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Messi's big chance to win over Argentine fans

sports Updated: Jun 10, 2010 19:24 IST

DPA
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"I want to show the country that I can play as well for Argentina as I do for Barcelona" said Leo Messi ahead of his country's first match in Group B against Nigeria.

Despite mesmerising displays for his club side, Messi has still not won the hearts of supporters back home in the way that fellow strikers Carlos Tevez and Martin Palermo have.

"He does not love the shirt", "He does not play for Argentina as he does for Barcelona" have been among the criticisms levelled at the 23-year-old over the last two years. And the shirt with his name on it is not the most popular among the fans.

Messi is aware of the situation and it saddens him and his family. "It hurts us a lot because we love Argentina but they do not seem to value that," said his mother Celia Cuccitini.

South Africa will be Messi's big chance to prove the doubters wrong. "I am going to give my answer on the pitch," he said. "It will be the perfect opportunity for me to show I can play just the same for my country as for my club."

Messi has received the backing of coach Maradona amid suggestions that he has not helped the Barcelona star adapt to the national side.

"How am I not going to want Leo to be the best in the World Cup? How am I going to make him play badly if he is playing for my team," he said. "We have to feel proud that we have him and hope that he will be the best in South Africa."