?Lionel Messi has admitted that he is hopeful Argentina will avoid Spain in next summer’s World Cup in Russia.

The prolific forward led his country through a tumultuous and unconvincing qualification campaign, and his performances will likely be crucial again on the big stage next year. But he has expressed his hope that Argentina do not face certain teams early in the competition.

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“I would prefer to avoid Spain [at the World Cup] because of the way they play,” Messi told TyC Sports. “They would be a tough rival. The favourites are Spain, Brazil, Germany, France…they’re the countries in the best form.”

Argentina will be alongside Germany, Brazil, Portugal, Belgium, Poland and France – plus hosts Russia – as the top seeded side for the group stages of the World Cup. Messi came agonisingly close to lifting football’s most esteemed competition in 2014, losing out in the final against Germany.

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It could be that next year is the 30-year-old’s last opportunity to lift the World Cup, although he has not ruled out playing in Qatar in 2022.

“For now I am thinking about Russia, which is closer,” he said. “I hope we can achieve what we want, it’s everyone’s dream to win [the World Cup]. Afterwards, we will see how things unfold. This time passes quickly and there’s not much time left, we have to take advantage to keep growing.”

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Messi was speaking ahead of Argentina’s upcoming friendlies against Russia and Nigeria.

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