Argentina Star Lionel Messi to Play Against Panama on Friday

Lionel Messi is ready to play again. At a key moment, too.

Messi is set to return from a back injury when Argentina takes on Panama in Copa America on Friday night at Soldier Field.

"He has been training without any kind of problem, any kind of pain ... so there is no reason for him not to play," manager Gerardo Martino said Thursday.

Messi departed in the second half of a 1-0 victory against Honduras on May 27 with a back and rib injury. He watched as top-ranked Argentina beat Chile 2-1 on Monday night. 

The five-time Ballon d'Or winner has stayed mostly quiet about his status. He said Tuesday on his Facebook page that he hoped to be back to help the team as soon as possible. 

"He's doing well. He's very motivated. ... The conditions to which he is coming back to the team are ideal," Martino said through an interpreter.

A winner in Friday night's match would be in firm control of Group D of South America's championship. Panama also won its Copa opener, 2-1 over Bolivia on Monday. 

Messi has not won any major senior trophy since joining the national team in 2005. 

Messi's return comes one week after his tax fraud trial concluded in Spain. The Barcelona star, who turns 29 on June 24, testified last Thursday and joined the national team the next day. 

Argentina lost 4-1 to Chile in a penalty shootout in the 2015 Copa America final. It has won the tournament 14 times since 1921.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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