Inter Milan striker Mauro Icardi, the joint-leading scorer in Italy this season, was a notable omission from Argentina’s 23-man World Cup squad named by coach Jorge Sampaoli on Monday. Icardi scored his 29th Serie A goal of the season on Sunday as Inter pipped Lazio to a Champions League place, but he was one of 12 players cut from a provisional 35-man squad revealed last week. The 25-year-old made his Argentina debut in October 2013 but spent four years in international exile before he was recalled last September for the final four World Cup qualifiers. Two-time champions Argentina reached the final in Brazil in 2014, losing to Germany 1-0 after extra time, and will again look to Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi for inspiration in what may well be his last World Cup.
The five-time Ballon d’Or recipient heads a potent attacking line-up that includes Juventus pair Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain, as well as Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero. “The goal is to have a great World Cup. We’re going to be very competitive. We’re going to bank on an attacking game,” Sampaoli told a press conference at the national team’s training base in Ezeiza, near Buenos Aires.
Argentina needed a hat-trick from Messi in their final qualifier, a 3-1 victory away to Ecuador, to clinch their place at the finals, and results in subsequent friendlies have been concerning.
They were beaten 4-2 by Nigeria in Krasnodar in November and then suffered a humiliating 6-1 defeat by Spain in March, although both losses came without Messi in the side.
“I see him in optimal form, very enthusiastic and doing well physically. He was able to pace himself at training after winning the league title,” Sampaoli said of Messi, who scored 45 goals in 54 games for Barcelona this season.
Former Barcelona defender Javier Mascherano was one of six players selected who started the 2014 final, joining Messi, Higuain, Lucas Biglia, Sergio Romero and Marcos Rojo.
Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Giovani Lo Celso was called up after an impressive first full season with the French champions, while only three players — Franco Armani, Maximiliano Meza and Cristian Pavon — were selected from home-based clubs.
Argentina are in a challenging Group D, which includes Croatia, Nigeria and World Cup debutants Iceland.
Argentina 23-man squad:
Goalkeepers: Sergio Romero (Manchester United/ENG), Willy Caballero (Chelsea/ENG), Franco Armani (River Plate)
Defenders: Gabriel Mercado (Sevilla/ESP), Federico Fazio (Roma/ITA), Nicolas Otamendi (Manchester City/ENG), Marcos Rojo (Manchester United/ENG), Nicolas Taglafico (Ajax/NED), Javier Mascherano (Hebei Fortune/CHN), Marcos Acuna (Sporting Lisbon/POR), Cristian Ansaldi (Torino/ITA), Eduardo Salvio (Benfica/POR)
Midfielders: Ever Banega (Sevilla/ESP), Lucas Biglia (AC Milan/ITA), Angel Di Maria (Paris Saint-Germain/FRA), Giovani Lo Celso (Paris Saint-Germain/FRA), Manuel Lanzini (West Ham/ENG), Maximiliano Meza (Independiente)
Forwards: Lionel Messi (Barcelona/ESP), Gonzalo Higuain (Juventus/ITA), Paulo Dybala (Juventus/ITA), Sergio Aguero (Manchester City/ENG), Cristian Pavon (Boca Juniors)
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