Football

Messi vows to make 68km trek if he wins World Cup

Argentina superstar will walk to pilgrimage 
site San Nicolas, Aguero suggests running there

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RUSSIA ARGENTINA

Of all the major football trophies that Lionel Messi has won, the biggest one - the World Cup - still eludes him.

At the 2014 World Cup, he came close, but Argentina lost 1-0 to Germany in the final after extra-time. At the age of 30, the superstar knows he won't have many opportunities left.

Such is his resolve that he has vowed to go on a pilgrimage - a 68km trek from his house outside Rosario to San Nicolas, an important centre of Argentine Catholicism - should La Albiceleste win football's holy grail in Russia next year.

"If we win, I will go on foot to San Nicolas," Messi told broadcaster TyC Sports, after training in Moscow, where Argentina will play a friendly against Russia tonight.

"We all want to win the World Cup."

San Nicolas, a popular pilgrimage site, invites believers to travel on foot to worship at its Sanctuary of Our Lady of the Rosary each September.

Teammate Sergio Aguero joined in, saying that not only would he join Messi on the pilgrimage, but they would run the distance.

The duo, however, did not explain how they would be getting time-off from their clubs.

The trek begins on Sept 25 annually, when both Barcelona and Manchester City would be in the thick of both domestic and Champions League action.

TELSTAR 18

Argentina fans, though, would be more interested to know how the team will fare at next year's World Cup in Russia.

Under coach Jorge Sampaoli, Argentina have struggled during the qualifiers, needing a Messi hat-trick in a must-win qualifier against Ecuador to secure their ticket to Russia 2018.

I was lucky enough to get to know this ball a bit earlier and I managed to have a try with it. I like all of it: the new design, the colours, everything. "Argentina star Lionel Messi on the Telstar 18

There should be some answers at tonight's friendly against Russia, during which next year's World Cup ball, the Telstar 18, would be used.

Messi, who was at the unveiling of the ball yesterday morning (Singapore time), said: "I like the design, I like the colours, and I would like to try it out on the pitch."

Makers adidas has said little about the Telstar 18 except that it is a modern interpretation of the original Telstar design used in 1970 and 1974 - golden years for Pele's Brazil and Franz Beckenbauer's West Germany.

The name is derived from the "star of television" - the first black-and-white ball made to look sharp in an era when colour TV sets were rare.

Meanwhile, Messi has also denied claims that he influences team selection at Argentina.

He has been accused of having a say over the dropping of in-form Inter Milan forward Mauro Icardi, but Messi insists otherwise.

"It is a lack of respect that people say that only my friends play," said Messi.

"It's a complete lie that I make any decisions like that. I have never asked that a player be included or left out and I never will."

Earlier, Messi had also said he hopes to avoid Spain in the group stages of the World Cup when the draw is made in Moscow on Dec 1.

Spain will be in the second pot of seeds, alongside England, Colombia, Mexico and Uruguay. - WIRE SERVICES

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