Since it seemed unlikely the coach would take the six-time Ballon D’Or winner along and not put him on the team sheet, the question that remained tantalizingly unanswered was: whether Messi would start at the Stade Auguste-Delaune, or would he tease from the substitutes’ bench?
Messi and Neymar both missed the first two league games as they worked their way to match fitness after demanding summers. They met in the Copa America final on July 10 in Brazil as Argentina won to earn Messi his first international trophy.
They will be reunited as team-mates for the first time since PSG broke the bank to attract Neymar for Barcelona in 2017.
The possible symbolism of Messi’s first official appearance for PSG in Reims, where French kings were traditionally crowned, was not lost on sports daily L’Equipe.
“Leo I, a king in Reims”, it wrote on its front page declaring his possible selection a “coronation”.
Le Parisien pointed to the local club’s history as home to “three of the most beautiful artists of this game”. A Reims squad led by Just Fontaine and Raymond Kopa reached the first-ever European Cup final in 1956.
Hundreds of fans gathered in cities across Argentina Sunday to celebrate their team’s victorious return from the 2021 Copa America, where they beat Brazil on home turf.
The Argentinian Football Association (AFA) had not planned any official celebration given the coronavirus epidemic, which had caused the country to pull out of co-hosting the tournament, which then went to even worse-hit Brazil.
Lionel Messi and his team arrived home in Buenos Aires Sunday morning on a private flight from Rio de Janeiro, and submitted to coronavirus tests.
In two buses emblazoned with the words “Champions of America 2021” and the number 15 — for Argentina’s number of Copa America wins — the team was escorted from the airport by police as hundreds supporters gathered along the highway, waving and cheering.
“Beautiful, beautiful. And thank you, because the people needed it,” exclaimed one fan, Emilio Navarro.
After a quick show at the AFA headquarters in Buenos Aires, the victorious players went their different ways, without fanfare.
Messi left the AFA in a car accompanied by police motorcycles, avoiding dozens of gathered fans, and headed for his home city of Rosario, according to television images.
Superstar Lionel Messi won his first trophy with his national team as Angel Di Maria’s goal gave Argentina a 1-0 win over hosts Brazil in the Copa America final on Saturday.
The victory at Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana stadium ended Argentina’s 28-year wait for a major trophy, and also ended Brazil’s unbeaten home record that stretched back more than 2,500 days.
Argentina had last tasted success at a major tournament in 1993 when the great Gabriel Batistuta’s brace gave them a 2-1 win over Mexico in the Copa final in Ecuador.
“It’s a great title, especially for our people. The fans support the team unconditionally. I think they can identify with this team that never gives in,” said Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni.
It was the first time in six editions playing at home that Brazil had failed to lift the trophy.
And while 34-year-old Messi’s odyssey has come to an end, Brazil’s Neymar, five years his junior, is still without a major title at international level having missed the Selecao’s win on home soil two years ago through injury.
Argentina edged a brutal and fractious affair thanks to Di Maria’s goal on 22 minutes.
The 33-year-old winger ran onto Rodrigo De Paul’s sumptuous through ball to lob Brazil goalkeeper Ederson with a first-time finish.
“We fell short so many times, we dreamt so much about this, fought so hard,” said Di Maria, who was named man of the match.
“Many people said we wouldn’t manage it, we were criticized a lot. But we kept knocking at the door and kept going until today we knocked it down and entered.”
Messi could have wrapped up the win two minutes from time but slipped when clean through with only Ederson to beat.
“We have to be big enough to recognize (the defeat) regardless of how painful and difficult it is,” said Brazil coach Tite.
Di Maria the tormentor
In a frantic start, Argentina’s burly enforcer Nicolas Otamendi was quickly in with his first foul while Brazilian midfielder Fred picked up the first booking after just three minutes for a studs-up lunge at Gonzalo Montiel.
Brazil were unchanged from their semi-final win over Peru while Scaloni made five alterations, notably bringing in Di Maria — who made an energetic and decisive entry off the bench against Colombia last time out.
The final was the first match of the tournament, which was originally due to take place last year, to allow in fans as 7,800 — a tenth of the Maracana capacity — took their seats after authorities partially lifted pandemic restrictions.
The first clear chance came on 13 minutes as Richarlison headed down Marquinhos’s long ball into the path of Neymar but the Brazilian star was crowded out by a pair of defenders.
The brutal nature of the early challenges could be seen on the players’ kits, with Neymar sporting ripped shorts and Lucas Paqueta being left with a hole in his sock following an intervention by Otamendi.
Argentina played with aggression and commitment, but no lack of quality with Di Maria tormenting Brazil’s left-back Renan Lodi, who probably should have cut out De Paul’s pass for the winger’s goal.
Di Maria had a shot from 20 yards blocked while Messi fired just wide following a 40-yard run.
Brazil struggled to create anything of note and even when they had a free-kick from shooting range, Neymar couldn’t beat the wall.
When the hosts did finally maintain some pressure late in the first half, Everton’s deflected strike bobbled through to goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez.
Tite was quick to act, bringing on forward Roberto Firmino for defensive midfielder Fred at half-time.
Richarlison had the ball in the net soon after but he was flagged offside.
And moments later Neymar teed up Richarlison but Martinez parried his near post effort.
Increasingly it descended into a fractious, niggly affair with little fluid play between fouls and a plethora of theatrics and petulant bickering.
It was playing into Argentina’s hands as they looked to run down the clock and hold onto their slender lead.
“Only one team wanted to play. It’s a trap we knew about. That’s not an excuse,” complained Brazil captain Thiago Silva.
“It’s difficult to play such a stop-start match.”
Brazil managed to up the pressure again at the end of the half but they lacked a killer touch against some full-blooded defending — Montiel even finished the game with his white sock soaked in blood.
When Brazil substitute Gabriel Barbosa fired a volley on target, Martinez was equal to it.
Messi slipped embarrassingly late on with a chance to clinch victory but it mattered little as moments later his teammates were tossing him in the air to celebrate their win.
Argentina superstar Lionel Messi scored a stunning freekick but Chile hit back to earn a 1-1 draw in the Copa America on Monday.
Messi’s magical left foot gave dominant Argentina a deserved first-half lead but Eduardo Vargas equalized in the second half after Argentina goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez saved veteran midfielder Arturo Vidal’s penalty.
Despite Argentina’s dominance, Messi lamented that “we weren’t calm, we didn’t have control of the ball.”
His coach Lionel Scaloni saw things differently, though.
“We deserved to win but in the end we drew. In any case, it’s only the start of a very tough tournament,” said Scaloni.
Before the Group A game started in the Nelson Santos stadium in Rio de Janeiro, there was a light and effects tribute to Argentina legend Diego Maradona, who died in November aged 60, although the ground was empty due to coronavirus restrictions.
The first chance fell to Messi on eight minutes as Leandro Paredes picked out Nicolas Tagliafico on the left and the fullback nodded the ball down for his captain, who sent a volley wide.
Minutes later, Giovani Lo Celso crossed from the left but a sliding Lautaro Martinez could only spoon the ball over the bar from inside the six-yard box.
Argentina were in total command and Lo Celso picked out Nicolas Gonzalez to shoot from 20 yards but goalkeeper Claudio Bravo got down well to his right to tip the ball around the post.
From Messi’s corner Gonzalez headed over the bar and moments later he was released by Lo Celos but shot straight at Bravo.
It would be a frustrating night for Gonzalez.
Argentina got the goal their domination deserved on 33 minutes, and inevitably it was Messi who scored, curling a free-kick from 25 yards out just beyond Bravo’s dive.
They should have had a second soon afterwards but teed up by Gonzalo Montiel 10 yards out, Martinez screwed his shot horribly wide.
“I would be worried if the team wasn’t creating chances. The important thing is we are, we’re getting lots of players in the box. And it will go in,” said Scaloni.
– ‘Defiant’ Chileans – Chile started the second half with more intent and Erick Pulgar played Vargas into the area but his shot on the stretch was saved by Martinez.
However, Vidal stormed in to try to fire home the rebound and was caught by Tagliafico as he shot.
Referee Wilmar Roldan consulted VAR and then awarded a penalty.
Martinez tipped Vidal’s effort onto the crossbar but Vargas was quickest to the ball to head home the equalizer.
Argentina were soon back on the attack but Chile centre-back Gary Medel blocked a volley from Gonzalez, who later headed over from a Messi free-kick.
Twenty minutes from time, Messi created space in the box but Bravo was down well to save his low shot.
Gonzalez’s night to forget would get worse 10 minutes from time when he ran onto a perfect chipped pass from Messi but headed over from just seven yards out when it looked easier to score.
It was his last involvement as he was substituted before Bravo took the goalkick.
Argentina kept pushing but Messi headed over the bar in injury time as Chile held on for a point.
“This team didn’t want to be beaten, even though they didn’t play well. This group of players are defiant,” said Chile coach Martin Lasarte.
Angel Romero scored twice as Paraguay bounced back to beat 10-man Bolivia 3-1 in Goiania and top Group A.
Erwin Saavedra gave Bolivia the lead from the penalty spot on 10 minutes after a long VAR review.
Paraguay dominated throughout but the game changed deep into first half stoppage time when Bolivia’s Jaume Cuellar was sent off for a second booking.
Alejandro Romero Gamarra restored parity just past the hour mark and Romero put Paraguay in front three minutes later.
Romero sealed the win 10 minutes from time as Paraguay enjoyed almost 80 percent possession and had more than 30 shots.
The Copa was due to take place last year but was delayed by 12 months due to the coronavirus.
It was also switched from original hosts Argentina and Colombia to Brazil at the 11th hour due to the pandemic situation in the former and social unrest in the latter.
Brazil’s health ministry issued a statement on Monday saying 31 members of the playing delegations, including players and staff, tested positive for the coronavirus on Sunday, without giving further details.
Argentina’s hosting of the Copa America football tournament has been suspended “in view of the current circumstances,” CONMEBOL said on Sunday, as the country endures a record coronavirus surge.
The South American football body, which last week stripped Colombia of co-hosting duties over deadly unrest, said it was considering other offers to hold the tournament.
“CONMEBOL informs that in view of the current circumstances it has decided to suspend the organization of the Copa America in Argentina,” the governing body tweeted.
“CONMEBOL is evaluating the offer of other countries that showed interest in hosting the continental tournament.”
The Copa America was originally due to take place last year, but was postponed for 12 months because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Officials are expected to meet on Monday to decide on the next move for hosting the tournament.
An Argentine poll published on Friday found that most respondents were against holding the tournament as the country experiences its worst phase of the pandemic so far.
Less than two weeks before Copa America’s scheduled start, Argentina is under a nine-day lockdown and experiencing record daily infections.
The Fernandez administration was hoping that the lockdown that began on May 22 would flatten the curve of infections ahead of the sports event.
Argentina had presented its “strict protocol” to CONMEBOL to host the tournament in its entirety, which involved preparing additional stadiums.
On May 20 CONMEBOL rejected a plea by Colombia to further delay the June 13-July 10 tournament following a wave of protests and social unrest, coupled with an upsurge in Covid-19 cases.
It left Argentina as the sole host, but a survey conducted by pollsters Poliarquia among a representative sample of 1,274 city-dwelling adults, found that 70 percent believe the country should withdraw.
Only 20 percent believed the championship should continue on Argentine soil, and 10 percent were undecided.
Argentina’s President Alberto Fernandez, who has been vaccinated against COVID-19, announced late Friday that he had tested positive for the coronavirus.
“At the end of today, after presenting a fever of 37.3 and a slight headache, I performed an antigen test, which was positive,” he tweeted, adding he was waiting for the results of a PCR test to confirm the diagnosis.
The president, who turned 62 on Friday, was in isolation as a precaution but said he was “physically well.”
“Although I would have liked to end my birthday without this news, I am also in good spirits,” he said.
Fernandez was inoculated with the Russian Sputnik V vaccine and had his second shot on February 11, sources in the presidency told AFP.
Argentina is facing a second wave of coronavirus with a sustained rise in cases.
The South American country of 44 million inhabitants has recorded more than 2.3 million infections and over 55,000 deaths from COVID19.
On Monday, the government released a list of 70 people who received the vaccine outside of the official campaign, which included the 38-year-old economy minister and former president Eduardo Duhalde, his wife and their children.
On the railings in front of the Casa Rosada, the seat of the government and the president’s office, protesters hung mock black body bags with the names of pro-government leaders vaccinated.
President Alberto Fernandez condemned their actions.
“The way to demonstrate in a democracy cannot be to display mortuary bags with names of political leaders in front of the Casa Rosada,” he tweeted.
“This regrettable action only shows how many opponents see the Republic. Let us not be silent before such an act of barbarism.”
The demonstrations took place without incident apart from some friction between protesters and union activists in front of the president’s official residence.
Protesters also rallied in other cities including Cordoba, Rosario and and Mar del Plata.
With a population of 44 million, Argentina has registered more than two million infections and about 52,000 deaths from coronavirus.
One million people have already been inoculated, according to the government.
Argentina has received 1.22 million doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine, around 580,000 doses from Covishield, from India’s Serum Institute, and 904,000 shots from China’s Sinopharm.
Argentina Wednesday became one of only a handful of South American nations to legalize abortion, after hours of debate in the Senate.
Hundreds of thousands of illegal abortions are carried out every year in the nation of 44 million, and pro-choice campaigners have long-urged authorities to put an end to dangerous backstreet terminations by legalizing the process.
“It becomes law,” said Senate president Cristina Kirchner, after more than twelve hours of debate.
Thousands of pro-choice activists cheered in the streets of the capital after the bill was approved 38 to 29, with one abstention.
It legalizes voluntary abortions at any stage up to 14 weeks of pregnancy.
Ahead of the vote, pro-choice and anti-abortion demonstrators had gathered outside parliament despite coronavirus fears.
“This fight was born in the streets,” Silvia Saravia, a pro-choice activist, told AFP.
The vote overturns a similar one in 2018 which, although also passed the lower house, ultimately foundered in the Senate by 38 votes to 31.
South America has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world. In Argentina, terminations were allowed in only two instances: rape, and danger to the mother’s life.
– ‘Legislate for everyone’ – The bill was proposed by President Alberto Fernandez and passed the Chamber of Deputies on December 11, despite fierce opposition from the Catholic Church and evangelical Christians.
“I’m Catholic but I have to legislate for everyone. Every year around 38,000 women are taken to hospital due to (clandestine) abortions and since the restoration of democracy (in 1983) more than 3,000 have died,” said Fernandez.
“The interruption of a pregnancy is a tragedy. It abruptly ends another developing life,” said Ines Blas, a senator from the ruling coalition.
A polarized Senate will decide Tuesday whether to legalize abortion in Argentina in a vote experts say could go either way.
The bill proposed by President Alberto Fernandez already passed the Chamber of Deputies on December 11, despite fierce opposition from the Catholic Church and evangelical Christians.
“I’m Catholic but I have to legislate for everyone. Every year around 38,000 women are taken to hospital due to (clandestine) abortions and since the restoration of democracy (in 1983) more than 3,000 have died of this,” said Fernandez.
The government says there are between 370,000 and 520,000 illegal abortions a year in Argentina, a country of 44 million.
A similar bill two years ago also passed the lower house but then floundered in the Senate.
This bill aims to legalize voluntary abortions at up to 14 weeks. Terminations are currently only allowed in two cases: rape and danger to the mother’s life.
Tuesday’s debate will begin at 4:00 pm (1900 GMT), but the vote is not expected until sometime during the night.
Despite measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, both pro- and anti-abortion supporters plan to demonstrate in front of parliament.
Religious leaders from the Catholic Church and Christian Alliance of Evangelical Churches have called for their supporters “to unite to implore for respect and care for unborn life.”
“God is the one who decides the time of birth and the time of death, and prohibits humanity from getting involved in this territory,” the Christian leaders said.
The time is now
The vote is expected to be razor-thin, despite the governing alliance led by Fernandez making up 41 of the 72 Senate seats.
Not everyone in that alliance supports the bill, while the right-wing neo-liberal opposition is mostly opposed to it.
“In the Senate there are many votes that haven’t yet been decided. They will only be known at the end,” said Nancy Gonzalez, a senator with the governing coalition.
The result could be affected by the absence of two anti-abortion senators.
One will be missing after being accused of sexual assault, while former president Carlos Menem, who is 90, is currently in hospital receiving treatment for heart and kidney pains.
Should the vote result in a tie, the deciding lot would fall to Senate President Cristina Kirchner, the country’s ex-president and current vice-president who two years ago changed her stance from anti-abortion to pro-choice.
“This is the moment to finally approve the (abortion) law. Enough of the strategy of criminalization, stigmatization and curtailment of freedoms historically inflicted on pregnant women,” Fabiola Heredia, the director of the Anthropological Museum at the University of Cordoba, wrote on social media.
Pro-choice activists have campaigned for years to change the abortion laws that date from 1921, adopting a green scarf as their symbol.
They will be out in force on Tuesday, standing face-to-face with anti-abortion supporters brandishing light blue scarves.
“We’re going to be in the streets because we’re going to have a party. But the Senate is impervious to the street, the decision will be made on the other side” of the parliament walls, said Maria Florencia Alcaraz, who has written a book about the fight to legalize abortion in Argentina.
Help from the Virgin Mary
Progress has always been slow in Argentina: divorce was legalized only in 1987, sex education introduced in 2006, gay marriage approved in 2010 and a gender identity law passed in 2012.
The Catholic Church is fighting this issue all the way. On Saturday, Archbishop Oscar Ojea prayed to the Virgin Mary at the Lujan Basilica in Buenos Aires for help in preventing the law from passing.
“Blessed Virgin, pause your gaze on our legislators who must decide on an extremely sensitive issue, so that they may reflect with their minds and hearts,” said Ojea at the mass.
In Latin America, abortion is only legal in Cuba, Uruguay and Guyana, as well as Mexico City.
In El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua, it is totally banned, and women can be sentenced to jail even for having a miscarriage.
President Alberto Fernandez said Thursday he would be the first person in Argentina to be injected with Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine in order to dispel public fears.
“I will be the first to be vaccinated so that no one need be afraid,” Fernandez told a press conference in Buenos Aires, where he announced the purchase from Russia of enough vaccines for 10 million people.
The president sought to calm fears over mass coronavirus vaccinations and the Russian vaccine in particular.
Fernandez said he would receive his dose once the vaccine is approved by Argentina’s National Administration of Drugs, Food and Medical Technology.
“We will have enough doses to vaccinate 10 million Argentines,” Fernandez said.
A first shipment of 600,000 doses will be used to inoculate 300,000 people — two doses per person — before the end of the year, he said.
In January, doses for a further 5 million people are expected, with the remainder of the inoculations needed for a total of 10 million arriving in February, the president said.
The Sputnik vaccine’s developers say it is 95 percent effective based on interim trial results. However, it’s yet to complete its third and final phase of trials involving some 40,000 volunteers.
Diego Maradona’s personal doctor was on Sunday being investigated for involuntary manslaughter four days after the Argentina legend suffered a fatal heart attack, prosecutors in San Isidro near Buenos Aires reported.
Police raided Leopoldo Luque’s surgery and home in search of possible evidence pointing to negligence, according to television images.
The probe was triggered by concerns raised by three of Maradona’s daughters Dalma, Gianinna and Jana over the treatment he received for his heart condition at his home in Tigre, north of Buenos Aires, judicial sources said.
“Our investigations are ongoing, we are talking to witnesses including members of the family” of Maradona, a source close to the San Isidro inquiry said.
Luque, who declined to comment when contacted by AFP, had posted a photograph of himself with Maradona on the day the 60-year-old left hospital on November 12, eight days after surgery to remove a blood clot on his brain.
Maradona returned home to Tigre where he received round-the-clock medical care and could remain close to his daughters.
He died of a heart attack on Wednesday and was buried on Thursday at the Jardin de Paz cemetery on the outskirts of the Argentine capital.
“The clinic had recommended that he go elsewhere to be hospitalised, but the family decided otherwise. His daughters signed for him to be discharged from the hospital,” said a family member, on the condition of anonymity.
Maradona’s lawyer, Matias Morla, had called for an investigation into claims that ambulances took more than half an hour to reach the football star’s house in response to an emergency call on the day of his death.
No complaint has yet been filed. “The case was initiated because he is a person who died at home and no one signed his death certificate. It does not mean there are suspicions or irregularities,” a judicial source said, requesting to remain anonymous.
A preliminary autopsy report established that Maradona died in his sleep at noon on Wednesday of “acute lung edema and chronic heart failure.”
The prosecutor’s office is awaiting the results of toxicological tests on Maradona’s body. The three prosecutors working on the case have requested his medical records, as well as recordings from neighborhood security cameras.
Three funeral home workers provoked outrage for posing for photos next to Maradona’s open coffin, smiling with their thumbs up, as it lay at the presidential palace ahead of his burial. One of the men has since apologised.
Maradona’s last public appearance came four weeks ago for his 60th birthday celebration at the stadium of Gimnasia y Esgrima La Plata, the club he was coaching before his death.
The first games in Argentina’s Primera Division since the death of Diego Maradona kicked off Saturday amid tears and memories, with the club he last coached notching up a victory in tribute to the footballing genius.
Players from Racing and Union de Santa Fe entered the pitch at Avellaneda wearing national jerseys with Maradona’s number 10 on the back.
They warmed up to the sound of “Life is Life” — a song made wildly popular by an accompanying video of the Argentine great performing feats of magic with the ball.
Standing around the centre circle, they marked the legend’s passing with a minute’s applause.
A kite in the Argentine colours was released, in reference to the “Cosmic Kite” moniker given to the diminutive playmaker by commentator Victor Morales after his “Hand of God” goal against England in the 1986 World Cup.
“He is a great one, it goes without saying,” said Racing midfielder Walter Montoya, unable to hold back tears during the tribute.
“There is no need to say anything else, all words are futile.”
Maradona’s last public appearance came four weeks ago for his 60th birthday celebration at the stadium of Gimnasia y Esgrima, the club he was coaching before he underwent an operation to remove a clot on his brain.
He died in his sleep on Wednesday aged just 60, plunging his South American homeland and football globally into mourning.
Gimnasia paid their own tribute to the star with a 1-0 victory over Velez in Buenos Aires in a later Saturday fixture.
Several Gimnasia players coached by the legend were also on the verge of tears before kickoff.
“It was crazy to play, because we are still reeling from this blow,” midfielder Victor Ayala said after the match.
“But we did what Diego taught us… For us, he was like a father, calling us whenever we needed something… From up there, he must be proud of this team.”