Healthy Messi ready to face Japan in friendly

Kyodo News

Lionel Messi said very little, but the Barcelona striker is more than keen to disprove his critics back home who accuse him of underperforming for the national side as Argentina face Japan in a friendly on Friday night.

“I came to Japan because I have something to show in the match,” the reigning FIFA World Player of the Year said after Argentina’s training session at Tokyo’s National Stadium on Thursday.

The 23-year-old Messi has felt the heat from the Argentina media after Diego Maradona’s side crashed out in the quarterfinals at this summer’s World Cup. He did not score a single goal in South Africa, and has become the scapegoat for the team’s failures.

Argentina’s acting coach Sergio Batista, who won the gold medal with Messi at the Beijing Olympics, said that such criticisms levied against him are unfair.

“Playing for your club and playing for your country are two different things,” Batista said. “I don’t buy that he has not performed well for Argentina. People just expect the world from him.”

“He has always done the job for me, and I thought he played well at the World Cup despite what people say. He could even get better from here on, but I’ve been pleased with what he’s done for me.”

Batista reassured Japanese fans that Messi, who picked up an ankle injury two weeks ago while playing for Barcelona, is fit and raring to go against Alberto Zaccheroni’s Japan.

“Messi has managed to recover from his injury very quickly,” Batista said. “He is definitely capable of playing. I can’t name my lineup yet because I haven’t told the players, but physically, he is 100 percent and ready to go.”

While Batista has given Messi the green light for the game, he is not yet ready to name him his captain.

Messi has told Argentine media he wants to captain his country, but Batista, who wants to lessen the load on his superstar, will hand the armband to his club teammate Javier Mascherano.

“I spoke with Leo about it, and I think he understands,” said Batista. “I don’t want put any additional pressure by naming him captain. I want him to be relaxed and feel at ease.”

Hodgson hails sale

LONDON (AP) Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson is delighted the Boston Red Sox owners want to rescue the heavily indebted club, despite a looming court battle by the board to force the club’s current owners to sell.

A £300 million ($476-million) bid from Red Sox owner New England Sports Ventures has been accepted by three members of Liverpool’s board ahead of an Oct. 15 deadline. “It’s very positive and of course I’m delighted,” Hodgson said Thursday. “It’s been going on a long time and I know how hard the board have worked to set things up.”