Football

Messi mission

New Argentina coach Bauza wants to persuade striker to return to national fold

Argentina's new coach Edgardo Bauza has set his mind to wooing Lionel Messi back from international retirement as he ponders his squad for next month's South American 2018 World Cup qualifiers.

Bauza was named yesterday morning (Singapore time) to replace Gerardo Martino, who resigned a month ago after steering Messi's side to two successive Copa America finals which ended in penalty shoot-out defeats by Chile.

The more recent of those results in the Copa America Centenario in the United States in June led to Messi deciding to quit the team. It was his fourth defeat in a major final with Argentina.

"I'm optimistic about Messi," Bauza was quoted as saying in the Argentine daily La Nacion.

"I hope the chat with him will help for him to carry on in the national team.

"I want to explain to Messi what my (tactical) idea is. The least of my worries is his position on the pitch. There's no need to convince Messi of anything, the plan is to talk about football."

Bauza, 58, takes on the job after a strong season at Brazilian club Sao Paulo, which he coached to the semi-finals of the Copa Libertadores.

"We hope he will have the success we all need," said Armando Perez, the president of a committee named by Fifa to whip things into shape at the crisis-plagued Argentine Football Association (AFA).

The new coach faces the stigma of being the default choice. A string of potential coaches including Diego Simeone of Atletico Madrid, Jorge Sampaoli of Sevilla and Mauricio Pochettino of Tottenham Hotspur reportedly declined the job.

"We were in talks with a lot of people... Mr Bauza is the best," said Perez.

Bauza, who will sign his contract in Buenos Aires on Friday, has only a couple of weeks to decide on his squad for qualifiers at home to Uruguay and away to Venezuela in the first week of next month.

"There isn't much time. My first squad won't have many changes, but I want to talk with five or six of the leading players," Bauza said, no doubt referring to the likes of Javier Mascherano, Angel di Maria and Gonzalo Higuain.

He also opened the door for Carlos Tevez, overlooked by Martino since a World Cup qualifier against Paraguay in Asuncion last October where he won his 76th cap.

"I'm thinking of Tevez as I am about other players... Tevez is a player good enough for the national team," Bauza said.

NOT DEFENSIVE-MINDED

Bauza has won two Copa Libertadores - one in 2014 with Pope Francis' favourite team, San Lorenzo, the other in 2008 with Ecuadoran side LDU Quito.

A former central defender, he rejected a tag as a defensive coach, saying: "I'm one of those who think that all (the team) have to defend. Football today is like that.

"You can defend in your opponents' half if the pressure is high (up the field), but it's easier when you have players of the quality of the Argentina team. The options they offer you are many."

Argentina are third in the 10-nation South American World Cup qualifying group with 11 points from six matches, two points behind leading pair Uruguay and Ecuador.

The top four teams after 18 matches go through to the Russia Finals, while the fifth-placed team goes into an intercontinental play-off for one more berth. - AFP.

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