Argentine football legend Diego Maradona and the country’s President Mauricio Macri urged Lionel Messi not to leave the national team despite his vow to quit after a humiliating defeat.
The Barcelona superstar left the field in tears after missing a spot-kick in the Copa America Centenario final shoot-out against Chile on Sunday.
He promptly told reporters he was quitting, throwing Argentine football into turmoil ahead of the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
“He has to stay because he still has playing days ahead of him,” Maradona was quoted as saying by La Nacion newspaper online.
“He will go to Russia in form to be world champion.”
Messi (29) is widely rated as the best player in the world, but Sunday’s loss was his fourth defeat in an international final for Argentina.
After an outpouring of disappointment by fans online, Macri joined the calls for the Barcelona superstar to stay with Argentina.
“He called him and told him how proud he feels of the national team’s performance and asked him not to listen to the criticism,” a spokesman for Macri said.
The 1986 World Cup winner Maradona (55) blamed Argentina’s recent lack of trophies on the country’s football association (AFA).
He accused it of not supporting Messi and letting him take the blame for Sunday’s defeat.
“Those who are saying he should quit are doing it so that we won’t see what a disaster Argentine football has become,” La Nacion quoted Maradona as saying.
AFA’s headquarters was evacuated earlier on Monday after a bomb hoax, Argentine television channels reported