Football: Messi in doubt for Argentina's Copa opener

Lionel Messi is helped to his feet after suffering an injury to his back. The extent of his injury is unknown, with the Barcelona forward now facing a race to be fit for Argentina's opening game in the Copa America Centenario in less than two weeks.
Lionel Messi is helped to his feet after suffering an injury to his back. The extent of his injury is unknown, with the Barcelona forward now facing a race to be fit for Argentina's opening game in the Copa America Centenario in less than two weeks.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

SAN JUAN (Argentina) • Lionel Messi was taken to hospital after suffering an injury scare on Friday as Argentina defeated Honduras 1-0 in their only warm-up game before next month's Copa America Centenario in the United States.

A first-half goal from in-form striker Gonzalo Higuain settled a low-key football encounter in San Juan, with two-time world champions Argentina dominating possession and shots on goal.

But the result was overshadowed by an alarming incident involving Messi midway through the second half that forced the Barcelona superstar to leave the field clutching his lower back in pain.

The five-time Fifa World Player of the Year appeared to be hurt after a heavy aerial collision with an opposing player in the 59th minute.

Messi grimaced and rubbed his lower back after the challenge and required treatment on the field for several minutes before he was swiftly substituted by Ever Banega.

He was taken to hospital to assess the nature of the injury, the Argentina Football Association said in a statement.

"Messi suffered trauma to his lower back on the left side and ribcage in the same area. He is being examined in a local hospital for a more thorough diagnosis," the statement said.

"He suffered a nasty blow to the lower back," Argentina coach Gerardo Martino said. "It's too early for me to say anything more at this stage."

Any injury to Messi will be a huge blow to Argentina as they prepare for their opening Copa America Centenario match against Chile in California on June 6.

He is crucial to Argentina's hopes of winning a first major tournament for 23 years, and was player of the tournament at last year's Copa America and the 2014 World Cup.

The 28-year-old Argentina captain missed two months of last season's club campaign for Barcelona after suffering a serious knee injury in September.

He is also due to return to Spain this weekend to attend a hearing in his tax fraud trial, before jetting off to California to reunite with the Argentina squad.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 29, 2016, with the headline 'Messi in doubt for Argentina's Copa opener'. Print Edition | Subscribe