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The World Cup Countdown: Messi arrives home
by Paul Kennedy, May 20th, 2014 8:36PM

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TAGS:  argentina, brazil, mexico, world cup 2014

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[BRAZIL 2014] Barcelona's loss is Argentina's gain as Lionel Messi returned home on Tuesday after having played the fewest competitive games in the last five years. The four-time winner of the Ballon d'Or will try to put behind him Barca's most disappointing season in recent memory and lead Argentina to its first World Cup title in more than a quarter century.

Messi returned to his home in Rosario three days after Barcelona lost La Liga title to Atletico Madrid on the final day of the season. More significant from Argentina's perspective was the loss to Atletico in the quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League, which meant Messi had to play three less games and he returned home a week earlier than he otherwise would have done if Barca was in Saturday's final in Lisbon. He played 46 games in the 2013-14 season, the fewest in the last five years.

Lionel Messi, Barcelona Matches:
YEAR: GAMES
2013-14:
46 games (31+8+7)
2012-13: 50 games (32+7+11)
2011-12: 60 games (37+9+14)
2010-11: 55 games (33+9+13)
2009-10: 51 games (35+4+12)
Note: La Liga+Spanish Cups+International Cups

Messi also got the matter signing a new contract with Barcelona behind him before heading to Rosario for a week of rest before Argentina's World Cup training camp begins on Monday.

"Now I must think of the national team and change my chip," he said. "Many times it was the reverse, I'd go to Barcelona and play well. Let's hope it's the other way round."

Argentina's World Cup preparations will take place at the Argentine federation training complex in Ezeiza with the most experienced team in the tournament. Coach Alejandro Sabella has only two players --- Marcos Rojo and Lisandro Lopez -- as young as 24 on the 30-player preliminary roster.

Soccer America at Stanford Training Camp:
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Mike Woitalla: Tim Howard: 'I'll rest when I retire'
Paul Kennedy: Timmy Chandler responds to Klinsmann's encouragement

Injury Updates ...

CALIFORNIA CONNECTION. A second California-born player will be on Mexico's World Cup team as Miguel Ponce has replaced Club America's Juan Carlos Medina, who had to withdraw because of an ankle injury.

Ponce moved to Tijuana as an infant and has spent the most of his career at Guadalajara. He currently plays on loan to Toluca. Also headed to Brazil is San Jose-born Isaac Brizuela, who also plays for Toluca.

Mexico will host Israel on May 26 in Azteca Stadium as part of its preparations for the World Cup. El Tri will also play three warmup games in the USA, against Ecuador May 31 in Arlington, Texas; Bosnia-Herzegovina June 3 in Chicago; and Portugal June 6 in Foxboro, Mass.

-- Like Medina, Chile's Matias Fernandez requires ankle surgery, which has ruled him out of the World Cup. He was part of Chile's 30-player short list for the finals.

-- Ivo Ilicevic has dropped out of Croatia's team headed to Bad Tazmanndorf, Austria, on Friday for pre-World Cup training. The 27-year-old Hamburg midfielder, who has been battling leg injuries, was named to Croatia's provisional 30-man World Cup squad.

World Cup 2014 Squads:
Group A: Brazil (23) | Cameroon (28) | Croatia (30) | *Mexico (23)
Group B: Australia (30) | Chile (30) | Netherlands (30) | Spain (30)
Group C:
Colombia (30) | *Greece (23) | Ivory Coast (28) | Japan (23)
Group D
: Costa Rica (26) | England (23) | Italy (30) | Uruguay (25)
Group E:
Ecuador (24) | *France (23) | Honduras (23) | Switzerland (23)
Group F: Argentina (30) | Bosnia-Herzegovina (24) | Iran (28) | Nigeria (30)
Group G: Germany (30) | Ghana (26) | *Portugal (23) | USA (30)
Group H: Algeria (30) | Belgium (24) | Russia (23) | South Korea (23)
*Updated roster.

On the ground ...

VANDALS SHOW NO MERCY. Teresopolis is a city of only 160,000, but it is known in soccer circles as the home of the Granja Comary, the Brazilian national team's training center since its opening in 1987. Local officials are therefore rightly embarrassed that just six days before the hosts' training camp opens vandals burned down an 18-foot replica of the World Cup erected in one of the city's main thoroughfares. “Every effort will be taken to find the instigator or instigators of this act of vandalism so this attack does not go unpunished,” Teresopolis mayor Arlie de Oliveira Rosa said in a statement.

ANOTHER ITAQUERAO TEST. Sao Paulo's Itaquerao Stadium, site of the opening game on June 12, will also be the last stadium to pass inspection. FIFA has asked the local organizing committee to host another test match to determine its operational readiness. Ricardo Trade, CEO of the local organizing committee, said after Sunday's test match involving home team Corinthians that his organization was "very satisfied," but FIFA asked that another match be scheduled before the Brazil-Croatia opener.


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