Lionel Messi was named in the Argentina squad Thursday for the first time since the World Cup, ending a self-imposed eight month exile.
Interim coach Lionel Scaloni named the five-time world player of the year in his squad for this month’s friendlies against Venezuela and Morocco.
The 31-year-old Barcelona star hasn’t pulled on the light blue and white national team jersey since Argentina were dumped out of the World Cup last June by eventual winners France.
Another long-term absentee, PSG’s Angel Di Maria, also makes the squad, but there is no place for other veterans Sergio Aguero — despite his sparkling form for Manchester City — Chelsea’s Gonzalo Higuain or Mauro Icardi of Inter Milan.
“The World Cup was a big disappointment for everyone, for him even more so,” Scaloni told reporters at Argentina’s Ezeiza training center outside Buenos Aires.
“And then in the friendlies he saw us play, he liked it, and he wants to try again, and he’s welcome.”
Scaloni said “Messi prefers to come than to rest,” despite the demands of a heavy fixture list for his club.
“Leo is being called up now, and then we’ll see if he plays a match or two — or none. I don’t know. That’s a decision I’ll take.”
In all, Messi has missed six friendlies since the World Cup in Russia but many believe he will be an essential part of the team that travels to Brazil for the Copa America, which kicks off June 14.
Whilst he’s built up an almost unprecedented collection of trophies with his club, Messi is running out of time to taste major international success with Argentina.
He was on the losing side in major finals three years running from 2014-16, first to Germany in the World Cup in Brazil, then twice to Chile on penalties in the Copa America, including the one-off Centenary edition of the competition.
With 65 goals in 128 appearances, Messi is Argentina’s all-time top goalscorer. He’s also Barca’s top marksman ever with more than twice the number of goals as the next best.
But he’s never managed to match his club form when operating on the international stage.
– ‘Perfect relationship’ –
Aguero, 30, is top scorer in the English Premier League this season, with 18 goals in 25 matches.
“My relationship with Aguero is perfect,” said Scaloni, who insisted the City forward may yet be included in the Copa America squad.
As for Icardi, he has missed Inter’s last five matches over a dispute with the Italian club.
“He’s in a complicated situation, it wouldn’t be right to pick him,” added Scaloni.
Looking ahead to the Copa America, Scaloni said there needs to be some realism to the team’s ambitions.
“We need to be realistic, Argentina is no longer a worldwide powerhouse, we can’t compete with the world’s best teams,” said Scaloni.
“We’re in a position where we cannot guarantee winning the Copa America, but we can guarantee that we will go there and give our utmost.”
Argentina play Venezuela in Madrid on March 22 and then travel to Tangier four days later to tackle hosts Morocco.
Goalkeepers: Agustin Marchesin (Club America/MEX), Juan Musso (Udinese/ITA), Franco Armani (River Plate), Esteban Andrada (Boca Juniors)
Defenders: German Pezzella (Fiorentina/ITA), Gabriel Mercado (Sevilla/ESP), Juan Foyth (Tottenham/ENG), Nicolas Otamendi (Manchester City/ENG), Walter Kannemann (Gremio/BRA), Nicolas Tagliafico (Ajax/NED), Marcos Acuna (Sporting Lisbon/POR), Gonzalo Montiel (River Plate), Renzo Saravia (Racing Club), Lisandro Martinez (Defensa y Justicia)
Midfielders: Leandro Paredes, Angel Di Maria (Paris Saint-Germain/FRA), Guido Rodriguez (Club America/MEX), Giovani Lo Celso (Real Betis/ESP), Manuel Lanzini (West Ham/ENG), Roberto Pereyra (Watford/ENG), Matias Zaracho (Racing Club), Ivan Marcone (Boca Juniors), Domingo Blanco (Defensa y Justicia), Rodrigo De Paul (Udinese/ITA)
Forwards: Lionel Messi (Barcelona/ESP), Gonzalo Martinez (Atlanta United/USA), Paulo Dybala (Juventus/ITA), Angel Correa (Atletico Madrid/ESP), Lautaro Martinez (Inter Milan/ITA), Dario Benedetto (Boca Juniors), Matias Suarez (River Plate)
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