Football: Russia on his mind, as Messi admits Cup dream

Lionel Messi after scoring Barcelona's second goal in the 2-0 win against Athletic Bilbao on Sunday. His focus is on the World Cup.
Lionel Messi after scoring Barcelona's second goal in the 2-0 win against Athletic Bilbao on Sunday. His focus is on the World Cup.PHOTO: REUTERS

BUENOS AIRES • Argentina and Barcelona forward Lionel Messi has acknowledged that his head is already in Russia, where he will be aiming to cap a remarkable career by winning the World Cup.

The Albiceleste have endured a series of disappointments at recent major tournaments, stumbling at the final hurdle in the 2014 World Cup as well as the 2015 and 2016 editions of the Copa America.

And the quest for redemption will begin on June 16 when Jorge Sampaoli's side take on Iceland in their first Group D match in Moscow.

"The World Cup is getting closer and my head is there, but here (in Barcelona), I also have important things," Messi told Argentinian TV programme La Cornisa on Sunday.

"It's amazing, people are telling me they want us to win, but I try to live day to day and not think too much.

"What makes me forget everything is to be with my children, my wife, my family. The rest is secondary. The birth of my first son made me not close myself into football. I don't like to lose... but you can't always win."

When asked how he would handle the Finals pressure, the five-time Ballon d'Or winner added: "I've become used to it. I try to be natural and not think about the fact."

Argentina, who are bidding for their third World Cup and their first since 1986, have also been drawn with Croatia and Nigeria.

"I imagine being in that final (in Moscow on July 15) and lifting the trophy," said Messi, who said the defeat by Germany in extra time of the 2014 edition still evokes pain.

"It (World Cup glory) is a lifelong dream and every time that a World Cup approaches, the dream becomes a little stronger.

"The 2014 final was painful because we came so close. Winning a World Cup is what we all want."

Messi can also look forward to another LaLiga title after getting on the scoresheet as Barca extended their lead at the top to 11 points and 29 matches unbeaten.

Paco Alcacer also scored in the 2-0 home win over Athletic Bilbao on Sunday, during which Barca hit the woodwork three times.

Real Madrid reclaimed third place from Valencia when Cristiano Ronaldo took his LaLiga goals tally this season to 22 with four in a 6-3 home win over Girona.

Second-placed Atletico Madrid effectively surrendered their hopes of overhauling Barca at the top after two late goals from Enes Unal gave Villarreal a 2-1 home victory over Diego Simeone's side.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, XINHUA

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 20, 2018, with the headline 'Russia on his mind, as Messi admits Cup dream'. Print Edition | Subscribe