SAO PAULO – Normally a reserved man who avoids hype, Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella isn’t shy about declaring Lionel Messi to be the best player in the world.
Comparing the Argentina captain with Arjen Robben of the Netherlands and Brazil’s Neymar, Sabella on Tuesday held up Messi as the undisputed No. 1.
“Robben is a great player. He is very important for Holland. Like Neymar is for Brazil and Messi for Argentina,” Sabella said. “Each of them is important for their teams but Messi is the best of them all.”
After a disappointing World Cup four years ago, Messi has carried Argentina into the semifinals in Brazil, scoring four goals – the same tally Neymar reached before injury ruled him out of the tournament. Robben, who faces Argentina in the second semifinal today, has scored three.
Though he’s been named world player of the year four times for his accomplishments with Barcelona, Messi hasn’t had the same kind of success with Argentina, which hasn’t won a major title since the 1993 Copa America.
This is the first time since 1990 that Argentina has reached a World Cup semifinal, which Sabella said was a victory in itself.
“After 24 years Argentina is among the four best teams in the world,” Sabella said. “I think this group of players has already won. Let’s see if we can win even more.”
If it does win the semifinal, Argentina won’t have to worry about rival Brazil in the title game. Sabella was just as stunned as everyone else to see Brazil lose 7-1 to Germany in the first semifinal, a game Argentina’s players watched the end of on TV at Itaquerao Stadium, even delaying their training session for around 20 minutes.
Sabella said the heavy defeat for Brazil was clearly “not normal.”
“But in football you have to expect these things,” Sabella said. “It’s football. It’s the most illogical of sports. Things happen that you cannot foresee.”
Van Persie ailing
Netherlands captain and all-time top scorer Robin van Persie is suffering from stomach complaints and may not be 100 percent fit to play in his team’s World Cup semifinal against Argentina.
Coach Louis van Gaal says he will decide today if the Manchester United striker can start the game in Sao Paulo.
The coach says, “I have to make a decision tomorrow. I’m not going to do that today. We have more than a day. Van Persie is a very important player for us.”
Van Persie and defender Daryl Janmaat – who also has stomach problems – trained separately from the team on Tuesday.
Injured midfielder Nigel de Jong warmed up with the Netherlands squad on Tuesday.
De Jong injured his groin early in the second-round victory over Mexico and there were fears that his tournament was over.
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