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Lionel Messi promises to go on religious pilgrimage if Argentina wins World Cup

Lionel Messi might get some extra exercise next year. (Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP/Getty Images)

If all goes as planned for Lionel Messi at next summer’s World Cup, he will have run roughly 50 miles in seven games, the number the top four teams play in the quadrennial tournament. If he and his Argentina squad can manage to win the whole thing, Messi said he’ll tack on an extra 30 miles in the form of a religious pilgrimage to celebrate.

“I will go on foot to San Nicolas,” Messi told Argentina’s TyC Sports on Tuesday, shaking hands with the host, after training in Moscow, where Argentina will play a friendly against Russia on Saturday. San Nicolas, an important center of Argentine Catholicism, is a popular pilgrimage site that invites hundreds of thousands of believers to travel on foot to worship at the Sanctuary of Our Lady of the Rosary of San Nicolas each September.

For Messi to get there from his house outside of Rosario, he would need to cover roughly 31 miles. That doesn’t sound that bad. What will probably prove more difficult is getting time off from his club team, Barcelona, to make the Sept. 25 trek.

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If Argentina wins and Messi follows through on his promise, he’ll be joined by teammate Sergio Aguero of Manchester City, who upped the ante. He told TyC Sports that not only will the pair make a pilgrimage to San Nicolas, but they’d run the distance.

While Messi’s and Aguero’s promises have made for fun fodder in Argentine media, fans of the team are more keen to see the team shape up before the month-long tournament kicks off June 14. Argentina struggled to qualify, winning only seven of its 18 games. Fed up with his team’s lack of success, Messi even briefly retired from the national team in 2016 before making his return just months later.

“It was what I felt at the moment,” Messi said of his hasty but temporary decision that came after losing in the final game of the 2016 Copa America to Chile on penalty kicks.

Messi has since come back with a renewed attitude, and he helped salvage what would’ve been a historically bad qualifying season had Argentina not squeaked out a final win over Ecuador last month to secure its World Cup spot. Without a win, Argentina would’ve risked missing its first World Cup since 1970.

“There was always the fear of coming here to play,” Messi told reporters afterward about the Oct. 11 game played at altitude in Quito. “Luckily, we could react and we managed to play well. We were calm, we achieved the goal and that is the most important thing. Thanks to God, we fulfilled the objective.”

Messi, while not as overtly religious as some of his teammates, does not hide his Catholic faith. He has a large tattoo of Jesus on his right biceps and can often be seen making the sign of the cross on the field.

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