Saturday, 10 June, 2023

Messi ‘madness’ in Argentina as world champions play first match

Messi ‘madness’ in Argentina as world champions play first match
Argentina forward Lionel Messi (left) controls the ball next to Argentina’s coach Lionel Scaloni during a training session in Buenos Aires on Tuesday. – AFP PHOTO

Lionel Messi and his Argentina teammates will make a triumphant return in their homeland on Friday morning when they play their first match since winning the World Cup in Qatar.

More than 1.5 million fans applied for 63,000 available tickets for the match against Central American minnows Panama at the Monumental stadium in Buenos Aires.

Football-mad Argentines were out in even larger numbers following the Albiceleste's dramatic penalty shoot-out victory over France in December. An estimated five million people thronged the streets of Buenos Aires a few days later for the trophy parade.

Such was the multitude that the parade had to be abandoned long before it reached central Buenos Aires as it was already hours behind schedule.

Messi had been widely expected to retire from international football after the final in Doha, in which he scored two goals and a shoot-out spot-kick, but the Paris Saint-Germain forward said he wanted to carry on a bit longer so he could wear the blue and white Argentina jersey as a world champion.

"He is in good shape, he wants to keep coming. When he tells me that he doesn't feel good, we'll see," coach Lionel Scaloni said on Tuesday.

"At the moment he is happy with the national team." Scaloni promised them is that the team would not rest on their laurels, regardless of the occasion or opponents. After Thursday's match, Argentina will play the island of Curacao on Match 28 in Santiago del Estero.