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‘Greatest-ever’ Messi powering underdogs Argentina: Martinez

Argentina goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez says the South Americans are happy to be underdogs as they prepare to face defending champions France in the World Cup final on Sunday.

Martinez said Argentina will draw on the experience of their successful 2021 Copa America campaign — as well as the dazzling form of Lionel Messi — in the final at the Lusail Stadium.

Argentina lifted last year’s Copa America title after stunning arch-rivals Brazil in the final at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro.

Martinez said the memory of that win — and the presence of Messi — means Argentina will go into Sunday’s final with no fear of Les Bleus.

“When we won in Brazil, the favourite was considered to be Brazil,” Martinez said on Saturday. “We always like to hear that the opponent is the favourite because we don’t feel superior or inferior to them. 

“And it happens the same right now — people say the favourites are France. But we have the greatest player of all time.”

Martinez said Messi, who is hoping to crown his career with victory in what will be his farewell World Cup appearance, has taken his game to another level since inspiring Argentina to the Copa America last year.

“I saw a great Messi in the Copa America, an exceptional player, one of the best,” Martinez said. “And in this World Cup he took a step forward compared to the Copa America. 

“He’s playing better, both physically and in football terms. It was quite difficult to beat the Messi from the Copa America but he did it.

“This gives energy to the whole squad. He’s excited, he’s full of joy and it helps us very much.”

Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni pushed back at suggestions that Sunday’s final would come down to a duel between Messi and his Paris Saint-Germain team-mate Mbappe.

“The upcoming match will be Argentina against France, not Messi against Mbappe, it’s beyond these players,” Scaloni said. 

“Our weapons and our strengths will be defined by all our players, and not only by these two players. Messi is doing very well and we hope we win. But this will be a match between Argentina and France — there are many players who can define this match.

“I think that tomorrow’s game will be more of a collective effort and not an individual effort.”

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