Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli has included Sergio Aguero and Paulo Dybala to feature in attack alongside Lionel Messi in his 23-man World Cup squad, but has left Inter Milan captain Mauro Icardi and Racing Club starlet Lautaro Martinez out.
City’s top scorer this season with 30 goals in all competitions, Aguero missed Argentina’s international friendlies against Italy and Spain in March and underwent left knee surgery last month but Sampaoli is convinced he can help the South Americans in next month’s tournament in Russia.
“Aguero has been working as normal since last week,” Sampaoli said in Monday’s news conference. “He has worked intensely with us and without any type of issues, which is the most important thing.”
Juventus forward Dybala scored 22 goals and set up five more to help Juventus win the Serie A title this season but it was compatriot Icardi, who finished as joint-top scorer with 29 goals, who has been dropped.
“Unfortunately we could only choose four in attack and many important players like [Diego] Perotti, Icardi, Lautaro Martinez were left out,” Sampaoli said. “I’m grateful to all the players that have contributed to Argentina being at the World Cup. I always had clear that these players are on the list that are closest to the idea that we want.”
Torino defender Cristian Ansaldi is a surprise inclusion, as is Independiente midfielder Maximiliano Meza, who earned his first cap in the 6-1 defeat to Spain in March.
“The only player that has arrived injured is Gabriel Mercado, and Ansaldi can play on both flanks,” Sampaoli said. “Meza is polyfunctional and gives us alternatives.”
Messi, who won the 2017-18 European Golden Shoe after scoring 34 goals for Barcelona in their La Liga-winning campaign, leads the squad.
The Argentina captain’s hat trick at Ecuador in the Albiceleste‘s 3-1 win in their final World Cup qualifier earned his country a spot in this summer’s World Cup. He sat out of the team’s last two friendlies with a muscular problem.
“We weren’t able to have Messi for some friendly games but Messi will arrive very well for the World Cup,” Sampaoli said. “I’ve spoken to Messi. I’ve seen him very enthusiastic about what is next. Physically he is going through a good spell.”
Sampaoli has dropped Everton defender Ramiro Funes Mori but fellow Premier League player Manuel Lanzini has made the cut.
He is one of six UK-based players included in the squad.
Sampaoli praised veteran midfielder Javier Mascherano, who will retire from international duty after the World Cup
“Since he arrived here, he has trained like a youngster,” he said. “He is an emblem of this squad.”
Argentina, who have not won the World Cup since 1986, will face Croatia, Iceland and Nigeria in Group D.
They have lost three straight major finals — two Copa Americas and the 2014 World Cup — and are desperate to succeed in Russia.
Goalkeepers: Sergio Romero (Manchester United), Wilfredo Caballero (Chelsea), Franco Armani (River Plate)
Defenders: Gabriel Mercado (Sevilla), Cristian Ansaldi (Torino), Nicolas Otamendi (Manchester City), Federico Fazio (Roma), Marcos Rojo (Manchester United), Nicolas Tagliafico (Ajax), Marcos Acuna (Sporting CP).
Midfielders: Javier Mascherano (Hebei China Fortune), Eduardo Salvio (Benfica), Lucas Biglia (Milan), Giovani Lo Celso (Paris Saint-Germain), Ever Banega (Sevilla), Manuel Lanzini (West Ham), Maximiliano Meza (Independiente), Angel Di Maria (Paris Saint-Germain), Cristian Pavon (Boca Juniors),
Forwards: Paulo Dybala (Juventus), Lionel Messi (Barcelona), Sergio Aguero (Manchester City), Gonzalo Higuain (Juventus).
Adriana Garcia is a Valencia-based football writer who covers La Liga for ESPN FC.