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It feels like Lionel Messi has been criticized on his play with the Argentine national team ever since he put on the Albiceleste. Disappointing outcomes in the 2010 FIFA World Cup and last year's Copa America in Argentina have led people to conclude that Messi cannot lead Argentina to any titles anytime soon.
If Messi wants to build on his 2011-12 season, he will need to continue his recent setup in leadership that he has shown with the national team.
In February, Messi—now as captain of the national team—grabbed his first international hat trick, as he led Argentina passed Switzerland in a friendly match. Leo set up his teammates with assists and grabbed a goal of his own, as Argentina stomped Ecuador 4-0 in their first World Cup qualifier of the year.
Messi had one of his best games playing for his country last week, picking up hat trick—topped off with an incredible golazo for the game-winner—effectively bringing his team back to defeat Brazil 4-3 in a "friendly" match between the rival countries.
Argentina has four more World Cup qualifiers left in 2012: vs. Paraguay (Sept. 7), at Peru (Sept. 11), vs. Uruguay (Oct. 12) and at Chile (Oct. 16). Messi is going to have to continue his leadership as Argentina will look to sit comfortably in the CONMEBOL standings.
Messi doesn't have to score all the goals for Argentina; he just needs to continue doing what he has been recently doing—setting up his teammates, which will eventually lead to him getting goals of his own.
One last thing that may not hurt is if Messi was a bit more vocal to his national team teammates as well. In a recent interview, Diego Maradona expressed his desire to see Messi lead Argentina.
"He is a very quiet kid, he earned the captaincy by virtue of his play and all his goals and maybe with time he will learn to lead, to shout or head meetings like captains do—but this will come with time."
This Argentina team is Messi's, and he needs to continue to lead all the way to Brazil 2014 and beyond.
Xoel, The Voice of FC Barcelona on Bleacher Report and Featured Columnist for Spain for Euro 2012.
Follow me on Twitter:@XoelCardenas
Don’t forget to check out my other columns:
FC Barcelona: 25 Questions We'd Love to Ask Lionel Messi
FC Barcelona, La Liga Get New Television Home in the US