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Argentina will be competitive without Messi, says Crespo

Argentina’s former forward Hernan Crespo said the focus should now be on ensuring Argentina remain a force.

FILE: Argentina fans react to the 2014 Fifa World Cup final at the Fifa Fan Fest on Brazil's Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro on 13 July 2014. Picture: Christa Eybers/EWN.

CHENNAI - Argentina will fight for major honours despite Lionel Messi retiring from international soccer after the disappointment of last month's Copa America final shootout loss to Chile, the country's former forward Hernan Crespo has said.

The 29-year-old Messi, a five-times World Player of the Year, is Argentina's top scorer with 55 goals and although he has played in three Copa America finals in 2007, 2015 and 2016, plus the 2014 World Cup final, Argentina have lost them all.

Despite media reports suggesting the Barcelona forward is reconsidering his decision, Crespo, 41, said the focus should now be on ensuring Argentina remain a force and take the next step to end the country's 23-year wait for a major trophy.

"The Argentina national team is very competitive. If you watch the last three tournaments - two Copa America finals and one World Cup final - you are competitive, you arrive in the final of great events," he told reporters on Saturday.

"I hope to see our national team win but I don't want to say that Messi was at fault, it's not good. Messi played very well. He is the top scorer of the national team. He is the best player in the world. It's unlucky.

"But it's not about Messi. It's about the last 23 years the national team never won (a major trophy). Yes they won the Olympic Games (in 2004 and 2008) but, at the same time, we have lost a lot of finals. However, we are still competitive.

"This is just the way. I think maybe next time we will win."

With European clubs poaching players from South America at a relatively young age, Crespo, who played for clubs across the continent, including Chelsea and AC Milan, urged aspiring youngsters to stay level-headed when they are in the spotlight.

"The world is changing now ... Now it's worse because in six months when you start, somebody (tries to) buy you, and in Argentina you need this kind of money to maintain (hold onto) that level of player," added Argentina's third-highest goalscorer, who plays in India's Premier Futsal league.

"Maybe they are not mature enough to come to Europe but you never know which is the right way. You need to fill your passion. You need to follow that. It's not about sacrifice, your passion is enough to play football. I changed not only the country but the continent when I was 21."

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