Lionel Messi has explained his absence from the Argentina team that faced Italy on Friday, revealing that he has been playing through injury for a while.
La Albiceleste beat Italy 2-0 at the Etihad Stadium thanks to goals from Ever Banega and Manuel Lanzini, but their all-time record goalscorer was a notable absentee, much to the disappointment of spectators in Manchester.
Speaking to TyC Sports before the game, Messi revealed that he had been suffering with an injury, but remained hopeful of playing in Argentina's next match.
🇺🇾Uruguay 2-0 República Checa🇨🇿— MisterChip (Alexis) (@2010MisterChip) March 24, 2018
🇷🇺Rusia 0-3 Brasil🇧🇷
🇮🇹Italia 0-2 Argentina🇦🇷
🇫🇷Francia 2-3 Colombia🇨🇴
🇵🇪Perú 2-0 Croacia🇭🇷
SUDAMÉRICA 5-0 EUROPA!
"I have been suffering from this hamstring injury for some time," said Messi, as quoted by theDaily Express.
"I always want to play, but the road to the World Cup is still long. We decided to wait for this game [against Italy] to rest but I'm optimistic about playing against Spain."
The injury does not appear to have affected Messi's form for Barcelona. He has scored 35 goals in all competitions this season, and Barca remain in contention for all three competitions.
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Messi was talismanic for Argentina at the last World Cup, scoring in all of their group games and winning the Golden Ball award for the best player at the tournament - even though Argentina ultimately lost to Germany in the final.
The 2018 World Cup may be Messi's last chance to win a major honour with his country, having reversed a decision to retire from international football in 2016. Argentina will face Iceland, Nigeria and Croatia in Group D.