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Guardiola salutes World Cup winners Alvarez and Messi

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola on Wednesday paid tribute to Julian Alvarez and Lionel Messi following Argentina’s World Cup triumph.

City striker Alvarez was a central figure as Argentina won the World Cup for the first time since 1986, with Sunday’s dramatic penalty shoot-out win over France in an outstanding final in Qatar representing the summit of a brilliant career for Messi, who enjoyed club success under Guardiola at Barcelona.

Former City defender Nicolas Otamendi was also a member of Argentina’s victorious team, with Guardiola saying Wednesday: “For Julian, we are delighted. He played a lot and his contribution was amazing for the team, for the way they played. We have a world champion in our team.

“We are incredibly happy for him. Congratulations to him, for Nico Otamendi and, of course, personally for Leo Messi, for Argentina as a country, well deserved champions.”

Messi’s performance cemented his place as one of the greatest players in football history, not that Guardiola, who twice won the Champions League with him at Barcelona, needed any additional proof.

“Everyone has an opinion but nobody can doubt he’s there. I’ve said many times, for me, he’s the best,” he said. “It is difficult to understand how a player can appear and do what he’s done in the last 10-15 years.

“The people who saw Pele or (Alfredo) Di Stefano, or (Diego) Maradona — they can say their favourites.

“In these opinions, they can have a sentimental approach.

“If he (Messi) had not won the World Cup, my opinion about what he has done for world football would not change, but it is normal for people that it depends on if they win.

“For him it is the final achievement of an incredible career.”

City tackle League Cup holders Liverpool

City return to action following the World Cup break with a League Cup quarter-final at home to trophy holders Liverpool on Thursday.

The last encounter between the Premier League rivals in October led to several unsavoury incidents on and off the field.

Leading figures have since tried to dampen down the tensions that have surfaced in recent seasons when both clubs have been vying to be crowned champions of England.

Guardiola, asked if he had a message for the fans, also told a pre-match press conference on Wednesday: “Be supporters and support your team unconditionally in the good moments and bad moments.”

City had 16 players away at the World Cup.

Ilkay Gundogan and Kevin De Bruyne played in a friendly against Girona last week but Rodri, Aymeric Laporte, Nathan Ake and Manuel Akanji have only been back in training a few days.

Those involved with England and Portugal, along with goalkeeper Ederson, were due to report back later, while Alvarez will not return to action until next week.

Erling Haaland, Riyad Mahrez, Sergio Gomez and Cole Palmer were not involved in the showpiece tournament.

“Step by step people come back. We are happy they are back, in general they played really well,” Guardiola said.

“I have a feeling that the players in the World Cup are in a better condition than the players who were here. Sergio, Erling, Riyad, Cole, they missed a little bit.

“Tomorrow is important for players not at the World Cup to regain the rhythm.”

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