Argentina superstar Lionel Messi insisted on Monday he is determined to make the most of what will likely be his fifth and final chance to win the World Cup.
At 35 years of age, the diminutive magician is close to winding down his remarkable trophy-laden career.
And after playing already in four World Cup tournaments, including suffering the heartache of losing the 2014 final in Brazil to Germany, Messi is adamant that he wants to make the most of what could be his last hurrah on the global stage in Qatar.
“It is probably my last World Cup, my last chance to land this great dream that we all have,” Messi told reporters in Doha.
“I don’t know if this is my happiest moment, but I feel great. I’m older, more mature, I want to make the most of everything, to live it with the maximum intensity and to enjoy every moment that I have.
“Today I’m enjoying everything much more. Before I didn’t think about that.
“Age makes you see things differently and makes the little details more important: those that before you didn’t give much importance to.”
The seven-time winner of the Ballon d’Or is widely regarded as one of the two greatest players of his generation — if not of all time — alongside Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo.
But after winning almost everything else in football, Messi is desperate to emulate fellow Argentina icon Diego Maradona, who inspired the South American giants to glory in Mexico 1986.
In recent days, Messi has twice trained apart from the rest of the squad but he moved to dispell any concerns amongst Argentines that he might not be fit for Tuesday’s Group C opener against Saudi Arabia.
“I trained apart because I had a knock, it was precautionary, but nothing unusual,” he said.
– ‘Favourites don’t usually win’ –
Argentina head into the tournament as Copa America holders and unbeaten in 36 matches dating back to 2019.
But coach Lionel Scaloni is wary about too much expectation and being lauded as one of the title favourites.
“The big favourites usually don’t win the World Cup. There are great teams, no less than eight or 10 that can win the World Cup, mostly Europeans.
“It’s true that the South Americans haven’t been able to reach the final recently, apart from Argentina in 2014. It is details that will decide the world champions and they don’t have to be favourites.”
Argentina’s Copa America success last year — defeating Brazil 1-0 at the Selecao’s Maracana fortress — lifted the weight of a painful 28-year barren spell without a major title for the Albiceleste.
Both Scaloni and Messi acknowledged that the victory had freed the team of intense pressure.
“Having won decompresses you a lot, it gives you peace of mind,” said captain Messi.
“This allows the people to be less anxious and fretting over results.”
Scaloni added: “Now the team goes out to play with much more tranquility, the external pressure isn’t there.”
Saudi Arabia’s French coach Herve Renard is looking forward to testing his team against Messi having led Morocco against Portugal and Ronaldo at the last World Cup in Russia.
“It’s an honour to come up against the best players on the planet. Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are football legends and thanks to them, football has changed,” said the much-travelled 54-year-old, an Africa Cup of Nations winner with both Zambia and Ivory Coast.
“It’s an honour to be here and an honour to play against them but when you compete you have to put all your energy and motivation into trying to topple the best, that’s what’s beautiful about sport, sometimes you get surprises.”