Relaxed Messi determined to savor ‘likely’ final World Cup

DOHA, Qatar (AP) – Maybe it’s his age. Maybe it’s his stellar form for Paris Saint-Germain. Perhaps the reason is the end of the Copa America title drought last year.

But there is something different about Lionel Messi at the World Cup — a fact he himself admits. He’s calm, happy, smiling in a rare appearance at a press conference on Monday.

It seems the pressure has been lifted off the shoulders of one of the greatest footballers of all time.

Check out the rest of the teams in Qatar, starting with Saudi Arabia on Tuesday.

“I don’t know if this is the best moment of my career, but I feel really good,” Messi said. “Maybe a bit more mature, I always try to give my best and enjoy everything, live this World Cup with intensity and enjoy every moment.

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“Before I didn’t think about it – I just wanted to play … and then think about the next game – and sometimes I missed a lot of things. Now I know a little more.”

With 22 of Argentina’s 26-man squad playing in their first World Cup – two of them 21-year-olds Thiago Almada and Enzo Fernandez – it’s no wonder Messi feels like the veteran of the group at 35.

And again, he said this will “probably” be his last World Cup, even if that element of doubt may excite more optimistic Argentina fans who are thinking ahead to the 2026 tournament in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

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Can the Albiceleste go there as starters? Perhaps, as Messi gets flashbacks to 2014, when Argentina reached the World Cup final – only to lose to Germany in the final.

Winning the Copa America to end a 28-year wait for a major title seems to have really given Argentina confidence, as well as being on a 36-game unbeaten run that extends into 2019.

“We’ve just won a competition and that’s very reassuring,” Messi said through a translator. “It helps you work in a different way, you don’t feel so anxious. People don’t put as much pressure on you.

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“This squad really reminds me of 2014. We are very united and clear about how we want to play. It’s great to be here in such good shape because it gives you such confidence.”

A local reporter told Messi he loved him. The former Barcelona star was even cheered on from the standing-room-only press conference at a convention center in Doha.

Expect a similar reaction in Qatar in the next few weeks.

“I’m happy with all the love I can feel from everywhere in the world,” he said, beaming.

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AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Steve Douglas is on https://twitter.com/sdouglas80



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