Lionel Messi will lead the Argentina team for the world champions’ two friendly matches against El Salvador and then Costa Rica in March in the United States, coach Lionel Scaloni announced on Friday. The latter retained 26 players playing abroad, including several world champions in Qatar in 2022.

Captain Lionel Messi (36), eight-time Ballon d’Or winner, has been playing for Inter Miami in the North American Championship (MLS) since this season. Scaloni, however, reserved a few surprises, such as the call-up of young full-back Valentin Barco, a product of Boca Juniors who recently joined the English club Brighton. Barco particularly distinguished itself with the under-23 selection which qualified for the Paris Olympic Games.

In defense, Bournemouth central defender Marcos Senesi was called up in place of the injured Lisandro Martinez (Manchester United). Striker Paulo Dybala, absent during the Albiceleste’s last matches but brilliant with AS Roma, will make his return.

Argentina will play El Salvador on March 22 in Philadelphia and four days later against Costa Rica in Los Angeles. These meetings will serve as preparation for the qualifications of the Amsud zone for the 2026 World Cup which will take place in Canada, the United States and Mexico.