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By ESPN Staff

Messi to lead Argentina

Lionel Messi will lead Argentina onto the pitch for the first time when they face Venezuela in a friendly at the Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata on Thursday.

The new Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella, who will be taking charge of the national team for the first time, has chosen the Barcelona superstar as his skipper, replacing his Barca team-mate Javier Mascherano.

"We have to be thankful that we have Messi, the best player in the world, and grateful that he wants to play for our national team," Sabella said.

"He always plays well; our duty here is to give him peace. If we give him peace and make him happy, we will all be happy."

Sabella is yet to confirm his line-up for the friendly but plans to have Messi on the right side of the attack, and not use him as a centre-forward as his predecessor Sergio Batista did. Messi would share the front line with Real Madrid duo Gonzalo Higuain and Angel Di Maria.

Marseille midfielder Lucho Gonzalez should also be a starter after not figuring for Batista, and Inter Milan new man Ricky Alvarez could also be involved.

Venezuela, who after decades of being the weakest team in South America, have gained ground in recent years and finished fourth at the Copa America in July.

"Things are very balanced in South America now; that was seen in the Copa America," coach Cesar Farias said. "We know we will have to take precautions against Argentina, they're a very powerful team.

"But we won't change the way we play. Our goal is to find the best shape for the World Cup qualifiers (which start in October), as we feel now an added pressure to grab a ticket to the next World Cup."

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