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Argentina confirm pre-World Cup friendly game against Spain

Lionel Messi hopes that Argentina will reach another World Cup final, but admits he's focusing on the group stage first.
In an interview with ESPN FC, Lionel Messi hits back at claims he makes the decisions for Argentina.

Argentina will play an international friendly against Spain in March in preparation for the World Cup, the Argentine Football Association (AFA) president Claudio Tapia has confirmed.

The encounter will be on March 27 at a venue yet to be finalised, four days after Argentina take on Italy in a friendly in Basel, Switzerland.

"We will play two friendlies in March against two very prestigious [national] teams," TyC Sports reported Tapia as saying. "They are two important national sides and will give a lot of value to our preparation. Spain qualified for the World Cup and we know what they represent in football."

The 2010 World Cup winners, Spain went unbeaten in qualifying and finished top of their group ahead of Italy, who lost to Sweden in a playoff to miss out on the top tournament for the first time since 1958.

The decision to face Italy had been set up by Tapia's predecessors.

"We had an agreement with Italy that was signed by the previous management and we have to respect it otherwise AFA would face a very important financial loss," Tapia said. "For such reason, we will play it on March 23. Our second game will be against Spain on the 27th of that month. These two games will require the national team to raise the bar."

The Albiceleste, who booked a ticket to this summer's tournament by winning their final qualifier, 3-1 at Ecuador in October thanks to a Lionel Messi hat trick, will take on Croatia, Iceland and Nigeria in the group stages.

Messi and Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli spoke last month of the national team's need to make the most of their international friendlies to improve on a difficult qualifying campaign. Argentina will play two further friendlies before they take on Iceland in their World Cup opener on June 16.

"Our preparation stage for the World Cup is going to be crucial," Tapia said. "Our first phase will be in Argentina because we understand that once all the tournaments are over, the players will travel [home] to see their families and will join the training camp at [AFA's headquarters] in Ezeiza until May 30.

"We will have a friendly game as a farewell on that day as we have an offer to play at Boca's [La Bombonera] stadium on May 30 and there's the possibility of playing against a South American team [Ecuador]. We will then go to Barcelona [June 1] where we have agreed with the club [Barcelona] to stay there and use their facilities.

"We will then play a friendly on June 8 before our trip to Russia.

"I think we have done things well to have the necessary foresight."

Adriana Garcia is a Valencia-based football writer who covers La Liga for ESPN FC.

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