Buenos Aires: Argentine football star Lionel Messi says fans of his country's national team are more enthusiastic than ever before, snapping up all the tickets to the team's Friday match against Venezuela in the capital Buenos Aires. "I have noticed the change not just towards me, but also towards the entire Argentinean team. Today, the fans are more fired up than before, it's great. We have to all be united to attain what we want," Messi was quoted as saying Thursday by Xinhua.
The capital's River Plate Monumental Stadium was sold out, selling tickets worth almost $2.2 million. The game will mark the 11th day of South American qualification rounds in the leading up to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, with Argentina currently in the lead with 20 points. Messi said beating Venezuela "will be difficult like all the rest: it's an organised team and when it has the ball, it can be dangerous".
But Argentina has the home-team advantage, stressed Messi, saying: "We're from here and we are going to play as we always do, we'll go out looking for the win, trying to keep the ball, do what we have been doing until now."
After Friday's game against Venezuela, Argentina go up against Bolivia next Tuesday in La Paz. Messi, who plays forward for Barcelona, said "winning the two matches would be an important step towards the World Cup".
Asked about the special challenge of playing in La Paz, one of the world's highest cities at an altitude of 3,600 metres, Messi recalled an April 2009 game there, when Argentina led by Diego Maradona lost to Bolivia 1-6 in qualifiers for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. "It was a very tough blow to those of us who were there and we would like to change the image we left behind," he said. "I have only played there once and it's terrible, you make a single play and you never recover. But there are teams that have won over there and we are going to try to do it."