By VICTOR OKOYE, Spain
Claudio Tapia , Argentina’s national football association (AFA) president, says he has spoken to national captain Lionel Messi about playing fewer games for La Liga side FC Barcelona before June.
He said this was in order to enable the Argentine striker stay fresh for his country ahead of the 2018 World Cup finals in Russia.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Argentina will face Nigeria, Iceland and Croatia in Group D of the preliminary round of the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
The World Cup is expected to kick off from June 14 and end on July 15 in Russia.
Tapia’s plea has however largely gone unheeded by Barca coach Ernesto Valverde, who has started Messi in 33 of the team’s total 39 games this season.
He only left him out of the match day squad in three King’s Cup games.
The coach did leave Messi out of the starting line-up for the first time in the league against Espanyol on Feb. 4.
But he later threw the Argentine on as a substitute to help salvage a 1-1 draw.
“I hope all the players arrive at the level they are at the moment. Sergio Aguero is playing outstanding football right now and Messi is always at the top of his game,” Tapia said.
“That’s vital for the directors and the coaching staff. We have spoken to Messi about taking care of himself and about playing less for FC Barcelona.”
Tapia also said Argentina are planning to play a friendly against Catalonia in June as part of their preparations for the World Cup in Russia.
A game against Catalonia could theoretically see Messi come up against Barca teammates Sergio Busquets, Sergi Roberto and Gerard Pique, among others.
However, such a fixture could prove controversial in Spain after increased tension between the central government and the region over its independence drive.
“(Argentina coach) Jorge (Sampaoli) told me it would be good for us from a football point of view and it’s important for us from a financial point of view. But we haven’t closed the deal yet,” added Tapia.
Argentina are hoping to do better in Russia than their runners-up finish four years ago in Brazil.(Reuters/NAN)