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Russia should not be Lionel Messi’s last World
Cup suggest Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli

MOSCOW Russia (Xinhua) -- Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli said Friday that he expects Lionel Messi to play in at least one more World Cup, downplaying suggestions that the Barcelona forward could soon retire from international football.

Messi said in March that this year’s World Cup in Russia, which began on Thursday, would be his generation’s last chance to win a major trophy after the team’s second-placings at the 2014 World Cup, 2015 Copa America and 2016 Copa America.

"I don’t think this should be [Messi’s] last World Cup," Sampaoli told a news conference ahead of Argentina’s opening Group D fixture here between Argentina and Iceland on Saturday.

"His ability and professionalism will mean that he decides when [he wants to quit]."

Messi, who turns 31 this month, is taking part in his fourth World Cup.

He retired from international football after the Albiceleste’s failure in the final of the 2016 Copa America before retracting his decision less than two months later.

Sampaoli said Messi is under no extra pressure to perform in Russia and sees the five-time Ballon d’Or winner in good spirits heading into the team’s first match at Spartak Stadium.

"These types of geniuses that appear every so often have different qualities," Sampaoli said.

"I see him being very excited.

"His preparation has been good.

"He wants the tournament to start.

"A player with so much ability shouldn’t have any pressure."

Meanwhile, Sampaoli revealed that Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero will start Saturday’s match, with Juventus forward Gonzalo Higuain to begin on the bench.

Aguero will line up just in front of Messi, with Angel Di Maria and Maximiliano Meza on either flank.

Manchester City’s Nicolas Otamendi and Manchester United’s Marcos Rojo will start in the center of defence while goalkeeper Willy Caballero has been chosen ahead of Franco Armani.

The two-time World Cup winners will deploy two holding midfielders: Lucas Biglia and Javier Mascherano.


History favours Argentina over Group D rivals in World Cup

BUENOS AIRES Argentina (Xinhua) -- History favors Argentina in its upcoming clashes with Nigeria and Croatia in Group D at the World Cup in Russia, while it will face Iceland for the first time on Saturday.

Nigeria and Argentina have tussled a number of times, with the last of these serving as a warning to Buenos Aires, as its team lost 4-2 to the African side in Moscow in a friendly last November.

Overall, Argentina and Nigeria have clashed on eight occasions, with the Albiceleste winning five, drawing one and losing two.

At World Cups, however, Argentina’s dominance has been uncontested, having defeated Nigeria 2-1 in the United States in 1994, 1-0 in 2002 co-hosted by South Korea and Japan, 1-0 in 2010 in South Africa and 3-2 in Brazil in 2014.

Against Croatia, Argentina also enjoys a historic advantage, having faced them four times, winning two, drawing one and losing one.

The only time these two sides have faced off at the World Cup was at France 1998, with Argentina winning 1-0 in the group stage, thanks to a goal from defender Mauricio Pineda.

Argentina will face Iceland on June 16, Croatia on June 21 and Nigeria on June 26.



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