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February 6, 2013
Star Sport


Messi-Ibra showdown

Messi - ap


The much-anticipated showdown between Lionel Messi and Zlatan Ibrahimovic in Argentina's friendly against Sweden today may not last more than a half.

Sweden coach Erik Hamren said yesterday he will probably substitute Ibrahimovic at half-time as the striker has a busy club schedule coming up with Paris Saint-Germain.

"It's nice to play a lot of matches but you have to respect your body, too," Ibrahimovic said. "It needs to last for another three-four months."

PSG have a league game Friday followed by a Champions League quarter-final match at Valencia four days later. Messi has a less hectic programme: a league match with Barcelona on Sunday but no Champions League action until February 20.

Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella said there's no doubt which of the two is better.

"Zlatan is a world-class player, but Messi is the best in the world," Sabella was quoted as saying by Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet.

Ibrahimovic didn't argue.

"Leo is a fantastic player. Individually probably the best in the world," Ibrahimovic said. "That's why he wins all the individual prizes."

Messi has 34 league goals for Barcelona this season while Ibrahimovic leads the French league's scoring table with 20.

While both players have faced criticism in the past of underperforming for their national teams, recently they have delivered.

Messi scored 12 goals - including two hat-tricks - in nine matches for Argentina last year. With a total of 31 goals for the national team, the four-time Ballon d'Or winner is now closing in on Diego Maradona's career tally of 33. Gabriel Batistuta is Argentina's all-time top scorer with 54.

Ibrahimovic - Messi's teammate at Barcelona in the 2009-10 season - scored four times the last time he put on the national jersey in a 4-2 win over England.

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