Lionel Messi has long had to
contend with the criticism that he saves his best for Barcelona
but his first hat-trick for Argentina proved a perfect riposte
against those who doubted his international credentials.
"I had been waiting for a long time for this moment because
on a lot of occasions things didn't work out for me," he told
Argentine television after Wednesday's 3-1 win over Switzerland.
"Now, things have worked out, the team won and we did well.
It's special because it happened with the national team."
Failure to score at the 2010 World Cup or last year's Copa
America had baffled observers, with some questioning his
commitment and others making him a scapegoat for the team's
failings, even under the eccentric leadership of Diego Maradona.
Three times World Player of the Year, Messi has won all his
major honours - five Spanish league titles, three Champions
League and two Club World Cup titles - with Barcelona.
At international level, he has been restricted to two
age-level titles, the world under-20 championship in 2005 and
the Olympic Games gold medal in 2008.
"I've said on a lot of occasions that we can't compare with
Barcelona, they are two different things, but it's also the case
the national team has great players capable of playing great
games," Messi said.
"I've known the Kun [Sergio Aguero] for a long time and the
same goes for Pipita [Gonzalo Higuain], it's easy to strike up
an understanding with them on the pitch and we have a good
relationship off it, which is also important."
"There is still a big margin for improvement, we just have
to continue like this."
Coach Alejandro Sabella, who was in charge for his tenth
international after replacing Sergio Batista following the Copa
America, had nothing but praise for Messi, saying it was a
"blessing" for Argentina to have him in the side.
"Messi nearly always plays well, recently he has played some
excellent games," he told reporters. "We have to shelter him and
we all have to help him, players and technical staff."
"The fact that he didn't score doesn't mean that he didn't
play well at the last World Cup. He set up several goals and
created a lot of chances. Sometimes, the ball goes in and
sometimes it doesn't."
Sabella said Argentina's priority had to be to give Messi
the ball where he was at his most dangerous, just inside the
opposition half where he could run at their defence.
"We have to try out players who can give us versatility and
speed, such as Maxi Rodriguez, who is versatile and can play on
both sides," he said.
"In the first half, we won the ball five times in the
midfield and that's where he makes the difference. The second
goal was like that, we put pressure on the opposition near to
where Messi was."
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