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Lionel Messi's World Cup defence starts now - but will Argentina's iconic leader still be around in 2026?

Messi Argentina GFXGetty/GOAL

Lionel Scaloni and Argentina are currently facing the near-impossible task that every other World Cup winner before them faced: figuring out how to get going for Round 2. It's a task that most others before them have failed.

It's a difficult balance for any coach to figure out as the four years after a World Cup are all about finding out which new faces can step in and which old faces have something left in the tank that's worth holding onto.

Didier Deschamps and France managed about as well as you can, reaching the final four years after winning the tournament, but that's the exception rather than the rule. More often than not, that second go around proves to be a disaster as coaches often struggle to know when to cut ties with a legendary generation.

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That task will be made even more tougher by Scaloni's Argentina, though, as all involved mull over the future of perhaps the greatest of all time.

On Thursday night, Argentina will begin their qualifiers for the 2026 tournament. However, as things stand, it's unclear whether the great Lionel Messi will be a part of that tournament.

He's here for this camp, for games against Ecuador and Bolivia, and it seems he's committed to playing with Argentina for the foreseeable future. The Copa America is looming, after all, and Messi seems determined to defend that title.

Messi certainly has the ability and the motivation but, at some point, one of those two things will begin to fade. And that brings us to the big question: how much longer can Argentina rely on their legendary star to, well, continue to be legendary?

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