Argentina meet the Netherlands in the quarterfinals in Qatar
Lionel Messi is expecting a major test of Argentina's World Cup credentials when they take on the Netherlands in the quarterfinal in Qatar on Friday. The Argentine captain has also tipped Brazil, France and Spain as strong contenders for the title.
Messi was on target for Argentina as they edged past Australia in their last-16 encounter on Saturday, taking his tally in Qatar to three goals in four games.
The 2-1 win against the Socceroos was also a landmark match for Messi, who was playing his 1,000th career game.
Next up for Argentina are Louis van Gaal's Dutch team, who booked their quarterfinal spot with a 3-1 win against the USA on Saturday.
"It's going to be a terrific match against the Netherlands, as the entire World Cup has been," Messi told Argentine outlet Ole.
"It is a great team, with great players and a great coach. And it will be very hard."
The last time the two teams met at the World Cup was in the semifinals at Brazil 2014, when Argentina prevailed on penalties following a 0-0 draw.
Argentina and Messi went on to lose the final 1-0 to Germany.
Messi said that heading into the tournament in Qatar, Argentina firmly believed that they would be "one of the candidates" for the title.
Despite a shock opening game defeat to Saudi Arabia, they have bounced back with wins against Mexico, Poland, and Australia.
"Argentina is a power and is always among the best. We knew that before coming here we were one of the candidates because of what we had been doing and we had to prove it on the field.
"And luckily we have been doing it and hopefully we will continue taking small steps," said Messi.
Elsewhere, Messi tipped five-time winners Brazil, reigning champions France, and 2010 winners Spain as major threats to Argentina's chances.
"As we said at the beginning, Brazil is playing very well, despite the defeat against Cameroon, they continue to be one of the great favorites," said the 35-year-old.
"Also France. And Spain, despite things turning out how they did, are playing very well, they are very clear about what they do when they have the ball, they control possession for a long time in the game."
One name Argentina will not have to contend with is Germany - the nation that beat them in the final eight years ago.
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Messi said he was "surprised" by the group-stage exit endured by the Germans in Qatar, which matched their failure in Russia in 2018.
"Because they had many important players, they had a young team and because Germany is always among the best. It is surprising that again in a World Cup they are out in the first round," said Messi.
"But this is the World Cup, which shows how difficult it is, how the name of the team no longer matters."