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Argentina recall Messi, add Man Utd starlet for WC qualifiers


Buenos Aires (AFP) – Star forward Lionel Messi returns to the Argentina fold for two World Cup qualifiers later this month after he was included in coach Lionel Scaloni’s squad announced on Friday.

But the big surprise was the inclusion of seven teenagers playing for academy teams in Europe, including Manchester United winger Alejandro Garnacho.

Born in Spain to Argentine parents, 17-year-old Garnacho moved from Atletico Madrid to Manchester two years ago but has not yet played for the first team.

However, he caught the eye earlier this season with a stunning length-of-the-field solo goal against Everton in the FA Youth Cup.

Like the other young players in Scaloni’s squad — Nicolas Paz of Real Madrid, Villarreal’s Tiago Geralnik, Inter Milan brothers Franco and Valentin Carboni, Matias Soule of Juventus and Lazio’s Lucas Romero — Garnacho qualifies to play for another country.

Scaloni has been quick to include them in his senior plans in an attempt to tie their futures to the two-time World Cup winners.

Garnacho and Paz, the son of former Argentina international Pablo Paz, have already played for Spain’s age-grade teams.

Seven-time Ballon d’Or winner Messi missed the previous two qualifiers in January having contracted Covid in December.

But the 35-year-old — his country’s captain, most capped player and record goalscorer — will be available to face Venezuela in Buenos Aires on March 25 and Ecuador in Quito four days later.

However, Scaloni will have to make do without suspended quartet, goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez, defender Cristian Romero and midfielders Giovani Lo Celso and Emiliano Buendia.

FIFA suspended all four as punishment for the aborted World Cup qualifier away to Brazil in September.

All four were accused by Brazilian health authorities of breaking quarantine rules when they lined up for their national side in Sao Paulo.

Health authorities stopped the match after just five minutes due to the presence of the four players in the Argentina squad, sparking a sideline fracas and resulting in both teams walking off the pitch.

All four were playing their club football in England at the time — Lo Celso has since joined Villarreal on loan from Tottenham — and were subject to stricter health protocols in Brazil than players based in other countries.

FIFA also fined both the Argentine and Brazilian football federations and ordered them to replay the match.

Both have already qualified for the World Cup finals in Qatar later this year and remain unbeaten in qualifying.

Squad:

Goalkeepers: Franco Armani (River Plate), Geronimo Rulli (Villarreal/ESP), Juan Musso (Atalanta/ITA) 

Defenders: Gonzalo Montiel (Sevilla/ESP), Nahuel Molina (Udinese/ITA), Nicolas Otamendi (Benfica/POR), Juan Foyth (Villarreal/ESP), Lucas Martinez Quarta (Fiorentina/ITA), German Pezzella (Real Betis/ESP), Lisandro Martinez (Ajax/NED), Nicolas Tagliafico (Ajax/NED) 

Midfielders: Rodrigo De Paul (Atletico Madrid/ESP), Leandro Paredes (Paris Saint-Germain/FRA), Guido Rodriguez (Real Betis/ESP), Exequiel Palacios (Bayer Leverkusen/GER), Alexis Mac Allister (Brighton/ENG), Lucas Ocampos (Sevilla/ESP), Alejandro Garnacho (Manchester United/ENG), Manuel Lanzini (West Ham/ENG), Nicolas Paz (Real Madrid/ESP), Tiago Geralnik (Villarreal/ESP), Franco Carboni (Inter Milan/ITA), Valentín Carboni (Inter Milan/ITA)

Forwards: Lionel Messi (Paris Saint-Germain/FRA), Lautaro Martinez (Inter Milan/ITA), Nicolas Gonzalez (Fiorentina/ITA), Angel Correa (Atletico Madrid/ESP), Angel Di María (Paris Saint-Germain/FRA), Julian Alvarez (River Plate), Joaquin Correa (Inter Milan/ITA), Matias Soule (Juventus/ITA), Lucas Boye (Elche/ESP), Luka Romero (Lazio/ITA)

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