Argentina coach: Messi wants to play at Olympics
SHANGHAI, China(AP) Argentina coach Sergio Batista said Lionel Messi wants to play for the country's Olympic football team on Thursday and not return home to play for FC Barcelona.
The forward has been with the national team in the leadup to the Beijing Games, but the Spanish club won its appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport earlier Wednesday to keep him out of the Olympics.
With the men's football tournament kicking off Thursday, fans going to Argentina's Group A game against Ivory Coast will be wondering if Messi, who trained in the Shanghai Olympic Stadium on Wednesday, will be on the field, effectively defying the club that pays his wages, or on his way to back to Spain.
``For sure he will be on the start list for tomorrow from the beginning and I am sure he can be here with us for the rest of the competition,'' Batista said.
Batista named his lineup for the match against the Ivory Coast and Messi was on it.
CAS was called on to rule on a decision which has put the Argentine and Brazilian squads in the men's Olympic competition in doubt right up until the day before the opening games.
German clubs Schalke and Werder Bremen have also gained the right to tell Brazil to release Rafinha and Diego. But football's world governing body ruled that clubs were obliged to release players for the competition and convinced a judge last week that the rule should stand.
CAS ruled against FIFA, which is now faced with another club vs. country power battle, this time at the Olympics.
``FIFA is surprised and disappointed by this decision, but we respect it,'' FIFA president Sepp Blatter said in a statement. ``Nevertheless, I appeal to the clubs: 'Let your players take part in the Olympic Games. It would be an act of solidarity in perfect harmony with the Olympic spirit.'''
FIFA said Blatter sent a message to the three teams appealing for them to let the players compete. But many clubs regard the Olympic tournament as inconvenient and unimportant.
``FIFA's opinion has not changed. The Olympic football tournaments are a unique opportunity for a player as they are high-level competitions that give everyone involved, most notably young players, the chance to gain international experience that will stand them in good stead for the future,'' Blatter said. ``I regret that the CAS has not taken the Olympic spirit into consideration.''
Speaking through an interpreter, Batista said that, despite the CAS decision in Beijing, Messi wanted to stay and play at the Olympics. Barcelona wants him released so he can play in Champions League qualifying later this month and the coach said Argentina team officials will have discussions with the club to persuade Barcelona to let him stay.
``The player will be here and will remain with the team,'' Batista said. ``We have the hope that he will remain with the team for the entire tournament.
``He (Messi) told us he wants to stay. He's relaxed and asks the people at Barcelona to understand his situation. The club is relaxed and I was figuring to put Messi in the starting 11.''
Asked if Messi had taken the decision at the cost to his relations with Barcelona, Batista said: ``We haven't spoken about the cost of this decision. He's relaxed and he's informed us that he would prefer to be with the team.''