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Coach keeps Argentina guessing about Messi’s future

Press rumours claim Lionel Messi has asked to be excused from Argentina’s friendlies in 2018 © AFP/File / LLUIS GENE

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina, Aug 21 – Argentina’s interim coach Lionel Scaloni refused to be drawn on Lionel Messi’s international future after leaving the five-time World Player of the Year out of his squad for upcoming friendlies next month.

Local media had claimed the Barcelona star asked to be excused from international duty for Argentina’s four remaining friendlies in 2018, starting with a trip to the United States in September to play Guatemala and Colombia.

“I’ve spoken with Messi and from that conversation I picked my squad,” said Scaloni, who took over from the sacked Jorge Sampaoli after Argentina’s underwhelming World Cup last-16 elimination to eventual champions France.

“We didn’t speak about what could happen in the future. We know what Messi represents for us and we’ll see for the future.”

Messi, 31, has retired from international duty once before after missing a penalty in Argentina’s shoot-out defeat by Chile, for the second year running, in the 2016 Copa America final.

That lasted little more than a month, though, before Messi returned to the blue and white shirt for Argentina’s 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign.

As it turned out, the twice former world champions were on the brink of elimination until a Messi hat-trick in their final qualifier earned a 3-1 come-from-behind victory away to Ecuador and a place at the global showpiece in Russia.

He failed to dazzle there, though, and hasn’t spoken publically since the South Americans beat Nigeria in the group stage to earn a spot in the knock-out rounds.

Messi wasn’t the only Argentine star to be left off Scaloni’s list as Manchester City forward Sergio Aguero, new AC Milan signing Gonzalo Higuain and Paris Saint-Germain winger Angel Di Maria were also missing.

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“No player has told me he doesn’t want to be picked,” said Scaloni.

“It’s clear that we must include new people in this adventure. I’ve spoken to most players and they’re available.

“It’s the time to freshen things up. We’re convinced it’s the right time to call up these lads, they have huge potential.”

In form domestic-based pair Cristian Pavon of Boca Juniors and Matias Vargas of Velez Sarsfield were called up alongside young Inter Milan forward Lautaro Martinez and his recalled club team-mate Mauro Icardi.

Argentina play Guatemala on September 7 in Los Angeles before taking on Colombia in New York four days later.

They will play two more friendlies in October and November against as yet unnamed opponents.

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