World Cup: 'I feel very good,' says Messi ahead of probable last tournament
AL RAYYAN, Qatar – Argentina captain Lionel Messi said he feels good ahead of their Group C opener against Saudi Arabia on Tuesday in what is likely to be his last World Cup.
“I feel very good physically, I think I’m in a great moment, both personally and physically and I don’t have any problems,” said Messi, who did light training away from his teammates on Saturday, told a news conference on Monday.
“I heard that they said I trained differently. It was because I had a knock but there is nothing strange (happening). It was just a precaution.”
The 35-year-old, who will be playing his fifth World Cup, added that he did not prepare differently for the tournament, which for the first time is being played in November and December.
“I didn’t do anything special,” the forward said. “I took care of myself and worked as I have done all my career, knowing that this is a special moment, as this is probably my last World Cup, my last chance to achieve this great dream that I have, that we all have.”
Messi said La Albiceleste’s recent run of success means they are under less pressure than they were coming into Russia 2018, adding that the class of 2022 reminded him of the team that were one game away from their third World Cup title in 2014.
In July 2021, Argentina won the Copa America final against Brazil for their first title in 28 years and they are now just one game away from equalling Italy’s world record 37-match unbeaten streak – a run they themselves ended in June.
Said Messi: “I don’t know if we’ve improved in that aspect, but we have been winning and that decompresses a lot. It makes us work in a different way, so that people are not so anxious and people are not so aware of the results, but enjoying it more.
“This group reminds me of the one from 2014, which was very close-knit and clear about what they wanted. It’s good to arrive like this because it gives us confidence when we go out to play”.
His coach Scaloni agreed, telling La Gazzetta dello Sport: “Success in the Copa America broke this chain, it took a weight off Leo and people had faith in the national team. The seeds of change had been planted earlier, in the defeat to Brazil in the same tournament two years before.”
While much of the attention has been focused on Messi, his strike partner Lautaro Martinez also came in for praise from Scaloni, who called him “a precious boy for us” and “an example”.
He said: “He was and is fundamental, he is a precious boy for us. He gave us so much both in terms of football, with goals, and in the human aspect.
“We knew that he would be our striker, with Sergio Aguero, who initially would have helped him.
“He was already doing very well at Inter (Milan) and we were certain that with his youth, his desire and all the football knowledge he has, he would have been fundamental for us.
“We really owe him a lot because he gave his all to us and to the cause. He came to the national team even when he wasn’t in the best conditions, he wanted to come, he wanted to be there. He is an example.”
Despite the might of Martinez and Messi, Saudi Arabia coach Herve Renard remains hopeful of an upset.
He said: “The best teams in the world always come with the intention of winning it, but there are always upsets. When you are one of the smaller teams in the tournament, you must rely on shock results.” - REUTERS, AFP