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Kepa: Turning down Real Madrid helped World Cup chances

With 100 days to go until the FIFA World Cup, Ian Darke joins a group of ESPN writers and experts for a roundtable discussion about what to expect in Russia this summer.

Kepa Arrizabalaga is pleased his decision to turn down a chance to join Real Madrid and instead sign a long-term contract with Athletic Bilbao in January has enhanced his chances of making Spain's World Cup squad.

The 23-year-old was named in Julen Lopetegui's 24-man squad for the upcoming friendlies against Germany and Argentina, along with fellow goalkeepers David de Gea of Manchester United and Pepe Reina of Napoli.

Considered one of the most promising goalkeepers in Europe, Kepa, whose previous deal was set to end this summer, was strongly linked with a move to Real Madrid.

However, he opted to sign a contract with Athletic until June 2025 and now has an €80 million release clause.

"There were offers and I need time to think, to decide," Kepa told Cadena Ser radio. "It was a life choice that I had to make on where I wanted my football and sporting career to continue. Once I had it clear in my mind, I made my decision.

"I'm very happy with the path I've chosen. I've signed a long-term contract. I've got this season and a further seven years left. I'm enjoying myself."

Kepa Arrizabalaga has been called up for Spain's friendlies later this month.

Lopetegui will now have an opportunity to work with Kepa as Spain prepare to take on World Cup holders Germany on Friday in Dusseldorf before facing Argentina four days later in Madrid.

Kepa knows his audition for a spot in the World Cup squad will not just last this week, but the rest of the season.

"In order to continue to come to the national team and get a chance to enjoy the World Cup, I know I have to do a good job with my club, Athletic," Kepa said. "I hope it happens. It's always great to be called up to the national team and to have the confidence of the national team coach."

A youth product of Athletic, Kepa made his league debut in September 2016 and has been a regular ever since.

Kepa has started 21 times for Athletic in La Liga this season and made his Spain debut in November 2017 in a 5-0 friendly win over Costa Rica.

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

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