Lionel Messi statue to be placed alongside Pele and Maradona in Conmebol museum

Argentina and PSG star recognised for his Qatar 2022 World Cup triumph

Argentina's forward Lionel Messi looks at a statue of himself during a tribute by Conmebol to the members of the Argentine national team for winning the Qatar 2022 World Cup, before the draw of the group phases of the Libertadores and Sudamericana football tournaments, at Conmebol's headquarters in Luque, Paraguay, on March 27, 2023.  (Photo by NORBERTO DUARTE  /  AFP)
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Argentina's World Cup hero Lionel Messi received recognition for his triumph at Qatar 2022 in the form of a life-size statue that will be placed alongside those of football legends Pele and Diego Maradona.

The South American Football Federation (Conmebol) unveiled a statue of Messi at its headquarters in Luque, Paraguay, ahead of the Copa Libertadores draw on Monday. PSG star Messi was present during the unveiling, holding a replica of the World Cup trophy he famously secured for Argentina after a titanic battle against France in December.

The 35-year-old emulated the late Maradona by leading his country to their first World Cup triumph in 36 years and has now been firmly placed alongside all-time greats in the history books.

"I had never dreamt or thought about this," Messi said. "My dream was to enjoy what I liked when I was little, to be a professional football player, to do what I always loved in this life.

"I had a very long road, many decisions and defeats, but I always looked ahead and wanted to go for a triumph, for a victory.

"I think that is the most important thing, to fight for your dreams, that everything is possible and to enjoy the game, which is the most beautiful thing there is."

The Argentina Football Association renamed the national team's training facility after Messi on Saturday, two days after he scored his 800th career goal in a 2-0 friendly win over Panama.

More than 1.5 million fans applied for 63,000 available tickets for the match against Central American minnows Panama at the Monumental Stadium in Buenos Aires.

Messi had been widely expected to retire from international football after the final against Kylian Mbappe's France in Doha, in which he scored two goals and a shoot-out spot-kick. But the Paris Saint-Germain forward said he wanted to carry on a bit longer so he could wear the blue and white Argentina jersey as a world champion.

Messi has scored 99 goals for his country and will become the first Argentina player to net 100 international goals if he scores in Tuesday's friendly against Curacao.

Updated: March 28, 2023, 9:09 AM