Lionel Messi is getting very excited about leading Argentina in the World Cup and says his ideal tournament would be to triumph over Neymar and Brazil in the final.
Barcelona's talisman believes he has come a long way in the since his previous World Cup showing and is far better prepared to deliver the goods for la Albiceleste this time around, though he also felt he was criticised too greatly after their last failure. Messi's first season with Neymar as a teammate at Camp Nou passed without a trophy so both will be craving for glory in the Maracana come Sunday July 13, and a meeting between two of the world's biggest stars representing the biggest rivalry in South America would be a fitting ending.
“I hope I can face Neymar in the finals, and if not him, any other team," he is quoted as saying in Catalan newspaper Sport.
“We’re looking forward to this tournament. I think I learned what I did wrong in previous tournaments, so that I never make the same mistakes again. There’s no doubt that there is a lot of excitement, with the group that is very united and hasn’t lost for awhile.
“[When I step on the pitch] I’m nothing like the person I am at home. I like to win and if I have to fight and argue my way there, I’ll do it. Once I step on the pitch, I transform. It’d be a dream to win the World Cup and judging by how things are going so far, I think we can.”
The Brazilian public are desperate for their team to take the trophy and believe it is their destiny to lift it in the Maracana and erase the demons of 1950, where they were heavy favourites as the best team and hosts but ended up losing to Uruguay after going in front in the game. That experience laid heavily on the team that lost for decades afterwards and this being the second time they host the tournament, Brazilians can see a symmetry that is giving them confidence in Neymar to lead the team to glory.
Germany and Italy have both hosted the tournament twice and won it on one of those occasions, so this being the second time the cup is in Brazil, and the memory of the Maracana shock still salient for some, they feel fate is on their side. In manager Luis Felipe Scolari they have a man that knows how to get it done and a settled side that are coming into a decent run of form, so lots of pundits fancy them to go all the way.
However, any showdown with Messi and the ridiculously talented Argentine attack will be a stern test, though they are a team that cannot rectify their defensive vulnerability. Messi is captain and will have the likes of Sergio Aguero, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Gonzalo Higuain and Angel di Maria alongside him to give all defences serious problems, but Javier Mascherano will have his work cut out to protect a defence that can be got at.
As far as dream finals are concerned, a fair few would probably prefer holders Spain to be defending their title against the hosts and bookies' favourites, but there would be something fitting about Messi and Neymar facing off.
South America's two biggest stars leave the continent to find riches and success at one of Europe's biggest sides and stage a glorious return in the biggest tournament in world football to cap off a very South American affair? That's the kind of narrative the World Cup needs.