Buenos Aires: Argentina were relieved to have Lionel Messi back from injury having made a troubled start to their South American 2018 World Cup qualifiers without their best player, striker Sergio Aguero said on Monday.
Messi missed the first four rounds last year and Argentina, 2014 World Cup finalists in Brazil, got only five points after a defeat by Ecuador, draws with Paraguay and Brazil and a win over Colombia, leaving them sixth in the 10-nation group.
“It’s total relief to play with Messi,” Aguero said on his arrival in Buenos Aires from Manchester to prepare for matches away to Chile in Santiago on Thursday and at home to Bolivia five days later.
“Leo is always important for us and it’s obvious we’re happy when he’s here because it’s really nice to play with him,” Aguero told reporters after flying in with Manchester City team mate Pablo Zabaleta and Manchester United’s Marcos Rojo.
Aguero said he was shocked by pictures showing the state of the pitch at the Mario Kempes stadium in Cordoba, where Argentina will host Bolivia, after it was damaged by recent rock concerts, including an Iron Maiden gig.
Groundsmen are working against the clock to get the pitch into shape although the Argentine FA’s (AFA) decision to take the team around the country rather than play all home matches at River Plate stadium in the capital was made over a month ago.
“When you see that you are shocked because we’re not accustomed to it. We’ll have to see how it is and think we’re playing in the juniors,” Aguero said.
“It’s nice to play in different places for the fans but when you look at the photo you think, ‘What happened here?’ It leaves an impression on you, it’s a pitch where everyone knows the national team is going to play.”
The top four teams in the South American qualifiers after 18 rounds are completed at the end of 2017 qualify for the finals in Russia while the fifth goes into an intercontinental playoff.
Argentina coach Gerardo Martino, deprived through injury of midfielder Enzo Perez and possibly also Juventus striker Paulo Dybala, has called up Lautaro Acosta of local first division side Lanus, the AFA said on Monday.
The 28-year-old, who won the under-20 World Cup in 2007 and an Olympic soccer gold medal at the Beijing Games in 2008, earned his first senior call-up after helping Lanus beat Boca Juniors 2-0 in the Argentine league on Sunday.