Barcelona striker Lionel Messi will head to China early Thursday to join the Argentina squad for the Olympics which get underway next week, the Spanish club said.
The 21-year-old will fly from Italy, where he took part in a 3-1 friendly win over Fiorentina in Florence on Wednesday night, in the company of Pepe Costa, a member of Barcelona's technical staff, the club said in a statement.
The Argentina international has been at the centre of a tug of war between club and country with Barcelona trying to retain him for their Champions League qualifier tie in August.
Earlier Wednesday FIFA confirmed clubs are obliged to release players aged 23 and under for the Olympics but Barcelona, which wants to retain Messi for their Champions League qualifier tie in August, said they would take the case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
Speaking before a FIFA judge declared that clubs were under an obligation to release their under-23 players for Beijing, Messi said: “If FIFA say I should be there then I'll go without waiting for the CAS ruling.”
Messi added: “If CAS say that I have to return then I'll come back but for the moment I want to be with my country and my teammates.”
The player will miss Barcelona's pre-season tour of the United States. The team will face Mexican side Chivas de Guadalajara in Chicago un Sunday and the New York Red Bulls three days later in New York.
The Olympic football tournament, which takes place from August 6 to 23, clash with the dates of the Champions League preliminary round, set to be played on either August 12 or 13.
A statement issued by world football's governing body FIFA confirmed the judge of the Players' Status Committee, Slim Aloulou, agreed with FIFA's previous ruling that it was “mandatory” for players to be released for Olympic duty.
The judge was called to rule on the matter after Werder Bremen, Schalke and Barcelona questioned FIFA's stance as the Olympics do not appear on FIFA's official calendar.
Bremen and Schalke are unhappy with the inclusions of Diego and Rafinha, respectively, in the Brazil squad.
CAS had been expected to have the final say in the matter but earlier on Wednesday claimed they did not have the jurisdiction to arbitrate between Olympic committees and professional football clubs.
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