Messi to play for Argentina once again

BUENOS AIRES • Star striker Lionel Messi will return to play for the Argentina football team for "love" of his country, despite earlier vowing to retire in frustration, he said on Friday.

It was heartening news for the country's demanding fans, after Argentina were knocked out of the Olympic Games in the group stage, their latest in a string of humiliations.

The 29-year-old Barcelona superstar had announced his international retirement after Argentina lost the Copa America final to Chile on June 26.

"A lot of things went through my mind on the night of the final and I gave serious thought to quitting, but my love for my country and this shirt is too great," he said on Friday in a statement released by his management company.

His earlier vow to quit had dismayed fans, many of whom held street rallies and posted online messages begging him not to go.

It became practically an affair of state when Argentina's President Mauricio Macri called on him to stay.

"It is a gift from God to have the best player in the world in a footballing country like ours," Macri had said in June. "Lionel Messi is the greatest thing we have in Argentina and we must take care of him."

Argentina national coach Edgardo Bauza met with Messi in Barcelona this week hoping to convince him to rejoin the squad. Bauza was due to announce his list of players for games against Uruguay on Sept 1 and Venezuela on Sept 6.

He took over the job from Gerardo Martino and was tasked with turning things around ahead of the 2018 World Cup, amid a management crisis at the Argentinian Football Association.

"There are a lot of issues that need to be resolved in Argentinian football, but I prefer to help from within and not to criticise from the outside," Messi's statement said.

"I send my thanks to all of those who want me to continue playing for Argentina. I hope that we'll be able to give them something to cheer about soon."

Argentina have suffered a string of disappointing losses in big tournaments with Messi, including the World Cup final in 2014.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 14, 2016, with the headline 'Messi to play for Argentina once again'. Print Edition | Subscribe