MADRID – Argentina star Lionel Messi is set to return from a minor injury for Tuesday's international friendly against Spain, national team coach Jorge Sampaoli said on Monday.
The Barcelona forward sat out Friday's 2-0 defeat of Italy in Manchester with a thigh muscle problem but came through Monday's training session in Madrid and is expected to line up against the 2010 world champions.
“He trained as normal with the group so he's okay to play,” Sampaoli told a news conference at Atletico Madrid's Wanda Metropolitano stadium.
Sampaoli insisted he was not gambling over his captain's fitness by fielding Messi against Spain.
“If there was the slightest risk, Leo would have said something. The eve of the match against Italy he indicated that he was not in a state to play.
“But here, he did a fitness test yesterday (Sunday), he did another one today and he's fine... I don't think there will be a problem tomorrow (Tuesday).”
Former Chile coach Sampaoli last week described the current Argentina team as “more Messi's side than mine”.
“Football is about the players, what I meant was he has the power to create links and communicate out on the field,” he explained. “He can generate a lot of stuff... it's impossible to teach something to Messi.”
“We are in a place where Leo is untouchable,” added Sampaoli, before suggesting his team would be built around the advice he picked up from Messi.
“Leo, you have to listen to him, create situations that will be optimal for him and from there build a team in relation to that.”
However, the two-time World Cup winners will be without Angel di Maria, who hurt his thigh against Italy, and Sergio Aguero, with the Manchester City striker recovering from a knee injury.
Spain and Argentina are seen as two leading contenders at the World Cup in Russia which runs from June 14 to July 15.
The last meeting between the countries came in a 2010 friendly in Buenos Aires where Messi scored in a 4-1 Argentina victory.