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May 27, 2006

Messi likely to miss Argentina's opening match

ROME, May 27 (Reuters) - Forward Lionel Messi, who is recovering from a thigh muscle injury, does not expect to start Argentina's opening World Cup match against Ivory Coast.

'Today, I don't think I'll be in the team,' the gifted teenager said on Saturday.

'I haven't played much, I've been out of action for some time,' Messi told reporters. He has not played a competitive match since he was injured for Barcelona against Chelsea in March.

'I just played 15 minutes the other day,' he added in reference to Argentina's farewell game in Buenos Aires in which coach Jose Pekerman's team beat the national under-20s 4-0.

Argentina, who meet Ivory Coast in their opening Group C match in Hamburg on June 10, are training in Rome. They arrived on Friday and will remain until their warm-up against fellow finalists Angola in Salerno in southern Italy on Tuesday.

Messi, an important part of Argentina's bid for a third World Cup victory in Germany, has been undergoing special treatment to speed his recovery.

'I know I still have some way to go...(but) I'm relaxed, I know I have to keep working,' he said.

'I'm a bit short but I feel better each day. I think I'll get into rhythm in the time left (before the World Cup).

'I want to play the final and I hope we meet Brazil,' added Messi, who inspired Argentina to their fifth World Youth Cup title in the Netherlands last year.

Argentina play Serbia & Montenegro in Gelsenkirchen on June 16 and the Netherlands in Frankfurt on June 21 in their other group matches.