The Royal Moroccan Football Federation (FRMF) sought clarity regarding Lionel Messi's injury, having been frustrated to learn that Argentina would be without their star man for Tuesday's friendly.

Messi made his return to the international stage last week, but Argentina were beaten 3-1 by Venezuela in Madrid and the Barcelona star was later revealed to be suffering with a pelvic injury.

That ailment will keep Messi out of Argentina's trip to Tangier, as was confirmed to Morocco in a letter on Saturday.

But having agreed with Argentina that their best team would be on show, the FRMF asked for a further explanation, seemingly seeking to ensure Messi's injury is genuine.

A statement from the federation read: "The FRMF on Saturday received a letter from the agent of the friendly match against Argentina, officially confirming the absence of Lionel Messi.

"According to the same letter, the agent confirmed that the Argentine Football Association said that Messi had been injured in a match against Venezuela on Friday in Madrid, and that he directly joined Barcelona for treatment.

"The FRMF asked for clarification from the match agent, approved by the Argentine Football Federation, after news of Messi's absence from Tuesday's match in Tangier.

"It is worth noting that the FMRF had agreed in the contract organising this friendly match to face Argentina's first team."

Morocco were held to a 0-0 draw by Malawi in an African Nations Cup qualifier on Friday.

Diego Maradona labelled the Argentine Football Association's (AFA) president Claudio Tapia as "inept" and believes the team that lost to Venezuela is not fit to wear the Argentina shirt.

The build-up to Friday's game was dominated by Lionel Messi, who returned from his self-imposed post-World Cup hiatus for the friendly at Atletico Madrid's Wanda Metropolitano.

But Argentina were ultimately well-beaten, as they lost 3-1 to Rafael Dudamel's side despite Messi playing the full game.

Argentina icon Maradona did not spare the players from his criticism, however his ire was mostly directed at those in charge.

"I am very Argentine and I feel like I am part of a different group of coaches and players," he told reporters.

"I know what [Oscar] Ruggeri, [Gabriel] Batistuta, [Claudio] Caniggia are thinking… That this team doesn't deserve the shirt. The ones I named had the shirt tattooed on.

 

"Those who are inept and are running the AFA thought that they would win against Venezuela? Venezuela are a proper team and Argentina came into this through the window, not the front door, because they betrayed and constantly lied to people.

"I'm sorry, but Argentina are not going to win a game. I don't know what Tapia will be, if he will be a maths teacher or what, but he has no idea [what he is doing].

"I'm sorry for the Argentine public, who continue to believe these liars. I'm sorry for the players who have to show their faces when they shouldn't have to.

"It should be the leaders who start doing things right.

"Messi has to ignore the critics. It's not his fault, he's in a bad, disorganised team, a team that always depends on him in every way.

"He's an amazing and extraordinary player, he's got nothing to prove to anyone."

Argentina return to action on Tuesday against Morocco in Tangier, although they will be without the mercurial Messi due to injury.

 

Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo ended their self-imposed international exiles on Friday but could not inspire their respective nations to victory.

Messi and Ronaldo both crashed out of the 2018 World Cup on the same day back in June, as the campaigns of both Argentina and Portugal ended in the last 16.

The two men -– each a five-time winner of the Ballon d'Or – have missed six matches for their countries since then and, as fate would have it, their comebacks also coincided, although their returns brought little success.

Here, we take a look at how the biggest stars in world football endured a night of frustration on the international stage.

 

Lionel Messi - Argentina 1 Venezuela 3

Messi returned as skipper for this international friendly in Madrid, but was left stunned as Salomon Rondon fired Venezuela into a sixth-minute lead.

The 31-year-old showed flashes of his ability and his cross to set up a Lautaro Martinez header from close range was one such example.

Martinez got a powerful head to the delivery but found goalkeeper Wuilker Farinez in inspired form as he made a fantastic reaction save to clear the ball over the crossbar.

Farinez then pushed a Messi strike from the edge of the box – his only shot on target – over the bar as Argentina desperately sought a leveller, but Jhon Murillo deservedly doubled Venezuela's lead with a superb strike from 18 yards just before half-time.

Messi was involved in the counter-attack that ultimately led to Martinez pulling a goal back, but his influence waned thereafter and Josef Martinez wrapped up the shock result from the penalty spot 15 minutes from time.

It was later announced that Messi will miss Tuesday's clash with Morocco due to a pelvic injury.

Cristiano Ronaldo - Portugal 0 Ukraine 0

Portugal began their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign as defending champions but their challenge got off to an underwhelming start against Ukraine, despite the return of Ronaldo.

It was not for lack of effort on the Juventus forward's part, with Ronaldo taking seven shots on goal and landing three on target.

The 34-year-old was denied twice in quick succession by Andriy Pyatov in the first half.

First, Ronaldo tried to squeeze a shot between the legs of the goalkeeper, who reacted quickly to make the save, and four minutes later Pyatov got down low to his right to keep out another effort after the former Real Madrid man had created space for the shot.

Andre Silva could not apply the finish to a Ronaldo knockdown early in the second period and, with time running out, Portugal's star man leapt highest to connect with a William Carvalho cross but directed his header straight at Pyatov.

Portugal host Serbia in their second match of the campaign on Monday.

Lionel Messi will miss Argentina's friendly against Morocco on Tuesday due to a pelvic injury.

Messi made his return to international football in Friday's shock 3-1 friendly defeat to Venezuela in Madrid.

However, it was subsequently confirmed that the Barcelona star had suffered a problem during the game and will not travel to Tangier.

Messi missed six matches during a self-imposed post-World Cup exile from the national team before making his comeback at the Wanda Metropolitano, but goals from Salomon Rondon and Jhon Murillo saw Argentina trailing 2-0 at half-time.

Captain Messi was involved in the move that saw Lautaro Martinez pull one back for Lionel Scaloni's men, but Josef Martinez made sure of the win for Venezuela from the spot.

Messi, who played the full 90 minutes, previously retired from Argentina duty in 2016 following the team's defeat in the Copa America Centenario, before reversing the decision to return for the 2018 World Cup qualifiers.

Gonzalo Martinez will also miss the Morocco fixture with a thigh injury.

Lionel Messi’s return to the Argentina side ended in a shock 3-1 friendly defeat to Venezuela in Madrid on Friday.

Messi had not played for the national team since their last-16 elimination by eventual winners France at the 2018 World Cup – a tournament for which Venezuela finished bottom of South American qualifying.

But it was Rafael Dudamel's men who stole the show at the Wanda Metropolitano, with Salomon Rondon and Jhon Murillo firing them into a 2-0 lead in the first half.

Lautaro Martinez pulled one back for Argentina after the interval but this was a poor showing from Lionel Scaloni's side, whose fate was sealed by a Josef Martinez penalty 15 minutes from time.

Venezuela took their unexpected lead when a ball over the top from Roberto Rosales was brilliantly brought down and prodded home by a composed Rondon after only six minutes.

Wuilker Farinez produced a spectacular save to keep out a close-range Lautaro Martinez header on the half-hour mark.

Messi had delivered the cross for Lautaro Martinez's headed effort and witnessed Farinez's talents first-hand when his strike from the edge of the box was tipped over the crossbar by the goalkeeper.

Darwin Machis and Rondon squandered opportunities before Murillo deservedly doubled Venezuela's advantage, capitalising on a quickly taken free-kick to curl a wonderful effort beyond the reach of Franco Armani from 18 yards.

When Argentina's response arrived, it happened in the blink of an eye.

A rapid counter-attack involving Messi ended with Giovani Lo Celso playing a perfect pass into the path of Lautaro Martinez, who made no mistake with a cool finish.

Argentina piled on the pressure in pursuit of an equaliser but were fortunate to avoid giving away a penalty when Machis went down under the challenge of Leandro Paredes.

Venezuela did get their spot-kick in the 75th minute after Juan Foyth clumsily brought down substitute Josef Martinez, who sent Armani the wrong way with a peculiar penalty routine, running up and leaping into the air before striking the ball.

What does it mean? Messi's miserable return

This outing will have done little to convince Messi that he has made the correct decision to end a self-imposed international exile that saw him miss six matches. There were plenty of positive contributions from the Barcelona star, but his team were found wanting in Madrid.

Argentina miss forward experience

Despite welcoming back Messi, Argentina were without Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain and Mauro Icardi – all left out of the squad by Scaloni. Taking nothing away from Lautaro Martinez's lethal finish for the Argentina goal, you have to wonder whether one of those more experienced heads would have taken some of the earlier chances he squandered. Paulo Dybala was an unused substitute.

Farinez gives Venezuela platform

Both of Venezuela's goals from open play were taken wonderfully, but the team could be equally thankful to the man between the posts, whose save to keep out Lautaro Martinez's header in the first half was tremendously impressive. There was little he could do to prevent Argentina pulling one back.

What's next?

Argentina will look to get back on track when they visit Morocco for a friendly on Tuesday, while Venezuela are in action against Catalonia on Monday in a clash not sanctioned by FIFA.

Argentina head coach Lionel Scaloni said there are no more words to describe Lionel Messi as he prepares to make his international comeback.

Messi has not played for Argentina since their last-16 elimination at the 2018 World Cup, however, the five-time Ballon d'Or winner will end his nine-month absence against Venezuela on Friday.

The 31-year-old superstar has enjoyed another stellar season for Barcelona, so much so that his 33rd LaLiga hat-trick against Celta Vigo last week earned a standing ovation from the opposition supporters.

And Scaloni lauded Messi as Argentina look to step up their preparations ahead of the Copa America, which gets underway in June.

"I said this before. Even he must be tired of this. There are no more adjectives to describe him," Scaloni told reporters.

"We only want all of his team-mates to know that they are great players too and it's also for them to make a step forward, not just Messi.

"The rest must make that step forward. They are great players too and we are a great team if we all play our part."

Messi will be in the starting line-up against Venezuela at Atletico Madrid's Wanda Metropolitano in the Spanish capital.

Juventus star Paulo Dybala is in the squad but he will not start, though Scaloni insisted the pair can play together, despite their previous struggles.

"I've already said yes, they [Dybala and Messi] are both compatibles but we have to work it out, I'm sure we can make it within some time," Scaloni added.

"I think now is not the moment yet, it's logical, we didn't have much time to prepare so it's logical that they can be compatibles but with time I think we can make it."

Argentina head coach Lionel Scaloni has confirmed that Lionel Messi will start against Venezuela on Friday, ending his nine-month absence from the national side.

Messi has not represented his country since the World Cup last-16 exit at the hands of France in Russia last June.

Following that 4-3 defeat, Messi took a self-imposed break from the international game, missing six games that have marked the beginning of Scaloni's tenure.

But he will feature from the start in Friday's friendly in Madrid as Argentina step up their preparations for the Copa America, which gets under way in less than three months.

"It's a joy that Messi comes back," Scaloni told a news conference. "Despite my youth, I have a chance to train him.

"I have to try to get the team to accompany him and make the best of it. Let's hope that with Messi's return the team is more empowered."

Although revelling in the return of Messi, Scaloni was disappointed to see Angel Di Maria withdraw from the squad due to a muscular problem.

"When a player gets hurt, it's never good, both for the coach and for the group," Scaloni added. "I would have liked to see Angel.

"Hopefully, when we have to give the list for the Copa America, all players are available."

Argentina will be strong favourites to overcome Venezuela at the Wanda Metropolitano, especially with Messi restored to the line-up, but Scaloni is taking nothing for granted.

"They're a team on the rise. They play pretty direct football," he said. "Venezuela is a very difficult rival. It's a good test for what's coming.

"Tomorrow we will try to do our best. We'll attack and when we do not have the ball, defend as best as possible."

Cesar Luis Menotti would be "afraid" if Lionel Messi was to feature for Argentina against Venezuela in a friendly on Friday.

Messi, 31, is set to make his international return after missing his nation's matches since last year's World Cup in Russia.

The superstar has been in fine form, scoring six goals in his past three matches for Barcelona, including netting a hat-trick against Real Betis.

But Menotti, who coached Argentina to World Cup success in 1978 and is now the country's director of national teams, is worried about Messi's wellbeing.

"I'm afraid that Messi plays," he told FM 94.7.

"I see him with important emotional fatigue between the Champions League and the national team. I see him very tired.

"If he wants to play with Argentina, better."

Argentina will face Venezuela on Friday before taking on Morocco four days later.

Argentina goalkeeper Juan Musso said it is an "honour" to have Lionel Messi return to the international stage.

Messi has not played for Argentina since last year's World Cup last-16 elimination but the five-time Ballon d'Or winner is back for friendlies against Venezuela and Morocco.

Fresh off his 33rd LaLiga hat-trick, Messi will feature in Friday's clash with Venezuela in Madrid before facing Morocco four days later, and Udinese keeper Musso is relishing his return.

"We're very happy," Musso told reporters. "He trains like the rest of us and for us it's an honour to have him back in the national team.

"I hope all of us can meet the expectations on us and get the results that we're looking for."

Messi – Argentina's all-time leading scorer with 65 goals – has scored a LaLiga-high 29 goals this season and 39 in all competitions for Barcelona.

The 31-year-old, who has netted six goals in his past three games, last scored for Argentina in their dramatic late win over Nigeria to advance to the round of 16 at Russia 2018.

Manchester City defender Nicolas Otamendi has withdrawn from the Argentina squad due to an ankle injury, the Argentina FA has confirmed.

Otamendi played the full match as City came from behind to beat Swansea City 3-2 and reach the FA Cup semi-finals on Saturday.

But, ahead of upcoming friendlies against Venezuela and Morocco in preparation for the Copa America, he has been forced to pull out of the national team squad.

The 31-year-old centre-back started all four games for Argentina at last year's World Cup as Jorge Sampaoli's side were knocked out by France in the last 16.

Otamendi's City team-mate Sergio Aguero was a surprise omission from Argentina's squad despite topping the Premier League's scoring charts with 18 goals.

Argentina head coach Lionel Scaloni said Lionel Messi wants to try international football "one more time" as the superstar looks to reignite his career with the Albiceleste.

Messi has not played for Argentina since last year's World Cup but the five-time Ballon d'Or winner is back for a pair of upcoming friendlies.

The Barcelona captain made himself unavailable following Argentina's last-16 exit to France at Russia 2018, however, the 31-year-old will be involved against Venezuela and Morocco this month.

Discussing Messi's return, Scaloni told reporters: "It was a big disappointment the World Cup in Russia and for Messi even more. The decision in the first six matches [of the Scaloni cycle] was that it did not come.

"Over time he saw that we grew up, he observed the way we play and he is happy. Messi wants to try it one more time.

"The decision of the coaching staff was not to come, and as a result of the matches he saw we did, he is happy and wants to try one more time. For us it is welcome.

"He is playing many games and many players would like to rest, but he prefers to come. The decision of whether to play a game or two is going to be taken by me. It's crazy to say that he's only going to play a game when there are still 15 days left."

Messi is Argentina's all-time leading scorer with 65 goals, but he is yet to win a senior international title with the South American giants.

Argentina will face Venezuela in Madrid on March 22, before travelling to Morocco four days later.

 

Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni explained Mauro Icardi was not considered for selection in his latest squad due to the Inter striker's "complicated situation" at club level.

Icardi has been left out of Inter's last five matchday squads after being stripped of the captaincy last month, and speculation over his future at San Siro persists.

The 26-year-old posted a lengthy statement on Instagram last week in which he questioned whether Inter's decision-makers were showing him respect, although he professed his love for the club and claimed to have previously rejected several significant offers.

Despite his affection for the Nerazzurri, Icardi and Inter have been unable to reach an agreement over a new contract, raising the possibility that he has played his last game for the club.

That situation has now impacted Icardi's international career, as Scaloni wished to keep such potential distractions well away from his squad for the friendlies with Venezuela and Morocco, with Lionel Messi involved for the first time since the World Cup.

"Mauro's present situation is complicated," Scaloni told a news conference. "That is evident and we cannot be part of his present.

"He takes decisions with his people and his club and then we take our own decisions. It is not convenient for the national team, Mauro's current situation.  

"We have to take decisions and this time he won't be with us. If later he will go to the Copa America or not, we will see in the next few months.

"Our line is always the same, to call players for a reason and Mauro is in a complicated situation.

"I talked to him. He understood very well.

"I was a player and I don't like to get involved in situations like this one. I prefer to wait until he solves his situation and later we'll decide what to do."

Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni insisted his relationship with Sergio Aguero is "perfect" and that reports of an argument are "absolutely false" after ignoring the Manchester City star for another international squad.

Lionel Messi has been named in the selection to end his hiatus, as he looks set to make a first appearance for Argentina since their disappointing World Cup campaign last year.

However, Aguero's post-Russia exile continues, despite scoring 18 goals in 25 Premier League appearances for City this term.

Reports have previously suggested Aguero and Scaloni were involved in a row during Argentina's fractious World Cup campaign.

But Scaloni moved to dismiss those claims, explaining Aguero's latest absence is down to wanting to give less-experienced individuals a chance to impress.

"I want to clarify that my relationship with him is perfect," Scaloni told a news conference on Thursday.

"I have heard and read that I had an argument, and it is absolutely false. I want to emphasise that there are no problems and the relationship is the same, he is an extraordinary boy.

"I talked to him in August when we just spoke about his situation. Football-wise he is on an incredible level, but I have to call players who have not put on the shirt.

"We think it can be good to look at more players and not always stick with them."

Argentina will face Venezuela and Morocco in friendlies on March 23 and 26, respectively.

Lionel Messi is back in the Argentina squad for the first time in almost nine months, although Sergio Aguero has been left out.

Messi has not played for his country since the 2018 World Cup, where Jorge Sampaoli's side lost to eventual winners France in the last 16.

Sampaoli's successor Lionel Scaloni has been unable to call upon the Barcelona captain for any of Argentina's matches since taking charge.

But Messi will soon make his international return as he is in the Argentina squad for upcoming friendly matches against Venezuela and Morocco.

There is no room for Aguero, however, with Scaloni favouring Lautaro Martinez, Giovanni Simeone and Dario Benedetto over the Manchester City star.

Inter striker Mauro Icardi also misses out, as he has not played for his club since February 9 amid a stand-off that began with him being stripped of the captaincy.

Gonzalo Higuain is another high-profile attacking omission. Like Aguero, Chelsea's on-loan Juventus striker has not been involved for the Albiceleste since Russia 2018.

Scaloni has once again taken the opportunity to shuffle his pack and call up a host of uncapped players.

Goalkeepers Esteban Andrada and Juan Musso could feature for the first time, while Gonzalo Montiel and Lisandro Martinez are newcomers in defence.

Midfielder Matias Zaracho has been called up before, but the 20-year-old winger is still hoping for a debut cap, while Ivan Marcone and Domingo Blanco are similarly inexperienced on the international stage.

The new face among the forwards is Matias Suarez, a 30-year-old attacker who has scored three times in six league games for River Plate since joining from Belgrano in January.

There is also a return for Manuel Lanzini, who has not featured for Argentina since damaging knee ligaments in a World Cup warm-up match against Haiti last May.

Argentina will compete in the Copa America this year, having been drawn in Group B alongside Colombia, Paraguay and special guests Qatar.

Messi and Argentina have been on the losing side in each of the past two Copa America finals, beaten by Chile on penalties on both occasions.

Lionel Messi is back in the Argentina squad for the first time in almost nine months, although Sergio Aguero has been left out.

Messi has not played for his country since the 2018 World Cup, where Jorge Sampaoli's side lost to eventual winners France in the last 16.

Sampaoli's successor Lionel Scaloni has been unable to call upon the Barcelona captain for any of Argentina's matches since taking charge.

But Messi will soon make his international return as he is in the Argentina squad for upcoming friendly matches against Venezuela and Morocco.

There is no room for Aguero, however, with Scaloni favouring Lautaro Martinez, Giovanni Simeone and Dario Benedetto over the Manchester City star.

Inter striker Mauro Icardi also misses out, as he has not played for his club since February 9 amid a stand-off that began with him being stripped of the captaincy.

Gonzalo Higuain is another high-profile attacking omission. Like Aguero, Chelsea's on-loan Juventus striker has not been involved for the Albiceleste since Russia 2018.

 

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