Argentina bullish but Messi stuck on sidelines

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The Independent Football

Lionel Messi has survived an injury scare but the 18-year-old may have to wait a little longer to break the record, held since 1934, of being Argentina's youngest player ever to feature in a World Cup.

The Barcelona prodigy will be on the bench against Serbia & Montenegro in Gelsenkirchen today which could see Argentina secure their place in the last 16 of the tournament.

Messi trained with the rest of the squad yesterday but only to take part in the warm-up. He avoided kicking a ball after damaging his left foot in a practice match earlier this week. This raised fears, given Wayne Rooney's injury, that another of the world's most exciting young stars had broken a metatarsal.

The Argentinian team doctor, Donato Villani, confirmed that Messi had hurt his foot but it appears there is no bone damage. The Barcelona striker is also recovering from a thigh injury sustained against Chelsea in March and has not started a match since.

Messi, who turns 19 on 24 June - the day after the group stages end - still has more than a month to break the record set by Robert Luis Iraneta at the World Cup in Italy. His health has become as much of a fascination to the Argentinians as Rooney's to the English.

Messi's frustrations are shared by Carlos Tevez, who also did not train fully yesterday after having been struck down by a stomach upset, although it shows how powerful a threat Argentina are that they have both players still to introduce to this tournament.

It means that the coach, Jose Pekerman, can keep faith with Hernan Crespo and Javier Saviola who scored the goals in the impressive opening Group C victory over the Ivory Coast, although he will bolster midfield with the more skilful Luis Gonzalez replacing Esteban Cambiasso.

"The idea is to have possession that will allow us to continue getting forward," Pekerman said yesterday after, again, having the confidence to name his team the day before a match.

The change should also provide more support for the impressive playmaker Juan Roman Riquelme although Pekerman said: "It's not exclusively for Roman. It's important we have equilibrium in all sectors."

Pekerman said the Serbs would be a threat, especially after losing their opening fixture, and predicted that the height of the 6ft 7in striker Nikola Zigic - who is set to prevent Savo Milosevic from gaining a 100th cap - could be a "deciding factor".

Zigic, who is continuing to attract interest from several Premiership clubs, is considerably taller than both Argentinian centre-backs. The Serbs, who must win, are however handicapped by the loss Manchester United's Nemanja Vidic, who has been ruled out of the rest of the tournament with damaged knee ligaments while reports of infighting and feuding with the media have added to the pressure they feel.

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