Buenos Aires, Oct 6: Argentina began training for the World Cup Russia 2018 qualifiers with the notable absence of their star player Lionel Messi, who is still injured. The FC Barcelona midfielder and forward tore a ligament in his left knee a few days ago which means that he will miss Argentina’s first two matches of the qualifiers against Ecuador and Paraguay on October 8 and 13 respectively, Xinhua news agency reported.

“Playing without Messi has to be the team’s main goal and not an excuse for playing badly,” said FC Barcelona defender Javier Mascherano upon his arrival at Buenos Aires to join the team. Apart from Messi, coach Gerardo Martino’s side will also be missing midfielders Ever Banega (Sevilla FC, Spain) and Enzo Perez (Valencia CF, Spain) who are injured.

Manchester United defender, Marcos Rojo, just pulled out of the upcoming match a few hours ago, adding to the list of injuries. Rojo decided not to travel to Argentina so that he could recover from an ailment that has been bothering him for some time.

Striker Gonzalo Higuain who was part of the World Cup Brazil 2014 runner-up team and the recent Copa America tournament in Chile, will be another important absence as he was not included in the current team due to footballing reasons. Argentina will play Ecuador on Thursday at 21:00 local time (18:00 GMT) on home turf at the River Plate stadium while the following Tuesday they will travel to Asuncion to play Paraguay.