—— Argentina coach Alex Sabella is concerned that his preparations for the World Cup finals north in neighbouring Brazil could be threatened by the distraction of a war of wills with Barcelona over Leo Messi.

The two-times world champions secured their place in the finals with a decisive 5-2 in over Paraguay in Asuncion on Tuesday in which Messi scored twice. Argentina are certain of finishing in the top four slots in the South American liguilla even though they still have two games to play.

Leo Messi: key man in every game in every competition

However sources close to the AFA have said that Spanish champions Barcelona have indicated they want Sabella to make do without Messi for the rest of the campaign – while Barcelona have a busy schedule including not only their domestic title defence but the group stage of the UEFA Champions League.

Messi sought to steer a diplomatic path around the issue when questioned in Asuncion, aware that whatever he said would be widely reported and interpreted both in Argentina and Spain.

Immediate focus

He said: “I said at the start of the season that the World Cup finals in Brazil are a very long way away but that when we reach that stage I will be as committed as I am in all my club games inbetween.

“My intention is to try to play my best to do as well as possible in every competition but, right now, my next game is for Barcelona so I am not thinking about the World Cup. Personally, I always want to play for my club and I always want to play for the Selección.

“I always want to play.”

Messi has recently resolved a tax evasion claim with a €5m settlement payment. He then displayed further loyalty to all things Spanish by supporting the promotion campaign of Madrid bid to win host rights to the 2020 Olympic Games.

All in vain. The International Olympic Committee applied the coup de grace last weekend in . . . Buenos Aires.

** Daniel Passarella, captain of Argentina’s World Cup-winning team in 1978 and now president of River Plate, has denied reports that he is to take over as national coach of Qatar from 2014