Lionel Messi will have the final say on when his international career with Argentina is over, but head coach Lionel Scaloni is hopeful that is not anytime soon.
The Paris Saint-Germain forward played a starring role as Argentina ended a 36-year wait to lift the World Cup for a third time in December.
Messi announced immediately after his side’s penalty shoot-out win over France in the final that, contrary to what many predicted, he would continue playing for Argentina.
La Albiceleste are in action for the first time since then in a friendly against Panama on Thursday, with Messi and his team-mates set to receive another heroes’ welcome.
The 35-year-old has previously revealed he does not intend to take part in the 2026 World Cup, but Scaloni is unsure exactly when he will retire from the international stage.
“Messi will continue to come until he says otherwise. I see him happy on the pitch and within the selection,” Scaloni said at a press conference on Tuesday.
“Leo’s looking good to me. He deserves all that love. He and all the players who are here deserve to go out and receive that love because they have not been able to live it.
“Leo, although he is the best of all, he also needs to see that his people love him. This is something that will stay with him forever.”
#SelecciónMayor ¡Qué lindo llegar a casa como CAMPEONES DEL MUNDO! pic.twitter.com/4fia6D1Oxm
— Selección Argentina (@Argentina) March 20, 2023
Argentina are reigning South American and world champions, but Scaloni has warned his players they cannot afford to drop their levels now they have a target on their backs.
“We are world champions, but that doesn’t mean we have the right for more,” he said. “Just because we win we can’t do whatever we want.
“That’s what [the players] have to understand. The message is that a new process is beginning: the pitch is what rules.
“From there on, those who are world champions have no advantage, we will have to keep working.
“The Argentina shirt doesn’t allow you not to give your best, that’s clear to us. Afterwards, it’s good to celebrate, but we have to do our job on the pitch.”
Scaloni, who recently signed a new contract running through until after the next World Cup, has called up a number of uncapped youngsters for the friendly with Panama.
However, Scaloni confirmed that those who featured at the World Cup will start Thursday’s match in Buenos Aires.
“I’d like for the people [in the stadium] to watch their players,” Scaloni said.
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