Jorge Sampaoli has named the non-Argentine based players for his squad ahead of this month’s friendlies against Italy and Spain and while there are few surprises, the inclusion of Gonzalo Higuaín ahead of Mauro Icardi and Paulo Dybala will create headlines.
With the World Cup now only four months away and these friendlies being the last opportunity for Sampaoli to take a close look before the end of the European football season, competition is fierce for a place in Russia.
Sampaoli admitted, “I have 80% of the list for the World Cup ready in my head but the remaining 20% is complex.”
And while most of those certainties are obvious there is a huge pool of players vying for that remaining five or six places in the squad.
Gonzalo Higuaín’s terrific form at Juventus has earned the centre forward an expected recall and Sampaoli touched on the absence of Dybala and Icardi, assuring them that just as Higuaín wasn’t in the past squads, this doesn’t define his World Cup plans.
“[Paulo] Dybala, [Alejandro] Gómez and [Mauro] Icardi are players that we know very well but aren’t going through the best moment their clubs, and we want to have a look at other players and compare them. That they haven’t been called up now doesn’t mean they can’t make the World Cup squad.”
[SELECCIÓN MAYOR] Estos son los jugadores del exterior convocados por Jorge Sampaoli para los amistosos ante Italia y España. pic.twitter.com/omtycsS4cL
— Selección Argentina (@Argentina) March 1, 2018
Javier Mascherano is named in the squad following his move to Hebei China Fortune and while his inclusion was always a certainty, his place among the named midfielders is an interesting change. Jorge Sampaoli had previously stated that he considered the veteran as a central defender but may have had a rethink.
This may in part have been influenced by the returns of Marcos Rojo and Ramiro Funes Mori, who have missed lengthy periods through injury and despite not featuring a great deal at club level are back in the mix.
Nicolás Tagliafico’s fine form after his transfer to Ajax is rewarded with a place in the initial 22 and the former Independiente captain looks like the best option if Sampaoli were to utilise a natural left-back.
While Gabriel Mercado and Eduardo Salvio are listed as possible options on the opposite flank, Sampaoli also noted that a right-back from the Argentine league will likely be called – Independiente’s Fabricio Bustos or Boca Juniors’ Leonardo Jara, the two most likely candidates.
Mascherano, Lucas Biglia, Éver Banega and Ángel Di María are all familiar choices in midfield but the additions of Leandro Paredes, Giovani Lo Celso and Manuel Lanzini are promising.
Aside from a right-back already as already mentioned, Sampaoli will be adding the local players later and mentioned Racing Club striker Lautaro Martínez and Boca Juniors forward Cristian Pavón specifically as two that have caught his eye.
Goalkeeper Franco Armani is unlikely to be named with Chelsea’s Willy Caballero claiming the third-choice spot and Pablo or Enzo Pérez may yet be added but Sampaoli stressed that a great number of players are still being evaluated. Even the likes of Carlos Tevez or Ricardo Centurión.
Argentina play Italy in Manchester on March 23rd before heading to Madrid to face Spain on the 27th at Atlético Madrid’s Wanda Metropolitana Stadium.
Sergio Romero (Manchester United)
Nahuel Guzmán (Tigres)
Willy Caballero (Chelsea)
Marcos Rojo (Manchester United)
Ramiro Funes Mori (Everton)
Federico Fazio (Roma)
Nicolás Otamendi (Manchester City)
Marcos Acuña (Sporting CP)
Eduardo Salvio (Benfica)
Nicolás Tagliafico (Ajax)
Gabriel Mercado (Sevilla)
Javier Mascherano (Hebei China Fortune)
Leandro Paredes (Zenit St. Petersburg)
Manuel Lanzini (West Ham United)
Giovanni Lo Celso (Paris Saint-Germain)
Lucas Biglia (AC Milan)
Éver Banega (Sevilla)
Ángel Di María (Paris Saint-Germain)
Gonzalo Higuaín (Juventus)
Lionel Messi (Barcelona)
Sergio Agüero (Manchester City)
Diego Perotti (Roma)