Argentina defender Pablo Zabaleta has revealed the team’s tactical plan for winning this World Cup: give the ball to Lionel Messi.

The Manchester City full-back was responding to criticism of his nation’s over-dependency on the player deemed by many the best in the world. But instead of denying that Argentina are a one-man team, Zabaleta admitted they had been banking on this all along.

Messi collected his fourth successive man of the match award after engineering Tuesday’s late extra-time win over Switzerland, a game in which his team-mates delivered less than ever and Argentina’s “get it to Leo” tactic was even more pronounced. But Zabaleta insisted there was no shame in building an entire game and tournament strategy around one individual.

“We know he is our main player, our captain, the best player in the world,” the 29-year-old said. “This team is playing for him as we know how important Messi is for this team. Every time we recover the ball we try to pass to him as he is the best player we have in the team and he will score goals.”