With Lionel Messi making his first start since the World Cup, Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni hopes the rest of the squad is ready to step up and reach another level.
Scaloni confirmed on Thursday that Messi will be in the lineup for Friday’s friendly against Venezuela in Madrid, which will be his first match with the national team since its loss to France in the round of 16 of the World Cup in Russia.
The coach said he expects more from Messi’s teammates than from the star player himself.
“We hope Messi can bring the best out of his teammates,” Scaloni said. “We need them to give something extra so we can be a great team. We want them to realize that they are great players and that they need to step up so Argentina can return to the level that it once had in the past. It’s not Messi who has to step up.”
Argentina has a revamped squad, with several younger players who were not in the World Cup team.
“When we decided to bring him back, he knew it was a big change,” Scaloni said about Messi. “He hasn’t been with a lot of these players here.”
The coach said he still doesn’t know how long he expects Messi to play on Friday, and if he will play at all in Tuesday’s friendly against Morocco in Tangier.
“We will see what happens against Venezuela first,” Scaloni said.
Argentina played six matches without Messi after the World Cup, winning four, drawing one and losing one. The team’s loss was to Brazil, and it followed it up with consecutive victories over Mexico.
Venezuela coach Rafael Dudamel said facing Messi would be a great test for his squad ahead of the Copa America in Brazil in June.
“Having the best player in the world on the field increases the expectations about this match,” Dudamel said. “With his much-anticipated return, the demands become higher.”
Venezuela on Monday will plays a Catalunya team that is expected to include former Spain players Gerard Pique and Xavi Hernandez. The friendly match will be in the Catalan city of Girona.