Messi Returning To Argentina National Team For First Time Since World Cup

Lionel Messi isn’t giving up on his home country just yet.

After a trying World Cup and suggestions of his international retirement, Messi was named to the Argentina team for its March friendlies. It will be the first time the Barcelona maestro will appear for his country since the 2018 World Cup. 

Fortunately for Messi, his Argentina return won’t require much travel. La Albiceleste play Venezuela in Madrid on March 22 followed by a short flight south to play Morocco in Tangier. 

Argentina hasn’t played since November, when it beat Mexico 2-0 twice in four days in Argentina. The team has played six matches since the World Cup, all without Messi. 

Messi’s last appearance with La Albiceleste came in the 4-3 defeat to France in the World Cup Round of 16. 

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Messi retired from international football once before after the 2016 Copa América, but came back for the 2018 World Cup, after which there was more speculation he'd never return to the national team. As the months went on after Argentina's last matches in November, it appeared more and more like Messi would return. 

The No. 10 is Argentina’s all-time leading scorer with 65 goals, nearly twice as many as Diego Maradona. He’s 19 matches shy of matching Javier Mascherano’s record for most caps. 

But Messi has never won a senior title with Argentina, finishing second in three Copa Américas and the 2014 World Cup. He did win a gold medal at the 2008 Olympics, not to mention about a million trophies with Barcelona. 

Though now 31, Messi has been in fine form lately. He has 33 goals in all competitions. 

The Argentina squad list is a big one, with 31 players selected by coach Lionel Scaloni, who replaced Jorge Sampaoli after the World Cup. Notably, Mauro Icardi and Sergio Aguero were left out of the squad, while Angel Di Maria and Paulo Dybala were included. 

While these players aren’t necessarily the ones Scaloni will use for the Copa América this summer, it does suggest who he’s thinking about. Argentina was drawn into Group B with Colombia, Paraguay and Qatar in what should be at the very least an interesting group, especially with Messi back in the fold. The tournament begins June 14, with La Albiceleste’s first game on June 15 against Colombia. 

Even if Argentina fails to bring home the trophy at the 2019 tournament in Brazil, Messi will have another chance next year. Another Copa América is scheduled in 2020 as CONMEBOL is changing the schedule to run concurrently with the European Championship. CONMEBOL leaders recently rejected an invitation from U.S. Soccer to play a tournament in the United States in 2020

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