Lionel Messi said Argentina wanted to win a "very special match" against Chile in World Cup qualifying as Diego Maradona was honoured with a statue prior to kick-off on Thursday.

Argentina and Napoli great Maradona – widely considered to be one of football's greatest ever players – died at the age of 60 after suffering heart failure in November last year.

A World Cup winner with Argentina and two-time Serie A champion during his time at Napoli, Maradona was at the centre of a touching tribute as Messi and the La Albiceleste players gathered outside Estadio Unico Madre de Ciudades to unveil a statue of the country icon before the 1-1 draw with Chile.

Messi's 24th-minute penalty was cancelled out by Alexis Sanchez 12 minutes later in Argentina's first match since Maradona's death and the six-time Ballon d'Or winner reflected on the occasion.

"It was a very special match because it was the first without Diego," Messi said after the match.

"We know what the national team meant to him, even if he wasn't in the stadium, he was always there.

"For being the first without him and because of everything that is happening in the country and in the world. It is also a pity that there was no public.

"We wanted to give Diego the victory and represent the national team as he always did, leaving everything behind, but we have to continue."

Messi improved his internationally tally to 72 goals thanks to his spot-kick after Argentina team-mate Lautaro Martinez was adjudged to have been fouled by Chile's Guillermo Maripan following a VAR review.

Chile star Sanchez equalised before half-time to earn a share of the spoils, though Argentina remain undefeated through five games on the road to Qatar 2022.

Messi came close to restoring Argentina's lead on numerous occasions, including a free-kick that struck the post inside the final 10 minutes on home soil.

The superstar captain had the second most touches in the game (87) behind team-mate Rodrigo De Paul (106), while Messi recorded the most shots (five), created the most chances (two) and disputed the most duels (17).

"It has been a long time since we got together, it is not easy to get back together with little work," said Messi, whose Argentina are 12 games unbeaten as they gear up for the Copa America, which is scheduled to start on June 13. "We continued what we had been doing, at times we were good, we played a good game.

"We were good in pressure and recovery, they practically did not create situations If it hadn't been for the stopped ball, they were hardly reaching us. It was a difficult game, as always with Chile."

Diego Maradona has been hailed as a "poet and a great champion" by Pope Francis, the head of the Catholic Church.

Maradona passed away at the age of 60 in November having suffered heart failure.

The former Argentina star is considered as one of the world's greatest ever players, having led his country to World Cup glory in 1986 and taken Napoli from Serie A also-rans to one of Italy's dominant forces.

Maradona had his off-field issues, including drug abuse and doping scandals, but Pope Francis, who met Maradona in 2014, praised the impact his compatriot had.

"I met Diego Armando Maradona during a Match for Peace in 2014: I remember with pleasure everything that Diego did for Scholas Occurrentes, the foundation that takes care of the needy all over the world," The Pope told Gazzetta dello Sport.

"On the pitch he was a poet and a great champion who gave joy to millions of people, in Argentina as in Naples. He was also a very fragile man."

Pope Francis also recalled his memories of the 1986 World Cup, with Maradona starring in Mexico, finishing with five goals and assisting Argentina's winner in the final.

"I have a personal memory linked to the 1986 World Cup, the one that Argentina won thanks to Maradona," Pope Francis continued.

"I was in Frankfurt; it was a difficult time for me, I was studying the language and collecting material for my thesis.

"I hadn't been able to see the World Cup final and I only learned the next day of Argentina's victory over Germany, when a Japanese boy wrote 'Viva l'Argentina' on the blackboard during a German lesson.

"I remember it, personally, as the victory of loneliness because I had no one with whom to share the joy of that sporting victory: loneliness makes you feel alone, while what makes joy beautiful is being able to share it.

"When I was told of Maradona's death, I prayed for him and sent the family a rosary with a few personal words of comfort."

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.