“The comparison between Messi and my dad… we are talking about two different planets,” he said on a radio show in Argentina, as one of the biggest upsets in the World Cup history reverberated around the world.
Messi will move level with Maradona in all-time World Cup appearances for Argentina when they face Mexico tomorrow. However, he is facing the prospect of a shock early exit in what might be his final shot at winning a World Cup, and failure to deliver the biggest prize of all would, in the eyes of many Argentinians, end his hopes of ever emulating El Diego.
Maradona led his country to World Cup glory in 1986, while Messi lost his only final, in 2014, and was part of the team that crashed out at the last-16 stage in 2018.
There is now little margin for error for Argentina, who will exit the tournament on just the seventh day of action if they lose against Mexico.
Messi and head coach Lionel Scaloni were the targets of intense criticism from the Argentine press over what La Nacion called “Una derrota historica” — an historic defeat.
“It’s a very heavy blow, a defeat that hurts, but we must continue to have confidence in ourselves,” said Messi. “This group is not going to give up. We will try to beat Mexico.
“This is the time to stick together, to turn the page and not think about what happened. We always said we were going to [try to] win every game, and now more than ever.”
Argentina will need to be much improved against Mexico. They face veteran goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, who saved a penalty from Robert Lewandowski in an underwhelming 0-0 draw that will leave Saudi Arabia quietly confident about their chances of winning Group C.
Ranked 51st in the world, Saudi Arabia had previously won three World Cup games, but they have drawn huge confidence from their shock 2-1 win over Argentina and will again be backed by fans in huge numbers when they face Poland tomorrow at Education City Stadium. Lewandowski, meanwhile, will be looking to bounce back from his penalty miss.
“We will help him,” said Poland manager Czeslaw Michniewicz. “And I am sure he will help us against Argentina and the sensational Saudi Arabia.”