BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) – Lionel Messi has announced that he will play on for Argentina, reversing his decision in June to retire from international soccer.
The Barcelona forward said he would not play for Argentina again after the team lost to Chile in the final of the Copa America in the United States.
However, in a statement on Friday, Messi explained that he wanted to continue representing his country as he preferred “to help from within”.
“I consider there to be a lot of problems in Argentine football and it’s not my intention to create another one,” the 29-year-old said.
“There are a lot of issues that need to be resolved in Argentine football but I prefer to help from within and not to criticize from the outside.
“A lot of things went through my mind on the night of the final and I gave serious thought to quitting but my love for my country and this shirt is too great,” the player said.
A few hours later Messi was named in new coach Edgardo Bauza’s squad to face Uruguay and Venezuela in 2018 World Cup, South American qualifiers to be held in the first week of September.
Bauza, who replaced Gerardo Martino after he quit in July over the FA’s failure to prepare a strong under-23 team for the Rio Olympics, was in Barcelona on Thursday for a meeting with his team captain.
Messi, who has scored a national record 55 goals in 113 appearances, has lost four major finals with Argentina, three in the last two years including the 2014 World Cup final to Germany in Brazil.
The June reverse in New Jersey was the second successive Copa America penalty shootout defeat by Chile in 12 months.
Messi, unhappy with the Argentine FA’s running of the team, planned to speak out after the Copa final but felt he could not after they were beaten.
His return will be a relief for the FA, mired in an economic and management crisis and administered by a so-called regularization committee appointed by world soccer’s governing body FIFA.
Messi’s decision in June sparked demonstrations in Buenos Aires and calls for him to change his mind.
SOMETHING TO CHEER
“I send my thanks to all who want me to continue playing for Argentina, I hope we’ll be able to give them something to cheer about soon”, he said.
Argentina are third in the 10-nation South American qualifying group with 11 points from six matches, two behind Uruguay and Ecuador.
The top four after 18 games advance to the Russia finals while the fifth-placed team goes into an intercontinental playoff for one more berth.
Bauza included two uncapped strikers in a 27-man squad, Lucas Alario of River Plate and Lucas Pratto of Brazil’s Atletico Mineiro.
He surprisingly omitted Gonzalo Higuain, a player he praised at the beginning of the month for his club form in Italy but who missed chances in Argentina’s last three final defeats.
Goalkeepers: Sergio Romero (Manchester United), Mariano Andujar (Estudiantes), Nahuel Guzman (UANL Tigres)
Defenders: Facundo Roncaglia (Celta Vigo), Mateo Musacchio (Villarreal), Ramiro Funes Mori (Everton), Emmanuel Mas (San Lorenzo), Marcos Rojo (Manchester United), Martin Demichelis (Espanyol), Pablo Zabaleta, Nicolas Otamendi (both Manchester City), Gabriel Mercado (Sevilla)
Midfielders: Matias Kranevitter (Sevilla), Javier Mascherano (Barcelona), Lucas Biglia (Lazio), Augusto Fernandez, Nicolas Gaitan (both Atletico Madrid), Ever Banega (Inter Milan), Javier Pastore, Angel Di Maria (both Paris St Germain), Erik Lamela (Tottenham Hotspur)
Forwards: Lionel Messi (Barcelona), Angel Correa (Atletico Madrid), Lucas Pratto (Atletico Mineiro), Sergio Aguero (Manchester City), Paulo Dybala (Juventus), Lucas Alario (River Plate).
(Writing by Rex Gowar; Editing by Tony Jimenez)