A beau­ti­ful Mess

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SUNBIZ -

Barcelona star re­veals his World Cup hopes and fears

LIONEL MESSI de­clared Ar­gentina are good enough to win the World Cup as Messi fever broke out in Moscow ahead of Satur­day’s game against Ice­land. “We know it won’t be easy but I’m cer­tain that Ar­gentina has a squad ca­pa­ble of be­ing a cham­pion in Rus­sia. If the play­ers all be­lieve t he s ame t hen we can be con­tenders.”

Fans wear­ing Lionel Messi masks and wav­ing Barcelona flags cheered the 30-yearold’s ev­ery touch and sur­rounded him for au­to­graphs in Bronnitsy, south-east of the Rus­sian cap­i­tal.

The striker al­most sin­gle-hand­edly res­cued his coun­try’s qual­i­fy­ing cam­paign to en­sure they made it to Rus­sia.

Ar­gentina looked un­likely to qual­ify for a 13th con­sec­u­tive World Cup fi­nals, af­ter Messi ini­tially an­nounced his in­ter­na­tional re­tire­ment in 2016.

With­out him the team took just seven points from the first eight games and l ooked i n danger of col­lapse.

But when the prodi­gal son re­turned they won 21 points from the next 10 matches, with Messi scor­ing a hat­trick in the f i n a l g a me against Ecuador t o seal their place in Rus­sia.

No won­der he was mobbed a s Jo rge Sam­paoli’s s q u a d went through their paces ahead of Satur­day’s cru­cial Group D fix­ture.

And Li onel Messi is adamant the squad is strong enough to be one of t he favourites, with stars such as Ser­gio Aguero, Gon­zalo Higuain – their top scorer in qual­i­fy­ing with 10 goals – Ni­co­las Ota­mendi, Paulo Dy­bala, Javier Mascher­ano and An­gel Di Maria among their ranks.

“It’s true that the qual­i­fy­ing phase was com­pli­cated f or us be­cause we took too long to do it,” he said.

“But the im­por­tant thing is that we are here in this World Cup and that we give ev­ery­thing to achieve as much as we can.

“If Ar­gentina goes out there and plays as we know we can then it will be very dif­fi­cult to beat us. We have ex­pe­ri­enced World Cups be­fore and we know that ev­ery ri­val will come out to try and beat us and play the game as if it is a f i nal. That al ways makes i t more com­pli­cated. But we are used to it.

“It will be im­por­tant to start strongly. Ice­land did well in their last tour­na­ment so the first match will not be com­fort­able.

“But these are the ones to win if you don’t want the next matches to be even more com­pli­cated.”

Ar­gentina also face Croa­tia and Nige­ria in Group D, mak­ing it one of the tougher groups to ne­go­ti­ate.

“Croa­tia is a good team with play­ers in the big Euro­pean leagues and that makes them dan­ger­ous,” said Messi.

“We don’t know so much about Nige­ria but the African teams are nor­mally com­pact, t ough and strong. So i t will be no walkover.” Hav­ing al­ready re­tired once from in­ter­na­tional foot­ball, Messi knows this could be his fi­nal op­por­tu­nity to win a World Cup. He will be 34 by the time Qatar comes around and there aren’t too many strik­ers still play­ing at the top level at that age, es­pe­cially ones who have packed so much into a long ca­reer that started so young. Win­ning the World Cup has been a painful ob­ses­sion at times for a player who has won ev­ery­thing else and who some claim could be seen as the great­est player of all time if he could only get his hands on the World Cup tro­phy. He be­came his coun­try’s youngest World Cup star in 2006 but Ar­gentina still went out in the quar­ter­fi­nals to Ger­many. Then in 2010 they suf­fered again at the hands of the Ger­mans in the last eight, los­ing 4-0. And fi­nally, in Brazil, he was de­nied a chance to win the tro­phy as cap­tain when los­ing to the Ger­mans for a third time. That dis­ap­point­ment, and the re­ac­tion to it, even­tu­ally led to his de­ci­sion to quit two years later, and al­ready there is talk he could do s o a gain af­ter Rus­sia. He ap­peared to hint at it in an in­ter­view with a Span­ish news­pa­per this week, but yes­ter­day re­fused to give a def­i­nite an­swer. “I don’t want to speak about my f uture,” he said. “For now I’m only con­cerned about the present and do­ing the best I can in this World Cup. “For Ar­gentina the World Cup is spe­cial and it’s a big dream to lift the cup again. For me it would ful­fil a child­hood dream and so you can be sure I will give it ev­ery­thing.” – Ex­press News­pa­pers

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