Lionel Messi will turn 23 years old on Thursday. He’s managed quite a lot already in his club career (indeed, if he keeps scoring for Barcelona at his current rate he’ll be their all-time highest scorer six months before he turns 26), but until this World Cup he’s often been accused of failing to turn it on for his national side. On Tuesday, he won’t just be turning up against Greece, still desperate for his first goal of the 2010 World Cup; he’ll be the captain. The youngest captain at a World Cup Finals in Argentina’s history, in a starting lineup with a mix of first-teamers and reserves. You can see it here.
Maradona might have been tempted to rest Messi for a clash that’s unlikely to have a big effect on Argentina’s World Cup campaign unless anyone gets injured or suspended during it, but Messi’s form, along with the fact he’s still somehow waiting for his first goal of South Africa 2010, convinced the manager to keep his star in the side. With Seba Verón coming back in, the assumption was that the Estudiantes midfielder would take the captain’s armband in Javier Mascherano’s absence (the Liverpool holding man is one yellow card away from suspension, and Maradona wants to guard against that coming in today’s match). But no – it’s gone to Messi.
The previous record for the youngest man to captain Argentina during a World Cup was held by then Racing and later Cruzeiro and River Plate defender Roberto Perfumo, who took the armband after Antonio Rattín’s sending off against England in the 1966 tournament, aged 23 years and eight months. He kept the job for the 1974 tournament in West Germany (Argentina didn’t qualify for Mexico 70). Argentina’s other captains at World Cups have been:
1930 – Manuel Ferreira (Estudiantes de La Plata striker)
1934 – Alfredo Devincenzi (Racing Club defender)
1958 – Pedro Dellacha (Racing Club defender)
1962 – Rubén Navarro (Independiente defender) and Martín Pando (River Plate midfielder)
1966 – Antonio Rattín (Boca Juniors midfielder) and Roberto Perfumo (Racing Club defender)
1974 – Enrique Wolff (River Plate defender), Miguel Brindisi (Huracán midfielder) and Roberto Perfumo (who had moved to Cruzeiro by then)
1978 – Daniel Passarella (River Plate defender)
1982 – Daniel Passarella
1986 – Diego Maradona (Napoli forward)
1990 – Diego Maradona
1994 – Diego Maradona (at the end of his only season at Newell’s), Oscar Ruggeri (San Lorenzo de Almagro defender)
1998 – Diego Simeone (Internazionale midfielder) and Gabriel Batistuta (Fiorentina forward)
2002 – Juan Sebastián Verón (Manchester United midfielder)
2006 – Juan Pablo Sorín (Villarreal ‘defender’)
2010 – Javier Mascherano (Liverpool midfielder)
(In all cases, the club given are the club the player was with at the end of the season leading up to that World Cup.)
As a minor point of trivia, I believe this also makes Messi the first Barcelona player to captain his country – any country – at a World Cup since Johann Cruyff in West Germany 74. If you know differently though, please get in touch, because there’s every chance I’ve just made that up off the top of my head (apart from anything, I blindly assume no Barça player would have been given the captaincy of the Spanish side).
Anyway, the more important business. The starting lineup against Greece. It will be exactly as reported yesterday, but in case you can’t remember what that was, here it is again, confirmed:
Otamendi —- Burdisso —- Demichelis —- C. Rodríguez
M. Rodríguez —- Bolatti —- Verón
Milito —- Agüero
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