Leo Messi gave an interview with Argentinean broadcaster TyC Sports during which he discussed his country’s troubled qualification campaign for the 2018 World Cup, accusations that he has influence over player selection for the Albiceleste and who he would prefer to avoid in Russia.
"The worst that could happen to us would be to draw Spain at the group stages," Messi told the Buenos Aires-based channel on Wednesday from Moscow where Argentina play Russia in a friendly on Saturday. "I would prefer to avoid them, they'd be tough opponents."
Messi named Brazil, Germany and France alongside Spain as favourites to take the World Cup crown in Russia.
"I think that at the moment, they're the strongest teams who give the best impressions, those who are playing best, with the best individuals."
Messi: "I always believed we'd get to the World Cup"
Messi also broached Argentina's last-gasp qualification for the World Cup finals, which the Barcelona star sealed with a hat-trick in a rare 3-1 away victory over Ecuador.
"I always believed we'd get there, but I thought we would have tied up qualification before the Ecuador game," said Messi, reiterating that he would like to end his career in his Argentinian birthplace of Rosario.
"I would love to play for Newell's Old Boys, in the stadium where I've seen so many matches," he said. "I don't know what's going to happen in the coming years, how I'm going to feel. I live from day to day, I'm not focused on the future."
However, the Argentina captain does have a clear idea of what he will do if his country lift the World Cup in Russia: “If we win, I promise to walk [the pilgrimage route] to San Nicolás. We all want to win the World Cup.
Messi was also asked about speculation in the media about his influence on the team and the omission of Mauro Icardi, who Argentinean tabloids claimed was being overlooked due to his having an affair with the wife of Messi’s friend Maxi López: “It is a lack of respect that people say that only my friends play. It’s a complete lie that I make any decisions like that. I have never asked that a player be included or left out and I never will.”