BUENOS AIRES - Argentina are looking to
win the Copa America on home ground next year and end the doubts
in fans' minds about Lionel Messi's commitment and ability when
playing for his country, coach Sergio Batista said.
In the calm of Argentina's training complex outside the
capital, far removed from the bustle of Diego Maradona's
controversial spell in charge of the team, Batista said he was
confident Messi would finally win over the fans during the
tournament in July.
"He's had very good games, he always gave of his best in the
national team shirt... to heap so much responsibility on Lionel
seems unfair to me," Batista told Reuters in an interview.
"He has to go out, play and enjoy and we try to build a team
on the basis of what Lionel is," the 48-year-old Batista said.
"That Lionel should feel comfortable within a system we
propose on the pitch is pleasing because he's the best player in
the world and to have him in good spirits is good."
Messi, who was in Batista's Olympic gold-medal team in 2008,
was FIFA player of the year in 2009 and is on the short list of
three for this year's award with Barcelona team mates Xavi and
Andres Iniesta, World Cup winners with Spain in South Africa in
"What happens with Lionel is that he is burdened with many
things, like having to be the team's saviour. To play for
Barcelona is one thing and in the national team another," said
Batista, Maradona's team mate in Argentina's 1986 World
Cup-winning team and now his successor as coach.
"We try for him not to have pressures, relieve all the
pressures when he comes to the national team so that he can
enjoy the camp, the life with his team mates; we don't pressure
any of the players and we're convinced that's how they can feel
Batista was named as interim coach after Maradona was not
retained and departed accusing team manager Carlos Bilardo and
Argentine Football Association (AFA) directors of treachery
following his team's 4-0 humiliation by Germany in their World
Cup quarter-final in Cape Town.
The AFA confirmed Batista in the job in November.
His team have beaten Ireland 1-0, Spain 4-1 and Brazil 1-0
and lost 1-0 to Japan in friendlies.
"We got a positive balance, not only because of the results
but also the way we managed our work and the tranquillity there
has been in the team, getting to know the players," said
Batista, whose quiet temperament contrasts with Maradona's.
"I have my vision of football and I like the football played
by Barcelona and I'm convinced Argentina can achieve that."
Messi has shown his support for Batista, saying after last
month's win over Brazil in which he scored a brilliant late
winner that he felt as comfortable with Argentina as he did in
his club side, something that was patently not the case during
the World Cup qualifiers last year.
The Copa America could be the ideal setting for Messi to
silence his critics and for his team mates to recover the form
they showed in Argentina's early matches at the World Cup which
had fans dreaming of a new title.
"He doesn't have to prove anything. Yes, for the squad, for
his team mates he's the best in the world, but (we must) not
burden him with that responsibility of Lionel having to win the
Copa America on his own," Batista said.
Argentina have gone 17 years without a major trophy since
their last Copa America victory in Ecuador in 1993 and they lost
the last two finals in 2004 and 2007 to arch-rivals Brazil. They
are in Group A with Bolivia, Colombia and guest team Japan.
"All the commitments of the national team are serious. The
Copa America is an important tournament for us," said Batista.
"It's not the priority, that's the World Cup, always. It's
part of the process for getting to 2014 in good shape."
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