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Lionel Messi targets New Year return

Lionel Messi said he hopes to return for Barcelona’s first game of 2014 as he picked up his third European Golden Boot award.

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Messi, who is currently sidelined by persistent thigh muscle issues, was presented with the award by former Blaugrana striker -- and 1990 Golden Boot winner -- Hristo Stoichkov at a ceremony in central Barcelona on Wednesday.

Asked by reporters at the event if he might be back to play at home to Elche on Jan. 5 -- Barca’s first game after the winter break -- Messi said: “I hope so.

“The truth is I have not put a date on the return. If all goes well it will be that date, but we will see what happens. I will be back when it is supposed to happen.”

Messi, who will spend part of his recovery back at home in Argentina, said nobody wanted to rush things as the most important thing was to put an end to a frustrating last six months, during which he has suffered five similar thigh and hamstring problems.

“My objective is to return in good shape, to strengthen the body so that, God willing, I can play without injuries,” he said. “I am improving bit by bit -- it does not hurt any more. I am starting to do things.”

Messi scored 46 goals in the 2012-13 season to take the European Golden Boot, which he also claimed in 2009-10, when he scored 34 goals, and in 2011-12, when he scored 50 goals.

He dedicated his latest personal trophy to teammates including Xavi Hernandez, Jordi Alba, Adriano, Gerard Pique, Cesc Fabregas, Carles Puyol, Gerard Pique and Jose Pinto, who were all present at the ceremony.

“It was a lot of goals, and I would not have scored them without my teammates,” he said. “Without them I would not have won this Golden Boot, nor the others. I appreciate them being here.”

Messi did not speak about the controversy surrounding the extension of this year’s Ballon d’Or voting, which some have suggested will favour Cristiano Ronaldo’s chances of winning the award.

Barca president Sandro Rosell, though, was on hand to push his club’s player’s chances.

“If people vote on what they have seen on the pitch this year, and do not put on political or media pressure, then Messi should win,” Rosell said in Mundo Deportivo. “I would vote first for Leo, second for Leo and third for Leo. Fourth, fifth and sixth would be Xavi, [Andres] Iniesta and [Sergio] Busquets.”

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