Argentina coach deems Lionel Messi ‘healthy’ after two-goal performance

Lionel Messi played a full 90 minutes in Argentina’s win over Peru on Tuesday in Lima. File Photo by Larry Marano/UPI

Oct. 18 (UPI) — Argentina manager Lionel Scaloni declared Lionel Messi healthy again after the soccer sensation scored twice and played every minute in a win over Peru in a World Cup qualifier.

Messi scored in the 32nd and 42nd minutes of the 2-0 victory Tuesday in Lima.

“The most important thing is that he is healthy,” Scaloni told reporters. “That is the best thing. He is managing his minutes alone.”

The seven-time Ballon d’Or winner hadn’t started for Argentina or MLS club Inter Miami since Sept. 20. Messi aggravated a leg injury in that Inter Miami victory and left the field before halftime.

He returned to the field Oct. 7 as a substitute for the Herons. He also appeared as a substitute Thursday in Argentina’s 1-0 win over Paraguay. He missed four MLS games since his Sept. 20 exit.

Inter Miami coach Tata Martino has not said if Lionel Messi will play again this season for the Herons. File Photo by Larry Marano/UPI

The Argentine appeared back in form throughout Tuesday’s match. He sent his first close attempt just to the right of the right post in the fourth minute. Peru goalie Pedro Gallese saved a Messi free kick in the 11th minute. Messi finally broke through about 20 minutes later.

Striker Lionel Messi hasn’t started for Inter Miami since a Sept. 20 win over Toronto. File Photo by Larry Marano/UPI

The striker sent a pass from the right flank to midfield, finding winger Enzo Fernandez to start the sequence. Fernandez covered major ground with a rapid dribble forward. He then slid a feed to his left, ahead for Nicolas Gonzalez. The Argentine forward used a first-touch pass to split defenders, finding Messi just as he ran into the box.

Messi finished the play with a one-touch dart into the upper-right corner of the net, beating a diving Gallese.

Lionel Messi helped Inter Miami win the Leagues Cup in August, but the Herons missed the MLS playoffs. File Photo by Larry Marano/UPI

He doubled Argentina’s lead about 10 minutes later. Fernandez chased down a pass inside the Peru box to set up that score. He then left a pass back for striker Julian Alvarez, who led the ball roll toward Messi.

Messi used his left boot to fire a shot inside the near post to finish that play. He looked to complete a hat trick in the second half, but could not find the net for a third time.

Lionel Messi hinted that he could return to play for Inter Miami at the end of the MLS season. File Photo by Larry Marano/UPI

Messi’s two goals Tuesday pushed his CONMEBOL World Cup qualifier career total to 31, passing Uruguay’s Luis Suarez (29) for the most in history.

Argentina will face Uruguay on Nov. 16 in another World Cup qualifier.

Inter Miami will host FC Charlotte in an MLS match at 8 p.m. EDT Wednesday in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The Herons, who are eliminated from playoff contention, will wrap up their regular season against OKthe same team Saturday in Charlotte, N.C.

“It’s a shame, we were close,” Messi told reporters Tuesday. “I missed the last few games. We had several injuries. The month of July was very hard for us because we played every three days. We traveled, but we got an important [trophy] for the club.”

Herons coach Tata Martino told reporters Tuesday that he will evaluate Messi to decide if he will play in the final matches of the season. Messi said he plans to train and hinted that he will play again this season for the Herons.

“I will train, I will play [in an upcoming match] and I will try to get here [back to the national team] in the best possible way for November,” Messi said. “After that, I will enjoy the holidays in Argentina.”


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