Ramiro Funes Mori believes he can return to pre-season training with Everton as a World Cup winner – insisting Argentina “have a really good chance” of triumphing in Russia this summer.
The centre-back has been named in Argentina’s 35-man preliminary squad for the tournament, which kicks off on June 14.
Funes Mori returned to first-team action only last month after more than a year out with a torn meniscus, coming on as a second-half substitute in the Blues' 1-1 draw at Swansea City on 14 April. He went on to feature in three further games before the end of the season.
Funes Mori – who has played 66 times and scored five goals for Everton since signing from River Plate in 2015 – says he is “feeling good” and is fit and ready to play an important role as Argentina eye a third World Cup triumph.
Argentina boss Jorge Sampaoli underlined how highly he rates Funes Mori by selecting him for their friendly against Italy at the Etihad Stadium on 23 March – despite the defender not having returned to the Everton first-team at that point.
Funes Mori – who has won 19 caps for his country – revealed that show of faith was a huge boost for his confidence.
“Being selected for the Argentina national team makes me feel important,” he said. “They took me in the squad for the game with Italy, even though I hadn’t played for Everton yet because of my injury. I was very satisfied the manager called me.
“Of course, I think we can win the World Cup. We have a really good chance.
“We have a lot of star players and it’s really good for Argentina.”
Sampaoli’s men have just one friendly clash before the World Cup gets under way, when they take on Haiti at Boca Juniors’ La Bombonera stadium on 29 May.
Argentina’s bid for glory in Russia then begins when they face Gylfi Sigurdsson's Iceland on 16 June. Croatia are their next opponents, before they complete their group-stage fixtures against Nigeria.
While eager to emphasise that Argentina’s hopes of going one better than their runners-up finish in 2014 do not simply rest on the shoulders of Lionel Messi – Funes Mori admits the Barcelona forward’s presence gives the squad added belief that they can lift the trophy come 15 July.
“We have the best player in the world,” he said. “Messi has shown that over many years now.
“I see it every time in training and – for a defender – it’s hard to stop him! But it’s a good thing we have got him on our side.
“We have a lot of other great players too, though. It gives us confidence.”