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Argentina boss Scaloni says Messi ‘happy’ ahead of World Cup qualifiers

Lionel Messi

Buenos Aires, Argentina  | XINHUA |    Argentina manager Lionel Scaloni said Wednesday that Lionel Messi’s decision to stay at Barcelona is good news for the Albiceleste as they prepare for their opening 2022 World Cup qualifiers against Ecuador and Bolivia.

Messi told Barcelona officials that he wanted to leave in August before changing his mind two weeks later to avoid a legal battle with the club he has called home since the age of 13.

“I spoke with Messi when everything related to his situation with Barcelona was resolved and we had another extensive talk when he came [to Argentina for the World Cup qualifiers],” Scaloni told a virtual news conference.

“Leo is happy to be in the national team and is doing well at his club now. From a distance, we wanted everything to be resolved so that he could start playing and get fit. For our part, I think it’s positive that he has stayed because he has started to play. As for personal decisions, we don’t get involved and we’re not going to [comment].”

Argentina will face Ecuador at La Bombonera in Buenos Aires on Thursday and Bolivia in La Paz next Tuesday.

Scaloni said Messi’s role with the national team would not change, rejecting speculation he might be used in a deeper position to ease the physical demands on his 33-year-old legs.

“Leo continues to be a forward, whether that be as a No. 9 or second striker,” Scaloni said. “But he is a forward and we always try to have three options up front. I don’t think his position on the pitch has changed [at Barcelona]. In the end he is always a forward or an attacking player.”

Scaloni also spoke about the challenge of preparing for Argentina’s qualifiers during the coronavirus pandemic and underlined the difficulty of South America’s 18-round qualifying tournament.

“It’s even more difficult now in these strange times, having to play without fans. It’s not easy to play against Bolivia in the altitude of La Paz. The qualifying rounds are complicated and whoever thinks this will be easy is wrong,” he added.

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