Messi on his way, but is the Salt Lake ready for him?


It may be billed as an international friendly on the Fifa calendar.

But for Argentina, their game against Venezuela here on September 2 is anything but ‘friendly.’

Put another way, the clash at the Salt Lake Stadium assumes a greater importance as the Argentines, under newly appointed coach Alejandro Sabella and Lionel Messi — named captain on Thursday — embark on a whole new journey which kicks off at this venue.

A special occasion thus awaits India and soccer-crazy Kolkata too because as of now, it stands that the opportunity is there for them to witness ‘magical’ Messi make his debut as a full-time leader. “For Argentina, every match is important from now onwards. Our coach believes in taking the field with a full-strength side and try and win all matches,” stressed assistant coach Julien Camino, who had donned East Bengal colours during his brief stint in India back in 1988.

Apart from Messi, the squad features a host of World Cuppers — some of them brought back — which not only adds glitz, but also reflects the amount of seriousness the Argentine Football Association has attached to this encounter.

Stringent selection too has been highlighted as the AFA has axed unsettled Manchester City striker Carlos Tevez, who was dismal during Argentina’s disappointing Copa America campaign, alongside Inter Milan midfielder Xavier Zanetti, Diego Milito and his brother Gabriel.

Such decisions only suggest that the 2014 World Cup is already on the minds of the Argentines, desperate to erase the bitter memories of Copa 2011 and the 0-4 thrashing against Germany in Cape Town last year. But ask them about Tevez’s expulsion, the query remains unanswered. “This question can be answered only by our head coach,” was Camino’s reply.

Leaving Messi aside, the artificial turf of the Salt Lake could turn out to be a worry. Camino, AFA technical committee member Pernas Oscar Alberto and Fifa representative Martin Rodrigo Bauso examined the surface on Friday, keeping their fingers crossed on the matter.

“We are not accustomed to playing on this kind of a surface. Still, we hope to make the necessary adjustments,” Camino said.

Argentina squad

Lionel Messi (capt), Angel Di Maria, Gonzalo Higuain, Javier Mascherano, Martin Demichelis, Ever Banega, Eduardo C. Salvio, Federico Fernan-dez, Ricardo Alvarez, Nicolas Burdisso, Mari-ano Andujar, Sergio Ro-mero, Ezequiel Garay, Fabian Rinaudo, Nicolas Otamendi, Sergio Aguero, Pablo Zabaleta, Jonas Gutierrez, Javier Pastore, Luis Gonzalez, Lisandro Lopez, Cristian Ansaldi, Nicolas Pareja, Marcos Rojo, Jose Sosa and Esteban Andrada.

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