Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella has refuted suggestions that Argentina are overly reliant on Lionel Messi.

Messi has been the South American nation’s main weapon and has been directly involved in most of Argentina’s attack. He has rescued his team time and again and it was he who set up di Maria’s crackling goal against a determined Switzerland, which denied the match going into penalties.

Diego Maradona also claimed that Argentina are too dependent on their captain. However, Sabella has rejected such claims.

He said, “Four years ago Messi was criticised for not contributing enough, and now people say we depend too greatly upon him. It’s not easy. Any team who has a player like Messi in their ranks – he’s the best player in the world – will greatly depend upon him, as a player. But there’s a group of players who support Messi, who make him stronger and make him feel well. I believe that the fact he’s done what he has here is down to the work the team puts in.

“The winning goal against the Swiss the other day came about because a forward, Rodrigo Palacio, who was playing in midfield closed down the space and helped us win the ball back. You have to work to create the spaces for players like Messi to thrive. If we hadn’t had Palacio playing against Switzerland, we wouldn’t have scored that goal. Messi wouldn’t have provided that goal (for Di María).”

The Argentina boss accepted that his side would need to considerably increase their game against Belgium, a side which has expectedly done well throughout the competition and have won all their four games.

“We have reasons for things, extenuating factors. But we have not reached the level we wanted to reach,” he said.

“We’re looking for an improvement. But we’ve seen that this is a very difficult tournament with very even matches.”

While Sabella admitted that he had already settled on his starting XI, he said that he had not yet informed the squad of his plans.

“I have not confirmed the line-up,” he said.

“I have it in my head, but I haven’t discussed it with the boys. We’ve done recovery work for the past two days. I have an idea as to who the XI will be, but I have to discuss this with the players first.”

Gonzalo Higuain did not enjoy a good outing against Switzerland and got some criticism for being wasteful in front of goal. But Sabella defended the player and praised his selflessness. “In the last match he ran more than anyone else, sacrificing himself for the good of the team. We all have confidence in him because he’s a great player and he’s doing his job for the team. OK, he’s missed a few opportunities, but we have faith in him.”

This team carries enormous expectations and have been tipped as one of the favourites to win the competition. This could be Argentina’s first semi final since 1990. The manager said he understood the expectations and reiterated that his side can progress further, “People in Argentina always believe we are more than what we are. Sometimes that’s good. At other times, it’s bad. It has its positive and negative sides. When I was growing up I always heard people saying we were the best team in the world, but we’d never been world champions at the time. And yet we were the best? It’s part of our culture to think this way.

“It has been a long time since we were in the semi-finals, and we have to cross that Rubicon. But we have confidence we can progress. Judgments are made on results. If you win you are extraordinary, a phenomenon. If you lose, you’re useless. The one who finishes first did everything right, the one who finishes second did everything wrong. So far over here we’ve won four tight matches. We are looking for an improvement in terms of performance, yes, but these tournaments are harder than ever. Football is increasingly more even, more competitive. Teams are better prepared tactically and physically, with players who play all over the world. A lot of games in the round of 16 went to extra time, which shows how tight it all is.”