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Sep 11, 2012

Lionel Messi wants 'more titles'

Barcelona forward Lionel Messi said he would "rather have scored fewer goals if it meant winning more titles last season," while at the same time admitting that last season's goal-scoring "was incredible."

Messi spoke exclusively for ESPN Deportes Monday night ahead of Argentina's CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying match vs. Peru Tuesday at 9:25 ET.

"It was an unforgettable season," Messi said. "I don't put goals and numbers on my seasons, although I think the more titles the better. At the beginning of the season I come out wanting everything, goals, titles, but a championship would be very desired by me."

Messi had high praise for his former Barca coach Pep Guardiola, who stepped down at the end of last season, handing over the reins to Tito Vilanova.

"He stressed fundamentals from the beginning because we came from some years of not getting anything," said Messi. "The morale in the dressing room was very bad, sad and he changed everything with his desire to win, his trust and his way of working. He treated every game the same."

Messi scored 72 goals last season, but Barcelona did not win La Liga or the Champions League.

Messi also had praise for Argentina under new coach Alejandro Sabella. The 25-year-old struggled during the 2010 World Cup as well as during last year's Copa America, but has netted nine goals in Argentina's last five games. Argentina won Friday's CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying match with a 3-1 victory over Paraguay.

"For a while we had not been able to get a streak going, but I am excited now," said Messi. "The fans are excited now and they showed it by filling the stadium. We need that connection with the fans. Every day the teams are getting better and we have to play well for victory. Today we are much improved and hopefully we will keep on winning."

Through six matches, the Argentines lead the South American group with 13 points, followed by Chile and Ecuador with 12, Uruguay with 11 and Colombia on 10. At the bottom are Venezuela on 8, Peru with 6 and Bolivia and Paraguay with 4.

The top four qualify automatically for the World Cup, joining Brazil as host nation. The fifth-place team faces a playoff against Asian opposition, meaning South America could wind up with six qualifiers.

Sabella took over for Sergio Batista, who moved in after Diego Maradona was fired.

''With Lionel we have something that no other team has," midfielder Fernando Gago said.

Backed by players like Gago — probably Argentina's best passer — and supported up front by forwards Angel Di Maria, Gonzalo Higuain and the injured Sergio Aguero, Messi has relaxed. Goals have followed.

He has 28 for Argentina — fourth on the all-time list — and is close to No. 3 Maradona's 34.

Argentina struggled to qualify for the 2010 World Cup, and then disappointed. This time the Gauchos look like the best team in South America — and one of the best in the world, having beaten Germany 3-1 last month in a friendly.

That was revenge for losing 4-0 to Germany in the World Cup quarterfinals.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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