Football: Messi leads team's media boycott

Lionel Messi (centre) and team-mate Angel di Maria celebrating a goal during the 3-0 win against Colombia in the World Cup qualifying match in San Juan, Argentina on Tuesday. Messi scored one goal and assisted in the other two as his side bounced bac
Lionel Messi (centre) and team-mate Angel di Maria celebrating a goal during the 3-0 win against Colombia in the World Cup qualifying match in San Juan, Argentina on Tuesday. Messi scored one goal and assisted in the other two as his side bounced back from their 0-3 loss to Brazil last week.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Argentina captain cites lack of respect as he reacts to marijuana allegation against Lavezzi

SAN JUAN • Lionel Messi led his entire 26-man Argentina squad in a protest on Tuesday against perceived mistreatment by the media, saying they were boycotting the press until further notice.

Messi had just inspired a 3-0 home win over Colombia, scoring one goal and laying on the other two to put Argentina's World Cup qualifying campaign back on track.

"We have decided not to speak any more with the press," he announced in the post-match press conference room with his 25 team-mates attending.

"We've received many accusations, a lot of lack of respect and we never said anything. We're very sorry it has to be like this but we have no option," the captain said.

"We can be criticised if we lose, or win, or if we play well or badly. But this is getting into our personal lives and it is very grave.

"If we don't put a stop to it now, we'll never stop it. That's why we're here (announcing this)," he added before they all walked out.

The players have suffered criticism by sectors of the Argentinian media over a loss of form and poor results, but their decision was sparked by a radio report alleging Ezequiel Lavezzi smoked marijuana after a practice session.

Lavezzi, who was not included on the substitutes' bench against Colombia, has angrily denied the claims and it transpired at the press conference that he is taking the Radio Mitre reporter to court.

Coach Edgardo Bauza, whose media conference was held afterwards, said the victory - in which Lucas Pratto and Angel di Maria scored the other two goals - made him happy for the team.

"I told the players I'm happy for them after a week of criticism and because it wasn't an easy match," he said.

"Messi is a great and decisive player, he showed that in the first goal and with the others."

Argentina were slated by some sections of the media after going down 0-3 to Brazil in Belo Horizonte last Thursday.

It was their second consecutive defeat and followed two draws, as they earned only two points out of a possible 12.

Tuesday's win means they have a total of 19 points from 12 matches and are in fifth place in the South American group, putting them back in contention for the qualification spots.

The top four go straight into the finals in Russia in 2018 while the fifth qualifies for an intercontinental play-off against a team from Oceania.

There are six rounds of matches to go next year with Argentina resuming their campaign at home to Chile, who are fourth behind Brazil, Uruguay and Ecuador.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 17, 2016, with the headline 'Messi leads team's media boycott'. Print Edition | Subscribe