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Jan 16, 2013

Argentina's improvement delights Messi

Lionel Messi says the progress made by Argentina's national side, which included a surge to the top of their World Cup qualifying group and the hat-trick he scored against Brazil, was his highlight of 2012.

After stumbling in recent years under previous coaches Diego Maradona and Sergio Batista, Alejandro Sabella's rejigged Argentina side made significant steps forward over the last 12 months and also defeated Germany in a friendly game.

The Barcelona attacker, 25, told FIFA.com that such success on the international stage had made up for a club season which had not brought as many trophies as he hoped for.

"I think it was a good year overall," Messi said. "Although I would have liked to have won more with my club, I think it turned out to be a positive year with the Argentinian national team. That meant a lot to us all and that is what I would highlight: the national team having a great year after things not having gone well for such a long time."

The four-time FIFA Ballon d'Or winner said the upturn in the Albiceleste's fortunes was not just down to him playing better, but had been helped by a more positive mood inside and outside the camp brought about by improved results.

"The national team in itself changed," he said. "For things to go well it depends on everybody involved, not just one player. And it is not as if things were only going badly for me before, things were not right with the national team as a whole, for whatever reason. But once we started winning and our results improved, everything got easier.

"The fans are behind us, the press are not as critical as they have been in the past and we are able to get on with the job in a different, calmer way. On top of that you end up getting more respect from opponents because of the form you are in. The biggest change was the results, simple as that."

The hat-trick against Brazil in June's 4-3 friendly win in New Jersey had been extra special, Messi admitted.

"They are all special, aren't they?" he said. "But, in the way they came about and who they were against, regardless of the fact it was a friendly, those three goals were extra special. But it is scoring goals that is great, whether against Brazil or anybody else."

The Rosario-born player, who left his homeland aged 13 to join Barcelona's La Masia youth academy, agreed that he felt more appreciated by national team's fans in recent times.

"We have been fortunate enough to play in the capital, in the country's interior region and all over the place, and the way the fans treated me and the team was amazing," Messi said. "That is something we earned with our results and our football. We have fired people's enthusiasm and I would say we are more united than ever."

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