A June 30, 2018 file photo of Lionel Messi during the France vs Argentina match. Image Credit: Reuters

Buenos Aires: After including Lionel Messi on his preliminary list of call-ups for friendlies against Venezuela and Morocco, the Argentine national team head coach Lionel Scaloni has said that the Barcelona superstar’s return to the Albiceleste is a great sign.

The 31-year-old Messi, who has been in superb form in the 2018-2019 season and leads La Liga in both goals (25) and assists (11), has not played for Argentina since their elimination by eventual champions France at the last World Cup in Russia.

“Lots of players would rather rest for friendlies, and he prefers to come over,” Scaloni said after unveiling his call-ups for the March 22 clash against Venezuela in Madrid and the March 26 game against Morocco in Tangier.

Those friendlies will be played less than three months before Argentina compete in the Copa America, which is being held this year in Brazil.

But he did not say whether Messi would play both games, adding that after the forward’s most recent outings — in which he scored a hat-trick against Sevilla and led Barcelona to two victories in a week over arch-rivals Real Madrid — it is “hard to gauge his condition soccer-wise”.

The biggest news was the inclusion of Messi, who last donned the Argentina colours in the squad’s 4-3 loss to France on June 30, 2018, in the World Cup’s round of 16.

In recent months, both AFA officials and Scaloni had expressed the hope that Messi, winner of a record-tying five Ballon d’Or awards and Argentina’s most-capped active international player, would return to the national team.

Besides Messi, another veteran national-team stalwart, the Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Angel di Maria was named for the upcoming friendlies.

— IANS