Argentina head to the United States for September friendlies against Mexico and Chile and although there will be no sign of the suspended Lionel Messi, coach Lionel Scaloni ensured that there remains some intrigue around La Albiceleste by naming a somewhat surprising squad.
Sergio Agüero undoubtedly the biggest name left out from the group that lost to Brazil in the Copa América but a recall for out of favour Manchester United defender Marcos Rojo and first call-ups for Lucas Martínez Quarta, Leonardo Balerdi, Adolfo Gaich, Lucas Ocampos, Nicolás Domínguez, Alexis Mac Allister y Nicolás Figal make it an interesting group of players.
Argentina play Chile on September 5th in Los Angeles and Mexico on the 10th in San Antonio and Scaloni’s selection announced in unison with Fernando Batista’s under-23 group generate a number of questions.
The exclusions are perhaps easier to understand. Messi’s suspension handed out by CONMEBOL for his outburst post-Copa América elimination ensures the Argentina captain plays no part.
Sergio Agūero impressed in Brazil alongside Lautaro Martinez up front but the result of playing a major tournament and then going straight back into the Premier League season with Manchester City has reportedly seen the striker and Scaloni agree his involvement wouldn’t be beneficial. The chance to rest and receive treatment on a minor injury sees Agūero remain in England to the relief of City.
The remaining players dropped from the Copa América squad, excluding the injured Juan Foyth, have this time been overlooked by Scaloni. Ángel Di María’s playing days would appear numbered, Renzo Saravia, Milton Casco and Guido Pizarro have all been dropped and although Ramiro Funes Mori, Matías Suárez and Juan Musso remain in plans, other players have been given opportunities to impress in September.
Musso for instance was at the Copa América only due to a late injury to Esteban Andrada and so with the Boca Juniors goalkeeper now fit again, the 28-year-old is one of eight recalls.
Superliga youngsters Exequiel Palacios and Matías Zaracho also return from injuries to further their burgeoning international careers and Palacios’ River teammate Gonzalo Montiel comes back in to provide an option at right-back after his debut against Venezuela in March.
Goalkeeper Agustín Marchesín, who recently signed for Porto, Lazio forward Joaquín Correa and West Ham United midfielder Manuel Lanzini all make returns but it is the inclusion of Marcos Rojo that raises most eyebrows.
The 29-year-old hasn’t featured for Manchester United this season and managed only five Premier League appearances as the side struggled to a sixth-placed finish. When the likes of Lisandro Martínez and Cristian Romero are named only in the under-23 squad, it could be questioned whether the younger players would benefit more from the time with the senior squad as Scaloni tries to build a team ultimately for the 2022 World Cup.
And it isn’t like there aren’t other youth talents given a chance with the senior squad. Leonardo Balerdi yet to make his Borussia Dortmund debut since a move from Boca Juniors is in Scaloni’s group at the expense of Martínez and Romero and Adolfo Gaich earns himself a promotion from under-23 level after his superb displays at the Panamerican Games.
With 15 goals in 22 appearances at youth level, Gaich is clearly earmarked as one for the future but is yet to really make a mark on the first team at San Lorenzo let alone for the national team.
The powerful centre forward competes with Lautaro Martinez as the only recognised number nine options in the squad and as such is viewed as the major surprise inclusion.
However, Gaich is far from alone. River Plate defender Lucas Martínez Quarta is rewarded for his fine form with a first Argentina call-up and Independiente’s Nicolás Figal joins him in what is a considerably more left-field choice given the 25-year-old’s inconsistent displays for El Rojo.
Elsewhere, Velez midfielder Nicolás Domínguez is given an opportunity, Boca’s Brighton loanee Alexis Mac Allister is also drafted in and among all the fresh Superliga faces, Lucas Ocampos finally earns his shot. Still only 25, the wonderkid of yesteryear, who recently moved from Marseille to Sevilla, is included in the squad.
Midfielders: Marcos Acuña (Sporting CP), Leandro Paredes (PSG), Guido Rodríguez (Club América), Giovani Lo Celso (Tottenham), Nicolás Domínguez (Vélez), Rodrigo De Paul (Udinese), Matías Zaracho (Racing), Roberto Pereyra (Watford), Exequiel Palacios (River), Lucas Ocampos (Sevilla), Manuel Lanzini (West Ham), Alexis Mac Allister (Boca)
Forwards: Joaquín Correa (Lazio), Lautaro Martínez (Inter), Paulo Dybala (Juventus), Adolfo Gaich (San Lorenzo)
Alongside Scaloni’s 27-strong squad, Fernando Batista named a fresh under-23 group coming off the back of their Panamerican Games gold medal.
That squad that triumphed in Peru forms a large part of the squad that begins preparation ahead of the Pre-Olympic tournament to be held in Colombia over January and February.
Gaich the notable absentee but boosted by several quality reinforcements that weren’t available for the Panamerican Games.
Atlanta United’s Ezequiel Barco, Sampdoria’s Gonzalo Maroni, Stuttgart’s Santiago Ascacibar, Espanyol’s Matías Vargas, Velez Sarsfield’s Lucas Robertone, Boca’s Nicolás Capaldo, River Plate’s Julián Álvarez, Spartaq Moscow’s Ezequiel Ponce, Banfield’s Julian Carranza, Atlético Madrid’s Nehuén Pérez, San Lorenzo’s Marcos Senesi and the aforementioned Lisandro Martínez of Ajax and Cristian Romero on loan at Genoa from Juventus.
Many would have questioned the quality of the group that Batista took to Peru and while some unexpectedly shone like Carlos Valenzuela, there is no questioning the upgrade that the under-23s have now going forward.
A friendly with Ecuador has been agreed but there is no location for that match as of yet and the idea ahead of that Pre-Olympic tournament is that the under-23s utilise the FIFA dates alongside the senior squad to help shape plans.
Goalkeepers: Juan Pablo Cozzani (Lanús), Ezequiel Centurión (River), Joaquín Blázquez (Valencia)
Defenders: Facundo Mura (Estudiantes), Nehuén Pérez (Familacao), Francisco Ortega (Vélez), Claudio Bravo (Banfield), Marcos Senesi (San Lorenzo), Lisandro Martínez (Ajax), Cristian Romero (Genoa), Marcelo Herrera (San Lorenzo)
Midfielders: Fausto Vera (Argentinos), Kevin Gutiérrez (Godoy Cruz), Santiago Ascacibar (Stuttgart), Matías Vargas (Espanyol), Nicolás Capaldo (Boca), Lucas Robertone (Vélez), Carlos Valenzuela (Barracas Central), Agustín Urzi (Banfield), Santiago Colombatto (Cagliari), Ezequiel Barco (Atlanta United), Gonzalo Maroni (Sampdoria)