Saturday, April 20, 2024

Will soccer phenom Lionel Messi soon play his first official game in Mexico?

Will soccer great Lionel Messi play in Mexico, or won’t he?

The April 10 game in Monterrey, Nuevo León, is still three weeks away, but with the 36-year-old Argentine playmaker currently nursing a hamstring injury, fútbol talk in Mexico these days is all about will he or won’t he.

The matchup of Messi’s Inter Miami team against the Rayados of Monterrey became a reality last week when each team advanced into the quarterfinals of the Concacaf Champions Cup — a knockout-style tournament for the best teams in North and Central America.

Miami, for whom Messi has played since last summer, dispatched fellow Major League Soccer (MLS) foe Nashville SC in a home-and-home series in the Round of 16, and Monterrey did the same to MLS squad FC Cincinnati. Monterrey plays in Liga MX, Mexico’s top pro league.

Messi was favoring his right hamstring during a March 7 match against Nashville, and in the return match last Wednesday, he left due to injury in the 50th minute — after scoring one goal and assisting another in Miami’s 3-1 victory.

Messi already sat out Saturday’s MLS match against DC United and expected to miss Miami’s next MLS match, as well. Argentina’s national team confirmed on Monday he will not suit up for a pair of friendlies against El Salvador (Friday in Philadelphia) and Costa Rica (March 26 in Los Angeles), due to what the team called a “minor injury.”

Messi and another soccer player in an ad for a Concacaf Champions Cup quarter final game
Messi appears in publicity for the quarter finals game, but will he appear on the field? (Concacaf)

The excitement over Messi in Monterrey is partially fueled by the fact that he has played on Mexican soil only twice, and both were charity/exhibition matches. The first was in Mexico City in 2011, when a team called “Messi and Friends” battled the “Rest of the World.” The following year, there was a similar match in Cancún.

Five times, Messi has played in matches against Liga MX teams, but four were in the United States and one was in Spain.

Miami head coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino — the beleaguered manager of the Mexican national team from 2019 until after Mexico’s World Cup debacle of 2022 — says his goal is to have Messi ready for Monterrey on April 3 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and April 10 at BBVA Stadium in Nuevo León.

“We’ll continuously evaluate what he’s doing. The objective is for him to be able to play in the [Champions Cup] quarterfinals … We won’t do anything that involves running any kind of risk,” Martino said Saturday.

Should Miami get past Monterrey — with or without Messi — the superstar could get another opportunity to play in Mexico in the semifinals or finals. Half the teams still alive are Mexican sides: Tigres UANL of Monterrey, Club América of Mexico City and CF Pachuca from Hidalgo state.

Messi, who will turn 37 in June, might be nearing the end of his glorious career. Last month, he was also plagued by a groin injury.

The longtime star of FC Barcelona has scored more than 825 goals for club and country and has been named the world’s top player numerous times. He has the most recorded assists in soccer history.

The Copa America tournament this summer might be his last major international tournament. Argentina is the defending Copa America and World Cup champion. He’ll turn 39 during the next World Cup, being held jointly in Mexico, the United States and Canada in the summer of 2026.

With Miami, Messi has 16 goals and seven assists in 19 appearances dating back to his debut last July.

With reports from La Jornada, El Financiero, USA Today and BolaVIP

By Mexico News Daily staff writer Andy Altman-Ohr

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