It's official: Lionel Messi is returning to the Albiceleste.
Confirmation from the Argentine Football Association (AFA) arrived this morning, when the federation published the list of players called up by coach Lionel Scaloni for two upcoming friendlies against Venezuela and Morocco, vital games ahead of the Copa América in Brazil later this year.
The Barcelona star's name was on the list, meaning the former captain will return from a months-long post-World Cup absence. He has not pulled on the light-blue-and-white stripes since Argentina's 4-3 defeat to France in the second round of Russia 2018.
"I believe he is happy and wants to try once more. He is welcome," Scaloni said at a press conference today. "The World Cup was tough for all, even more so for him."
"We have the best in the world, but because of one thing or another we did not [win a title with him]. We have also reached three finals with him," Scaloni said.
Unconfirmed reports said Messi would play against Venezuela in the match scheduled for Friday, March 22, at Atlético Madrid's Wana Metropolitana stadium, but would likely not play in the game against Morocco in Rabat on Tuesday, March 26.
Scaloni also delivered some other surprise news in his squad: three new Superliga names in the form of Defensa y Justicia players Lisandro Martínez and Domingo Blanco, as well as River Plate's new forward Matías Suárez.
Big names were among the notable absentees too, including Manchester City striker Sergio Agüero and controversial Intern Milan No. 9 Mauro Icardi, who is currently out of favour with the Itailan giants. Agüero's absence is particularly surprising, given his impressive scoring return for his club side this season.
Other debutantes in the squad – as well as Suárez, Martínez and Blanco – include Udinese goalkeeper Juan Musso, Suárez's River Plate teammate Gonzalo Montiel and Racing's Matías Zaracho.
Goalkeepers: Franco Armani, Esteban Andrada, Juan Musso and Agustín Marchesín.
Defenders: Gabriel Mercado, Renzo Saravia, Gonzalo Montiel, Germán Pezzella, Lisandro Martínez, Juan Foyth, Nicolás Otamendi, Walter Kannemann, Nicolás Tagliafico and Marcos Acuña.
Midfielders: Giovani Lo Celso, Leandro Paredes, Iván Marcone, Guido Rodríguez, Matías Zaracho, Manuel Lanzini, Rodrigo de Paul, Ángel di María, Gonzalo Pity Martínez, Domingo Blanco and Roberto Pereyra.
Forwards: Lionel Messi, Paulo Dybala, Lautaro Martinez, Angel Correa, Matías Suárez and Darío Benedetto.