Lionel Messi will have the final say on when his international career with Argentina is over, but head coach Lionel Scaloni is hopeful that is not anytime soon.
The Paris Saint-Germain forward played a major role as Argentina ended a 36-year wait to lift the World Cup for the third time in December.
Messi announced immediately after his team’s penalty shootout victory over France in the final that he would continue to play for Argentina, despite what many had predicted.
La Albiceleste are in action for the first time since then in a friendly against Panama on Thursday, with Messi and his teammates awaiting another heroes’ welcome.
The 35-year-old has previously revealed that he does not intend to take part in the 2026 World Cup, but Scaloni is unsure when exactly he will retire from the international stage.
“Messi will be coming until he says otherwise. I see him happy on the pitch and in selection,” Scaloni said at a press conference on Tuesday.
“Leo looks good to me. He deserves all that love. He and all the players that are here deserve to go out there and take that love because they haven’t been able to live it.”
“Leo, even though he’s the best of them all, he also needs to see that his people love him. That’s something that will stay with him forever.”
Argentina are the reigning South American and world champions, but Scaloni has warned his players that they cannot afford to drop when they have a target on their backs.
“We are world champions, but that doesn’t mean we have the right to more,” he said. “Just because we win, we can’t do whatever we want.
“That’s what [the players] have to understand. The message is that a new process is starting: the pitch is what rules.
“From now on those who are world champions have no advantage, we will have to keep working.
“The Argentine shirt doesn’t allow you not to give your best, that’s clear to us. Afterwards it’s good to celebrate, but we have to do our job on the pitch.”
Scaloni, who recently signed a new contract that runs until the next World Cup, called up a host of uncapped youngsters for the friendly against Panama.
However, Scaloni confirmed that those who presented themselves at the World Cup will start in Thursday’s game in Buenos Aires.
“I would like people [in the stadium] to watch their players,” Scaloni said.