Messi launches official Russia 2018 World Cup ball in Moscow
Argentina captain and Barcelona all-time leading scorer Messi was joined by World Cup winners Zinedine Zidane, Xabi Alonso, Lukas Podolski, and Brazilian legend Kaka at the lavish Moscow presentation; the six footballers boast five World Cups, nine Champions leagues, and 657 international caps between them.
“I was lucky enough to get to know this ball a bit earlier and I managed to have a try with it," Messi said at a Q&A session at the launch, through a translator. "I like all of it: the new design, the colors, everything.”
Telstar 18 aims to “evoke unforgettable memories of the 1970 FIFA World Cup” and pays homage to the first-ever World Cup ball - named ‘Telstar’ due to its status as the ‘star of television.’
The original was the first World Cup ball to be decorated with black panels, which allowed it to stand out on black-and-white television broadcasts. The new ball facilitates high technology and comes with an embedded NFC chip, which Adidas says enables consumers to interact with the ball using a smartphone.
Barcelona icon Messi, who powered his country to Russia 2018 with a stunning hat-trick in a 3-1 win over Ecuador in their final qualification match, was also full of praise for the official Argentina World Cup shirt.
The launch doubled as the introduction of the official Adidas World Cup kits, which have taken on a retro look for Russia 2018 and include elements of former strips worn at past tournaments. Russia and Argentina will both don nostalgic Adidas jerseys at the tournament, as will Sweden, Spain, Belgium, Colombia and Mexico.
“It’s always an honor to put on the shirt,” the five-time Ballon d’Or winner and 2009 FIFA World Player of the Year said.
“The World Cup is only a few months away, I’m very excited but I have to be calm and we have got to make the most of the time that we have in friendlies to be together and get as much practice in before the tournament starts,” he added.
Following Messi’s words, each of the group presented the ball on stage. Former Liverpool, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich star Xabi Alonso, who retired from football this year, wore the colors of his native Spain, with whom he won the World Cup in 2010; and most-recent tournament winner Lukas Podolski wore the strip of current world champions Germany.
Then it was time for a kickaround between a team of freestylers and the legends, minus Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane, a World Cup winner with France when they hosted the tournament in 1998, scoring two goals in the final.
Brazilian Kaka, a World Cup winner in 2002, later posted a snap of the five together on Twitter, with the caption, “5 World Champions, 3 stripes and one perfect ball. Welcome #Telstar18 #HereToCreate.”
Alessandro Del Piero, who became a world champion in 2006 with Italy, posted a picture with Messi and Argentina stars Sergio Aguero and Paulo Dybala at the ‘La Albiceleste’ team hotel.
“[A]nd if we play together...?? who would wear the n.10??” the former Juventus captain and ‘Gli Azzurri’ legend quipped.
Messi’s Moscow visit comes ahead of the Russia v Argentina match on Saturday, which will be the first fixture at the newly refurbished Luzhniki Stadium – the venue for the opening match and final of next year’s World Cup.
Also in attendance at the launch was Russia 2018 Local Organising Committee chief, Aleksey Sorokin, who praised the “hi-tech” design of the ball.
“Of course the launch of the ball is an important event, one of the fundamental stages of the World Cup preparations,” Sorokin told RT.
"The launch today was outstanding. Of course, there are a lot more important events coming up, such as the World Cup final draw (on December 1), after which everything will be clear - we know the ball, the kits and then who will play who.
“I love the design of the ball, it’s very pretty and modern, with hi-tech elements,” he added.
Sorokin, who also holds a seat on the FIFA Council, shared his thoughts on ticket sales and safety for the World Cup. Last month, FIFA reported that 3.5 million ticket applications had been submitted for the tournament.
“Judging by the amount of tickets that have been sold, and the speed at which they have been sold, interest in Russia and the World Cup is high,” he said.
“We are expecting a huge number of fans and we are doing everything so that everyone feels safe and comfortable and so that everything goes well,” he added.
by Danny Armstrong for RT Sport