Image: Lionel Messi
Manu Fernandez  /  AP
Barcelona wants to keep forward Lionel Messi from playing in the Olympics so he can play in the c hampions League qualifying round instead.
Associated Press Sports
updated 7/17/2008 2:03:08 PM ET 2008-07-17T18:03:08

FC Barcelona is still hoping to keep Argentina forward Lionel Messi from playing in the Olympics.

FIFA rules state that all clubs must release players who are under the age of 23 for next month's Beijing Games. However, Barcelona wants the 21-year-old Messi to play in the Champions League third qualifying round on Aug. 12-13 and 26-27.

Barcelona sports director Txiki Begiristain said his club was negotiating with "the corresponding bodies'' because it is convinced it has the right to keep hold of the forward.

"What we want is for Messi to play in the Champions League preliminary round. We believe we have the right to have the player with us and we hope for FIFA's approval in this matter,'' Begiristain said in a story posted Thursday on the team's Web site. "The Olympic spirit is important but that of the Champions League is, too.''

FIFA said earlier this week that it hadn't received any communique from Barcelona and expected the Catalan club to adhere to its rules.

Messi, confirmed as Barcelona's top attacker following the departure of Ronaldinho to AC Milan and the expected exit of Samuel Eto'o, returned for preseason training on Tuesday.

Messi said in May he hoped to help Argentina defend its Olympic title, although he said subsequently that he will play where he is requested.

If he represents the Olympic team, Messi will be reunited with many of the players with which he won the under-20 FIFA World Youth Championship in 2005.

Barcelona is obliged to appear in Champions League qualifying as it failed to finish in the top two in last season's Spanish league. The two-time European champions finished third, 18 points behind champions Real Madrid.

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