Argentina striker Sergio Aguero claims he feels no added pressure to wear the number 10 jersey of injured captain Lionel Messi.
The Manchester City frontman will take over the mantle from injured Barcelona superstar Messi when Argentina face Ecuador on Friday in the opening round of South American qualifying for the 2018 World Cup – and Aguero knows his recent fine form will stand him in good stead to fill the boots of Messi.
Aguero, 27, is only two goals away from joining Diego Maradona at the top of Argentina’s all-time goalscoring charts and is coming off the back of a brilliant five-goal haul in 20 minutes against Newcastle last weekend.
“It doesn’t represent a bigger responsibility for me because I’m doing good things for my club and perhaps everyone’s focus is on me,” Aguero told the Clarin newspaper.
“I need to take advantage of the good spell I’m going through. I just try to help the team and do things the best I can.”
Aguero, who has scored 32 goals in 68 games for his country with 10 so far this year, scored when Argentina last met Ecuador in April – a 2-1 home win.
Argentina coach Gerardo Martino, who led the Albiceleste to a runners-up finish in Chile in the Copa America this summer, has called up Juventus forward Paulo Dybala for the first time.
Dybala has scored three goals and set up one more in six league appearances for the Italian champions.
“We want him to familiarise himself with the team,” Martino said. “He’s a player with enormous potential, he’s become a star in one of the toughest leagues in the world. ”
Ecuador failed to make it past the group stages in the Copa America and are eager to bounce back from that disappointment by qualifying for the fourth time in their history for the World Cup.
“Ecuador is engaged in a natural process of renewal and we truly believe we can be competitive and fight for qualification again,” Ecuador’s Argentinian coach Gustavo Quinteros said.
They travel to Buenos Aires without four injured players, including Enner Valencia. The West Ham forward is out with a calf injury.
Felipe Caicedo, who has scored two goals in six Spanish La Liga appearances for Espanyol, will lead his national team’s attack.
Ecuador have not beaten Argentina in their last five encounters but have held the Albiceleste to draws in three of those games.
Quinteros believes Argentina are still tough opponents, even without Messi.
“Messi’s the best of the lot, but Argentina have got a lot of other match-winners and amazing players, too,” he said.
“They are the best South American team of the last few years.”