Football: Argentina changes point to the hand of Sampaoli

Football: Argentina changes point to the hand of Sampaoli

BUENO AIRES: Inter Milan striker Mauro Icardi and West Ham United midfielder Manuel Lanzini were named on Friday (May 19) in a squad from which Jorge Sampaoli is expected to pick his first Argentina team next month.

Sevilla coach Sampaoli is set to take the vacant Argentina job after the Spanish season ends this weekend and likely to dramatically change the team's tactics.

His first assignment as coach of his country's national team is a friendly against arch-rivals Brazil in Melbourne on June 9, followed by a visit to Singapore four days later.

The tour will help him prepare for the run-in to the South American qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup finals in Russia in which Argentina have struggled, particularly in eight out of 14 matches without injured talisman Lionel Messi.

Inter captain Icardi has been banging on the Argentina door since earning a first cap as a substitute in a World Cup qualifier against Uruguay in 2013, while the uncapped Lanzini has had a fine season in the Premier League.

Icardi and Alejandro Gomez of Atalanta have both been courted by Italy but turned them down in the hope of playing for the country of their birth.

With Champions League finalists Juventus's attacking duo of Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala also included, Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero is a notable if not unexpected absentee after poor form in recent Argentina matches.

The Argentine FA posted the squad on its official website (www.afa.com.ar) without mentioning Sampaoli, who was confirmed last month by its president Claudio Tapia as their chosen candidate after they sacked Edgardo Bauza.

Sampaoli, who has yet to sign a contract with the AFA, said on Friday he would see out his Sevilla tenure with Saturday's home match against Osasuna before taking a job he could not refuse.

Sampaoli, a Copa America winner as Chile coach in 2015, had said previously he hoped to one day work with Messi and at the time Luis Enrique announced he was leaving Barcelona earlier this season was touted his successor.

Now Sampaoli has the chance to show he can mould a team around the world's best player capable of winning a major trophy after Argentina finished runners-up in the 2014 World Cup and the 2015 and 2016 Copa America tournaments.

The squad of 20 foreign-based players has only four defenders including Javier Mascherano but more are expected to be drafted in from the domestic league with Pablo Zabaleta another veteran dropped.

Mascherano could be asked to take up the defensive duties for his country that he has become used to fulfilling at Barcelona often in a back three which Sampaoli tends to favour.

Lanzini, Gomez and the recalled Eduardo Salvio of Benfica are midfielders set to be given a chance as Sampaoli looks for his trademark high tempo attack and pressing.

Argentina are fifth in the South American qualifying group from which the top four qualify automatically and will go into a playoff against a team from the Oceania confederation if they remain there.

Source: Reuters/am