croatia. It looked like he was having some kind of premonition.
Zabaleta was of the opinion that too much is expected of the playmaker. "The happiest I saw Lionel Messi when I played alongside him for Argentina was in 2012 - he scored a hat-trick against Brazil in New York, and he played the whole game with freedom and a smile on his face," he wrote in his BBC Sport column.
"His body language was completely the opposite before the Croatia game on Thursday. To see Leo looking so stressed and unhappy at this World Cup was a real worry.
"He is my friend as well as my former team-mate and I felt really sorry for him. It is very unusual to see him like that, but it was a sign of what was going on in his head.
"At times like this, there is a huge pressure on him because people expect too much, and for him to do everything for the national team.
"I was not surprised he struggled, in what was a disastrous defeat for us. As a player myself, I know that if you go into a game and you don't really enjoy it then it is very difficult to play well."
Messi has the chance to put things right. He missed the penalty against Iceland in the first game and then became a complete non-event in the second game against Croatia, where Modric and Co. cut out his supply line. The baggage from previous failures is weighing heavily not just on Messi but all the players from Argentina. Zabaleta believes that it is harder for Messi to perform in this climate.
"In Argentina, that is not enough. For some people, and for parts of the media, you have to win - just reaching the final is not acceptable. So losing three finals in four years has been tough mentally and psychologically for everyone in that team, especially Leo.
"It is hard when people in your country treat you like a loser. They see him winning trophies every season with Barcelona - so they expect him to do exactly the same in the national team,” he concluded.