India ready to be dazzled by marvelous Messi

History is only hours away from the making, with the first ever FIFA official international friendly in the country set to kick off on Friday, featuring the superstar Lionel Messi-led star-studded Argentina and a resurgent Venezuelan team.

Updated: September 02, 2011 10:46 IST
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Kolkata: History is only hours away from the making, with the first ever FIFA official international friendly in the country set to kick off on Friday, featuring the superstar Lionel Messi-led star-studded Argentina and a resurgent Venezuelan team.

The match, to be played at the Yuva Bharati Krirangan (YBK) - the world's second largest stadium by capacity, is one of the most high profile to have been staged in the sub-continent. It will also end India's soccer crazy city Kolkata's wait to see the prince of football in action.

The match to be played under floodlights has several other firsts. It would mark the beginning of the mesmerizing Messi's stint as regular national captain and Alejandro Sabella's reign as coach of the Argentine side.

Messi, who arrived here early Wednesday amid delirious cheers from two thousand soccer fans and has been the centre of all attention ever since, would be the highest rated footballer to play in India in peak form.

History and star power make Argentina overwhelming favourites.

For two-time World Cup champions Argentina, anything less than the title at the mega event triggers deep resentment at home. Venezuela are still awaiting their first ever appearance in the final stage of the World Cup.

Since 1967, the two sides have clashed 17 times, with Argentina winning on every occasion.

In FIFA listings, Argentina are 9th, while Venezuela stand 44th.

But Venezuela could take heart from their recent performance in the Copa America where they finished fourth. Argentina went out of contention in the quarter final.

Venezuela, which 12 years ago lagged even behind India in the FIFA rankings, have risen like the proverbial Phoenix to become a major South American footballing nation.

The Venezuela soccer team, which was 110th in the 1999 FIFA rankings - four rungs below India - has since then vastly improved.

The rise of the 'La Vinotinto' or 'The Burgundy' as the team is fondly called because of its jersey colour, is largely attributed to the massive infrastructural investment the country made to host the Copa America in 2007.

Despite the hype around Messi's side, which has completely overshadowed Venezuela, Argentina's versatile defender Pablo Zabaleta concedes it would be a tough outing.

"It's going to be a very tough match. Venezuela are a very good team," said the Manchester City player.

Venezuelan coach Cesar Farias concedes that the individual brilliance of the Argentines could put to test his side's resilience.

"You can't hide the fact that Messi is a great player. But football is a team game, we have been working to be a cohesive unit. We have our attention on the strengths of Argentina. But we are focussing more on our strengths."

The tie assumes more importance as the two sides are slated to clash in the World Cup qualifiers on October 14 and thus the two coaches would do well to use the match to gauge each other's strengths and weaknesses.

"A game like this involves a lot of prestige. That makes it important. This friendly match is not a friendly for us. Everytime you play against Argentina, you want to see the team in very good form," Farias said.

Sabella has already said the game would kick start his side's campaign for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, for which he has plans to develop a new team around Messi whom he has anppointed captain till the end of the qualifiers.

Besides Messi, Argentina has the firepower of Gonzalo Higuain and Sergio Aguero, and that would be a big plus if the Venezuelans resort to tight manmarking for world footballer of the year, Messi.

In the defence - which has often been Argentina's weak link - they have Zabaleta and Nicolas Burdisso though Javier Zanetti's absence could be felt.

But for the all-excited spectators, who head towards the 1.20 lakh capacity YBK (also called Salt Lake Stadium), the real deal would be to watch the genius, Messi in action.

The cracker of an atmosphere that is likely to prevail in the stadium would be the perfect stage for the best of Latin American football known for its beauty and dazzle.

The squads:


Goalkeepers: Sergio Romero, Estaban Andrada, Mariano Andujar.

Defenders: Martin Demichelis, Federico Fernandez, Nicolas Burdisso, Nicolas Otamendi, Pablo Zabaleta, Nicolas Pareja, Marcos Rojo.

Midfielders: Angel Di Maria, Javier Mascherano, Ever Banega, Ricardo Alvarez, Fabian Rinaudo, Jonas Gutierrez, Javier Pastore, Luis Gonzalez, Jose Sosa.

Forwards: Gonzalo Higuain, Lionel Messi, Eduardo Salvio, Sergio Aguero.

Coach: Alejandro Sabella.


Goalkeepers: Rafael Romo, Renny Vega, Daniel Hernandez.

Defenders: Andres Tunez, Oswaldo Vizcarrondo, Cesar Gonzalez, Roberto Rosales, Rolf Feltscher, Fernando Amorebieta, Rohel Briceno, Josef Martinez

Midfielders: Franco Signorelli, Josmar Zambrano, Tomas Rincon, Yohandry Orozco, Raul Gonzalez, Gabriel Cichero, Juan Arango, Frank Feltscher, Julio Alvarez, Luis Manuel Seijas.

Forwards: Nicolas Fedor, Salomon Rondon, Mario Rondon.

Coach: Cesar Farias.

Match Commissioner: Col Goutam Kar

Referee: A Rowan; Assistant Referees: Biplab Poddar, Dinesh Nair and Franky Fernandes; Fourth official: Pratap Singh.

Kick off: 7 pm.

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