Lionel Messi returned to the pitch on Tuesday for some light jogging and recovery training, according to Spanish media reports, but Argentina coach Edgardo Bauza has said that the Barcelona star's potential return must be treated with great care.
Argentina will play two World Cup qualifying matches against Peru and Paraguay, and the 29-year-old will sit out with a groin strain he suffered during Barcelona's 1-1 draw against Atletico Madrid on Sept. 21.
Bauza said he knows that the five-time Ballon d'Or winner is eager to return to play, but he urged Barcelona to exercise the same caution that Argentina is using.
"Messi is worried about his injury. He wants to play the games and it's difficult to have him sidelined," he told TyC Sports.
"We never toyed with the option of having him in this squad. We have to be careful together.
"Barcelona's medical staff know perfectly what he has to do, I simply say that he has to look after himself.
"He's now in the recovery process, which is good news. I think he'll be at a good level when he returns.
"I still say we should all take care of Messi. Here in Argentina he played only one game in three months," Bauza said.
- Selección Argentina (@Argentina) October 4, 2016
Argentina lost their first three qualifying games for Russia 2018, but have now won four of their last five and are currently third in the table, a point behind leaders Uruguay.
Bauza said that while Messi will be missed over the next two matches, he believes his players can pull together for the matches in Lima and Cordoba.
"We don't have the best attacking player there is, so you have to put other options in to find that cutting edge. Argentina can find it, because we have very good players."
Juventus forward Paulo Dybala is Bauza's best option to take Messi's position on the right-hand side of the attack, with Juventus striker Gonzalo Higuain and Manchester City forward Sergio Aguero starting together through the middle.
"The idea is that Higuain, if he is fit, will play as the No. 9 and Aguero will play behind him," Bauza said. "Dybala could play instead of Messi on the right.
"Dybala can play Messi's role, given his position and numbers. Paulo is a player who can break the balance of a game."
Everton defender Ramiro Funes Mori said it was a matter of adjusting.
"When he is here, it is much better for us because of all that he represents for the team," he told ESPN Deportes. "But we must also learn how to play without him. We have to have an answer for all the talk of his absence and we have to play to win."
Bauza said he was frustrated with Everton for not giving Funes Mori more playing time.
"I don't understand why he doesn't play in the starting XI at Everton, he is [playing] at a high level," he said.