Argentina will reportedly have to wait until 2019 for attacking talisman Lionel Messi to return to international football. The Barcelona forward will next play for his country in March, according to Hernan Castillo of TNT Sports (h/t Roy Nemer of Mundo Albiceleste).
Messi missed Argentina's 2-0 win over Mexico on Tuesday as he continued to consider his international future. He hasn't featured since his nation crashed out of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia this summer.
Messi has been excused from several international squads since eventual winners France beat La Albiceleste in the Round of 16 in Russia. He missed the 4-0 win over Iraq and 1-0 defeat against Brazil in October before he sat out this month's doubleheader against El Tri.
Winning three of their last four matches without Messi proves Argentina can cope without the gifted 31-year-old. Part of the reason is the depth of quality in Lionel Scaloni's squad, particularly in attacking areas.
Scaloni can call on a host of talented forwards, including Serie A duo Mauro Icardi and Paulo Dybala. Inter Milan striker Icardi and Juve forward Dybala were both on the scoresheet on Wednesday.
Icardi spoke afterward about his desire to see Messi return despite his benefiting from the latter's absence, per ESPN.com: "[Messi] is the best in the world. That is what every team wants, to have a player such as him. I hope that in the upcoming year he can be with us ahead of the Copa America."
Dybala previously echoed Icardi's sentiments about Barca's record goalscorer, per Sky Italia (h/t Football Italia): "We all want Messi back in the national team. We all know the importance of Leo for us, but it's up to him."
Finding ways to put Messi into the same forward line as Dybala and Iacardi is an obvious challenge for Scaloni. He also has to be mindful of giving playing time to Manchester City No. 10 Sergio Aguero and Juve loanee Gonzalo Higuain.
While there's no shortage of match-winners, most would agree Messi makes his nation tick. He is at once the chief goal-getter and creative fulcrum of the side.
His influence and inspiration will be vital to Argentina's chances of winning next year's Copa America.
Still, while Messi defines his national team, some may wonder if it's time for younger players such as Dybala and Icardi to be given more chances to lead the way and emerge from his shadow.