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Will Lionel Messi play for Argentina at Copa America 2019?

12:00 GMT 24/01/2019
Lionel Messi Argentina 2018
Argentine football fans have an anxious wait ahead of them as their captain and record scorer mulls over his international future

When it comes to international football with Argentina, Lionel Messi has been on a sabbatical.

The Barcelona star has won everything there is to win at club level, but international glory continues to elude him.

While he boasts an Olympic gold medal and won the Under-20 World Cup, he has yet to win a single senior honour with his country, despite featuring at four World Cups and four Copas America.

Of those eight major tournaments he has played in, the Barca forward has been a beaten finalist on four occasions and recent failures have left the star questioning his future with the national team.

With Copa America 2019 on the horizon this June, Goal takes a look at Messi's current international hiatus and whether or not he will return to the fold.

Has Lionel Messi retired from playing for Argentina?

There has been no official announcement to say that Messi has retired from international duty with Argentina, so he is, in theory, still available for selection.

The Barca star has previously retired though, famously quitting after the disillusionment of Copa America Centenario in 2016, when Argentina lost the final against Chile.

A repeat of the 2015 final, the Albiceleste suffered a penalty shootout defeat with Messi missing his spot-kick. It was his third consecutive loss in a major final with Argentina and his fourth overall.

"I tried my hardest. It's been four finals, and I was not able to win," a despondent Messi told reporters at the time.

"I tried everything possible. It hurts me more than anyone, but it is evident that this is not for me. I want more than anyone to win a title with the national team, but unfortunately, it did not happen."

However, following widespread appeals from players, supporters and even politicians, he reversed his decision to retire in August that year, two months later.

While he came back and dragged Argentina to the World Cup in Russia, his previous decision to retire after serial disappointment understandably has fans on edge.

When was the last time Lionel Messi played for Argentina?

Messi's last appearance in an Albiceleste shirt came in the summer of 2018 at the World Cup in Russia.

He featured in each of Argentina's matches at the tournament, but, as has become a recurring theme, his last game was a crushing disappointment: a quarter-final defeat to France, which took place on June 30.

Les Bleus triumphed 4-3 in the game and, while Messi did not score himself, he supplied assists for Gabriel Mercado and Sergio Aguero.

The loss was another devastating blow for the forward, who is, no doubt, all too aware that it could potentially be his last World Cup, given that he will be approaching 35 by the time of the 2022 edition in Qatar.

Ahead of the tournament, he hinted that he could retire once again, but permanently this time. "I don't know," Messi told Sport. "It will depend how we do, how it ends."

Will Lionel Messi play for Argentina at Copa America 2019?

As one would expect, the question of whether or not Messi will play for Argentina again is a serious point of concern in the country.

Any team that has been shorn of their best player is prone to suffer, let alone a player widely considered to be among the greatest of all time.

Argentina have played six games since their elimination from the World Cup, including high profile friendlies against Brazil and Mexico, but Messi has not been involved in any of them.

However, it must be said that the Barcelona captain was not the only notable absentee from those games, with boss Lionel Scaloni using experimental squads to identify which players are worthy of selection.

Argentina's next game is a friendly against Venezuela, which is scheduled for March 22 and will, crucially, be played in Spain, something that conveniently makes things a little easier for Catalunya-based Messi.

Goal understands that Messi will be included in the panel for the game and the noises emanating from those within the Argentina camp have all pointed to the likelihood that Messi will not retire any time soon.

Scaloni told reporters in November that he believed Messi would play for the team again and, in December, he expressed further confidence in that notion.

"We are going to try for him to join us in 2019, we have pending talks and we are optimistic that it will be positive," said the Argentina coach.

"For us it is something important. Any coach would like to coach him, myself more than any."

Messi's Argentina team-mate Mercado admitted that it was simply "not the same" without the Barca star, telling Goal: “We have to respect his decision.

"He has his reasons for wanting to take time out and if he wants to consider a return at some point, that will be really important.

"All Argentineans are waiting for him with open arms, so we have to wait and see what will happen."

Diego Maradona has passionately defended Messi in the past, hitting out at those who laid all the blame for Argentina's inability to triumph in the international arena squarely at the 31-year-old's feet.

However, Maradona subsequently expressed the view that Messi will feature again for his country, but warned - as he has done before - that they will struggle in his absence if he elects not to play any more.

"I think so," Maradona told Marca when asked if he thought the star would return. "We will see, because if not then we are in trouble."

Another Argentine icon, Juan Roman Riquelme, says he has "no doubt" that Messi will play for the team again. The former Boca Juniors star told Fox Sports Argentina: "Looking at it from the outside, I think he will come back. He loves playing for Argentina."

Carlos Tevez, who won 76 caps for Argentina over the course of his career, believes that Messi is "the soul" of the national team and the country.

"As a player and as an Argentine I tell him that we need him, that he tries to rest, that he keeps a cool head and that we need him," Tevez told ESPN after Argentina's World Cup elimination.

"We need him because he is the soul of Argentina and, as long as he continues playing football, it has to be that way because he is Argentina's biggest idol and he has to take that responsibility."

However, while most people are eager for Messi to return, Juan Sebastian Veron is adamant that Argentina need to stop relying on the Rosario native so much, particularly as he moves into the autumn of his career.

"It's time to build a group," the former Manchester United and Lazio midfielder told ESPN Argentina. "Obviously, if Leo is eager [to be part of the national team], they would need to involve him little by little.

"I think we have to prepare the base and once and for all think about a team and not think about someone who can save us.