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Countdown begins for Messi

sports Updated: Aug 30, 2011 13:20 IST
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The excitement picked up for Friday’s first Fifa official soccer friendly in India featuring Argentina and Venezuela with Real Madrid stars Gonzalo Higuain and Angel di Maria arriving in Kolkata alongside a host of footballers from the two sides who reached in batches.

The Argentine duo flew into this eastern metropolis from Madrid where they are now taking part in the La Liga.

Twenty-three year old striker Higuain fired a hat-trick in the 2010 Fifa World Cup against South Korea becoming only the third Argentine to achieve the feat in the final stages of the big tourney.

The France-born French-Argentine professional is one of the top attractions for the Salt Lake stadium game alongside Argentine superstar Lionel Messi, who is slated to arrive early Wednesday.

Winger Angel di Maria, who holds the distinction of having struck the winner off a fine pass from Messi in the 2008 Beijing Olympics final opposite Nigeria, would be another vital piece in new Argentine coach Alejandro Sabella’s bid to start his stint in the hot seat with a win over Venezuela.

Veteran Argentine central defender Martin Demichelis, as also 23-year-old centre back Nicolas Otamendi, have also trooped into the city.

Sabella arrived on Monday morning with an 18-member team, that included goalkeeper Esteban Andrada, and other coaching and support staff.

Messi and his Barcelona FC teammate Javier Mascherano are slated to arrive in the wee hours Wednesday as they were busy with the club's La Liga game with Villareal Monday. Messi scored twice in the second half as Barca cantered to a 5-0 victory.

Despite the odd hour, a few soccer fans were present in the Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport to receive the players who were driven straight to the team hotel amidst high security.