Apparently aware of his huge fan base in Nigeria, five-time World Footballer of the Year, Lionel Messi, is not happy that he will be missing in action when the Albeceleste takes on the Super Eagles tomorrow at the Krasnodar Stadium in Russia.
The FC Barcelona forward played for the South American nation against World Cup host, Russia in Moscow last Saturday and returned to Spain almost immediately. Sergio Aguero scored the lone goal of the sell out crowd game.
“I have the desire to play against Nigeria but the (Coach Jorge) Sampaoli decided to regulate (my game) a little and I won’t play in the game against Nigeria,” Messi told SPORT before he returned to his club.
Messi also insisted that “we want to go into the World Cup in the best possible way” and for that reason Sampaoli has decided to free him and manage his minutes before next summer.
“It’s good to win to keep correcting and improving things. We have to strengthen the system of play that Sampaoli wants and take advantage of the time we have together. The reality is that we have little time with the national team and we have to take advantage of it to the fullest of the time we do spend together and to put into practice what the coach wants.”
On Aguero’s winning goal against Russia, he said: “It’s nice, important, coming from (breaking the scoring record with) City. I’m happy for him. It’s good to win to strengthen what we’re doing.”
Meanwhile, there are strong indications that the 34,291 capacity Krasnodar Stadium may not be filled to capacity when the Super Eagles take on the South American side tomorrow because the cheapest ticket for the match is going for 600 rubbles (about $11).
SPORT also reported that the absence of the iconic Messi has taken a shine from the hitherto high profile encounter.
“Messi is the player most people in Krasnodar want to see. Only the Moscow fans have had the opportunity of beholding the global star this FIFA window,” remarked some Russian fans yesterday,
Messi is a familiar foe to Nigerian team from aged grade competitions. In 2005, the FC Barcelona forward inspired Argentina to beat Nigeria 2-1 in Utrecht, Holland in the final match of U-20 World Cup.
Three years later at Beijing Olympic Games final match, the mercurial forward delivered the pass to Angel Di Maria for the lone goal scored against Nigeria in the match for Argentina to win the men’s football event gold medal.
He scored two goals in the 3-1 win in an international friendly match played in Dakar, Bangladesh in 2009.
At the last World Cup finals in Brazil, Messi scored the opener for Argentina in the 3-2 win against Super Eagles in the last group match.
Tomorrow’s match will be the second time Nigeria will be playing in Russian territory after getting a ‘wild card’ to feature in the football event of the Moscow Olympics in 1980 following the withdrawal of Ghana that originally qualified.
The Flying Eagles led by Andrew Uwe played in the 1985 edition of World Youth Championship (now U-20 World Cup) that held in the then Soviet Union. Nigeria won the bronze medal of the competition.