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Messi set to start for Argentina in first game since World Cup

3:02 PM EDT 3/21/19
Lionel Messi Argentina 2018
The Barcelona star ends nine months of self-imposed international exile on Friday when he captains the Albiceleste against Venezuela

Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni has confirmed that Lionel Messi will start for the Albiceleste for the first time since elimination from the 2018 World Cup. 

Messi last played for his nation in their 4-3 last-16 defeat in Russia at the hands of France, who went on to win the trophy. 

That loss marked the end for Scaloni's predecessor Jorge Sampaoli as well as former captain Javier Mascherano, who retired from international football at the final whistle. 

A host of senior players such as Sergio Aguero, Angel Di Maria and Gonzalo Higuain have also been missing for the last nine months, but no player's absence has been felt as keenly as Messi's, who went on international sabbatical. 

The Barcelona wizard is now back on the fold, but will be lining up in a rather unfamiliar first team on Friday as Scaloni continues his efforts to rejuvenate the Albiceleste ranks against Venezuela in Madrid. 

"It is a great joy to see Messi back. In spite of my youth I have the chance to train him," Scaloni told reporters in Thursday's press conference, where he proceeded to announce his starting line-up.

"I have to try to make the team work with him and give the best of itself. 

"Let's hope that with Messi's return the team gets even better."

River Plate's Franco Armani, who was in goal that fateful day against France, occupies the No. 1 shirt, behind a five-man defence composed of Millonario team-mate Gonzalo Montiel, who will make his debut, at right-back, fellow first-time Defensa y Justicia's Lisandro Martinez, Tottenham's Juan Foyth, Gabriel Mercado of Sevilla and Ajax star Nicolas Tagliafico. 

The middle of the field is held by Giovani Lo Celso and Leandro Paredes, while Messi lines up on the right of a three-man attack completed by Inter's Lautaro Martinez and Atlanta United winger Gonzalo Martinez, who becomes the first MLS player ever to appear for Argentina. 

Nicolas Otamendi and Di Maria had been called up by Scaloni but were forced to withdraw due to injury, while there was no room for Premier League duo Aguero and Higuain up front. 

Mauro Icardi has been included on several occasions by Scaloni, but was omitted from this squad - the final call-up prior to the Copa America - due to his dispute with Inter. 

Following Friday's clash at the Wanda Metropolitana Messi and Argentina move on to Tangier, where they will take on Morocco on Tuesday. 

The Albiceleste will face Colombia, Paraguay and Qatar in Group B of the Copa America, which is hosted by Brazil.