Lionel Messi denies injury and basks in ‘special moment’ of his final World Cup | World Cup 2022

Once more with feeling. On the eve of his fifth and, he admitted, final World Cup, Lionel Messi described himself as standing before a “last chance to get what we all want so much”. But far from feeling the weight of expectation, the pressure of time running out, the Argentina superstar insisted he is enjoying this “special moment” more than ever before. Despite photographs circulating that suggested he had a heavily swollen ankle and trained apart from his teammates, Messi also walked into the room, winked, and insisted he is in perfect physical condition.

“I feel good,” the 35-year-old said. “I arrive here in a good moment, personally and physically. I heard [talk] that I had trained apart because I had a knock but there’s nothing strange there, it’s just a precaution. There’s no problem. It’s a different moment in the season [to stage a World Cup], with fewer games. I didn’t prepare in any special way. I got in good shape, got a run of continuous games and I felt comfortable all the way up to arriving here.”

“This is a special moment, surely my last World Cup, my last chance to get what we want so much,” Messi continued. “I don’t know if this is the happiest moment but I do feel very good, and more mature. I try to live everything to the maximum, to live this with intensity and above all to enjoy every moment.

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“Today I think I enjoy it all much more than before; before, I didn’t think about it, I just played. Every three days there are games and I didn’t have time to enjoy, just to think about the next match, to prepare, keep winning. Sometimes a lot of the important things go unnoticed; now I am more conscious of that. Age makes you see things differently, to give greater importance to those small details, things I maybe didn’t realise before. I focus more on that now.”

That was a message Messi said he was trying to pass on to the rest of an Argentina squad in which 19 of the 26 players will be playing their first World Cup. It is a process aided by success. Winning the Copa América, their first trophy in 28 years, was a liberation for the team and for their captain, and Messi likened the atmosphere in the current squad to that in the team that reached the World Cup final in Brazil.

Lionel Messi

“We come from having won and that brings tranquillity, decompression,” he said. “It allows you to work differently. People are not so anxious, so on top of the national team, hanging on results, but rather enjoying the moment. This reminds me of 2014: a very similar group, very united, clear about what it wants. It gives us confidence to come here in this form.”

“What keeps me trying is that hope, that enthusiasm. Don’t think about what could have been, try again. And enjoy it. It’s hard to make them see it that way and to just enjoy it at their age; I didn’t realise when I was that age. Let them enjoy it. The World Cup is special and you never know if it will happen again. It’s the greatest experience there is.” For him, it will be the last.

“I enjoy working with him when I can,” said Argentina’s head coach, Lionel Scaloni. “And I hope everyone can enjoy him. It’s wonderful to see him play and wonderful that he can play a World Cup. Every eulogy falls short.”

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