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Lionel Messi's walking stats at the World Cup are so high thanks to a fascinating tactic

Lionel Messi's walking stats at the World Cup are so high thanks to a fascinating tactic

The 35-year-old does it for a reason.

Lionel Messi stole the show in Argentina's 2-1 World Cup round of 16 win over Australia, but you may have noticed he did it without breaking a sweat.

The seven-time Ballon d'Or winner opened the scoring just past the half-hour mark to help Lionel Scaloni's side to a quarter-final showdown with the Netherlands.

It's well known Messi takes his time to get going in a game, which has left him open to criticism.

You'll never catch him making a lung-busting run to press the goalkeeper or tracking back to stop a counter.

In Qatar, it's been more prevalent than ever. A graphic shown by BBC Sport before Saturday's victory calculated which players had covered the most distance at walking pace.

Messi's three Group C appearances against Saudi Arabia, Mexico and Poland were all in the top 10, making him the only player to appear on the list three times.

Exactly why does he do it? Well, a manager who knows him better than anyone summed it up perfectly a few years ago.

Pep Guardiola, who worked with Messi between 2008 and 2012, is regarded as one of the biggest influences on his career. The Paris Saint-Germain superstar even believes so himself.

Messi after opening the scoring against Australia. (Image

He suggested Messi remains 'involved' in the game by mapping out the pitch and opposition formation. Once that's in his locker, Messi will happily take it to defenders with increased intensity.

"He's not out of the game. He's involved," the Manchester City boss declared. "Moving his head. Right, left, left, right. He smells who is the weak point of the back four. After five, 10 minutes, he has the map. He knows if I move here, here, I will have more space to attack."

As part of Amazon Prime Video's 'This Is Football' series, Guardiola watched highlights of a Messi performance against Real Madrid in 2017.

The 'top walkers' at this year's World Cup. (Image
BBC Sport)

After one piece of skill, he remarked: "Oh, that's genius! That is quite incredible. We are contemporary of that guy. So enjoy it. Lionel Messi, just simply one of a kind. He is so good."

Julian Alvarez doubled Argentina's lead against the Socceroos after a mistake from goalkeeper Mat Ryan before an Enzo Fernandez own goal with 13 minutes to go made it a nervy finale.

Three minutes later, Lisandro Martinez made a vital block to deny Australia left-back Aziz Behich an equaliser.

Can Messi waltz to his first World Cup triumph in his last as a player? Only time will tell.

Featured Image Credit: Alamy & BBC Sport

Topics: Lionel Messi, Argentina, FIFA Club World Cup