‘An absolute leader’ – Rodrigo de Paul reveals Lionel Messi missed son Mateo’s birthday to sit on the bench for Argentina in Bolivia 2026 World Cup qualifier

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All-time great rested for trip to La Paz

Opted against returning to the States

Stayed on to support his team-mates

WHAT HAPPENED?

The seven-time Ballon d’Or winner played no part for his country in their latest 2026 World Cup qualifier, with the decision taken to rest him after a hectic few weeks at new club side Inter Miami and a slight knock being picked up. Messi could have opted to head home and be with his family once it was determined that he would sit out proceedings in La Paz, but he remained with Lionel Scaloni’s squad as a talismanic presence in the Albiceleste ranks.Lionel Messi Argentina 2023

WHAT THEY SAID

Rodrigo de Paul has saluted Messi’s decision not to return to the United States for birthday celebrations. He has told TyC Sports: “Messi is an absolute leader and an example of love and care for the team. He could have gone away and enjoyed Mateo’s birthday, but yet he came here.”

THE BIGGER PICTURE

Emiliano Martinez added on seeing Messi stick around in the Argentina camp: “There is hunger. He could have gone home but he accompanied us, that is a source of pride for us.” Long-time international colleague Angel di Maria said of the all-time great keeping himself in contention for game time if he was needed: “He tried to play until the last day.”Lionel Messi Inter Miami 2023

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

Defending champions Argentina collected a 3-0 victory without Messi, maintaining their perfect start to qualification for the next World Cup, and he will now head back to Florida ahead of Inter Miami returning to MLS action on Saturday away at Atlanta United.

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