Without the star, however, Argentinas last friendly ended in disaster – a 6-1 thrashing to Spain that gives Sampaoli some acute selection headaches.
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Who joins Leo in Russia, and how will Sampaoli build his starting line-up from the 22 players that join the captain in the squad?
Jorge Sampaoli has confirmed his 23-man squad to play in Russia, with the likes of Leo and Kun leading the way for 2014s finalists
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In defence, starting centre-back pairingNicolas OtamendiandFederico Fazioare joined by UnitedsMarcos Rojo, currently recovering from injury, whileJavier Mascheranoand right-backGabriel Mercadocan also cover the middle.
Of the 35 players initially called up by Sampaoli, 12 suffered the disappointment of missing out on a final squad place. Chief among those isMauro Icardi, whose 29 Serie A goals this season did not suffice to win him a place in Russia.
Having initially picked 35 players in his shortlist, Jorge Sampaoli trimmed that squad down to 23 on Monday to finalise his picks for the tournament.
Nothing was easy for Argentina in their tortuous route to Russia 2018. Thanks to their unstoppable captain Lionel Messi, however, the 2014 finalists pulled through and will be in the running for the World Cup.
There are also places forNicolas Tagliafico,Eduardo Salvio,Marcos AcunaandCristian Ansaldi, the latter appearing apparently from nowhere to take a spot thanks to his versatility in covering both sides of defence.
The Albiceleste went through no less than three coaches over the course of qualifying. Both Gerardo Martino and Edgardo Bauza stepped down during South Americas gruelling two-year campaign, before Jorge Sampaoli eventually led them through on the very last day of the competition.
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Racing Club pairLautaro MartinezandRicardo Centurionwere also cut at the last minute, the latter reportedly taken out of consideration due to concerns over his attitude after a photo of the winger in a Buenos Aires nightclub surfaced just hours after losing a Copa Argentina match with his club.Nahuel Guzman,German Pezzella, Ramiro Funes Mori, Guido Pizarro, Enzo Perez, Diego Perotti, Leandro ParedesandRodrigo Battagliawere the other names cut from the 35 on Monday.
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Manchester pairSergio RomeroandWilly Caballero, of United and City respectively, were chosen butRomero will miss the World Cup with a knee injury.That likely leaves Cabellero as the starter with River PlatesFranco Armanias his back-up andNahuel Guzmanof Mexican side Tigres added as a third-choice custodian.
It was Messi, of course, who made the difference, and the Barcelona wizard is the emblem of an attack that oozes talent.
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Zenit playersMatias KranevitterandEmiliano Rigoni,meanwhile, were overlooked even for the shortlist, as was promising Stuttgart destroyerSantiago Ascacibar.There was also no place for veteran Boca starsFernando GagoorCarlos Tevez, the former having recently returned from injury while the latter has shown only glimpses of his best form since returning to Argentina from China.
The centre of midfield seesLucas Biglia, another man returning from injury, andEver Banegain prime position to start, whileGiovani Lo CelsoandManuel Lanziniadd creative options further up the field. There is also no shortage of talent out wide:Angel Di Maria,Maxi Meza,Salvio and Acuna can all cover the flanks, as can Boca youngsterCristian Pavon. That leaves just four strikers in Sampaolis squad,Lionel Messiaccompanied in Russia byPaulo Dybala, Gonzalo HiguainandSergio Aguero.
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