Barcelona star Lionel Messi retains hope of Newell's Old Boys chance

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Argentina have won their previous four encounters at the tournament.

Argentina and Peru kick-started their final preparations for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ with morale-boosting home wins on Tuesday, while Panama had to settle for a scoreless draw against the visiting Northern Ireland.

And Lionel Messi has opened up on how much he wants to win the competition.

He was, however, to head for Europe at the age of 13 and has not looked back after graduating out of the famed La Masia academy system to become a five-time Ballon d'Or victor and all-time great.

Lionel Messi is ready for the World Cup.

"More than the result we were able to say goodbye to our fans and show that we are going to Russian Federation with hope", Messi said. The legendary Diego Maradona is still held in higher regards by every fan and this is down to one reason only; the World Cup. "We have impressive players, but we have to be humble". It's not an easy group.

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The former Warri Wolves' player, who last season, was at the centre of a racial abuse in his Europe club side, said he would expect Nigeria and other World Cup-bound countries, to take a tough stance against racism at this year's FIFA World Cup in Russian Federation. "Iceland showed they could compete with anyone at the last Euros, Croatia have a great midfield, like Spain but a level below, and we always struggle against Nigeria", he added.

Messi admits he'd like to play for hometown club Newell's Old Boys.

"The other day I was talking to a friend and he told me "if you had chosen Spain, you'd be a World Cup victor already", but it wouldn't have been the same", added Messi.

"We felt the affection of all the supporters tonight, unlike at other times [when there have been insults]".

Michael O'Neill handed debuts to three players, all from the bench, and his team were fortunate that Edgar Joel Barcenas' first-half header came back off the crossbar on an evening of celebration for the Panamanians ahead of their first World Cup.