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ESPN FC  By ESPN staff

Lionel Messi only undisputed starter for Argentina - Jorge Sampaoli

Lionel Messi "is the only undisputed starter" as Argentina face a must-win World Cup qualifier on Aug. 31 against Uruguay, manager Jorge Sampaoli said on Tuesday.

"I have had the good fortune to arrive with the national team at the time that Messi's ban was lifted," Sampaoli said during a news conference on Tuesday. "We have the best player in the world [in Messi]. From him the team is born."

Two-time world champions Argentina are currently fifth in their qualifying group for the 2018 World Cup.

Only the top four sides will qualify directly for the tournament that is to be staged in Russia.

Sampaoli said that he will count on Messi to "shoot to the middle" or "to the right toward the middle" and seek out "players who will help his potential," to defeat Uruguay on their home turf.

"To leave Messi alone at this moment is a mistake. We need to surround him with the best players possible," he said, while acknowledging that "there are no players who have more privilege than others" with the exception of Messi.

He added that he will travel to Paris, Barcelona, Seville and Madrid to speak with various players as he sets up his team for the Uruguay match.

Asked about Javier Mascherano's future with the team, Sampaoli called him "a player with experience who understands the challenge the team face at this moment."

Messi was cleared in May for Argentina's crucial World Cup qualifiers against Uruguay, Venezuela and Peru after FIFA's Appeal Committee lifted his four-game suspension from international matches.

The 29-year-old was handed the ban retrospectively by world football's governing body in March -- along with a fine of 10,000 Swiss francs ($10,160) -- after television footage showed him verbally abusing a match official during a qualifier against Chile.

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