BUENOS AIRES: Barcelona star Lionel Messi was left out of the first post-World Cup Argentina squad announced on Friday ahead of four upcoming friendlies.
The move was widely expected following media reports earlier in the week claiming the five-time Ballon d’Or winner had asked to be excused from the country’s four remaining friendlies in 2018.
Also absent from interim coach Lionel Scaloni’s squad are Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero, Angel Di Maria of Paris Saint-Germain and new AC Milan loan signing Gonzalo Higuain.
Argentina will play Guatemala and Colombia next month in the United States, with two more friendlies scheduled before the end of the year.
Argentina great Diego Maradona had called on the national team to give Messi a break in an interview published in sport daily Ole on Friday.
“I would give him space to breathe. I would tell him ‘play in Europe and stop travelling so you don’t get tired any more’. He shouldn’t play in friendlies just because the national team earns more with him,” the 57-year-old World Cup winner said.
“Messi shouldn’t be moving around for money.”
The Guatemala match in Los Angeles will be Argentina’s first since they were knocked out of the World Cup by eventual winners France in a thrilling 4-3 last-16 classic.
Jorge Sampaoli was sacked following that showing, with Maradona offering to coach the national side for free.
He was the coach during Argentina’s 2010 World Cup campaign in which they were thumped 4-0 by Germany in the quarter-finals.
Maradona said the side retained “little prestige because we did badly at the World Cup. We had no teamwork, we didn’t use the ball.
“When they told me Sampaoli had 14 assistants, I asked myself why he went, why didn’t he stay at home drinking mate?”
Manchester United’s second-choice goalkeeper Sergio Romero and Inter Milan’s Mauro Icardi have earnt recalls to the squad after missing out on the global showpiece in Russia, while Paulo Dybala of Juventus is also included.
In form domestic-based pair Cristian Pavon of Boca Juniors and Matias Vargas of Velez Sarsfield were also included, alongside young Inter Milan forward Lautaro Martinez.
Goalkeepers: Franco Armani (River Plate), Geronimo Rulli (Real Sociedad, ESP), Sergio Romero (Manchester United, ENG).
Defenders: Gabriel Mercado (Sevilla, ESP), Fabricio Bustos (Independiente, German Pezzella (Fiorentina, ITA), Alan Franco (Independiente), Ramiro Funes Mori (Villarreal, ESP), Walter Kannemann (Gremio, BRA), Nicolas Tagliafico (Ajax, NED), Marcos Acuna (Sporting Lisbon, POR), Eduardo Salvio (Benfica, POR), Leonel Di Placido (Lanus).
Midfielders: Santiago Ascacibar (Stuttgart, GER), Leandro Paredes (Zenit, RUS), Rodrigo Battaglia (Sporting Lisbon, POR), Maximiliano Meza (Independiente), Giovani Lo Celso (PSG, FRA), Gonzalo Martinez (River Plate), Franco Cervi (Benfica, POR), Franco Vazquez (Sevilla, ESP), Matias Vargas (Velez), Exequiel Palacios (River Plate).
Forwards: Cristian Pavon (Boca Juniors), Lautaro Martinez (Inter Milan, ITA), Paulo Dybala (Juventus, ITA), Mauro Icardi (Inter Milan, ITA), Giovanni Simeone (Fiorentina, ITA), Angel Correa (Atletico Madrid, EPA). - APP/AFP