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After perfect four wins, Lionel Messi says Argentina are close to the level of his ex-Barca team

LIMA – Lionel Messi believes the current Argentina national team are “very close” to the level of his former Barcelona side, after he netted both goals in their 2-0 win over hosts Peru to consolidate their position at the top of South America’s World Cup football qualifying table.

After a perfect four wins, the world champions have a comfortable five-point lead over nearest challengers Uruguay, Brazil and Venezuela. With his brace, Messi also became South America’s all-time leading scorer in World Cup qualifiers with 31 goals.

“This team is impressive, it continues to grow and it plays better and better,” the 36-year-old was quoted as saying by Spanish daily Mundo Deportivo.

“Comparing ourselves to the Barcelona I played in, which is the best team in history, is a lot but I think we are very close because of what we have been demonstrating, for having become champions of South America and the world.

“On a game level, I think we have grown. After winning the World Cup, we are confident and more united. Hopefully, we can continue to grow.”

Messi, who joined Major League Soccer side Inter Miami in the summer, had won 10 La Liga titles and four Champions League crowns with Barcelona before a tearful departure in 2021 for a two-year stint at Paris Saint-Germain.

The seven-time Ballon d’Or winner, who was included in the Argentina squad despite having been sidelined in recent weeks with a muscle problem, came on as a substitute in last Thursday’s 1-0 win over Paraguay but started the game in Lima.

He put the world champions ahead in the 32nd minute with a superb shot after an assist from Nicolas Gonzalez, and doubled their lead 10 minutes later with a fierce finish from Enzo Fernandez’s pass.

Messi was denied a hat-trick in the second half when he had a goal disallowed for offside following a VAR (video assistant referee) review.

But the double was enough for him to become the South American World Cup qualifiers’ all-time record scorer with 31 goals, breaking a tie with Uruguay’s Luis Suarez, his former Barcelona teammate.

Adding that the camaraderie in the Argentina squad has contributed to their performance on the pitch, Messi said: “If there is a good group and a good atmosphere in the locker room, things are much easier.

“We have been showing for a long time that this is a great group.

“There are very young kids who, even though they won everything, want to continue winning things.

“The message that the coach sent after the World Cup is that we were starting from scratch again and that, when you win, it is more difficult to achieve things.”

While the Argentina captain has cast doubt over his participation in the next World Cup, to be co-hosted by the United States, Mexico and Canada in 2026, Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni has declined to talk about life after Messi.

“The team has understood Messi for a long time, it benefits him and he feels comfortable,” he added. “I hope he plays as much as he can because everyone is happy to see him on the pitch.” REUTERS

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