Lionel Messi stepped out of Diego Maradona’s shadow by leading Argentina to World Cup victory last year and a statue of the diminutive forward will stand alongside those of his predecessor and Brazil great Pele at the South American federation’s museum.
Messi, holding a replica of the World Cup trophy, stood beside the life-size statue at an unveiling ceremony at the South American Football Federation (CONMEBOL) headquarters in Luque, Paraguay before the Copa Libertadores draw on Monday.
The 35-year-old emulated the late Maradona by leading Argentina to their first World Cup triumph in 36 years in Qatar in December.
“I had never dreamed or thought about this,” Messi said. “My dream was to enjoy what I liked when I was little, to be a professional soccer player, to do what I always loved in this life.
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“I had a very long road, many decisions and defeats, but I always looked ahead and wanted to go for a triumph, for a victory.
“I think that is the most important thing, to fight for your dreams, that everything is possible and to enjoy the game, which is the most beautiful thing there is.”
The Argentina players and coach Lionel Scaloni also received miniature trophies of the World Cup and the Copa America, which they won in 2021.
The Argentine Football Federation renamed the national team’s training facility after Messi on Saturday, two days after he scored his 800th career goal in a 2-0 friendly win over Panama.
Messi has scored 99 goals for his country and would become the first Argentina player to net 100 international goals if he scores in Tuesday’s friendly against Curacao.