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Argentina recall Messi, add Man Utd starlet for World Cup qualifiers

BUENOS AIRES (AFP) – Star forward Lionel Messi returns to the Argentina fold for two World Cup qualifiers later this month after he was included in coach Lionel Scaloni’s squad announced on Friday.

But the big surprise was the inclusion of seven teenagers playing for academy teams in Europe, including Manchester United winger Alejandro Garnacho.

Born in Spain to Argentine parents, 17-year-old Garnacho moved from Atletico Madrid to Manchester two years ago but has not yet played for the first team.

However, he caught the eye earlier this season with a stunning length-of-the-field solo goal against Everton in the FA Youth Cup.

Like the other young players in Scaloni’s squad – Nicolas Paz of Real Madrid, Villarreal’s Tiago Geralnik, Inter Milan brothers Franco and Valentin Carboni, Matias Soule of Juventus and Lazio’s Lucas Romero – Garnacho qualifies to play for another country.

Scaloni has been quick to include them in his senior plans in an attempt to tie their futures to the two-time World Cup winners.

Garnacho and Paz, the son of former Argentina international Pablo Paz, have already played for Spain’s age-grade teams.

Seven-time Ballon d’Or winner Messi missed the previous two qualifiers in January having contracted COVID in December.

But the 35-year-old – his country’s captain, most capped player and record goalscorer – will be available to face Venezuela in Buenos Aires on March 25 and Ecuador in Quito four days later.