March 8 – Lionel Messi has returned to the Argentina squad for the first time since the 2018 World Cup in Russia. He will join Lionel Scaloni’s team later this month against Venezuela and Morocco.
Messi took a sabbatical from his national team following Argentina’s second-round exit against eventual champions France at the World Cup last year. The Barcelona forward has missed six friendlies since. In 2016 Messi retired from international football after defeat in the Copa America, but he reversed his decision two months later.
“It was a big disappointment the World Cup in Russia and for Messi even more,” said Argentina coach Scaloni. “The decision in the first six matches [of the Scaloni cycle] was that it did not come. Over time he saw that we grew up, he observed the way we play and he is happy. Messi wants to try it one more time. The decision of the coaching staff was not to come, and as a result of the matches he saw we did, he is happy and wants to try one more time. For us it is welcome.”
“He is playing many games and many players would like to rest, but he prefers to come. The decision of whether to play a game or two is going to be taken by me. It’s crazy to say that he’s only going to play a game when there are still 15 days left.”
Argentina’s talisman and leading goalscorer has never won any silverware with his country at senior level. In 2008 he won Olympic gold in Beijing, but ever since he has suffered heartbreak, having lost three continental finals and the World Cup final in 2014 against Germany.
The South Americans will play Venezuela in Madrid on March 23 before facing Morocco in Tangier three days later. Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Angel di Maria has also been recalled for the first time since the World Cup. Scaloni, however, tempered expectations around the team. “Right now Argentina is not a footballing power,” said Scaloni. “It is not in a condition to compete against the biggest teams in the world.”
This summer Argentina will feature in the Copa America as they build towards the qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup. They have been drawn alongside Colombia, Paraguay and invitees Qatar in Group B. Messi’s recall for the March friendlies suggests he will compete in the continental tournament, staged by Brazil from June 14 to July 7.
Contact the writer of this story, Samindra Kunti, at moc.l1566293058labto1566293058ofdlr1566293058owedi1566293058sni@o1566293058fni1566293058