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 By Tim Vickery

Lionel Messi likely to have a big role in shaping Argentina's World Cup squad

After Jorge Sampaoli called Argentina Lionel Messi's team, the FC crew examine whether Messi is influencing squad selection, particularly with the absences of Paulo Dybala and Mauro Icardi.
After Jorge Sampaoli likened the World Cup to a revolver to Lionel Messi's head, the FC crew discuss the pressure on Messi to carry Argentina in Russia.
Argentina's Jorge Sampaoli describes his squad as being Lionel Messi's team and believes the 2018 World Cup will be his tournament to shine.

Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli is off for another round of "shuttle diplomacy", where he will travel through Europe meeting with his key players. The first port of call, logically enough, is Barcelona for a sit down with Lionel Messi.

It is entirely likely that their chat will not be limited to a coach asking a player about his current physical condition. The chances are that the two of them will sit down and, in effect, pick the squad. It is a perfectly reasonable deduction that Messi, Argentina's...

 By Tim Vickery

United States' Copa Centenario a turning point for CONCACAF's World Cup teams

Brazil legend Pele feels Tite will have challenging few months ahead of him in terms of assembling the best XI as the Selecao aim to reach the World Cup final.
Neymar gave a 7-year-old fan the surprise of a lifetime on Steve Harvey's talk show with a heartfelt message and signed Brazil jersey.
Luiz Felipe Scolari who led Brazil to a World Cup win in 2002 thinks Selecao should not focus on individuals ahead of this year's World Cup.

As the World Cup looms closer, a growing level of frustration in the United States soccer community would be understandable. But even though the U.S. national team will not be in Russia, the country can take some comfort from the role it played in shaping the road to the World Cup, especially as far as the South American teams are concerned.

Nowadays the Copa America is played every four years, kicking off a new cycle of competitive action. In the year after the World Cup there has been nothing...

 By Chris Wright

Man United use Lionel Messi boot-cleaning image to inspire academy kids

If Lionel Messi's not too big to clean his own boots, then you can clean yours as well.

That's the message at Manchester United's academy, where a photograph of the Barcelona superstar taking care of his own footwear hangs from the wall.

Messi's a natural choice to deliver a message to today's youngsters. After all, along with former United star Cristiano Ronaldo, he's taken the game to new heights -- winning the Ballon d'Or five times, winning four Champions Leagues and scoring over 600 goals in...

 By Sam Kelly

Argentina's World Cup concerns pile up much like all those Spain goals

ESPN Deportes analyst Ricardo Ortiz joins the FC crew to discuss his positive takeaways from Argentina's defeat against Spain.

The thrashing handed out by Spain on Tuesday evening in Madrid was the joint-worst defeat in the history of the Argentina national team, equaling the 6-1 scorelines suffered against Czechoslovakia in the 1958 World Cup and away to Bolivia in qualifying for the 2010 tournament. It laid bare (if that were needed after the qualifying campaign) some serious problems in Argentina's preparations for this year's World Cup.

Here are six reasons things that went so badly wrong for Argentina -- one for each...

 By Ian Darke

World Cup 2018: Only five real favourites to win in Russia

The FC panel answer your tweets on the player most likely to win the World Cup Golden Boot, the differences between Maradona's Argentina and Messi's Argentina and more.
ESPN FC's Steve Nicol and Ale Moreno delve into the differences between Paul Pogba's play with France versus his recent form with Man United.
The FC panel answer your tweets on why Cristiano Ronaldo doesn't have the same pressure to win the World Cup as Lionel Messi, the 'Bayern problem' in the Bundesliga and more.

The World Cup is less than three months away. If that does not quicken the pulse, you're probably better off with a good book. For the rest of us, the guessing games and predictions start here. Late injuries to key players could still upset calculations, but for this observer, there are only five teams with a realistic chance of lifting the trophy.

Top of that list would be defending champions Germany, who have a squad stacked with top players and a coach in Joachim Low with course and distance...

 By Michael Cox

Spain impress collectively; Brazil and Argentina need Neymar and Messi

The FC panel answer your tweets on the player most likely to win the World Cup Golden Boot, the differences between Maradona's Argentina and Messi's Argentina and more.
After Argentina conceded six goals in their friendly against Spain, the ESPN FC guys discuss how much should be read into the result.
ESPN FC's Steve Nicol and Ale Moreno delve into the differences between Paul Pogba's play with France versus his recent form with Man United.

Assessing the contenders to win the World Cup results in two obvious conclusions.

The first is negative: There are fewer genuine contenders than in 2010 or 2014. This is partly the consequence of some high-profile absences; Netherlands and Italy are usually among either the favourites or the best-placed outsiders, while Chile were many people's dark horses ahead of the previous two editions. When combined with a sense that the likes of Colombia, Uruguay and Portugal are probably weaker than four...