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Soccer-Banega back for Argentina's World Cup qualifiers

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

March 7 (Reuters) - Valencia midfielder Ever Banega was included in Argentina's squad for this month's World Cup qualifiers on Thursday in the absence of the injured Fernando Gago.

Banega made his international comeback in last month's 3-2 friendly win over Sweden having been out of the reckoning in the qualifiers since October 2011 due to injury.

Gago was injured playing for Argentine champions Velez Sarsfield and will miss the home qualifier against Venezuela in Buenos Aires on March 22 and the visit to Bolivia four days later.

Defender Jose Basanta, who plays for Monterrey in Mexico, received his first ever call-up having being watched closely by coach Alejandro Sabella's aides for several months.

Real Madrid winger Angel Di Maria was included despite being suspended for the Venezuela match and needing two weeks to recover from an injury sustained at Manchester United on Tuesday.

Argentina lead the nine-nation South American group from which the top four will go through to the Brazil finals next year. They have 20 points from nine matches with seven more to play.

"If we win these qualifying fixtures it would be a big step towards reaching the World Cup," captain Lionel Messi told Argentina's Radio Rivadavia.

"But first we must think about playing Venezuela at home and then travel to Bolivia to look for a good result," added Messi, who was part of the team humiliated 6-1 when Argentina last played at high altitude in La Paz four years ago.

Wigan Athletic striker Franco Di Santo kept his place after playing in Argentina's last two friendlies against Saudi Arabia and Sweden.

Attacking midfielder Walter Montillo of Santos also earned a place in the party after playing for Argentina against Brazil in a friendly between teams picked from domestic leagues in November.

Squad:

Goalkeepers: Sergio Romero (Sampdoria), Mariano Andujar (Catania)

Defenders: Pablo Zabaleta (Manchester City), Hugo Campagnaro (Napoli), Ezequiel Garay (Benfica), Federico Fernandez (Getafe), Jose Basanta (Monterrey), Marcos Rojo (Sporting Lisbon)

Midfielders: Javier Mascherano (Barcelona), Ever Banega (Valencia), Walter Montillo (Santos), Jose Sosa (Metalist Kharkiv), Augusto Fernandez, (Celta Vigo), Pablo Guinazu (Libertad), Angel Di Maria (Real Madrid)

Forwards: Lionel Messi (Barcelona), Gonzalo Higuain (Real Madrid), Ezequiel Lavezzi (Paris Saint-Germain), Rodrigo Palacio (Inter Milan), Sergio Aguero (Manchester City), Franco Di Santo (Wigan Athletic) (Writing by Rex Gowar in London, editing by Nick Mulvenney)

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/thomson-reuters/130307/soccer-banega-back-argentinas-world-cup-qualifiers