Argentina pins hopes on Messi

Lionel Messi is Argentina's greatest hope as well as their biggest worry ahead of the World Cup.

updated: February 25, 2007 11:34 IST
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Buenos Aires:

Lionel Messi is Argentina's greatest hope as well as their biggest worry ahead of the World Cup. The teenage forward pulled a leg muscle in March and has been sidelined for months. He now racing to get in shape by the time the tournament in Germany begins on June 9. Already a star for FC Barcelona at the age of 18, Messi has bewitched a growing fan base with his dribbling and aggressive scoring strategies. Injury woes Messi injured his right thigh in a Spanish league match on March 7, then re-aggravated the injury in training while trying to rejoin his team a month later. Since then he's had to sit out weeks of play, even missing Barcelona's 2-1 Champions League victory over Arsenal. "I'm already healed," Messi insisted recently as he arrived in Argentina as the last of the 23 players who have begun training under coach Jose Pekerman. But many Argentines are obsessed with how Messi will play when he returns to the field, and how many minutes he will be able to stay on the field. Last week, Diego Maradona said he wanted Messi to wear the No 10 jersey at the World Cup, a number that distinguishes the greats, calling him "a player with a capital P". Jorge Valdano, Maradona's teammate on the 1986 World Cup-winning team, hoped for a significant role for Messi, calling him a formidable foe who liquidates his rivals. Overwhelming praise Described in the press as a modest young man, Messi almost seems overwhelmed by the accolades. He said he's embarrassed when people recognise him on the street. But as the days pass and the World Cup looms, Messi vows he will join a young Argentine squad that will go far. "I have dreams of our being world champions," Messi said. Argentina will prepare for the World Cup in Italy and then head to Germany on May 31. The team's first match in Group C will be against Ivory Coast on June 10. The Netherlands and Serbia-Montenegro are also in the group. (AP)