No Neymar but Messi to star at the MCG

Barcelona's Lionel Messi scores his third goal from the penalty spot during a match between Barcelona and Paris St Germain in UEFA Champions League Round of 16 Second Leg.
Barcelona's Lionel Messi scores his third goal from the penalty spot during a match between Barcelona and Paris St Germain in UEFA Champions League Round of 16 Second Leg. PHOTO: REUTERS

MELBOURNE • Argentina's Superclasico showdown with arch-rivals Brazil is set to pump tens of millions of dollars into the Australian economy when they play in front of 100,000 fans today.

Although Neymar is missing from Brazil's line-up, his Barcelona team-mate Lionel Messi will light up the occasion at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG).

Melbourne is just the latest far-flung city to host the Superclasico, one of the most hotly anticipated fixtures in football, joining the likes of Beijing and London.

The star players at Argentina and Brazil's disposal and their rivalry make the match a sure-fire hit. Resale tickets were selling for up to A$607 (S$633) online yesterday.

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According to Damien de Bohun, general manager of the state of Victoria's Major Events, the lure of playing at the MCG, one of the world's great sporting arenas, clinched the deal.

"Melbourne is an events city... so a match involving two of the world's greatest teams, Brazil and Argentina, was a natural fit," de Bohun told AFP.

Neymar, however, will not feature in the showpiece along with fellow Brazilians Paris Saint-Germain defender Marquinhos, Inter Milan centre-back Miranda, Real Madrid left-back Marcelo and Juventus right-back Dani Alves.

The 25-year-old forward is currently on holiday in the US, and he appeared on US talk show "Jimmy Kimmel Live!", attempting a trick shot from the rooftop of American TV host Jimmy Kimmel's home.

It will be the first game in charge for Jorge Sampaoli and the ex-Sevilla and Chile coach has said that he is looking to Messi - who according to the Spanish media has signed a new three-year deal to stay at Barcelona until 2021 - to revive Argentina's World Cup fortunes.

"He has the will to participate and drive Argentina to the World Cup, so he's very much involved toward these goals," Sampaoli said.

"I hope that the abilities that he shows as a leader and as a player will help Argentina improve."

Although Messi is set to face Brazil, he will not be playing in the friendly against Singapore next Tuesday as he will be returning to Argentina to prepare for his wedding.

Compatriot Nicolas Otamendi will also not feature at the National Stadium as he too, is getting married.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 09, 2017, with the headline 'No Neymar but Messi to star at the MCG'. Print Edition | Subscribe