Argentina is about to undertake its two toughest tests before the 2018 FIFA World Cup Championship. La Albiceleste will play against Italy and Spain in their final tune-up matches before the squad gets together for the tournament. They will likely play a few friendlies in late May and early June but these two games will be defining moments for manager Jorge Sampaoli when it comes to assembling the squad.

And that is why it is so surprising to see two world-class players not named to the team. Neither Mauro Icardi nor Paulo Dybala was included by the former Chile and Sevilla tactician although both were on an alternative list that puts them on call should another player become unavailable.

One other selection is surprising. Gonzalo Higuain is there even though Sampaoli didn’t rate him in qualifying. Sergio Aguero is there as well. It would be foolish to leave him out considering his current form for Manchester City. The rest of the attackers aside from Lionel Messi? Diego Perotti, Cristian Pavon, and Lautaro Martinez.

The Racing club starlet is only 20 years old but has displayed outstanding talent at a young age. At the very least his presence will benefit him going forward. He is going to be an important player for La Albiceleste sooner than later.

But Pavon and Perotti over Dybala and Icardi? It could be a matter of taste, and this is not a knock on Perotti, who is having an impressive season with AS Roma, or Pavon, who is an exciting prospect in his own right, a talented winger who has been linked with a move to Arsenal in the past. This is about those two not being nearly as good as the pair who have been left out.

It is fair to wonder why Sampaoli left them out. He has said he has “around 80 percent of the squad” ready in his mind. If neither Dybala nor Icardi is there, it speaks volumes to their slim chances of playing in the World Cup. The choice may not have been made by Sampaoli however. It’s entirely possible he is accommodating Lionel Messi.

Yes, you read that right. There is a high probability Messi is the reason Dybala and Icardi are not present. In the World Cup qualifiers it was clear Icardi was uncomfortable playing up top, not being as involved as he is at Inter. It did not help he failed to score despite creating lots of chances. Icardi just did not look like the dominant force he has been in Serie A.

Dybala’s case is a bit more complicated. Everyone knows a parade of Argentine coaches has tried to surround Messi with players who complement his abilities. There was every expectation Dybala could adapt. Then the Juventus starlet confessed during a press conference that he didn’t like playing with the Barcelona legend. It was the equivalent of a Brazilian saying he’d rather not partner with Neymar or a Polish striker saying he didn’t feel comfortable with Robert Lewandowski. That kind of statement can get you out of the team in a split second. And it seems that is exactly what it did.

Both players took the news well. Dybala led Juventus’ qualification to the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals against Tottenham Hotspur and Icardi netted four goals this past weekend against Sampdoria. All it proved was they could play without Messi, not with him.

There was a slight chance either could have cracked the team when it was announced that Eduardo Salvio was injured. It didn’t happen.

It may take a miracle to see either Dybala or Icardi playing for Argentina in the 2018 World Cup (Soccer Gear). Is Sampaoli doing the right thing by omitting two world-class players from his squad for whatever reason?

Time will tell.


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