Martin Meissner/Associated Press
All eyes on Tuesday will, as ever, be firmly fixed on Argentina captain Lionel Messi as his side attempt to make it through to the quarter-finals of the World Cup. If the forward carries on in the same breathtaking form that he has displayed so far in the tournament, then Switzerland could be in for a long afternoon in Sao Paulo.
Messi scored four goals in his country’s opening three Group F wins, including a brace last time out, as Sabella’s men saw off a brave challenge from Nigeria. The second of those goals was a stunning free-kick that prompted Super Eagles manager Stephen Keshi to claim that the playmaker "is from Jupiter."
However, there are concerns that Argentina, like with Diego Maradona in the past, are becoming too reliant on their inspirational skipper to continually dig them out of holes. (Messi also scored the winners against Bosnia and Herzegovina and Iran.)
Messi won three Man of the Match awards from FIFA in the group phase, so at least the 27-year-old is at last replicating his club form on the international stage. Sabella’s decision to make his star man captain now looks inspired after a recent run in front of goal that has seen Messi net a stunning 24 times for the South Americans in his last 24 internationals heading into the clash with the Swiss.
All of which is in stark contrast to how the diminutive attacker has often performed for his country in the past, especially during the 2011 Copa America on home soil. There, Messi’s limp performances were heavily criticised as the hosts crashed out on penalties to Uruguay.
But that has all been forgotten following the player’s memorable piece of individual brilliance against Bosnia and Herzegovina, followed by his stunning last-gasp curler that so deflated Iranian hearts. As Ed Malyon wrote in the Daily Mirror:
As a footballer and a sportsman, the current Argentine captain is on the cusp of overtaking the man whose legendary No.10 shirt he has finally filled.
As a teen, having moved to Barcelona, they said that young Leo could be the next Maradona. Future generations will search for the new Messi.
An Argentine fan’s banner on Wednesday featured the faces of the Argentine pontiff Francis, Maradona and Messi. Above them, it read: 'The Pope, God and the Messiah', hinting at divine intervention. ...
... With him in this form though, they can dream of the stars.
And Switzerland will need no reminding whatsoever about the threat that La Pulga poses to them. Messi scored his only international hat-trick ever in 2012, the last time the countries met in a friendly.