Argentina face an uphill battle to qualify for next year’s World Cup without their suspended talisman Lionel Messi, according to Albiceleste legend Diego Maradona.
Messi has served one match of a four-game international ban for abusing an assistant referee in a World Cup qualifier last month, reports Xinhua news agency.
“With all due respect to the national team, I think that without Messi we are at risk of missing out on qualifying for the World Cup,” Maradona told Radio Rivadavia.
“I would accept a playoff spot now, but Argentina are always capable of finding something extra.”
Argentina are currently fifth in the South American zone World Cup qualifying standings with four matches remaining.
Only the top four teams will qualify automatically for the tournament in Russia while the fifth-ranked side will earn a playoff berth.
In Messi’s absence, Argentina will play Uruguay, Venezuela and Peru. The Barcelona forward will return for the team’s last qualifier against Ecuador on October 10.
Maradona, who almost single-handedly won the 1986 World Cup for Argentina, called for an end to comparisons between himself and Messi.
“I have finished my career. I enjoyed my time on the pitch. Now it’s Messi’s turn. There doesn’t have to be any comparisons between us,” the 56-year-old said.