Lionel Messi included in Argentina’s opening World Cup qualifying squad

The last game of Lionel Messi’s suspension will rule the Argentina captain out of La Albiceleste’s opening World Cup qualifier against Ecuador later this month but Messi remains a central part of Lionel Scaloni’ plans with a second match in Bolivia to follow.

The marathon that is CONMEBOL World Cup qualification begins this month and Argentina kick off against Ecuador at La Bombonera on Thursday the 26th before a trip to La Paz four days later.

After a third-placed finish at last year’s Copa América and an unbeaten run since that semi-final defeat to Brazil, the mood surrounding Argentina is a lot more positive than it has been in recent years and with that in mind Lionel Scaloni has named a familiar looking squad.

Lionel Messi, Sergio Agüero and Nicolás Otamendi remain the veterans of the 2014 World Cup side and the likes of Nehuén Pérez, Leonardo Balerdi, Exequiel Palacios, Nicolás Domínguez, Alexis Mac Allister and Nicolás González inject some youth to the group.

Whether Balerdi warrants a place in the squad ahead of the likes of Lisandro Martínez or Marcos Senesi is debatable and Scaloni’s continued faith in González is curious. However, the likes of Pérez and Mac Allister shone for the under-23s and fully deserve another opportunity on this stage.

The players based in Argentina are still to be added and so goalkeepers Esteban Andrada and Franco Armani will certainly be added but the likes of Gonzalo Montiel, Lucas Martínez Quarta and Matías Zaracho are all possibilities.

Goalkeeper: Juan Musso (Udinese)

Defenders: Nehuén Pérez (Famalicao), Nicolás Otamendi (Manchester City), Renzo Saravia (Internacional), Germán Pezzella (Fiorentina), Nicolás Tagliafico (Ajax), Leonardo Balerdi (Borussia Dortmund)

Midfielders: Guido Rodríguez (Betis), Exequiel Palacios (Bayer Leverkusen), Roberto Pereyra (Watford), Rodrigo De Paul (Udinese), Marcos Acuña (Sporting CP), Leandro Paredes (PSG), Nicolás Domínguez (Bologna), Giovani Lo Celso (Tottenham), Alexis Mac Allister (Brighton)

Forwards: Lionel Messi (Barcelona), Sergio Agüero (Manchester City), Lucas Ocampos (Sevilla), Lucas Alario (Bayer Leverkusen), Nicolás González (Stuttgart), Paulo Dybala (Juventus), Lautaro Martínez (Inter)