Argentina captain Lionel Messi has urged his compatriots to be realistic in their World Cup expectations, warning that other teams heading to Russia are better.
In an interview with Argentine Canal 13, Messi also discussed why he did not take the chance to play for Spain and said that Barcelona will be his only European club.
“People need to know that we are not going to Russia as favourites but we have a group of very good players and we are ready to scrap,” Messi said.
Asked if Argentina could win the World Cup, Messi swerved between hope and realism.
“I believe so, I have faith in this team,” he said.
“We have players with talent and experience. We cannot send the message that we are the best, because that’s not true.”
“Quite a few squads are better,” he said singling out Brazil, Spain and Germany.
Messi has won multiple Champions League and Club World Cup titles with Barca.
But he “would swap any one of those titles with Barcelona” for a World Cup win.
Messi moved to Barcelona at the age of 13 and would have been eligible to play for Spain.
“The other day I was talking to a friend and he said to me: ‘Look, if you had stayed with Spain, you would be world champion’,” Messi said.
“But it wouldn’t have been the same. Obviously, it never crossed my mind at any time.”
Messi repeated that he dreams not only of playing for Argentina but in Argentina, preferably for his boyhood club Newell’s Old Boys.
“I am more and more clear that, in Europe, Barcelona is going to be my only home,” he said. “I’ve always said that I want to play someday in Argentina.”
“It would be Newell’s, no one else. I’d like to do that for at least six months, but you never know what is going to happen.”
In Russia, Argentina will face Iceland, Nigeria and Croatia in what he called “a complicated group”.
Iceland, he said, “compete with anybody” pointing to their surprising run at Euro 2016.
Nigeria, Messi said, are “always tough for us”. He missed the friendly in Krasnodar in November that Nigeria won 4-2. The countries have met four times in the World Cup and Argentina have won by one goal every time.
Messi compared Croatia to Spain “for controlling the ball, the quality of their midfield players”.
“We have to think we will finish first in this group, but it won’t be easy.”
Argentina play Haiti on Tuesday in Buenos Aires and Israel on June 9 in Jerusalem in their two warm-up games.
FINAL ATTRACTED 1.12 BILLION VIEWERS! Russia 2018 is best watched World Cup ever, says FIFA
A record audience of more than 3.5 billion people watched this year’s World Cup in Russia, with the final between France and Croatia attracting 1.12 billion viewers, world soccer’s governing body said on Friday.
FIFA said 3.572 billion viewers – more than half of the global population aged four and over – watched some part of the official coverage, which was broadcast live in every territory worldwide from June 14 to July 15.
The global in-home TV audience watching at least one minute of the coverage accounted for almost 3.3 billion viewers, a 2.2 per cent increase on the 2014 edition hosted in Brazil, according to FIFA’s audit of audience data published on Friday.
A further 309.7 million caught the action on digital platforms, public viewing areas or in bars and restaurants.
France’s 4-2 victory in the final, which gave them their second World Cup title following their triumph in 1998, was the most watched game of the competition.
It was followed by England’s semi-final defeat to Croatia and the other last-four clash between France and Belgium.
“These figures really do support the claim that Russia 2018 was the best World Cup ever,” said FIFA’s chief commercial officer, Philippe Le Floc’h.
“The fact that half the world’s population watched the FIFA World Cup reflects not just the high quality of our award-winning live coverage, but also that fans everywhere are insatiable for world-class football.”
The World Cup coverage reached around 1.6 billion individuals in Asia, with 655.7 million viewers (18.4 per cent of the global total) in China, who failed to qualify for the tournament.
The 2022 edition of World Cup will be held in Qatar.
HE HAS A VERY GOOD RELATIONSHIP WITH CHILDREN! Mbappe donates £384,000 World Cup 2018 earnings to charity
French professional footballer, Kylian Mbappé, will donate money earned from featuring in the 2018 World Cup tournament in Russia to a sports charity that works with disabled and hospitalised children, Premiers de Cordee.
According to Sports Illustrated, the 19-year-old who plays as a forward for Paris Saint-Germain was paid £17,000 per game and pocketed £265,000 for being part of the team who won the tournament.
Speaking to Le Parisien, Premier de Cordee charity general manager, Sebastian Ruffin said:
“Kylian, he’s a great person.
“When his schedule allows it, he intervenes for us with pleasure.
“He has a very good [relationship] with children, he always finds the right [words] to encourage them.
“I sometimes even feel that [he] takes more pleasure to play with the kids than the kids themselves.”
Mbappe, who joined PSG for a fee of around £166m from Monaco after a season-long loan, was named Young Player of the World Cup.
Mbappe became the first teenager to score in a World Cup final since Pele in 1958.
TENS OF THOUSANDS! Croatians give heroes’ welcome to World Cup squad
Tens of thousands of Croatians gave a heroes’ welcome to their team in Zagreb on Monday after the squad returned from Russia following their World Cup final defeat.
A crowd estimated at more than 100,000 thronged the capital’s main square to see the players, led by captain and World Cup Golden Ball winner Luka Modric, parade through the streets on an open-top bus.
Cheering fans, many waving flags and wearing the famous red and white shirt of Croatia, held up banners celebrating the runners-up after their gallant 4-2 defeat by France.
“This is how Croatia is loved,” read one banner. Another said: “We are few, but we believed and that is enough”.
Many even skipped work to celebrate the team reaching their first ever World Cup final.
“I closed my office to welcome our heroes. I put a sign up reading ‘Today, July 16, 2018’, office closed due to our Vatreni (‘the Fiery Ones’ in Croatian),” doctor Sanja Klajic told AFP.
Earlier noisy fans awaited their side’s appearance by singing a popular song “Play on my Croatia, when I see you my heart is on fire!” while watching the plane carrying the team progress to the capital on a giant TV screen.
When the plane, accompanied by military jets and emblazoned with the logo “Bravo Vatreni” flew overhead the crowd cheered and chanted “Hands up, hands up!”.
After landing at the city’s airport around 3:25 pm (1325 GMT), the players emerged to shrieks from fans at the terminal.
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