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Lionel Messi: No Ronaldo rivalry

Barcelona's Lionel Messi said Wednesday he does not see himself in direct competition with Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo, and any talk of a personal duel between the two is just media speculation.

"I respect (Ronaldo), but I have no relationship with him, just as I have no relationship with many other players," Messi told the Argentina newspaper Ole Wednesday prior to Argentina's friendly versus Germany in Frankfurt. "We just see each other on the pitch. I am close to my teammates for club and country, and with Argentine players who I have met over the years."

Media reports have claimed that the rivalry between the two superstars drives each to ever greater heights -- Ronaldo hit 38 La Liga goals for Real Madrid in 2010-11, only to see Messi reach 50 last season for Barcelona. But Messi denied there was a conflict between the two.

"But, look, with Cristiano there is no row or anything like that," Messi said. "Anything that happens comes from the media, the papers, who want a duel between us, but I have never competed with Cristiano nor fought against him. I try and do my work, so that things go well, and to try and win trophies with the national team and with Barcelona."

When asked about opposition fans who try to unsettle Ronaldo by chanting "Messi, Messi," the Argentine forward said it had nothing to do with him.

"I am happy with how fans treat me in every stadium," he said. "I am not the one who organizes that nor can I do anything against it."

The three-time Ballon D'Or winner was on happier ground when discussion turned to one of his illustrious colleagues at club level who could take the FIFA award for 2012.

"I would be delighted if it was one of my Barcelona teammates, Iker Casillas, Xavi Hernandez, or (Andres) Iniesta, who are winning important things like the World Cup and European Championships at international level," Messi said. "There is also Ronaldo, who is a great player, and Casillas is being talked about. But, for friendship, personally I would like it to be Xavi or Iniesta."

Messi, who has not always carried his club form to the international level, said that Argentina needed time to gel under their relatively new coach, Alejandro Sabella.

"There are players to make up a very strong national team, in attack and defense," he said. "But it is the time to work, to find the players that the coach wants and to be able to give them continuity and confidence. I believe the only way the team will become 'well-oiled' is to play many games together with the same players so we get to know each other well. It takes work and nothing more."

In the Spanish league alone, Messi scored a record 50 times last season, while Ronaldo almost kept pace with 46 goals, six more than the league record the Portuguese forward established the year before.

"I begin each season with the objective of surpassing what I have done before," Messi said. "I don't try to score more goals, I try to improve as a player. I hope I still have margin to continue growing and become a better footballer."

Messi shattered a string of records in 2011-12.

The 25-year-old Argentina forward scored 73 goals overall in 60 games for Barcelona, breaking the mark of 67 set by Bayern Munich's Gerd Mueller in 1973 and the world club mark of 70 established by Archie Stark of Bethlehem Steel in the American Soccer League in 1925.

Messi became Barcelona's all-time leading scorer by breaking a 57-year-old club milestone, and equaled a Champions League record with 14 goals.

Ronaldo came close to matching Messi with 60 goals in 55 games in all competitions as he powered Madrid to the Spanish league title and its record point haul (100) and goals scored (121).

"My immediate goals are to work as hard as I can so I can fight with my team for all the titles possible," Ronaldo said. "I want to keep getting better because it is going to be a long season."

On Tuesday, the two rivals, along with Iniesta, were chosen finalists for the UEFA Best Player in Europe award.

Messi has won the award the past three years. Ronaldo won it in 2008.

For Ronaldo's coach, Jose Mourinho, his fellow countryman should win this time.

"My idea is clear, football is a collective sport," Mourinho said. "Real Madrid won a very important title and won it in spectacular fashion. Those that make the difference on a great champion team are the (best) candidates."

Messi refused to say if he believed he deserved the award more than Ronaldo. Instead, he said he would like to see it go to a Barcelona player.

"I would like to see the award remain for one more year at Barcelona," he said.

The two scoring aces will soon meet in the Spanish Supercup, to be played between Madrid and Barcelona over two legs on Aug. 23 and 29, one day before the winner of the award is announced.

And if the battle for individual honors wasn't enough added motivation, both players ended last season with team and individual disappointments despite their superb scoring campaigns.

While Barcelona won the Copa del Rey, Club World Cup and both the Spanish and European Super Cups, it was dethroned by Madrid in the Spanish league and lost to Chelsea in the Champions League semifinals. Messi missed a penalty in the second leg at home against the eventual champion that would have sent the Catalan club through.

Ronaldo had a penalty saved in a loss to Bayern Munich in the other Champions League semifinal.

Without any international commitments this summer for Argentina, Messi has enjoyed a longer than usual vacation, and has been able to get in a full preseason under Barcelona's new coach, Tito Vilanova.

"Leo has come back strong," Barcelona's Javier Mascherano said about his fellow Argentina teammate. "This season you will see him start in even better shape."

The Spanish league begins Aug. 19 for both teams, with Real Madrid hosting Valencia and Barcelona hosting Real Sociedad.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.


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