Football

Messi ruled out of Argentina World Cup qualifier in Venezuela

Lionel Messi returned from international retirement to hit the winner against Uruguay.
Lionel Messi returned from international retirement to hit the winner against Uruguay. Reuters/Marcos Brindicci

Argentina's hopes of reaching the 2018 World Cup suffered a setback on Saturday when star forward Lionel Messi was ruled out of Tuesday's qualifying match against Venezuela. 

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Messi, 29, injured his groin during Thursday night's 1-0 victory over Uruguay.

The Barcelona forward scored the only goal of the game just before half-time to cap his return from a short-lived international retirement.

Argentina coach Edgardo Bauza told reporters at the team's training base in Buenos Aires: "Unfortunately, Messi won't be able to play. We spoke with the doctor and it's the sensible thing to do. It must be treated. We can't take any risks. We must take care of him."

Messi announced the end of his career with the national team in June after missing his spot kick in the shootout in the Copa America final defeat to Chile. It was Argentina's fourth loss in a major final in nine years.

But after pleas from fans and from the World Cup winning captain Diego Maradona, Messi reversed his decision last month.

"My love for my country and the shirt is too great," said Messi. "We need to fix many things in Argentinian football but I prefer to do this from inside and not criticise from outside."

Messi's absence against Venezuela might not be so keenly felt. After seven of the 18 qualifying games, Argentina sit atop the 10 team South America qualifying group with 14 points, while Venezuela prop up the pile with a solitary point garnered from their trip to Peru in March.

Going into the eighth round of games, Uruguay, Colombia and Ecuador occupy the three other automatic qualification slots.

Brazil are fifth - a position which leads to a two-legged play-off against a side from the Oceania group which comprises New Zealand, New Caledonia, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands or Tahiti.

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