Sport Soccer

Friday 23 June 2017

Messi escapes markers and Heinze

Lionel Messi had plenty of people following him in Ireland last week, but only Micil Glennon got a word from him

Hundreds of big kids and real kids queued up for hours at Carton House on Tuesday evening, hoping to get an autograph or a photo with the Argentinean squad.

But Maxi Rodriguez, Pablo Zabaleta, and even Diego Milito understood perfectly that the fans were really waiting for a Lionel Messi moment.

But, in a cross between Bill Clinton and Tiger Woods, Messi was ferried about in a golf buggy, complete with a serious looking minder, and straight into the enclosed training area.

On Wednesday evening in Lansdowne, we were treated to an hour of the 23-year-old before being substituted. He received rapturous applause from the 45,200 crowd as he left the pitch.

Was that the last we were to see of him? Not quite. After the game he spoke to the Argentinean media about how it felt to get a standing ovation from the opposing fans: "Everybody loves Ireland, you have the biggest [fans]. It's incredible, the appreciation. I've never played here before and I have no link with Ireland. It's always good to have that appreciation from the public."

Messi said that, despite not having Maradona at the helm, he is confident Argentina are on the right track and are playing in a style that he is used to at his club.

"This group is okay at the moment, it's the same as the World Cup. We know each other from the under 20s and from the Olympics. The group is united and we are looking forward. The victory is good but we don't need to let him [caretaker coach Sergio Batista] work to see how good a coach he is. I really liked how we played if you consider we didn't have much time together. We try to use the same system as we use in Barcelona and I felt really comfortable with that."

He spent about 10 minutes talking to Spanish-language media before heading for the bus with more burly minders. Then I chanced my pidgin Spanish.

"Lionel, una pregunta para la media Irlandesa." One question for the Irish media.

And it worked. He walked over and stood beside me. I decided to play it simple and just look for his thoughts on the game. Of course, he replied in Castilian.

"It was a good match against a big team. We tried to get the ball from them and we distributed and used the ball quite well I think. The most important thing is to get the win, even though physically we are not at the top, and also we are not in the rhythm of matches at the beginning of the season, but in the end it was a really good match."

And with that he was escorted away to the waiting bus. Much to the relief of Real Madrid's Gabriel Heinze, who continuously banged on the window of the bus urging his talkative, mannerly team-mates to join him so they could hit the road -- presumably he had an urgent appointment to remonstrate with an official. Lionel Messi ignored him for as long as he could. Different class.

Sunday Independent

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