Messi: I can handle WC pressure
Lionel Messi doesn't feel any pressure to deliver for Argentina at the World Cup, with the world player of the year saying he won't change his Barcelona playing style to suit his country.
Four years on from watching Argentina lose to Germany in the quarterfinals, Messi is a different player from the 18-year-old who watched from the bench in Berlin that June afternoon.
This time around, Messi heads to the tournament in South Africa having won a string of personal honors and titles with Barcelona, largely due to his extraordinary playmaking and scoring prowess.
"I don't feel the pressure," Messi told the Associated Press in a recent interview. "The truth is I'm arriving in good shape. I have a strong desire to do as well as I can, as do my teammates. We want to give our best for Argentina and we hope things turn out well."
Coach Diego Maradona has yet to capture Messi's best, with the forward's performances for Barcelona seemingly on a different plane to his international displays.
"I won't change. I'll keep playing in the same way," Messi said. "I hope to be able to do what I do (in Barcelona) in the national team without my form suffering, because that (way of playing) is what has made me able to achieve everything I have (up until now)."
Messi looks best used on the right side of Barcelona's three-pronged attack, although he has also had a prolific season as a central striker for Pep Guardiola's team. Messi was the Spanish league's top scorer with 34 goals and led Europe with 47 goals to equal both of Ronaldo's club record tallies from 1996-97.
Up until now, Maradona has opted to select Messi in a free role behind the two strikers, but the Argentina coach has an array of attacking talent in Diego Milito, Carlos Tevez, Gonzalo Higuain, Angel Di Maria and Sergio Aguero.
Argentina routed Canada 5-0 on Monday in its last friendly before the finals, with Maradona's tactics offering little intent on trying to replicate Barcelona's Ajax-inspired formation with suitable players.
"I don't know. It's Diego's decision," said Messi, who spoke to the AP at the launch of his new Adidas soccer shoes. "But I think Argentina is fortunate to have many top-quality forwards. That has been proven in this last year because if you look at all the important leagues, there is an Argentine there at the top.
"We are approaching the World Cup on very good form and that's great news."
Messi has endured criticism in Argentina following some performances for his national side.
"The criticism on how I play doesn't hurt," the Rosario native said. "If it's because of my performances then I'm the first to criticize myself and the first to know that I haven't done things well enough – it's not a problem. But what hurts is when people talk about things unrelated to football. Things beyond football, things from outside."
Such criticism has seen Messi accused of being concerned solely with money or not being interested in playing for his national side, part of which stems from the Barcelona star having lived away from Argentina since the age of 13.
"Let's hope we can do things well and that we can become champions with Argentina and lift the cup," he said. "There is no doubt that winning a World Cup would be something unforgettable for the country, for me and for everybody.
"I have also won everything individually and now I would like to do the same with Argentina."
Messi calls playing for Maradona "very special," but he is quick to dismiss the comparisons that have arisen following his breathtaking displays this season.
"It bothers me for him more than it does for me," Messi said.
But Maradona's greatness will long remain and the Argentina coach has said he hopes Messi can outshine him this summer.
"That's impossible," Messi said. "But let's hope Argentina can be champion."