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The Colombia coach gave the Barcelona forward his international debut with Argentina in 2005 and says he always knew his compatriot would be a huge star

By Ben Hayward in Belo Horizonte

Colombia coach Jose Pekerman says he always knew Lionel Messi was destined for greatness and hopes his side can avoid a meeting with Argentina in the World Cup.

Pekerman handed Messi his international debut in 2005, but was hugely criticised for leaving the Barcelona forward on the bench as Argentina crashed out of the 2006 World Cup to hosts Germany.

Speaking at a press conference ahead of his team's World Cup opener against Greece in Belo Horizonte on Friday, Pekerman was reminded how he had described Messi as "a blessing for Argentina football" in 2005.

"Thanks for remembering that," he said. "Because most people only remember that I left him on the bench against Germany.

"I couldn't believe what I was seeing when I first worked with Messi. I had no doubts about what Lionel would become - I always dreamed he would go on to achieve what he has. We knew we were looking at a player who was going to be the biggest star for the next few years."

Pekerman, who quit as Argentina coach after the quarter-final exit in 2006, believes Messi can lead the Albiceleste to great things at this World Cup, but hopes to avoid his countrymen in the latter stages of competition.

"He is their leader and they will be looking to him to lead them far in this competition," he said. "I just hope we don't play them.

"My mind is totally focused on Colombia now. I feel very comfortable where I am - and I feel Colombian."

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