BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Lionel Messi probably won't play soccer again until 2014.
Barcelona said Monday that the four-time world player of the year has another leg injury — his third of the season — and this time needs six to eight weeks to recover. That would rule Messi out until about Christmas, when the Spanish league takes its annual winter break.
The Argentina forward tore his left hamstring Sunday in Barcelona's 4-1 victory at Real Betis. He struggled with a hamstring problem toward the end of last season, and Barcelona scuffled without him.
This season, the 26-year-old forward hurt his left thigh in August and then was sidelined for three weeks after tearing a small muscle in his right thigh in late September.
It's reason for concern for both Barcelona and Argentina, whose hopes of winning next summer's World Cup largely rest on having a healthy Messi.
"It's worrying when a player injures himself in the same place," Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella said after dropping Messi from the South Americans' exhibitions against Ecuador and Bosnia-Herzegovina. "Being injured so near the World Cup could be influential."
Barcelona leads the Spanish league but will now be without Messi for up to eight games, including its last two Champions League group games against Ajax and Celtic, four Spanish League matches and the two legs of the Copa del Rey's round of 32.
Despite his many injury problems this season, Messi has scored 14 goals in 16 games. But he endured a four-game scoreless streak in the league — an eternity by his standards — and he hasn't had his usual burst of speed when playing less than fully healthy.
"Messi needs to stop and take care of himself," Barcelona teammate Cesc Fabregas said. "I also went through a very bad year-and-a-half at Arsenal because of the same injury. I hope he recovers, and that he takes all the time he needs to make sure he's well."
Fabregas is dealing with injury, too. Barcelona said he injured his right knee in Sunday's game and will miss Spain's upcoming exhibitions against Equatorial Guinea and South Africa. Barcelona teammate Marc Bartra was called up to replace Fabregas for the games.