BUENOS AIRES // The form of Lionel Messi in the national shirt has again come under the microscope in Argentina, with his father and a well-known singer praising him amid reports of an on-field spat with a teammate.
Media were all agog after the veteran Javier Zanetti dismissed as "normal" a verbal altercation between the defender Nicolas Burdisso and Messi after Burdisso blasted the Barca man for, in his view, shirking defensive duties.
Fans, meanwhile, are complaining loudly about not seeing anything of his usual attacking spark.
Argentina fans have long pondered why Messi cannot produce his Barcelona form for his country - and many see him as having become a naturalised Catalan, having joined Barca as a young teenager.
After Burdisso used some choice words in Messi's direction, the latter's father, Jorge, spoke on his son's behalf.
"Leo is having a really tough time," Jorge Messi said. "The people can think what they like but what hurts most is what the media say. They are throwing oil on the fire," he told Radio 10 on Friday.
Jorge shrugged off the Burdisso incident but said that his son was mortified to hear the home fans boo the side off after their 0-0 draw with Colombia in Santa Fe that left the hosts needing to beat Costa Rica to advance from Group A.
"That was really hard," said Messi senior.
Meanwhile, the popular singer Andres Calamaro penned a paean to Messi on his website, saying that Argentina fans are ungrateful. Calamaro wrote: "Everyone speaks about the team and then they crucify you. We don't deserve you. You just play your game which has won you everything."
Calamaro and Messi are friends, the player having once given the singer a Barcelona shirt he had worn against Real Madrid.
"We want to see you play well and scoring goals. Go, Leo!" said Calamaro.
Argentina's game against Costa Rica is tomorrow night, meaning they will already know the result of the other game in Group A - Colombia v Bolivia - which kicks off tonight. Both teams have four points and a win for either would deny Argentina the chance to top the group.
Sergio Batista, the Argentina coach, is likely to start Gonzalo Higuain, Sergio Aguero and Angel Di Maria up front for the game against Costa Rica, replacing Carlos Tevez, Ezequiel Lavezzi and either Ever Banega or Esteban Cambiasso.
A defeat would eliminate the hosts.