Doha, November 21
Lionel Messi begins his legacy-defining World Cup with a game against likely the weakest opponent the Argentina star will face in Qatar.
On a 36-match unbeaten run, Argentina open the group stage tomorrow against Saudi Arabia — the second lowest-ranked team at the tournament.
It seems like an ideal chance for Messi to push his international goals tally toward a century — he currently has 91 — in what’s surely a forlorn attempt to catch the leading men’s mark of 117, owned by great rival Cristiano Ronaldo.
How Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni treats Messi for this game in particular, being staged in the 80,000-seater Lusail Iconic Stadium, might be instructive given the captain’s fitness has been managed heading into the World Cup.
Messi trained individually on Friday and Saturday because of what the Argentina soccer federation described as “muscle overload.” That raises doubts over whether Messi will play the full 90 minutes against Saudi Arabia.
Not that he should be needed that long.
The Saudis might have come through Asian qualifying relatively comfortably, but they tend to struggle on soccer’s highest stage. — AP
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