Messi, Garnacho in Argentina squad for U.S. friendlies

Lionel Messi will lead an Argentina squad featuring four players aged under 20 in two friendlies in the United States in March with the Copa América and Paris Olympics in mind.

One of the biggest surprises of coach Lionel Scaloni’s squad named on Friday was 19-year-old left back and midfielder Valentín Barco. He joined Brighton less than two months ago and has had an impact at the English Premier League club.

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The other three teenagers in the world champion squad were forwards; Manchester United‘s Alejandro Garnacho, Brighton’s Facundo Buonanotte and Monza‘s Valentín Carboni.

The selection of 36-year-old Ángel Di María hints that the 16-year international is keen to play in the Copa and Olympics.

Argentina will play El Salvador on March 22 at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field and Costa Rica four days later at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the Argentina Football Association said Thursday. Argentina were originally scheduled to play Nigeria in Los Angeles, but shifted opponents one week later due to visa issues.

Messi, Argentina’s captain, is now set to miss Inter Miami‘s Major League Soccer match at the New York Red Bulls on March 23.

Argentina’s two March friendlies replace a China tour canceled after Messi didn’t play at Miami’s preseason game in Hong Kong. Argentina had been scheduled to play Nigeria at Hangzhou and Ivory Coast at Beijing.

Messi said before Miami’s friendly against a local all-star team in Hong Kong on Feb. 4 that he was suffering from a groin injury, and his absence sparked spectator anger. He played three days later in Tokyo in an exhibition against Vissel Kobe.

Argentina will also play exhibitions in against Ecuador on June 9 at Chicago’s Soldier Field and Guatemala five days later at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland, ahead of defending their Copa América title in the U.S. this summer.

Argentina squad:

Goalkeepers: Emiliano Martínez (Aston Villa), Walter Benítez (PSV Eindhoven), Franco Armani (River Plate).

Defenders: Germán Pezzella (Betis), Nehuén Pérez (Udinese), Nicolás Otamendi (Benfica), Cristian Romero (Tottenham), Nicolás Tagliafico (Lyon), Marcos Senesi (Bournemouth), Valentín Barco (Brighton), Nahuel Molina (Atletico Madrid).

Midfielders: Exequiel Palacios (Bayer Leverkusen), Rodrigo De Paul (Atletico Madrid), Alexis Mac Allister (Liverpool), Leandro Paredes (Roma), Enzo Fernández (Chelsea), Giovani Lo Celso (Tottenham), Nico González (Fiorentina).

Forwards: Alejandro Garnacho (Manchester United), Facundo Buonanotte (Brighton), Valentín Carboni (Monza), Ángel Di Maria (Benfica), Lionel Messi (Inter Miami), Julián Álvarez (Manchester City), Lautaro Martínez (Inter Milan), Paulo Dybala (Roma).

Information from The Associated Press contributed to this report.