'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.”


Jose Mourinho plays down touchline melee after ‘awful’ Chelsea draw

Updated 2 min 26 sec ago
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Jose Mourinho plays down touchline melee after ‘awful’ Chelsea draw

LONDON: Jose Mourinho played down an ugly touchline melee after watching his Manchester United side concede a heartbreaking late equalizer as Chelsea preserved their unbeaten Premier League record on Saturday.
Ross Barkley scored in the sixth minute of injury time to level the match at 2-2 after Anthony Martial had scored twice in the second half to cancel out Antonio Rudiger’s opener.
Mourinho took exception to the celebrations of one of Chelsea’s backroom staff, Marco Ianni, who ran in front of the Portuguese on the touchline, as he seemed set for a sweet victory over his old club.
When asked about the incident, former Chelsea boss Mourinho said: “Oh come on, I can tell you that 97 minutes of the game was so good that you have to focus on that.
“I did not get respect back from Chelsea (fans) but that is not my responsibility. What I did here today I will do in Madrid, in Milan, in Porto, the reaction from the fans is not up to me.
“I am not annoyed with anything. What happened with (Maurizio) Sarri’s assistant, Sarri was the first one to come to me and say he will resolve it.
“The assistant has already come to me and apologized, I told him to forget it. I have made a lot of mistakes in my career.”
Mourinho, who won three Premier League titles in two spells at Chelsea, said United were the better side.
“We were the best team on the pitch. If you say before the game that one point at Stamford Bridge is a good result, it is so difficult to win here but after the game with the way the game was it is an awful result for us and a phenomenal result for them.
“We were in the game, we controlled their triggers, (Eden) Hazard and Jorginho was well controlled.
“After we were 2-1 up we had possibilities to score the third goal, we were the best team, we were calm in control.
“I hope every referee does the same as Mike Dean and gives six minutes, I don’t know where they came from. We always tried to play, there was no time-wasting.”
The result means Chelsea go top of the table, at least temporarily, but United are still languishing in eighth spot, seven points off the pace.
Chelsea goalscorer Barkley hailed his team’s never-say-die attitude.
“My confidence has grown but our target was to win the game so it is disappointing,” he said.
“The manager told me to help the team win the game and try and get a result. We conceded a goal that we should have stopped but we came back.”