Barcelona to play hard ball over Messi's role in Olympics

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The Independent Football

Lionel Messi will join Argentina at the Beijing Olympics only if Barcelona are legally required to release the player, the La Liga club said yesterday.

The 20-year-old forward said last month it would be his decision, if selected, and that he was excited at the prospect of playing at the Olympics, even though it would mean him missing the first leg of Barcelona's Champions League third qualifying round tie on 12 or 13 August.

However, the club's sports director, Txiki Begiristain, said: "The regulations will decide. If they protect us he will play the Champions League qualifier; if not, we are obliged to let him go to the Olympics. It isn't the player's decision and we understand the regulations favour us."

The new Barcelona coach, Pep Guardiola, said, at his official presentation: "I hope we will have all our players together from the first day, because the sooner we have everyone together the better."

Barça's stance could also affect Seville's Brazil full-back Dani Alves, who has agreed a move to the club, though the transfer has not yet been completed.

Neither Argentina nor Brazil have announced their squads for the Olympic tournament, which takes place from 6 to 23 August. Players under the age of 23 are allowed to take part, plus three older players.

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