BUENOS AIRES: Lionel Messi's Argentina put the love of their fans to a new test in a World Cup qualifier against Paraguay on Friday after the thrill of their captain's nine goals in five games.
Messi scored hat-tricks in victories against Brazil and Switzerland and one apiece in wins over Colombia, Ecuador and Germany following the jeers from their 1-1 draw with Bolivia last November.
“We knew we had to change things after Bolivia,” Messi told a news conference at Argentina's Ezeiza headquarters on Tuesday.
“We knew we had to infect the fans with our results and our game.”
Argentina began their five-match winning streak away to Colombia four days after the Bolivia disappointment, coming from behind to win 2-1 with goals from Messi and Sergio Aguero.
A 3-1 win over the Swiss in Berne was followed by a 4-0 rout of Ecuador in Buenos Aires in their next qualifier in June. They beat 2014 World Cup hosts Brazil 4-3 in a friendly in New Jersey a week later and Germany in Frankfurt last month.
The match at the 57,000-capacity Kempes stadium in Cordoba is a sellout.
“The fans are expectant and so are we. Let's hope it will be all good for the national team and we get three points,” Messi said.
Messi is under no illusions, though, about how hard Paraguay will be to beat despite playing under new coach Gerardo Pelusso after sacking Francisco Arce due to poor results.
“They are always complicated, whatever form they're in. The qualifiers are very difficult,” Messi said.
“Maybe they're not coming here at their best but we know the quality of players they have. They're a tough team and will make things difficult for us.”
Argentina are third in the South American group with 10 points from five matches, two points fewer than leaders Chile, who have a bye on Friday, and one behind Uruguay, who visit Colombia.
Paraguay, quarter-finalists in South Africa in 2010, are one from bottom of the nine-team group with four points.