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Messi to start for Argentina at Olympics

Aug. 07, 2008, 8:39 a.m. (ET)

SHANGHAI, China (AP) Lionel Messi started for Argentina at the Olympics on Thursday despite a court ruling in favor of FC Barcelona that said he could be stopped from playing.

Barcelona and two German clubs won a decision at the Court of Arbitration for Sport that clubs should be allowed to release players from the Olympic competition.

Argentina coach Sergio Batista said Messi wanted to stay in China and the Spanish media reported that Barcelona agreed Thursday that that the 21-year-old forward would be allowed to stay.

There were huge cheers from both the small contingent of Argentina fans at the Shanghai Olympic Stadium and the many thousands of Chinese spectators when Messi ran out for the warmup 40 minutes before kickoff against the Ivory Coast.

When his name was announced in the starting lineup for the Group A game there was a huge roar.

Earlier Thursday, Group A rivals Australia and Serbia drew 1-1.

In a move seen as a test case in the power battle between clubs and national teams, Barcelona and German clubs Schalke and Werder Bremen won their appeal to CAS to gain the release of Messi and Brazilian players Diego and Rafinha from their Olympic squads.

While the Bundesliga clubs, having won their case Wednesday, then allowed the Brazilians to stay and play at the Olympics, Argentina had to wait on Barcelona's decision on Messi.

Argentina needed Messi to maintain its chances of holding on to the Olympic title it won four years ago in Athens.

But Barcelona has a Champions League qualifying game to play while the Olympic football tournament is being played.

Batista had been confident that Messi would start and even named him in his lineup a day before the game.

Meanwhile, FIFA president Sepp Blatter feared that the latest development in the persistent club vs. country conflict could get out of hand and the Olympic football tournament in its current format could disappear.

"I gulped when I heard that decision," Blatter said at the International Olympic Committee general assembly. "It's a rather dramatic situation."

He said he feared the ruling would have a "snowball effect," prompting other clubs to withdraw their players from the Olympics and force them to return.

"If all the national squads will lose players, if clubs force them to return home, we simply will not have an Olympic football tournament here in Beijing," Blatter said. "We could do beach soccer or a five-a-side tournament. That would be very sad and the world would not understand it."

IOC president Jacques Rogge said the situation needed to be clarified moving forward.

"After the games we will take stock of the Olympic football tournament and decide on what measures to take," he said. "In the meantime, we have to manage it in the short term and appeal to the clubs not to withdraw players and allow players who are entered in the football tournament to put their dreams into reality."

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