Lionel Messi expects a major test of Argentina’s World Cup qualification when they take on the Netherlands in the quarter-finals in Qatar on Friday. The Argentina captain also named Brazil, France and Spain as serious title contenders.
Messi was on target for Argentina as they edged past Australia in their round of 16 on Saturday, taking his tally in Qatar to three goals from four games.
The 2-1 win over the Socceroos was also a historic game for Messi, who was playing his 1,000th career game.
The next Argentinian team will be Louis van Gaal’s Dutch side, who qualified for the quarter-finals with a 3-1 win over the United States on Saturday.
“It will be a great match against the Netherlands, as the whole World Cup has been” Messi told Argentine outlet Ole.
“It’s a great team, with great players and a great coach. And it will be very tough.”
The last time the two teams met at the World Cup was in the semi-finals at Brazil 2014, when Argentina won on penalties after a 0-0 draw.
Argentina and Messi then lost the final 1-0 against Germany.
Messi said that as the tournament in Qatar approaches, Argentina firmly believe they will be “one of the candidates” for the title.
Despite a shock opener loss to Saudi Arabia, they bounced back with wins against Mexico, Poland and Australia.
“Argentina are a power and are always among the best. We knew that before coming here we were among the candidates because of what we had done and we had to prove it on the pitch.
“And fortunately we did and I hope we will continue to take small steps,” said Messi.
Elsewhere, Messi named five-time winners Brazil, defending champions France and 2010 winners Spain as major threats to Argentina’s chances.
“As we said at the beginning, Brazil are playing very well, despite the defeat against Cameroon, they continue to be one of the big favourites”, said the 35-year-old.
“Also France. And Spain, despite things going the way they did, are playing very well, they’re very clear about what they’re doing when they have the ball, they’re in control of possession for a long time in the game.
One name Argentina won’t have to clash with is Germany – the nation that beat them in the final eight years ago.
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Messi said he was “surprised” by the elimination in the group stage suffered by the Germans in Qatar, which equaled their failure in Russia in 2018.
“Because they had a lot of important players, they had a young team and because Germany are always among the best. It is surprising that again in a World Cup they are knocked out in the first round,” said Messi.
“But it’s the World Cup, which shows how difficult it is, how the name of the team no longer matters.”