LONDON (AFP) – Carlos Tevez will end his three-year international exile in the familiar surroundings of Upton Park when World Cup runners-up Argentina tackle Croatia in a friendly in London on Wednesday.
Tevez has not played for Argentina since their quarter-final defeat on penalties by Uruguay on home soil at the 2011 Copa America, when he was the only player to miss a spot-kick.
Frozen out by former coach Alejandro Sabella, who stood down after steering Argentina to second place at the World Cup, Tevez has been recalled by Sabella’s successor, Gerardo Martino.
By happy coincidence, the 30-year-old stands to make his international return at the east London home of West Ham United, the club he rescued from Premier League relegation in 2007.
Tevez spent only one season at Upton Park, but he is fondly remembered there after scoring a winning goal at Manchester United on the season’s final day that spared West Ham from slipping into the second tier.
He subsequently joined Manchester United, winning two league titles and the Champions League, before going on to enjoy comparable success at Manchester City and his current club, Juventus.
However, Sabella’s belief that he and Lionel Messi could not be successfully accommodated in the same team meant that Tevez’s international career slipped into limbo.
The squat, bustling striker with the distinctive neck scar demonstrated his ability with a brace in Juventus’ 7-0 rout of Parma on Sunday, including a thrilling solo goal that saw him run from inside his own half.
But with Messi having developed a fruitful understanding with Gonzalo Higuain and Sergio Aguero during Tevez’s long absence, Martino has warned that he may have to wait for opportunities to add to his 64 caps and 13 international goals.
“It’s a fact that Lionel plays very well with Higuain and Kun (Aguero), and we forget that he played with Tevez in a previous time,” said the former Barcelona coach, whose team face Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal in another friendly game in Manchester next week.
“I can’t guarantee he will be in the 11 or on the bench, but it will happen in some moment of the games that both (Messi and Tevez) can be together on the pitch.”
With World Cup defenders Marcos Rojo, Ezequiel Garay and Federico Fernandez all unavailable due to injury, Martino has added Sunderland’s Santiago Vergini and uncapped Sporting Lisbon defender Jonathan Silva to his squad.
Argentina have played three friendlies since their 1-0 extra-time loss to Germany in the World Cup final, gaining a measure of revenge against Joachim Loew’s side with a 4-2 win in Duesseldorf in September before losing 2-0 to Brazil in Beijing and crushing Hong Kong 7-0.
Croatia failed to make it past the group phase in Brazil, but they have hit the ground running in qualifying for Euro 2016, winning their first four games against Cyprus, Malta, Bulgaria and Azerbaijan without conceding a goal.
They lead Italy on goal difference at the top of Group H and with a meeting against Antonio Conte’s side to follow in Milan on Sunday, coach Niko Kovac will field a second-string team against Argentina.
First-team stars such as Real Madrid’s Luka Modric and Barcelona midfielder Ivan Rakitic have been left behind in Zagbreb, but Kovac says his team will not prove mere cannon fodder for Messi and co.
“I am not scared of anybody, so no, I am not scared,” he said, in comments reported by the Croatia Week website.
“Argentina represents a challenge for our players, to see who can cope with that kind of opponent. If there is not enough motivation in them, they are in the wrong business.”