SWELL I NEVER LIONEL MESSI is determined to enjoy his World Cup swansong with a smile on his face – despite concerns over an ankle strain.
Argentina’s superstar skipper will make damn sure his young team mates do the same after he admitted missing out on too much fun during his stellar career.
Lionel Messi has insisted he is fine – despite pictures appearing to show a swollen right ankle.
The World Cup is one of the few trophies Messi has yet to win in his incredibly successful career.
Messi, 35, leads the South Americans into his fifth and final appearance at the greatest football show on earth and starts against minnows Saudi Arabia tomorrow.
He was pictured with what appeared to be a swollen ankle in training but the forward played it down and insisted he was fit.
Messi said: “I feel very good physically. I think I’m arriving at a great moment, both personally and physically. I don’t have any problems.”
And the Argentine star’s message to the 18 members of his squad making their debuts is that enjoyment goes hand in hand with winning.
Despite gobbling up four Champions Leagues, seven Spanish titles, the Ballon d’Or seven times and with his country the Copa America, the World Cup has eluded him.
And little Leo said: “I don’t know if this is the best or the happiest moment in my career, but I feel a bit more mature trying to give my best and enjoy. And leave with a lot of intensity.
“I am trying to enjoy each moment in the World Cup. I think I am enjoying myself much more now. Before maybe I didn’t think about that and wanted to play, play, play.
“When you play every three days you don’t have time to enjoy because you are thinking about the next game.
“Sometimes I think I missed a lot in my career.”
One of the things the multi-millionaire South American missed doing because of his busy schedule was filing his tax returns on time – and he was heavily fined some years ago.
He remains a massive draw on the big stage and his opening game audience was a sight to behold.
Feverish Latin American journalists were hanging from the rafters in the press conference room who then applauded him off like a bunch of swooning cheerleaders.
Messi has enjoyed a sizzling season at PSG ahead of the World Cup.
That is the power of personality and with so many rookies in boss Loinel Scaloni’s squad, Messi will assume an even loftier position as the ever-daunting South Americans bid for a third World Cup.
They are on an impressive run under former West Ham defender Scaloni – 36 games undefeated and a thumping 3-0 win over Euro champions Italy in the summer’s ‘finalissima’ at Wembley.
Messi came close to winning the big one in 2014 when Argentina were beaten by the odd extra time goal against Germany.
It is not or never for the one player on the planet who can put Cristiano Ronaldo in his shadow.
Messi said: “It is most likely my last World Cup. One more chance to make my dream a reality.
“I feel good physically. We are in different times with the tournament in the middle of the season. But physically I have no issues.
“This squad reminds me very much of the one in 2014. We are united. We feel good as a collective.
“We have had barely any time to prepare and must play very quickly. There will be tension before the first game, emotions will run high but we will settle in and gather pace.”
Facing in-form Argentina will be French coach Herve Renard and his Saudi battlers who know they are up against it.
He said: “We are not here just to look around and say Doha is lovely. We know this country very well and even if other people don’t agree with us, Qatar is a lovely country.
“We will have a lot of fans here and want to make them proud. We are not here on a jolly.”