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Javier Mascherano and Lionel Messi / MIGUEL RUIZ - FCB

Due to the most recent stoppage of club competitions to make way for a fortnight of international matches, FC Barcelona defender Javier Mascherano is with national team of his home country, Argentina, as they gear up for their first two games on the road to the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Upon arriving in Argentina, Mascherano spoke to reporters and said he was hoping to start qualifying off on the right foot. He regretted the absence of the injured Leo Messi, but said it "must not be an excuse."

"We're missing the most important player on the team but we've played without him before and had success. So it's time to try it again. This should be our goal and not an excuse, because we have to recover and move on."

Speaking about the Argentina's first opponents in qualifying for the World Cup — Ecuador and Paraguay — Mascherano said: "These matches are very important, because we are talking about a long and difficult road."

"We want our ticket to Russia, so we hope to start in the best way possible. It's important to establish a good cushion of points in order to be relaxed and not have to think about the results we need to achieve our objective."

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