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Argentina's Lionel Messi hopes football pays him back with World Cup win

The ESPN FC crew feel Group D which contains Argentina, Iceland, Croatia and Nigeria could prove to be the most exciting group of them all.

Lionel Messi hopes football "ends up paying" the debt the sport owes him at the 2018 World Cup after losing three straight finals with Argentina in a three-year span.

Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli said after Messi's hat trick at Ecuador in the 3-1 win in their final qualifier on Oct. 10 that football "owes Messi a World Cup." 

The Albiceleste went into that game in danger of missing out not only on direct qualification but a spot in the playoffs.

Messi's performance earned Argentina a spot in next year's tournament in Russia and again underlined the Barcelona forward's importance to his national team.

When asked to comment on Sampaoli's remarks, Messi told FIFA: "Yes, I did hear it, and he said it to me too. I hope football does end up paying me!"

He recently looked back at those three finals -- two Copa America and the 2014 World Cup -- he has lost with Argentina and felt his national team "deserved to win at least two of those." 

Lionel Messi was central to Argentina's qualification for the 2018 World Cup.

Messi says the 2014 World Cup final defeat to Germany is still an open wound.

"It's going to be there forever," he said. "I don't know if they're ever going to heal. We're just going to have to live with it. The World Cup is a very happy memory and a bitter one too because of how it ended, how it all worked out. But it's always going to be there."

Messi is, however, glad to get another chance to win that title.

"It was very important because missing out on the World Cup would have been a huge blow, firstly for the squad as a whole and then for me on a personal level," he said. "I don't know how I would have taken it. The same goes for the people of Argentina. Failing to make Russia would have been an all-time low for the country."

Messi turned 30 in June and says he is "very pleased" with life on and off the pitch.

"To tell you the truth, I never thought about how I'd be feeling when I got here [30]," he said.

"But I'm very happy with both my personal life and football. I'd say I'm in good shape on and off the pitch. I'm very pleased with where I am right now."

Argentina will take on Croatia, Iceland and Nigeria in Group D at the World Cup and Messi expects Argentina to give a better image than in qualifying.

"We've had four competitive matches with a new coach [Sampaoli]," Messi said. "But the national team's going to change now that the Ecuador game's behind us. It's going to grow and it's going to get rid of all the tension and fear it felt because of that match and because of the risk of not achieving our objective. The national team's going to change a lot."

Messi prefers to remain cautious regarding Argentina's chances in Russian and when asked to end this sentence, "In 2018, Lionel Messi will be..." he said: "a father for the third time."

Adriana Garcia is a Valencia-based football writer who covers La Liga for ESPN FC.

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