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Messi led his country to three worldwide major titles - twice in Copa America (2015 and 2016) and in 2014 FIFA World Cup - but ended as runners-up in all the three finals.

In an audio recording published by Spanish media outlets, the former Argentina worldwide said the current squad lacked leadership on and off the field following Thursday's 3-0 rout by Croatia in Group D.

Simeone also appeared to call into question the true quality of Argentina's usual talisman Lionel Messi, who has had a minimal impact at tournament in Russian Federation and missed a penalty against Iceland in the Group D opener, while his rival Cristiano Ronaldo has scored four times for Portugal.

"What is happening at the moment is what has been happening in the national team for the past four years unfortunately".

Argentina's struggles in Russian Federation come after their pre-tournament preparations were wrecked by controversy and poor form, coupled with a reliance on a top-heavy, limited squad.

Argentina face Nigeria on Tuesday night in a desperate attempt to qualify for the knockout rounds, with nothing less than a win good enough. "If you have to choose between Messi and Ronaldo in a normal game, who would you choose?" said Simeone.

"It was a similar story for Messi against Croatia, but it was not all his fault", Fabregas said referring to their Icelandic draw.

"The team is all wrong, but it is Argentina and I believe that it will happen", Simeone said.

"It's clear in the dressing room they are being given a slapping but someone needs to fight".

Simeone meanwhile was scathing of error-prone goalkeeper Willy Caballero, whose howler led to Croatia's opening goal.

"He is one of the big names in Russian Federation who has made a strong start to this World Cup, in terms of goals, with four so far".