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‘The spirit of Maradona is inspiring Messi’

Lionel Messi is channelling the spirit of Diego Maradona to drive Argentina’s bid for World Cup glory, according to former Albiceleste midfielder Ossie Ardiles. Messi provided a goal and an assist as Argentina overcame the Netherlands on penalties in the last eight, and he will hope to lead his country to their sixth World Cup final when they meet Croatia in Tuesday’s semi-final.

Can Messi take Argentina to World Cup glory?

The seven-time Ballon d’Or winner showed a different side to his personality after that game, angrily confronting Oranje boss Louis van Gaal and pausing a post-match interview to shout at Dutch striker Wout Weghorst. Ardiles, who played for Argentina between 1975 and 1982, believes Messi’s displays of passion are akin to Albiceleste icon Maradona, which is firing up supporters.

“I know in England some people were surprised at his aggressive reaction after the Netherlands game, the confrontation with Louis van Gaal and some Dutch players,” he told the Daily Mail.

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Osvaldo Ardiles for Argentina back in the day.Mark Leech/OffsideGetty Images

“Van Gaal had tried to get Messi to react before the game, inflaming the fire by talking about how Messi didn’t defend well for the team. Then, during the penalties, the Dutch players were constantly trying to disrupt the Argentinian players, playing mind games by walking up to them and celebrating by them if they missed.

“This isn’t to justify what happened but to understand it. There was a lot going on, unsavoury scenes from both sides. But in Argentina many people loved this new image of Messi. It wasn’t normal for him. It was more of a Maradona reaction, which means the people love him even more.

“The old perception was that he was cold and not passionate. Now they feel his desire to win for Argentina. We are Latin people. We react and show our emotions. Sometimes maybe we overreact.”

The Paris Saint-Germain forward has assumed a familiar talismanic role in Qatar, with his return of six goal contributions – four goals and two assists – only bettered by Kylian Mbappé, who has five goals and two assists.

World Cup: Argentina Maradona vs Messi

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World Cup: Argentina Maradona vs MessiAS English

Messi has both scored and assisted in two different games at this World Cup, and in three at the tournament overall. Since 1966, no player has done so on four occasions. The 35-year-old needs one more goal to surpass Gabriel Batistuta’s tally of 10 World Cup strikes for Argentina, and Ardiles believes he is playing with less pressure since leading his country to Copa America glory last year.

“You could see in his face that the pressure had been lifted and you could feel it among the people as well,” he added. “They could see the team was rallying to him. And the whole country, even the previous critics, embraced him. He had always been the focal point, but now he is much more of a leader. And it looks as though the players in Qatar are determined to win it for him.

“Maybe there have been World Cups where he has played better, as a younger player. But there has never been a World Cup where his influence has been as important as it is now. He leads this team off the pitch and on the pitch, all their creative play comes through him. He is not just Argentina’s most important player, but he is the most important player at the World Cup.”

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