BUENOS AIRES: Argentina captain Lionel Messi is not thinking about his international future beyond next year’s Copa America, where he will try to lead the country to a second successive continental title at the tournament in the United States.

The 36-year-old said earlier this year that the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, where he led Argentina to their third title, would likely be his last.

He is now not ruling out playing at the 2026 World Cup in the US, Mexico and Canada and says he is enjoying his best time with Argentina despite acknowledging that time is working against him.

Messi, who recently won his eighth Ballon d’Or, raised the World Cup almost a year ago after starring for Argentina in the final against France in Doha.

But having moved to Major League Soccer’s Inter Miami and continued performing for the national team in qualifiers for 2026, he says the door remains open.

“I’m not thinking about the World Cup and I’m not saying 100 percent that I won’t be there because anything can happen. Because of my age, the most normal thing is that I won’t be there. Then we’ll see,” said Messi in an interview with Argentina’s Star+.

“Maybe we’ll do well at the Copa America and everything will work out for us to continue. Maybe not. Realistically it’s difficult,” he said of the chance of a sixth consecutive appearance in the World Cup.

Messi said he would be “the first to know when I can be there and when I can’t. I’m also aware that I’ve gone to a lesser league. But it’s all about the personal side of things and the way you deal with it and how you compete.

“As long as I feel I’m well and can continue to contribute, I’m going to do it. Today all I’m thinking about is getting to the Copa America. After that, time will tell if I’m there or not.

“I’m going to arrive at an age that, normally, doesn’t allow me to play in the World Cup. I said I don’t think I’m going to be there. It looked like after the World Cup I was retiring and it was the opposite. Now I want to be there more than ever.

“We are experiencing a special moment, I want to enjoy it to the fullest, without thinking two or three years ahead, which in football is a lot.”

Messi has bittersweet memories of the last time the Copa America was held on American soil in the 2016 centenary edition, where Argentina reached the final but lost on penalties to Chile.

It was the third consecutive final Argentina had lost with Messi as captain, after the 2014 World Cup and 2015 Copa, before he led the country to claim the continental title in 2021.

The South Americans then went on to win the 2022 Finalissima against Italy before beating France on penalties in the World Cup final last year.

“Being world champion changed me in the peace of mind knowing that, in my job, I could achieve everything,” added Messi.

The Copa America will feature six guest teams from the CONCACAF region, including the US and Mexico. Argentina will discover their opponents when the draw is made on Dec. 7.

Published in Dawn, December 3rd, 2023

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