Argentina captain,Lionel Messi, clocked 31 on Sunday but chose to train with this team-mates.
The greatest footballer of this generation is fighting demons within – of leading the Albieceleste, now in his fourth World Cup, carrying the burden of expectations of the 43 million Argentinians and having failed them.
The forward who has collected 31 trophies but international honours with Argentina still elude him, something that seems unlikely to change with their World Cup hopes hanging by a thread.
Messi was full of live at the Argentina training on his birthday morning, as he cancelled plans for a party.
The intensive training which lasted for hours, did not end without special congratulatory messages from Argentina manager, Jorge Sampaoli, Sergio Aguero and team-mates.
Messi played “as he had to play” and it is difficult for him to solve the problems of his teammates. However unlike Messi and Maradona may be, apart from using their left-foot, the world loves the contrast and comparison.
Messi is yet to score or provide an assist at the tournament and has vowed not to retire until he wins the World Cup with his country.
After the results against Iceland and Croatia in particular, the South American nation has been engulfed by dark clouds of despair. The flock of journalists who made the 13,500 km journey to Russia, are finding it hard to keep their smiles on. It is because Messi is not smiling.
Jorge Sampaoli, the embattled coach, is trying to keep his flock together. But how can he stop Diego Maradona from firing his salvo? Critical as he generally is of the establishment, Maradona told the Spanish press, “Everyone believed that the technician was going to solve the problems of Argentina with computers, with drones, with 14 assistants. Argentina do not know what they play, they have no solution at all, that is, in the midfield, in defence or in attack. Argentina did not have the ball.”
Argentina face Nigeria on Tuesday night in a desperate attempt to qualify for the knockout rounds, with nothing less than a win good enough.