Sports

Messi back in Argentina starting XI after nine-month absence, Scaloni confirms

Messi back in Argentina starting XI after nine-month absence, Scaloni confirms

The pair's return comes more than nine months since they suffered World Cup agony at the last 16 stage, where Argentina lost a 4-3 thriller to eventual winners France and Portugal were rolled over 2-1 by Uruguay.

Di Maria was part of Argentina's inition selection, along with the likes of Paulo Dybala, Nicolas Otamendi and Lionel Messi, who returned to the side for the first time since the 2018 World Cup.

Speaking after the squad announcement, Scaloni implied that Messi's return will be carefully managed and he will have the final say over when the Barca legend plays. Argentina will play Venezuela at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium on March 23.

"But we need the rest, who are all top players and key figures at their clubs, to give us that bit extra to try and be a great team".

He returns to lead an Argentina team that has seen significant changes since their disastrous World Cup campaign in Russian Federation.

More news: Islamic State Loses Caliphate in Syria

A host of senior players such as Sergio Aguero, Angel Di Maria and Gonzalo Higuain have also been missing for the last nine months, but no player's absence has been felt as keenly as Messi's, who went on worldwide sabbatical.

"It's a joy for me and for everyone that he's back", Scaloni told a news conference on Thursday. "He hasn't been with a lot of these players here".

Messi will hope to put away his final losses in the 2015 and 2016 Copa America finals to Chile and lead Argentina to win the 2019 Copa America which will be hosted by perennial rivals Brazil.

"The presence of the best player in the world lifts the game's expectation", Dudamel said. "With his much-anticipated return, the demands become higher". The friendly match will be in the Catalan city of Girona.