Football: Messi statue to stand next to Maradona, Pele at Conmebol museum

Argentina's Lionel Messi posing with the statue of himself holding the World Cup during the Conmebol event in Luque, Paraguay. PHOTO: REUTERS

PARAGUAY – Lionel Messi stepped out of Diego Maradona’s shadow by leading Argentina to World Cup victory in 2022, and a statue of the diminutive forward will now stand alongside those of his predecessor and Brazil great Pele at the South American federation’s museum.

Messi, holding a replica of the World Cup trophy, stood beside the life-size statue at an unveiling ceremony at the South American Football Federation (Conmebol) headquarters in Luque, Paraguay, before the Copa Libertadores draw on Monday.

The 35-year-old was honoured after emulating the late Maradona by leading Argentina to their first World Cup triumph in 36 years in Qatar in December. He scored two goals as La Albiceleste won 4-2 on penalties following a 3-3 draw against France.

“I had never dreamt or thought about this,” seven-time Ballon d’Or winner Messi said. “Even with all the recognition we are receiving for being world champions, I think we are still not really aware of what we have achieved.

“My dream was to enjoy what I liked when I was little, to be a professional football player, to do what I always loved in this life. I had a very long road, many decisions and defeats but I always looked ahead and wanted to go for a triumph, for a victory.

“I think that is the most important thing, to fight for your dreams, that everything is possible and to enjoy the game, which is the most beautiful thing there is.

“I have achieved practically everything in football. Now all I have to do is enjoy what I have left.”

The rest of the Argentina players and coach Lionel Scaloni, meanwhile, received miniature trophies of the World Cup and the Copa America, which they won in 2021.

The Argentine Football Federation also renamed the national team’s training facility after Messi on Saturday, two days after he scored his 800th career goal in a 2-0 friendly win over Panama.

Messi would become the first Argentina player to net 100 international goals if he scores in Tuesday’s (Wednesday morning, Singapore time) friendly against Curacao. REUTERS

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