Javier Zanetti has tipped Lionel Messi to lead Argentina to World Cup glory in Brazil, saying he could be the tournament's outstanding player.
Four-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi has sometimes been unable to produce his best form for his country on the biggest stage, but former Argentina and Inter Milan star Zanetti believes that is changing.
"It really does look like it," he told La Gazzetta dello Sport after Messi scored a superb late winner to beat Iran on Saturday. "He carried the rest of the team on his shoulders when they needed him most, and only the very best in the business know how to do that. He's an absolute leader of this group.
"We already knew about his enormous talent in 2010, but he was still young then and still had to mature.
"In these past three to four years, he's grown a great deal and now he's the captain, assuming the responsibility that brings with it. For that reason, this could be his World Cup."
Zanetti believes Messi is benefiting from being part of a star-studded attack, which makes it hard for opposition defenders to focus on stopping only him.
"Our opponents always tighten things up against us and obviously we've got to find a way of penetrating their bunker," he said. "Messi and [Angel] Di Maria are used to coming from deeper, where they manage to find more gaps."
Zanetti backed Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella over his decision to leave out Carlos Tevez despite public calls for his inclusion.
"Nobody denies how good Carlos is, and he's had a fantastic season -- but if you were going to include him, that would have meant leaving out somebody who had done just as well," he explained.
"If the group works as it is, then it's hard to find a way in."