'Devastated' Lionel Messi chases elusive World Cup glory

Updated 22 March 2018
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'Devastated' Lionel Messi chases elusive World Cup glory

MANCHESTER: Lionel Messi begins his road to World Cup redemption on Friday as Argentina take on Italy in a glamor friendly at Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium, desperate to win a major international prize to crown his glorious career.
In Barcelona’s colors, Messi has experienced nothing but success, winning eight La Liga titles and four Champions League crowns, while earning FIFA’s Ballon d’Or award five times.
But pulling on Argentina’s blue-and-white striped shirt has brought the forward some of the most painful moments of his career.
Rarely able to hit the same heights with Argentina that he routinely scales with Barcelona, Messi has endured stinging
criticism from Albiceleste fans at times.
Nobody would dispute Messi’s status as one of the all-time greats, but many in Argentina believe he cannot be considered on the same level as Diego Maradona until he wins a major honor with his country, as his compatriot did at the 1986 World Cup.
Rubbing salt into those wounds, Messi has lost in three successive major finals with Argentina as the 2014 World Cup and the 2015 and 2016 Copa America titles slipped from his grasp.
“I cried many times because of games like these, for lost finals, for what they mean and for not being able to achieve the dream of a country. It was a hard blow to take,” Messi recently told Argentine television program La Cornisa.
The last World Cup was devastating to Messi as he missed a golden opportunity to put Argentina ahead in the final against Germany, who went on to win 1-0 in extra-time.
As if that was not bad enough, for the first time in his career, he missed in a penalty shootout when Argentina were beaten by Chile in the Copa America final two years ago.
Although Messi is still in his prime, the 30-year-old realizes the World Cup, which starts in June, could represent his last chance to hoist the gold trophy.
He will be approaching the twilight of his career by the time the 2022 edition kicks off in Qatar.
Messi will have also noted that key Argentina teammates Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain, Angel Di Maria, Nicolas Otamendi and Javier Mascherano will all be 30 or over this year.
“Obviously, we depend on results and therefore the thinking in this group is that having got to three finals and not being able to win and even then people say a lot of things about us, if we are not champions then we won’t have another one (opportunity),”
Messi said.
Having edged through to the World Cup thanks to Messi’s treble in a 3-1 qualifying win over Ecuador in October, Argentina are focused on peaking in Russia, where they will play Croatia, Iceland and Nigeria in the group stage. First up is an intriguing test against an Italy side that failed to qualify for the World Cup.
Argentina boss Jorge Sampaoli believes the match at Manchester City’s ground will help to sharpen his side before a second friendly in Spain next week.
“Each match and training session is fundamental for us in preparation for the World Cup. Playing against Italy, in a venue as important as Etihad Stadium, is an invitation to a great event,” he said.
“Every Argentine in the world wants to be there when the national team plays. We are certain they will accompany us for this one.”


Liverpool's Andrew Robertson ready for Roma Champions League test

Updated 23 April 2018
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Liverpool's Andrew Robertson ready for Roma Champions League test

  • Young Scottish star was very impressive during Liverpool's 5-1 aggregate destruction of Man City in last-eight clash.
  • Robertson refuses to take Roma lightly after their shock victory over Barcelona in the last round.

LIVERPOOL: With a desire stoked in the stands of Parkhead, Andrew Robertson is now fired up to fulfil a childhood dream.
While following the fortunes of Celtic, the defender’s first Champions League final memory was when Zinedine Zidane volleyed Real Madrid to success in 2002 as the contest was staged in Robertson’s home city of Glasgow. He was just eight years old.
While Robertson was deemed too small to play for his boyhood idols, released at 15 with a future uncertain, he has grown to prove his worth on Europe’s biggest club stage with Liverpool.
Now, with a semifinal encounter against AS Roma after beating Premier League champions Manchester City in the last eight, he wants to emulate those Reds heroes who lifted the trophy five times before.
“I was a big Celtic fan growing up and my heroes were Henrik Larsson and Co,” Robertson told Arab News ahead of tonight’s first-leg clash 
at Anfield.
“But these heroes who have won the European Cup and Champions League for Liverpool, you have to look up to them — and we want to emulate them and hopefully get a winner’s medal too.
“The club’s won it five times and the history of the club has always been this, the Champions League, where the fans create a special atmosphere and the club challenges for the trophy. It would be unbelievable to be a part of that history.
“This is the highlight for me so far and an incredible feeling, but it just makes you hungry for more. I don’t want it to end.
“As a kid, you sit back and watch how great it would be to play in this competition, let alone in the final.
“I always used to go to Celtic and we didn’t progress very far in the Champions League, but the occasions at Parkhead were always unbelievable.
“The fans at Celtic are incredible, world renowned, but Anfield was unbelievable against Man City and we have another chance for them to create that same atmosphere and hopefully we can put in another great performance.”
Having beaten Pep Guardiola’s City so convincingly, 5-1 over two gripping games, Liverpool will start favorites against Roma.
That is despite the Italians upsetting Barcelona in the previous round with an epic 3-0 win in the second leg after a 4-1 loss at the Nou Camp.
But Robertson will take nothing for granted against a Roma side who last reached the final in 1984 where they were beaten by Liverpool in a penalty shootout at their Stadio Olimpico home.
“Barca are an unbelievable team,” added the Scotland left-back, 24. “But let’s not kid ourselves. For Roma to score three goals against Barcelona, that’s special.
“They’ve been unbelievable this season too in the Champions League and deserve to be in the semifinals. It will definitely not be an easy game.
“But once you get to the semis, the fear of who you are playing has gone because you know how good the teams are.
“It’s like you look forward to the possibility of playing in the final, that’s what drives you forward. We will have fire in our bellies because we are so close to getting there.”
Jurgen Klopp’s men will no doubt be looking to Mohamed Salah to conjure more magic against the club he left in the summer for £36.9 million ($51.5 million).
But Robertson insisted Liverpool are no one-man team and the Egyptian, crowned PFA Player of the Year on Sunday night after scoring 41 goals in an unforgettable campaign, epitomizes a team united and ambitious in their quest for glory.
“He’s just unbelievable,” said Robertson of the frontman.
“In the first half (of the second leg) against Man City we struggled to get him in the game and he wasn’t quite at it. But the second half he was different class and pops up with a goal to help us win it. That’s what he does.
“His goals have been incredible and long may that continue. He’s a great guy, so humble, and for someone who has done so much this season he’s so down to Earth.
“That’s credit to our squad because we don’t let anyone get ahead of themselves.
“Mo is no different, he’s a lovely person and stands for what we are as a team.”

 

HEART OF GOLD

Five years ago Andrew Robertson was playing in the fourth tier of Scottish football with Queen’s Park and earning extra money by selling concert tickets in the corporate offices at Hampden Park.
Last summer he suffered relegation from the Premier League with Hull City before Liverpool signed him for £10 million ($13.9 million).
In a career fraught with setbacks and hardships, he has been grateful, supporting foodbanks that help those in need.
“It’s all about giving something back to the less fortunate,” said Robertson.
“I’m in a fortunate position where I do a job I love and get paid well and it’s nice to give something back, especially in my hometown. I’ll always do that.
“It’s been a great journey for me in my career, and I’ve enjoyed every minute. But I don’t forget where I came from. Maybe it is rare, but a lot more people are doing it now and I hope even more will.”