Lucas Paqueta opened his Brazil account but it was not enough to prevent the Selecao from slumping to an alarming 1-1 draw with Panama in the absence of the injured Neymar.

Brazil were on top for much of the game and created the better chances, but without Neymar they lacked a leader in attack and failed to beat a Panama side who have lost to the likes of Ecuador and Honduras since exiting the 2018 World Cup pointless.

Wearing Brazil's number 10 jersey – usually reserved for the injured Neymar – for the first time, Paqueta opened his international account just past the half-hour mark, though Panama equalised in contentious fashion through captain Adolfo Machado, who appeared to be offside.

An entertaining second half saw both sides hit the crossbar, with Brazil doing so twice, but neither side found a winner as the team ranked 76 in the world held on for a memorable result in Porto.

Unsurprisingly, Brazil - who by contrast sit third in the FIFA rankings - took control early on and crafted a good number of chances, first going close in the 18th minute when Roberto Firmino headed Alex Telles' cross just wide.

Arthur was the next to threaten, twice shooting agonisingly wide of the left-hand post with long-range efforts about a minute apart.

Paqueta found the mark, however, latching on to Casemiro's brilliant cross from deep and guiding a volley in off the hand of goalkeeper Luis Mejia.

But Panama hit back, Machado – who was slightly offside – controversially heading Eric Davis' free-kick delivery beyond the stranded Ederson.

Richarlison almost restored Brazil's lead just after the break, only for his excellent volley from Fagner's cross to hit the bar.

Panama followed suit in the 62nd minute, as Harold Cummings' header came back off the frame of the goal.

Casemiro was the next to be denied by the woodwork 19 minutes from time, and Richarlison put the awkward rebound over, consigning Brazil to a woeful result.


What does it mean? No Neymar, no answers

There should be more to this team than Neymar, given how much talent is at Tite's disposal, but against Panama the appeared to really miss their talisman. 

That should not be the case, as Julio Dely Valdes' team lost 10 of their previous 11 matches before facing Brazil, and Neymar – who was in the stands – would not have been impressed by what he saw.

Paqueta shows promise

Wearing Neymar's jersey, Paqueta looked the lively in attack and certainly showed his potential, while his movement for the opening goal was excellent, even if he did get a little lucky with the goalkeeping.

Coutinho fails to impress

With Neymar missing, Philippe Coutinho was arguably the most prominent player in Brazil's starting XI. Aside from one lofted pass to Richarlison, which Mejia thwarted, the Barcelona midfielder crafted little else despite seeing a lot of the ball.

What's next?

Brazil travel to Prague to face the Czech Republic in another friendly on Tuesday, while Panama have no other matches scheduled in this international period.

Joachim Low confirmed that Leroy Sane is fit to face the Netherlands in Germany's European Championship qualifier on Sunday after being the victim of a "vicious foul" against Serbia.

Sane hobbled off in second-half stoppage time in Germany's 1-1 friendly draw after a challenge from Milan Pavkov that earned the Serbian a red card.

Serge Gnabry missed the game due to an illness but Low confirmed that both players would be fit for the start of his side's Group C campaign at the Johan Cruijff ArenA, and said Manuel Neuer and Toni Kroos would be in his starting line-up.

"Both Leroy Sane and Serge Gnabry are fit and available to play," Low told reporters. "I can confirm that Manuel Neuer and Toni Kroos will both start the game.

"There's always a special atmosphere in this fixture. We want to have a successful qualifying campaign and obviously results are key to that, but we're also after a continuous development within the team.

"Netherlands have great chemistry and will be highly motivated. But we're well equipped to put in a good performance here tomorrow night, and we will."

Kroos was among the substitutes against Serbia but is set to partner Joshua Kimmich at the heart of Germany's midfield against the Netherlands.

With Low having alternated between a defensive back three and a line of four in previous games, Kroos said his team-mates were comfortable with either system.

"We have had some good performances recently with a back-three," said the Real Madrid playmaker.

"But we're very familiar with a back four, too. I feel comfortable in both systems."

On his prospective partnership with Kimmich, he added: "The last few games have shown that we work well together.

"We complement each other - it's certainly an option long-term."

Gerardo Martino urged supporters to not get carried away after his first match in charge of Mexico resulted in an impressive 3-1 win over Chile.

Martino left MLS side Atlanta United at the end of last year after running down his contract, subsequently making a return to international football having previously coached Paraguay and Argentina.

Expectations are high given Martino's experience and the talent at his disposal and, after a quiet first half on Friday, Mexico clicked into gear in the second period – a Raul Jimenez penalty followed by goals from Hector Moreno and Hirving Lozano, while Nicolas Castillo pulled one back for Chile.

Although it was a commendable victory, Martino wants fans and players to not get ahead of themselves.

"I don't believe that people are going crazy over one positive result in a friendly," Martino told reporters. "We aspire to have a successful cycle and this team excites me, the future excites me.

"[But] we'd be here until tomorrow if I explained all the things we have to improve.

"We've won and it's also important to highlight the positive things, but we have to put this into the perspective that this was a friendly."

Mexico play Martino's former team Paraguay in their next friendly on Tuesday.

Richarlison has credited Marco Silva's coaching with accelerating his progress this season as he looks to take his Everton form onto the international stage with Brazil.

The 21-year-old has ramped up his Premier League goal output in 2018-19, netting 12 in 29 appearances for the Toffees compared to five in 38 for Watford last season.

He goes into Brazil's friendly matches against Panama and Czech Republic having scored in Everton's last two games, and is grateful for the support of his club coach.

"Marco Silva is always talking to me in training, he is always giving me guidance on positioning in the area," Richarlison told Everton's official website.

"His coaching is essential for me. He is training me with an eye to being in the right place at the right time when balls come into the box, so I am able to score more goals.

"I feel I have been developing more and more. I want to show I can play at my best for a whole Premier League season. I feel really good at Everton. My team-mates are helping me with my confidence on the field and that is vital.

"And being part of the Brazil national team has been really important for my morale and a positive thing for my confidence."

Neymar and Vinicius Junior could play "in any team in the world" according to Casemiro, but the Real Madrid midfielder said it would be down to national team coach Tite to decide whether they can play together for Brazil.

As the Selecao prepared for friendly matches against Panama and Czech Republic, Casemiro expressed his admiration for Paris Saint-Germain forward Neymar and his Madrid team-mate Vinicius, both of whom are ruled out of international duty by injuries.

While Neymar has made 96 appearances for Brazil in the nine years since making his bow, Vinicius has yet to be handed his full international debut.

But Casemiro feels the 18-year-old's recent form for Madrid, where he has made eight LaLiga starts and scored two goals in 2018-19, put him in the same bracket as Neymar.

"We started talking about Neymar here," Casemiro told reporters. "Let's spend the whole afternoon talking about him.

"For me, Neymar's in the top three and has everything to be the best in the world. In the last two months Vinicius played at a high level, at a level of one of the best in the world.

"What he's producing at Real was not normal, for someone who's 18 years old. Being bold in the shirt of Real Madrid is not easy."

Tite has the likes of Everton forward Richarlison and West Ham winger Felipe Anderson in his squad to face Panama and Czech Republic, but Casemiro knows there will be some tough decisions to make when Neymar and Vinicius return to fitness.

Neymar is recovering from a fractured metatarsal while Vinicius has damaged ankle ligaments, and Casemiro backed the pair to flourish upon their comebacks.

"We're talking about two great players, two players who are exceptional," said Casemiro.

"It is up to the coach to talk about whether they can play together or not. There's no doubt they are great players.

"Of course, they can play in any team in the world."

Brazil's match against Panama takes place in Portugal on Saturday, while the clash with Czech Republic is on Tuesday in Prague.

Mexico handed Gerardo Martino a winning start as coach, beating Chile 3-1 in a friendly in San Diego on Friday.

A tight clash came to life after the break at SDCCU Stadium in California in Martino's first game in charge of Mexico.

A Raul Jimenez penalty and goals from Hector Moreno and Hirving Lozano in the space of 13 minutes put Martino's side in control after Chile had enjoyed the better of the first half.

Nicolas Castillo pulled a goal back for Chile, but Mexico made sure Martino's start at the helm was a winning one.

The early chances for both teams came from set-pieces, and it was Chile who almost opened the scoring in the 14th minute.

Charles Aranguiz's delivery from the right was met by Arturo Vidal, whose good header was saved by Guillermo Ochoa.

Mexico enjoyed some decent moments going forward, but they lacked a final pass throughout the first half.

Chile looked the more likely to open the scoring and only a last-ditch clearance from Moreno denied Castillo midway through the first half.

It was a far livelier start to the second half as Vidal blazed over from inside the area for Chile.

Jimenez almost opened the scoring for Mexico in the 50th minute, the forward managing a shot that hit the post after perfectly timing a tackle on Gary Medel.

However, Carlos Salcedo was fouled inside the area from a set-piece just moments later and Jimenez stepped up to send Gabriel Arias the wrong way from the penalty spot.

Mexico doubled their lead in the 64th minute, Moreno heading in a corner from Andres Guardado.

Just a minute later and it was 3-0, a bad turnover by Chile punished when Rodolfo Pizarro played in Lozano, who chipped a lovely finish over the onrushing Arias.

Chile pulled a goal back with just over 20 minutes remaining, Castillo sweeping in a cross from Eugenio Mena from the right.

However, amid a flurry of late substitutions, the game somewhat lost its rhythm, allowing Mexico to see out their win despite Javier Hernandez having a late strike ruled out for offside.


What does it mean? A win's a win for Mexico

Mexico came into the friendly on the back of seven losses in their past eight games. While Martino will expect improvement from his team, a win should at least lift confidence after what has been a difficult run dating back to the World Cup.

Still work to do for Martino

Mexico were perhaps fortunate not to fall behind in the first half as Chile pushed. However, they had some good moments – particularly in transition – but were often let down by their final pass, although that showed signs of improving in the second half.

Rueda's mixed run continues

Reinaldo Rueda has endured a mixed run as Chile coach since taking over in January last year. There are few signs of that changing, which is perhaps worrying for Chile just months out from the Copa America. Rueda has overseen just four wins in 11 games.

What's next?

Mexico take on Paraguay in a friendly on Tuesday, while Chile face the United States on the same day.

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.

Julian Brandt described Germany's 2018 as like getting "smashed in the face", yet he is confident Die Mannschaft can recover and become an elite side again.

World Cup winners in 2014, Joachim Low's side offered a meek title defence in Russia as they bowed out at the group stage, and they were then relegated from the Nations League top tier having finished bottom of a group featuring Netherlands and France.

This calendar year has not started much better for Germany, who were booed off at half-time of Wednesday's 1-1 draw with Serbia in a friendly in Wolfsburg, yet Brandt is confident that the team's quality will soon shine through.

"Sometimes you have a year where nothing goes right and you get smashed in the face, that happens," the Bayer Leverkusen midfielder told Omnisport.

"Afterwards you start again and it will go uphill again. So we know the situation, we know how good we are.

"We don't have to hide just because we had a bad year."

Germany face Netherlands in their first Euro 2020 qualifier on Sunday, the Dutch having thrashed Belarus 4-0 in their first game on Thursday.

Low's side met Ronald Koeman's men in the Nations League, with Netherlands winning the first game 3-0 and then scoring twice late on to draw 2-2 in Gelsenkirchen.

Yet Brandt feels that second game in November was an indication that Germany can still compete with the best nations in world football.

"In the game against Netherlands we saw that we are on the same level," he added.

"In the first game we got beat fairly but in the second game we let the win get away.

"So we don't have to make ourselves worse than we actually are. We are a good team, even though the results weren't what we wanted them to be, but this will change again, I'm sure."

France, who succeeded Germany as world champions in Russia, were the other team in that Nations League group.

After a 0-0 draw in Germany, France came from behind to win 2-1 in Paris, with Brandt conceding that there is a gulf in class between the two that Low's team need to make up before the next major tournament.

"There are one-and-a-half years left until it's going to be important again," he said.

"I think that we're currently a bit away from France and our team in 2014, which won the World Cup, but you can catch this up."

Leon Goretzka has implored supporters to "stand up with courage" to racism having called the alleged abuse of Germany team-mates Leroy Sane and Ilkay Gundogan "terrifying".

The German Football Association (DFB) released a statement on Thursday condemning an incident that occurred during Germany's 1-1 draw with Serbia on Wednesday, when Sane and Gundogan were "constantly insulted by a small group of spectators" in Wolfsburg.

A journalist posted a video on Facebook in which he described the alleged abuse, footage that Goretzka witnessed himself, and that prompted him to address the issue during a news conference on Friday.

"I would like to make a statement on this matter," he told reporters.

"I watched the video too and was moved by it. The scenes he described were terrifying.

"I think you should do everything possible against these people. I grew up in the Ruhrpott, where if you get asked where you are from, you answer with Schalke, Dortmund or Bochum.

"Here at the DFB we have said multiple times that we stand for diversity and integration natural to us.

"So this is something that has to be punished. He described that nobody stood up against these people and I can only support everybody out there to stand up with courage."

The DFB statement said police had been informed of the incident and were now investigating. 

It added: "Football is diverse - just like the whole society. Football is a role model and has the power to support social-change processes. 

"The DFB therefore advocates that a climate of respect and humanity in football is taken for granted. 

"To live up to this claim, on and off the pitch, is both a challenge and an obligation. Discrimination in the form of insults, disadvantages or marginalisation should not be allowed in football."

A Wolfsburg police spokesperson has since told SID that three perpetrators have turned themselves in.

Uruguay booked a place in the final of the China Cup with Oscar Tabarez's side enjoying a comfortable 3-0 victory over Uzbekistan thanks to Cristhian Stuani's double.

Hector Cuper's men took Australia to penalties in the last 16 of the Asian Cup earlier this year but found Uruguay a step up in class on Friday.

First-half goals from Gaston Pereiro and Stuani set up a final against Thailand on Monday, with hosts China having suffered a shock 1-0 defeat in their last four meeting, and a late Stuani strike sealed matters.

Uruguay had lost their past four friendlies but opened the scoring in the fifth minute at Guangxi Sports Center Stadium in Nanning.

Nicolas Lodeiro did brilliantly to keep the ball in on the byline and when he cut a pass back to Pereiro, he rifled a fine finish across a crowded penalty area.

And it was 2-0 to Uruguay in the 23rd minute, a series of defensive errors allowing Stuani to run through on goal and lob Sanjar Kuvvatov.

Tabarez rested starters including Diego Godin - the defender making a joint record 125th appearance - Rodrigo Bentancur and Diego Laxalt during the second half as Uzbekistan struggled to get close to Fernando Muslera's goal.

PSV midfielder Pereiro almost scored his second of the game with a venomous volley that flew past a helpless Kuvvatov but crashed against the crossbar.

And Uruguay added the third goal their dominance deserved in the closing stages as poacher Stuani turned in a low cross from Javier Rodriguez.

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."

The United States maintained their perfect record under head coach Gregg Berhalter with a 1-0 victory over Ecuador in an international friendly.

Gyasi Zardes made it three wins from three matches since Berhalter's appointment after breaking the deadlock nine minutes from time in Orlando.

Zardes' long-range shot deflected off a defender and looped over Ecuador goalkeeper Alexander Dominguez as Berhalter became just the second USA coach after Bob Bradley in 2007 to win each of his first three games.

The USA were flawless heading into the international fixture after wins against Panama and Costa Rica and they made a bright start on Thursday.

Paul Arriola, Christian Pulisic and Zardes were in the thick of the action against Ecuador, who had a lot to thank Dominguez for during the early exchanges.

Ecuador – headlined by Manchester United veteran Antonion Valencia earning his 94th cap – slowly found their feet and started to get on the ball, though the USA should have taken the lead approaching the half-hour mark.

Some lovely interchange play between Zardes and Pulisic set up Arriola with a one-on-one chance just outside the six-yard box but Dominguez used his outstretched leg to thwart the Americans.

Berhalter's men did put the ball in the net four minutes later, however, it was ruled out of for offside, though replays showed it was a very close call on Jordan Morris.

Ecuador – who failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup like the United States – managed to get in behind before half-time thanks to Beder Caicedo, whose shot flashed just over the crossbar in a timely warning for the hosts.

The South American visitors defended well and they continued to do so in the second half amid a host of substitutions for both sides, which impacted the rhythm of the match.

Ecuador – who offered little in attack – looked comfortable in defence as they match appeared to be petering out for a draw.

However, Dominguez went from hero to villain after he was caught scrambling off his line by Zardes, who secured a third successive victory and clean sheet.


What does it mean? Berhalter and Co. on track

This is the last break before the USA's CONCACAF Gold Cup campaign gets underway in June. There is work to do for the Americans but fans should be encouraged by a performance that was capped with a goal.

USA continue to impress

With Pulisic – who will join Chelsea from Borussia Dortmund at the end of the season – back in the starting line-up, there were more encouraging signs for the USA. The 20-year-old, like his team-mates, showed glimpses of their potential – especially in the first half – with plenty of pace and passing as they continue to rebuild under Berhalter.

McKennie carried off

It is not what the coaching staff and supporters wanted to see. The 20-year-old Schalke midfielder hurt his ankle and had to leave the field on a stretcher. The only blight on an otherwise positive night for the USA.

What's next?

The USA welcome Chile to Houston on Tuesday, while Ecuador are on the road against Honduras on the same day.

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."

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