"A genuis who carries the hope of 50 million Argentines. Don't miss it!" That is how the AFA announced the return of their star player, Lionel Messi, to the international fold. After a nine-month absence following the unsuccessful World Cup campaign, Messi will take to the field as Argentina face Venezuela in a friendly at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium in Madrid.
When he walks out on the pitch and looks around, Messi will feel a little strange. Not because of how long he's been away but because the squad represents a huge change to the one which went to the World Cup. In attack he'll see Gonzalo ‘Pity’ Martínez, Atlanta United's new player, alongside Inter Milan's Lautaro Martínez (Inter), who did travel to Russia but didn't play a single minute.
In midfield there are places for Paredes (PSG) and Lo Celso (Betis), both travelled to the World Cup, but in defence is where there are even bigger changes. Foyth (Tottenham) and Montiel (River Plate) are examples of the revolution Scaloni is creating with Argentina following the poor showing at the World Cup. Dybala is included in the squad but won't play. Icardi and Higuaín were both overlooked.
concern over messi's fitness
One area of concern will be Messi's fitness. The coach admitted that the superstar arrived at the training camp suffering from fatigue and had to consider that when sharing out the available minutes. It's in their interest, and Barça's, to try and keep Messi as fresh as possible. The Copa America starts on the 14th June and might offer Leo the chance to win his first major trophy with the national team.