Porto Alegre, June 22: Lionel Messi is struggling to comprehend how Argentina are in danger of Copa America group-stage elimination as they prepare to face Qatar in a crucial clash on Sunday.
Argentina lost to Colombia in their first game and could only draw with Paraguay last time out, leaving them bottom of Group B, below Qatar on goal difference.
La Albiceleste have been in turmoil for 12 months, having endured a miserable World Cup campaign that cost Jorge Sampaoli his job, and they have rarely looked like a cohesive unit since Lionel Scaloni stepped up to the position.
Failure to get out of the group at the Copa America would be a new low, particularly given third place could be enough to see them progress.
"We have to think positively and keep our confidence," Messi told reporters. "We need to improve and arrive in the best shape possible for the next match... and we have to win.
"It would be crazy if we couldn't progress from the group given there are practically three teams that go through.
"We knew it wasn't going to be easy playing in a Copa America, we're searching for a team, for a performance.
"Venezuela made it hard for Brazil. At the moment, we're not winning any more in the shirt and we have to put things right to earn the three points against Qatar."
Tournament guests Qatar have given a solid account of themselves so far, with the 2019 Asian Cup champions drawing 2-2 with Paraguay in their opener before suffering a slender 1-0 defeat to Colombia, one of the favourites to lift the trophy.
Qatar defender Tarek Salman was particularly impressed by the side's showing against Colombia, but hopes they learn from their mistakes against Argentina.
"We are proud with our display against Colombia. Hopefully we will do well against Argentina also," he said.
"It was a tough match against Colombia. We deserved a draw. We had a lot of chances to score while the Colombians played one of their best matches.
"These are the games you see now, and we have to forget this clash and look to our meeting against Argentina."
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Qatar – Almoez Ali
The star of the Qatar side and their biggest threat in attack, Ali will surely be crucial to their hopes of securing a spot in the next round. It is difficult to see Argentina drawing a blank, meaning the goalscoring burden will be on Ali.
Argentina – Lionel Messi
As ever, all eyes will be on Messi, regardless of how well the rest of the team plays. As their talisman and captain, all of Argentina will be hoping Messi can weave his magic to avoid humiliation.
KEY OPTA FACTS
- Argentina have lost only two of their last 23 games against Asian countries in all competitions (W18 D3). Both were friendlies, against China in 1984 (0-1) and Japan in 2010 (0-1). - Argentina have won their last six games against Asian countries on neutral venues: three in World Cups, one in the Confederations Cup and two in friendlies. - The last time Argentina failed to progress from the group stage of a Copa America was in 1983, when only one of three teams per group was advancing. - Argentina have earned only one point in their first two matches of the tournament, their worst Copa America start since 1979, when they lost their first two games. - Messi was the only player from Argentina to have more than one shot on target (two) in the draw against Paraguay. Both came from set-pieces (a direct free-kick and a penalty).