Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli praised Gonzalo Higuain for winning him round after the Juventus striker was named in the squad to face Italy and Spain later this month.
Attacking spots in the Albiceleste side alongside the likes of Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero will be fiercely contested ahead of the 2018 World Cup, with Higuain’s club-mate Paulo Dybala and Inter captain Mauro Icardi left out on this occasion.
Higuain is set to be back in national colours for the first time since June, although the 30-year-old is currently sidelined with an ankle complaint.
“As far as Higuain goes, I’ve seen him mature and he’s convinced me,” Sampaoli told reporters.
“We need footballers who, if we call them, will guarantee us a good World Cup.
“Dybala, [Atalanta playmaker Alejandro] Gomez and Icardi are players we know very well. We want to see others to make comparisons. These two matches won’t be decisive for anyone.
“Dybala is an extremely valuable player. He’s coming off [a hamstring] injury and I thought it would be best to evaluate him with his club and not in this squad.”
Jorge Sampaoli: “No vamos a jugar por los puntos, sino para encontrar avances colectivos que nos den seguridad. Vamos a tener rivales que son fuertes arriba”. pic.twitter.com/lGfnOqXYwM
— Selección Argentina (@Argentina) March 1, 2018
Sampaoli believes 80 per cent of his World Cup squad is decided, although he stated selecting the remaining spots is “more complicated”.
The former Chile and Sevilla coach will add domestically based players to his 22-man squad for the next friendlies over the coming days, with all eyes on a pair of familiar faces at Boca Juniors.
Ex-Real Madrid midfielder Fernando Gago has impressed the national team boss as he battles to return from cruciate knee ligament surgery, while Carlos Tevez has three goals in five appearances since returning from his Chinese Super League sojourn.
“Due to his characteristics – which I know very well – and according to his current form and his history, he can be evaluated, although we are very close to the World Cup process,” Sampaoli said of Tevez.
On Gago, whose claims are bolstered by less ferocious competition in holding midfield, Sampaoli added: “I was at Boca’s training and I was with Fernando watching him train, working on his recovery, with a huge desire for the World Cup.”
“I saw in Fernando, a very respected player, and, with the enthusiasm he is having, he will surely make me analyse him after his recovery, because he deserves it.”
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