Messi back in Argentina squad for first time since World Cup

Argentina captain Lionel Messi is back in the national squad for the first time since last year's World Cup in Russia, and will play in at least one of the friendlies against Venezuela and Morocco this month, coach Lionel Scaloni said on Thursday.

The Barcelona forward has not played for his country since their last-16 exit at the hands of eventual champions France, opting to take a sabbatical after what was a disappointing tournament for the five-times Ballon d'Or winner.

However, Scaloni said in January that he had a "good feeling" about Messi's possible return from his self-imposed exile, and included him along with 30 other players.

"Leo has been selected, we'll decide later if he plays one game or two," Scaloni told reporters in Buenos Aires. "I will make that decision."

Messi is Argentina's leading goal scorer with 65 goals but he is often criticized for not reproducing his club form for the national side.

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.

West Ham United midfielder Manuel Lanzini also returns to the squad for the first time after suffering a knee injury days before the World Cup that ruled him out of action for nearly nine months.

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.

Argentina play Venezuela in Madrid on March 22 and then travel to Tangier four days later to tackle hosts Morocco.

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Source(s): AFP ,Reuters