PARIS, 7 JUNE: World Player of the Year Lionel Messi (in photo) is expected to captain Argentina in their World Cup qualifier against Colombia on Friday evening after receiving the all-clear from Barcelona’s medical staff.
"The player has been given the medical all-clear," said a statement released by Barcelona on Friday.
The 25-year-old hasn’t played since aggravating a hamstring injury in Barca’s 2-1 win over Atletico Madrid on May 12.
However, he now looks set to return for his country as they try to move to a step closer to qualification when they face the Colombians in Buenos Aires.
"His leg is okay. He looks quick and capable of taking on defenders, but we need to see how fit he is after so long without playing," Argentina boss Alejandro Sabella said on Thursday.
Messi’s importance to Argentina is obvious, with Celta Vigo midfielder Augusto Fernandez saying: "He can make the difference with one leg, that’s why we want him to play."
If Messi does not start, Roma’s Erik Lamela and Walter Montillo of Brazilian club Santos are both potential replacements, but there is still a fearsome amount of quality available to Sabella, with Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain likely to start in attack.
Group leaders Argentina are four points clear of Ecuador and five ahead of third-placed Colombia, whose attack will be led by Radamel Falcao, the former River Plate striker.
Coached by Jose Pekerman, the Argentine who took his native country to the 2006 World Cup, Colombia are looking to qualify for the finals for the first time since France ’98.
"We are not scared of Argentina. Our players are all performing well for their clubs just now and that gives us confidence," said Inter Milan midfielder Freddy Guarin.
"The qualifiers are not easy, but we are at a level where we are capable of competing against anybody on the international stage."
Since losing 4-0 to Argentina a year ago, Ecuador have won four and drawn two of their last six qualifiers to close in on a return to the finals after missing out on South Africa in 2010.
They go to Lima to face a Peru side who desperately need a win to revive their qualification hopes, and Reinaldo Rueda’s visiting side are likely to be able to call on the services of Lokomotiv Moscow dangerman Felipe Caicedo for the game.
Later on Friday night, Chile, who currently occupy the fourth and final automatic qualifying berth, travel to Asuncion to face struggling Paraguay.
Paraguay have reached the knockout stages of the last four World Cups and were beaten finalists in the 2011 Copa America, but they are bottom of the group with just eight points from 11 qualifiers so must take advantage of the fact that four of their last five matches are at home.
"We are still alive and will fight to the very end," said Paraguay’s Uruguayan coach Gerardo Pelusso.
Chile have been inconsistent in this qualifying campaign but beat Uruguay 2-0 in their last outing in March to sit level on points with Venezuela, who remain in contention to qualify for the finals for the first time.
However, they must negotiate a treacherous visit to the high altitude of La Paz for Friday’s game against Bolivia. The thin air of the Bolivian capital – situated almost 12,000 feet above sea level – forced Messi to vomit on the pitch when Argentina drew 1-1 there in a qualifier in March.
Brazilian starlet Neymar is confident he is destined for even greater success at Barcelona after signing a five-year deal with the Catalan giants from Sao Paolo club Santos, earlier this week.
"I want to leave my mark on Barcelona," the 21-year-old international told the club’s website.
While the highly rated striker arrives at the club amidst great anticipation, he played down comparisons with his compatriot Ronaldinho, who enjoyed huge success at the Nou Camp between 2003 and 2008
"No-one can compare to Ronaldinho. He made history at Barca and also with the Brazilian team and he continues to write history.
"In my case, I am only just starting to write my own history," he added.
Ronaldinho enjoyed a successful five-year stint in Catalonia, being named world player of the year in 2004 and 2005, and winning two Spanish titles and the 2006 Champions League.
But while Neymar is not thinking about emulating his illustrious compatriot, he is looking forward to playing a part in the Barcelona style of play.
He experienced it at first hand when his Santos side were overrun 4-0 by Barca in the 2011 Club World Cup final. "What impressed me the most that day was the simplicity of Barca’s football. The fact that they were driven towards an objective, but at the same time looking to play beautiful football," he said.