BUENOS AIRES – Argentina’s national team head coach said on Thursday after including Lionel Messi on his preliminary list of call-ups for friendlies against Venezuela and Morocco that the FC Barcelona superstar’s return to the Albiceleste is a great sign.
The 31-year-old Messi, who has been in superb form in the 2018-2019 season and leads La Liga in both goals (25) and assists (11), has not played for Argentina since their elimination by eventual champion France at the World Cup in Russia.
“On the FIFA date, lots (of players) would rather rest, and he prefers to come over,” Lionel Scaloni said at a press conference after unveiling his call-ups for the March 22 friendly against Venezuela in Madrid and the March 26 friendly against Morocco in Tangier.
Those friendles will be played less than three months before Argentina competes in the prestigious Copa America tournament, which is being held this year in Brazil.
But he did not say whether Messi would play both games, adding that after the forward’s most recent outings – in which he scored a hat trick against Sevilla and led Barcelona to two victories in a week over arch-rival Real Madrid – it is “hard to gauge his condition soccer-wise.”
Just minutes before he spoke, Argentina’s soccer federation (AFA) tweeted the list of 31 call-ups for this month’s friendlies.
The biggest news was the inclusion of Messi, who last suited up for Argentina in the squad’s 4-3 loss to France on June 30, 2018, in the World Cup’s round of 16.
In recent months, both AFA officials and Scaloni had expressed hope that Messi, winner of a record-tying five Ballon d’Or awards and Argentina’s most-capped active international player, would return to the national team.
Besides Messi, another veteran national-team stalwart, Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Angel di Maria, was named for the upcoming friendlies.
Eight players also earned their first-ever call-up with the Albiceleste, including several who compete in the Argentine soccer league.
They include 30-year-old Matias Suarez, a forward for Copa Libertadores defending champions River Plate; 23-year-old midfielder Domingo Blanco; and 21-year-old defender Lisandro Martinez.
Those latter two players are members of Defensa y Justicia, who are currently in second place in the Argentina’s 2018-2019 Primera Division and have been the big surprise of that competition.
The most notable absences are Inter Milan forward Mauro Icardi, Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero and Manchester United goalkeeper Sergio Romero.