Messi on a par with Maradona ahead of final shot at World Cup glory, says Zanetti

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Lionel Messi is on a par with Diego Maradona and deserves to lift the World Cup for the first time on Sunday, believes his former Argentina team-mate Javier Zanetti.

Argentina will appear in their sixth World Cup final at the Lusail Stadium on Sunday, when they will look to prevent France from becoming the first team to retain the trophy since Brazil in 1962.

Messi will claim the World Cup appearance record outright by playing his 26th and likely final game at the tournament, while he could become the first player to record 20 goal contributions in the competition (currently 11 goals, eight assists).

The Argentina captain’s talismanic displays in Qatar have been compared with those of Maradona during the Albiceleste’s 1986 triumph, and Zanetti cannot split the legendary duo.

“Messi is a great player, I think he’s on a par with Diego,” he told reporters in Doha on Thursday.

“I think a lot of people want Messi to win because of what he represents in the world and because of the way he interprets football.

“Leo deserves it and the boys are making a great effort to get to that moment. He is the strongest player in the world and he makes a difference on the field.”

However, the Inter great is not taking victory for granted, adding: “I hope that Argentina can bring the World Cup to our country.

“I’m worried about [Kylian] Mbappe, [Antoine] Griezmann, [Olivier] Giroud, if [Adrien] Rabiot plays he is a quality player, and they have a great goalkeeper.

“It’s a group that has been working for a long time with this coach. It’s a very complete team, very organised. But it’s a final and anything can happen.”

Meanwhile, fellow former Argentina international Diego Milito hailed Messi’s displays as he said both sides were deserving of their place in the final.

“We know him, we know what he is capable of, that he is the best player in the world,” Milito said of Messi. “He is having an extraordinary World Cup and he deserves it.

“The best two teams reached the final. It’s a very difficult match but we are confident in the team.

“We are happy to be able to be in the final. Hopefully this Sunday will be a good final and we can achieve what we have been looking forward to for a long time.

“This team has given much joy to the people, they have come on a path from the [2021] Copa America, and must be very happy and excited.”

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