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'Messi on course for World Cup'

Argentina coach Jose Pekerman says that forward Lionel Messi is on course to make his World Cup squad after recovering from long-term injuries.

india Updated: May 10, 2006 12:35 IST
Agencies

Argentina coach Jose Pekerman says that defender Gabriel Heinze and forward Lionel Messi are on course to make his World Cup squad after recovering from long-term injuries.

"Heinze and Messi should both be on the list as it looks like they will be fully fit and ready for the World Cup," Pekerman told a news conference in Madrid following a get-together with 14 of the players likely to be included in the final squad.

Heinze returned recently to action for Manchester United after seven months, following knee surgery, while 18-year-old Barcelona forward Messi is in the final stages of recovery from a thigh injury that has sidelined him since March 7.

"Heinze's knee has recovered perfectly and he is now suffering muscle pains that are perfectly normal as he is back in full-time training after an injury. We are keeping a close eye on him." Pekerman said that despite his tender years Messi had done enough this season to prove that he was ready to perform on the international stage.

"It is actions not age that count and the way he has emerged this season has been extraordinary. He has done very well and handled himself very well," said Pekerman.

"In a difficult game like Barcelona against Chelsea (in the Champions League) he was a decisive player."

Pekerman refused to be drawn on the make-up of the rest of the squad, in particular on whether or not Valencia playmaker Pablo Aimar, who did not attend the get-together, would be named in the final 23-man squad.

"Nothing special has kept him (Aimar) out of this meeting. There are a lot of players in the same position as him. You will have to wait until May 15 for the definitive list.

"Our big concern is making sure the players are in top physical as well as technical form and there will be doubts right up until the last minute because of the fact that the domestic leagues last so long.

"We want to make sure the players arrive in perfect form. This is especially important in the World Cup when you play so many games close together," said Pekerman.

Pekerman, who steered the Argentina youth team to three world championships, said he was relishing the prospect of leading the team in Germany.

"Personally I will be trying to expose the team to everything that I have learned in the past," he said.

"I want to help them demonstrate that Argentina will always compete in the World Cup and that we will always have big aspirations.

"We want to be one of the teams that are battling away to win the trophy."

Argentina have been drawn together with Netherlands, Serbia & Montenegro and Ivory Coast in the so-called "group of death".

The two-times champions open their campaign against Ivory Coast on June 10.