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Messi to start Venezuela friendly on Argentina return


Madrid (AFP) – Lionel Messi will start Friday’s friendly against Venezuela in Madrid as he makes his return for Argentina following a self-imposed eight-month exile, coach Lionel Scaloni confirmed.

Scaloni said that Messi would line up alongside Inter Milan forward Lautaro Martinez and Atlanta United’s Gonzalo Martinez in attack as he revealed his full starting team.

“It’s a joy for me and for everyone that he’s back,” Scaloni told a news conference on Thursday.

“Now what remains is try and get the team to play along with him and get the best out of him. We’re all very happy that he’s back.”

“It is the others who have to take that step so that Argentina can return to the level it had,” added Scaloni, who replaced Jorge Sampaoli as coach following the last-16 defeat by France at the 2018 World Cup. 

Messi has missed six friendlies since the tournament in Russia but many believe he will be an essential part of the team that travels to Brazil for the Copa America, which kicks off June 14.

“We have a way of playing and feeling football in these six games we’ve had. We’re not going to change it, that (Messi) is coming is more incentive for us and another addition.” 

“We’ve played different systems and we’re going to do it in the same way, added to his great quality,” Scaloni added. 

“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.”

Scaloni refused to be drawn on whether Messi would also travel with the squad for next week’s friendly against Morocco in Tangier, but said he would not risk the Barcelona forward’s fitness.

The news that Messi would be involved for the game at Atletico Madrid’s Wanda Metropolitano ground pleased Venezuela coach Rafael Dudamel.

“The presence of the best player in the world lifts the game’s expectation,” Dudamel said.

“For us to take on Argentina is a good way to see how we stack up. The return of Lionel Messi makes the demands on us extremely high.”

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