x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Talent is aplenty but stakes are just as high for coach Batista

The Copa America hosts Argentina have not won a major international event since 1993.

Argentina have the luxury of fielding a compelling combination in the Copa America, the world's finest footballer and the country's best loved player.

Every ingredient seems to point to success, but there remains a doubt as to whether Lionel Messi and Carlos Tevez can play effectively together.

Messi, the Ballon d'Or winner, has seldom been able to carry his Barcelona form into the national side. But he said: "I hope things go well for us. Everyone is very excited about the Copa America.

"It's been a while since Argentina has won an important title. We need some joy for ourselves and our fans."

Argentina have not won a major international event since this South American tournament in 1993. And Messi could endear himself to his countrymen with a few goals and a Copa America title on July 24.

So far his introverted personality has left many Argentines cold. He seldom jokes around and lacks the charisma of Diego Maradona or his teammate Tevez, who is by far the country's most popular player.

The key question is whether the Manchester City player will line up alongside Messi in attack.

There has been a history of disputes between the two and Sergio Batista, the new coach, has no shortage of options up front.

Batista left Tevez out of the national team after he declined to play a friendly in November in Qatar against Brazil. But he returned to play against Albania and was wildly cheered by Argentine fans during the match at River Plate's Monumental Stadium.

"I was surprised by the reaction I got," Tevez said. "But I am happy to play in front of my people."

Batista has brought some new faces into former coach Diego Maradona's team, which lost 4-0 by Germany last year in the World Cup quarter-finals.

Two players shunned by Maradona are back - Javier Zanetti and Inter Milan teammate Esteban Cambiasso. Others who were not in South Africa include the Valencia midfielder Ever Banega, and the defenders Ezequiel Garay (Real Madrid) and Marcos Rojo (Spartak Moscow).

Batista can also call on the firepower of Gonzalo Higuain (Real Madrid) and Diego Milito (Inter Milan) and midfield depth anchored by Javier Mascherano (Barcelona).

Argentina open today against Bolivia and also faces Colombia and Costa Rica in their group.

* Associated Press