Durban: Lionel Messi`s hopes of being crowned the best player at the World Cup could be dashed by exhaustion although the Argentina team said on Thursday all 23 squad members were fit.
"(Messi) has arrived at the World Cup tired, the damage is already done and it`s irreversible," Argentina`s fitness coach Fernando Signorini had said in an interview with the Catalan magazine Sport.
However, team doctor Donato Villani told a news conference later that all of coach Diego Maradona`s squad including Messi were fit for selection for Saturday`s Group B opener against Nigeria.
"The 23 players are in optimum condition," Villani said in a brief statement to a packed media room after the team`s laet afternoon practice.
Signorini, Diego Maradona`s personal fitness coach during his playing career in Europe, said too much was being expected of the young forward who only turns 23 in two weeks.
"(The organisers) worry about the doping controls but not if players play 70 matches a year," he said this week after an early morning visit by anti-doping testers to Argentina`s University of Pretoria camp.
Fans and media have seen little of the little Barcelona ace in the last four weeks although he has been involved in Argentina`s practices during the two weeks the squad have been in South Africa.
Having missed Argentina`s 5-0 win over Canada in their last warm-up 17 days ago due to a minor knee injury, Messi`s last match was in La Liga on May 16. He last played for Argentina against Germany in Munich on March 3.
Signorini said Messi was doing no more than absolutely necessary in terms of fitness in the build-up to Argentina`s opening Group B match against Nigeria in Johannesburg on Saturday.
He went on to say "Messi is almost a miracle of genetics because in a single movement he makes six or seven (movements).”
"It`s his calling to be one of the best (players) in history and surely at the next World Cup he`ll be better than in this because to his talent he will add experience."
Daniel Arcucci, co-writer of Maradona`s autobigraphy "Yo, el Diego" (I, Diego), echoed this sentiment when he said: "(Messi) has the qualities to be the best ... but it could be in 2014 and not now.”
"It would be an injustice to judge him badly if he doesn`t crown himself this year," he told Reuters.
Messi is excited about the tournament, saying: "To win the World Cup would not compare with anything.
"I think I`m in the best form of my career. And it`s also the best of the squad in general.”
"We felt we needed to be together and now what`s left is to win the World Cup, which is Argentina`s obligation," he told reporters.
Messi asked, however, not to be singled out, saying: "No one wins alone and I`m not going to win a World Cup alone.
"I don`t even do things alone at Barcelona. Here it`s the same, we have to make the most of the very great players we have."