Lionel Messi’s presence in Argentina’s upcoming South American World Cup qualifier against Paraguay on Thursday is shrouded in doubt, even though he looked promising during training sessions, says coach Lionel Scaloni. This article delves into the uncertainties surrounding Messi’s involvement and the strategies Argentina might consider in his absence.
Messi’s Return and Recent Form
Messi rejoined the World Cup-winning Argentine squad after a period of club-level inactivity due to injury. He made a brief appearance as a second-half substitute for Inter Miami in Major League Soccer last Saturday, accumulating just 37 minutes of play for his club since September 3. The injury resulted from his previous international duty.
Coach Scaloni’s Perspective
Coach Scaloni mentioned the importance of another training session to assess Messi’s readiness for the match. He expressed the need to have a discussion with the star player before confirming his participation. Scaloni remarked, “We still have one more training session, and one more is important for him… I have to talk it over with him and make sure we are convinced he can start. He looked good. Based on that, we will see the rest of the team.”
Considering the Bigger Picture
In evaluating Messi’s role, Scaloni also acknowledged that Argentina would face Peru in Lima just five days later. The coach emphasized that regardless of Messi’s fitness, the team is confident that any player taking the field will perform adequately. Argentina has performed admirably in the qualifiers, winning both their games and sharing the top spot with Brazil, each with six points.
If Messi isn’t deemed fit to play, Scaloni has several options at his disposal. Among them is the prospect of deploying Manchester City striker Julian Alvarez and Inter Milan’s Lautaro Martinez as a forward pair. Both have previously started together and have the capabilities to adapt to various tactical approaches. Scaloni commented, “They’ve already played together as starters. I’m open to many things. It will depend on the match. It wouldn’t be a problem. They’re different, but they can play.”
Paraguay, Argentina’s opponents, have secured only one point in their opening games and currently occupy the sixth position, the final spot for automatic qualification for the 2026 World Cup.
Brazil, on the other hand, is preparing to host Venezuela in Cuiaba on the same day. Despite being favorites, Brazilian midfielder Casemiro emphasized the importance of respecting their opponents, as Venezuela is seeking its first-ever World Cup finals appearance. Casemiro stated, “It’s going to be a difficult game. Venezuela has their merits, many players playing in Europe, quality players. The important thing here is respect.”
Challenges of the South American Qualifiers
Casemiro also highlighted the challenges of South American qualifiers, reminding everyone that football in this region is highly competitive, and there are no easy games. He underlined that Brazil is currently adapting to a new approach under interim coach Fernando Diniz and aims to minimize mistakes during the upcoming matches.
After the clash with Venezuela, Brazil will face Marcelo Bielsa’s Uruguay on Tuesday in Montevideo. Meanwhile, Venezuela will host Chile in another intriguing matchup.
The uncertainty surrounding Lionel Messi’s availability for Argentina’s upcoming World Cup qualifier adds intrigue to the upcoming match against Paraguay. While Messi’s absence would undoubtedly be felt, Coach Scaloni is confident in his team’s ability to adapt and continue their impressive run in the qualifiers. In the larger context of South American football, both Argentina and Brazil are aware of the challenges posed by their opponents and remain committed to respecting their adversaries in what is proving to be an intense and competitive qualification process.