Messi Generates More Than He Earns, Barca Presidential Candidates Insist

File photo: Barcelona’s Argentine forward Lionel Messi celebrates after scoring a goal during the Spanish league football match between Real Valladolid FC and FC Barcelona at the Jose Zorilla stadium in Valladolid on December 22, 2020. Cesar Manso / AFP

 

Two of the candidates in Barcelona’s presidential election, Joan Laporta and Victor Font, insisted on Monday that Lionel Messi “generates more” than he earns, after his “colossal” club contract was published in a Spanish newspaper. 

“Leo generates much more income than the money he costs,” Joan Laporta, who is seeking to regain the presidency, told Rac1 radio.

“We have done a study and he generates a third of Barca’s total income.”

“It’s not only the economic return,” Laporta said. “But also the emotional and sporting return, and the vivid moments he gives us.”

Messi is in the last year of his contract.

READ ALSO: Liverpool Expected To Boost Defensive Options On Transfer Deadline Day

On Sunday, under the headline “the colossal contract that ruins Barcelona”, El Mundo published details of the current deal, signed in 2017. It said Messi could have earned 555 million euros ($674 million) by the time the deal expires.

Barcelona responded by saying it was not the source of the leak and it planned to sue El Mundo. The club did not, however, contradict the details.

 

File photo: Barcelona’s Argentinian forward Lionel Messi reacts after Bayern Munich’s second goal during the UEFA Champions League quarter-final football match between Barcelona and Bayern Munich at the Luz stadium in Lisbon on August 14, 2020. (Photo by Manu Fernandez / POOL / AFP)

 

Laporta is one of three candidates for the election on March 7. One of his rivals, Font, spoke on Onda Cero radio.

“To imply that Barca is ruined because of Messi is an absolutely erroneous conclusion,” he said.

Both candidates condemned the “leak” to the Madrid newspaper and both promised they would do everything to keep Messi at Barca.

“We have to do everything possible to keep Messi, in 2017 and today too,” said Font.

Laporta, the president when Messi first broke into the Barcelona team, agreed.

“I will do everything possible to keep Messi at Barca. I have had signals that he is happy in Barcelona, that he wants to stay.”

AFP

Messi Sees Red As Bilbao Stun Barca To Win Spanish Super Cup

Barcelona’s Argentinian forward Lionel Messi leaves the pitch after being presented a red card during the Spanish Super Cup final football match between FC Barcelona and Athletic Club Bilbao at La Cartuja stadium in Seville on January 17, 2021.
CRISTINA QUICLER / AFP

 

Lionel Messi was sent off for the first time playing for Barcelona as Athletic Bilbao stunned the Catalans to win the Spanish Super Cup on Sunday, a dramatic final finishing 3-2 after extra-time.

Moments before Bilbao’s momentous triumph was confirmed, Messi threw an arm at Asier Villalibre, who had earlier scored a 90th-minute equaliser in normal time to deny Barca victory.

Antoine Griezmann’s double looked to have sealed the trophy but Villalibre intervened before Inaki Williams’ fabulous strike three minutes into extra time proved decisive.

Messi shook off a thigh problem to start in Seville and was required to play all 120 minutes as Barcelona attempted to take the game to penalties.

Instead, the 33-year-old lost his temper at the end of a combative contest, reacting to a late challenge from Villalibre by swiping his hands across the back of his opponent.

It meant a first ever red card for Messi in 753 appearances for Barcelona, to go with his two reds for Argentina in 2005 and 2019.

“After so many years in football, Leo knows perfectly well when he is fit to play,” said  Barca coach Ronald Koeman.

“We talked and he said he was in a good place to start. He has survived the game, given the maximum, nothing more.”

Messi’s anger will take some of the limelight away from Bilbao, who had already denied the competition a Clasico final by beating Real Madrid in the semi on Thursday and now have completed the set.

It means a title and the perfect start for Marcelino Garcia Toral, who only took over as coach less than two weeks ago.

But there was praise too for his predecessor Gaizka Garitano, who oversaw this team reaching the Copa del Rey final last season, which earned qualification in the first place.

“This is for Gaizka Garitano and his coaching staff as well who brought us here,” said Williams.

Organisers at the Spanish Football Federation might have hoped for the global attraction of a Clasico, especially as the coronavirus pandemic had already kept the tournament in Spain rather than the lucrative Saudi Arabia, where it was played last year.

Yet this was a frantic final, with a hugely surprising result.

Barca arrived on the back of a nine-game unbeaten run and a trophy, even a minor one, would have turned encouraging signs in recent weeks into more tangible evidence of a revival under Koeman.

“It is not a step back,” he said “Always winning titles is helpful to show that we are on the right track, but it is only one game, it is a Super Cup, and we will show in the next few games that we are on the right track.”

Bilbao were the better side in the first half, more decisive in possession and more aggressive out of it. But both teams created little for 40 minutes and then in two minutes both had scored.

A brilliant pass created each of them, Messi the instigator for Barca.

He collected from the right and threaded through for Jordi Alba on the left, whose cut-back was intended for the Argentinian but spilled out to Griezmann, who could not miss.

Marcelino hurled his water bottle to the ground in disgust but his team were soon level.

Williams played the pass, his clipped ball over the top catching Alba off-guard, with Oscar De Marcos sneaking in and half-volleying home.

Raul Garcia thought he had his third goal in four days when he headed in just before the hour but Barca survived.

With 10 minutes left, Griezmann struck again, Alba’s cross evading the Bilbao defence and finding the Frenchman, who steered in at the front post for what looked like the winner.

Instead, Bilbao scored in the 90th minute to send the game to extra-time and then the 93rd to lead for the first time.

Villalibre was allowed to volley in from close range but there was little Barca could do about Williams’ effort, the striker cutting inside from the left and whipping a tremendous shot into the top right-hand corner.

Unai Nunez might have sealed it but failed to connect. Griezmann almost rescued it but fired high on the volley with his right foot.

Then Villalibre left a shoulder in on Messi, who reacted, scuttling after his opponent and swinging an arm around the back of his head. Messi and Barca were beaten.

-AFP

Messi Breaks Pele’s Record As Top Scorer At A Single Club

Barcelona’s Argentine forward Lionel Messi celebrates after scoring a goal during the Spanish league football match between Real Valladolid FC and FC Barcelona at the Jose Zorilla stadium in Valladolid on December 22, 2020. Cesar Manso / AFP

 

Lionel Messi beat Pele’s record of goals for a single club when he scored his 644th for Barcelona in a 3-0 victory against Valladolid on Tuesday.

The Argentina forward scored Barca’s third goal when he collected Pedri’s backheel and struck the ball past goalkeeper Jordi Masip in the 65th minute.

“When I started playing football I never thought I would break any records. And even less the one I achieved today,” Messi posted on Instagram shortly after the game.

“I can only thank all those who helped me over the years, my teammates, my family, my friends and all those who support me every day.”

Barcelona’s Argentine forward Lionel Messi (L) celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal during the Spanish league football match between Real Valladolid FC and FC Barcelona at the Jose Zorilla stadium in Valladolid on December 22, 2020. Cesar Manso / AFP

 

Messi had equalled Pele on Saturday in a 2-2 draw with Valencia.

The two men scored at almost an equal rate for their clubs.

READ ALSO: Neymar Set For PSG Return In January

It was the 33-year-old Argentine’s 749th competitive match for Barca, meaning he has scored a goal every 1.16 games.

The Brazilian scored 643 goals in 757 matches with Santos, where he played between 1956 and 1974, or one every 1.17 matches.

“Like you, I know what it’s like to love wearing the same shirt every day. Like you, I know that there is nothing better than the place we feel at home,” Pele wrote to Messi on Instagram after the Argentine tied the record.

“Congratulations on your historic record, Lionel. But above all, congratulations on your beautiful career at Barcelona. Stories like ours, of loving the same club for so long, unfortunately will be increasingly rare in football. I admire you very much.”

Messi, a six-time Ballon d’Or winner, is by far the highest scorer in Barca history (Cesar Rodriguez is next on 230 goals), the highest scorer in the history of the Spanish league championship (451 goals, ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo’s 311), and the player who has won the most trophies with the Catalan club (34, including four Champions Leagues).

“I see Messi happy. He is working hard, and he is a very important part of our attacking game,” said Koeman after the win.

Pele claims to have scored more than a thousand goals, counting all the matches he played, official and unofficial.

But in competitive matches Pele appears to be second to Austrian and Czechoslovakian striker Josef Bican, who football historians have calculated scored 805 goals between 1931 and 1955 playing for half a dozen clubs and three national teams.

Pele, with between 757 and 767 goals in competitive matches over his career, which also include 92 Brazil internationals and two seasons with the New York Cosmos, is ahead of Messi with 714 for club and country and the more travelled Cristiano Ronaldo (754).

Pele still holds the record for most international goals by a South American with 77 for Brazil but Messi has 71 for Argentina.

AFP

Lewandowski Hopes To Break Messi, Ronaldo Monopoly As World’s ‘Best’

Bayern Munich's Polish forward Robert Lewandowski celebrates the 3-0 during the German first division Bundesliga football match FC Bayern Munich v Fortuna Duesseldorf on May 30, 2020 in Munich, southern Germany. Christof STACHE / AFP / POOL
File photo: Bayern Munich’s Polish forward Robert Lewandowski celebrates the 3-0 during the German first division Bundesliga football match FC Bayern Munich v Fortuna Duesseldorf on May 30, 2020 in Munich, southern Germany. Christof STACHE / AFP / POOL

 

Robert Lewandowski is confident of being named FIFA’s best male footballer on Thursday on the strength of his 55-goal haul to help Bayern Munich win the treble last season.

The Poland striker, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are shortlisted in the men’s category for FIFA’s ‘The Best’ awards.

“We were the best, there’s no doubt about that,” Lewandowski said on Wednesday ahead of the online ceremony at FIFA headquarters in Zurich.

After a season “when you’ve scored a lot of goals and won everything, I don’t think there’s anyone I can compare myself to,” the 32-year-old added confidently.

His goals helped Bayern lift the Bundesliga, German Cup and Champions League trophies in 2019/20 as top-scorer in all three competitions.

Lewandowski has already been named the footballer of the year for Germany and Europe.

READ ALSOWHO Urges Use Of Masks During Christmas Celebration

Croatia’s Luka Modric, voted ‘The Best’ FIFA men’s footballer in 2018, is the only player to have broken Ronaldo and Messi’s domination since 2008.

Ronaldo has been voted player of the year five times, one less than Messi.

Can the Poland striker – who team-mate Thomas Mueller has dubbed ‘LewanGOALski’ – break the mould?

“There’s no one who deserves it as much as Robert,” said Bayern boss Hansi Flick, who is shortlisted for coach of the year alongside Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp and Leeds boss Marcelo Bielsa.

A file photo combination of Lewandowski, Messi and Ronaldo.

 

Bayern captain Manuel Neuer – who along with Jan Oblak and Alisson Becker is up for the best male goalkeeper award – says Lewandowski is “unique”.

“I’m really happy to have him in my team – and not to have to play against him,” Neuer quipped.

The various category winners will be decided by the votes of the captains and head coaches of all the national teams, plus more than 200 media representatives, while fans can also vote.

England’s Lucy Bronze, Pernille Harder of Chelsea and French defender Wendie Renard are in the running for the women’s award.

However, Bayern players are only too aware of the dangers of getting their hopes up.

Former Munich winger Franck Ribery was crestfallen in 2013 – when Bayern also won the treble – to have been voted third behind Ronaldo and Messi.

A year later, Neuer had to settle for third behind the superstars despite outstanding displays to help Germany win the 2014 World Cup.

Lewandowski scored in Bayern’s 8-2 thrashing of Barcelona in the quarter-finals of the Champions League in August with Messi on the losing team.

A footballer from a Bundesliga club has never been voted as the world’s best player.

Lothar Matthaeus, the only German voted FIFA world player of the year, was at Inter Milan when he achieved the feat in 1991.

Lewandowski would not be surprised if Messi wins it again on Thursday, adding: “we’ll have to wait 100 years until someone like him is born again”.

AFP

Messi’s Barcelona Crumble Before Cadiz For Fourth La Liga Defeat

Barcelona's Argentinian forward Lionel Messi reacts during the Spanish League football match between Cadiz and Barcelona at the Ramon de Carranza stadium in Cadiz on December 5, 2020. JORGE GUERRERO / AFP
Barcelona’s Argentinian forward Lionel Messi reacts during the Spanish League football match between Cadiz and Barcelona at the Ramon de Carranza stadium in Cadiz on December 5, 2020.
JORGE GUERRERO / AFP

 

Lionel Messi’s Barcelona suffered a fourth defeat in La Liga this term with Saturday’s 2-1 loss at promoted Cadiz.

Alvaro Gimenez and Alvaro Negredo scored for the hosts either side of Pedro Alcala’s own goal, leaving Ronald Koeman’s side in seventh place, 12 points off league leaders Atletico Madrid

Meanwhile, Real Sociedad were unable to regain first place in La Liga on Sunday night when they were held to a goalless draw at Basque rivals Alaves.

Deprived of injured captain Mikel Oyarzabal, top scorer in La Liga with seven goals, Sociedad were unable to breach the home defence.

The draw dropped them one point behind Atletico, who on Saturday beat Valladolid 2-0 for a seventh straight Liga victory.

Earlier on Sunday, Villarreal also lost ground with a 0-0 draw at home to Elche. Villarreal regained third place but fell five points behind Diego Simeone’s league leaders.

Sociedad and Villarreal have both played two games more than Atletico and one more than fourth-placed Real Madrid.

Real Madrid reversed a recent slide with a 1-0 victory at Sevilla on Saturday.

 

AFP

 

 

I Would Have Sold Messi This Summer – Interim Barca President

In this file photo taken on November 24, 2018 Barcelona's Argentinian forward Lionel Messi reacts during the Spanish league football match between Club Atletico de Madrid and FC Barcelona at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium in Madrid. JAVIER SORIANO / AFP
In this file photo taken on November 24, 2018 Barcelona’s Argentinian forward Lionel Messi reacts during the Spanish league football match between Club Atletico de Madrid and FC Barcelona at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium in Madrid. JAVIER SORIANO / AFP

 

Interim Barcelona president Carles Tusquets said Thursday he would have sold Argentine star Lionel Messi in the summer.

Messi made an attempt to leave Barcelona this summer before backing down. He can talk to other clubs in January and leave for free when his contract expires in June, with Manchester City expected to make a renewed attempt to lure the 33-year-old away from Camp Nou.

“From an economic point of view, I would have sold Messi this summer. Economically, that would have been desirable,” Tusquets told Catalan radio Rac1.

“La Liga imposes salary caps and that would have helped us,” Tusquets said when asked what a potential transfer would have offered.

Tusquets, who took over as interim president after the resignation of Josep Maria Bartomeu in October, all but ruled out a return of Neymar to Barcelona from Paris Saint-Germain.

 

messi-
File photo: Barcelona’s Argentine forward Lionel Messi looks downwards during the Spanish League football match between FC Barcelona and CA Osasuna at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on July 16, 2020. LLUIS GENE / AFP

 

“If he comes as a free agent, that could work, but if we don’t sell, we won’t be able to recruit. It won’t be possible, unless the next president (who will be elected on January 24) has a miracle in his hands,” said Tusquets.

Barca’s financial status, Tusquets added, was “worrying, very bad, but with hope”.

“We will not be able to pay salaries in January,” he said.

“In January, the players will not be paid, but it’s not serious. The players have two big paydays, in January and July. That has been delayed, as have title bonuses.”

AFP

‘I Want To Play With Messi Again’, Says Neymar

Paris Saint-Germain's Brazilian forward Neymar celebrates after he scores his team's third goal during the UEFA Champions League group H football match between Manchester United and Paris Saint Germain at Old Trafford in Manchester, north west England, on December 2, 2020. Oli SCARFF / AFP
Paris Saint-Germain’s Brazilian forward Neymar celebrates after he scores his team’s third goal during the UEFA Champions League group H football match between Manchester United and Paris Saint Germain at Old Trafford in Manchester, north west England, on December 2, 2020. Oli SCARFF / AFP

 

Neymar dropped a bombshell on Wednesday as he followed up scoring twice for Paris Saint-Germain in their 3-1 Champions League win over Manchester United by revealing his desire to reunite with Lionel Messi next season.

The Brazilian enjoyed four successful seasons alongside the six-time Ballon d’Or winner at Barcelona before making a world record 222 million euro ($264m) move to the French capital in 2017.

“It’s what I most want, to enjoy being with him on the field again,” Neymar, whose contract at PSG runs until 2022, told ESPN.

“I want to play with him for sure, next year we have to do it.”

Neymar was heavily linked with a return to Barcelona in 2019, but the Catalan giants were unable to fund an acceptable offer for PSG.

Barca have had to agree salary cuts worth 122 million euros in players’ salaries this season to help offset the financial hole left by the coronavirus pandemic and are highly unlikely to be in a position to bring Neymar back next year.

Instead, it is Messi who could be on the move as the Argentine is out of contract at the end of the season and publicly expressed his desire to leave in August.

Then Barca president Josep Maria Bartomeu would not free Messi from the final year of his deal at the Camp Nou, but Bartomeu has since resigned with new presidential elections scheduled for January 24.

Manchester City were the favourites to land Messi’s signature earlier this year, but PSG could be an alternative for a player who will turn 34 at the end of this season.

“He can play in my position, there is no problem,” Neymar joked. “Take me out.”

Neymar’s partnership with Kylian Mbappe is yet to deliver PSG’s first ever Champions League title, but the French champions should have another shot in this season’s knockout stages after a vital victory in Manchester.

Thomas Tuchel’s men are now level on points with United and RB Leipzig with one game in Group H to come.

But PSG are in the driving seat as they host already-eliminated Istanbul Basaksehir next week, while United travel to Germany needing a point to reach the last 16.

 

AFP

Messi Rested For Barcelona’s Trip To Hungary

Barcelona’s Argentinian forward Lionel Messi smiles during a friendly football match between FC Barcelona and Nastic at the Johan Cruyff stadium in Sant Joan Despi, near Barcelona, on September 12, 2020. (Photo by Pau BARRENA / AFP)

 

Lionel Messi will be given a timely rest by coach Ronald Koeman as Barcelona travel to Hungary for a Champions League match at Ferencvaros on Wednesday with their tickets already booked for the next round.

Barcelona top Group G on 12 points from four games, but are wallowing in seventh in the Spanish Liga a daunting 10 points behind leaders Real Sociedad.

Barcelona’s struggling coach Ronald Koeman said the match in Hungary was an excellent opportunity to rest stars and give a run out to lesser lights.

“We wouldn’t normally do this, but with the calendar being what it is this year there are only a few opportunities to rest people and tomorrow is one of them,” said the Dutchman.

Goalkeeper Marc-Andre Ter Stegen and Brazilian midfielder Coutinho will also sit out the match to be fresh for domestic duties.

“Saturday’s match (against Cadiz) is an important one for our progress in the league, and after tomorrow, there will be few opportunities to rest for anyone,” Koeman said.

Messi “is key for our attack, if the ball reaches him, there is movement, there is a lot of quality in his passes,” Koeman said.

“At the beginning of the season, he struggled a bit more and this might not be a 30 goal season.

“But he is working well, he is still a very important and decisive player in our attack. Leo is a player who always wants to play.”

Barcelona’s backup forward Martin Braithwaite could start on Wednesday after scoring three times in his last two matches.

-AFP

FIFA Awards 2020: Lewandowski Joins Messi, Ronaldo On Ten Man Shortlist

 

European player of the year Robert Lewandowski is one of 10 players on the shortlist for the Best FIFA Men’s Player award unveiled Wednesday, alongside the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Neymar, and Kylian Mbappe.

Besides Polish striker Lewandowski, one other winner of the Champions League with Bayern Munich made the list, Spanish midfielder Thiago Alcantara, who joined Liverpool in September.

The English champions also count Senegal’s Sadio Mane, Egyptian Mohamed Salah and Dutchman Virgil van Dijk on the shortlist.

Paris Saint-Germain, beaten Champions League finalists, are represented by Mbappe and Neymar.

Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne and Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos complete the list.

Argentinian coach Marcelo Bielsa, who led Leeds into the English Premier League, headlines a list for the men’s coach award, which also features Bayern’s Hans-Dieter Flick, Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp, Sevilla’s Julen Lopetegui and Real Madrid’s Zinedine Zidane.

 

READ ALSO: Ibrahimovic Hints At Possible Sweden National Team Return

 

Three finalists from categories also including men and women’s goalkeepers, and women’s players and coaches will be announced on December 11, with the award handed out on December 17.

Shortlists for Best FIFA awards

Men: Thiago Alcantara (ESP/Bayern Munchen/Liverpool), Cristiano Ronaldo (POR/Juventus), Kevin De Bruyne (BEL/Manchester City), Robert Lewandowski (POL/Bayern Munich), Sadio Mane (SEN/Liverpool), Kylian Mbappe (FRA/Paris Saint-Germain), Lionel Messi (ARG/Barcelona), Neymar (BRA/Paris Saint-Germain), Sergio Ramos (ESP/Real Madrid), Mohamed Salah (EGY/Liverpool), Virgil van Dijk (NED/Liverpool)

Women: Lucy Bronze (ENG/Lyon/Manchester City), Delphine Cascarino (FRA/Lyon), Caroline Graham Hansen (NOR/Barcelona), Pernille Harder (DEN/Wolfsburg/Chelsea), Jennifer Hermoso (ESP/Barcelona), Ji So-yun (KOR/Chelsea), Sam Kerr (AUS/Chelsea), Saki Kumagai (JPN/Lyon), Dzsenifer Marozsan (GER/Lyon), Vivianne Miedema (NED/Arsenal), Wendie Renard (FRA/Lyon)

-AFP

Messi Fires Argentina To WC Qualifying Win Over Ecuador

Argentina’s Lionel Messi (L) eludes Ecuador’s Angel Mena during their 2022 FIFA World Cup South American qualifier football match at La Bombonera stadium in Buenos Aires on October 8, 2020, amid the COVID-19 novel coronavirus pandemic. Marcelo Endelli / POOL / AFP

 

Lionel Messi put his Barcelona troubles behind him to fire Argentina to an opening 1-0 victory over Ecuador in World Cup qualifying on Thursday.

The 33-year-old great has been in open conflict with his club but it had no detrimental effect on his form as his 13th-minute penalty was the difference in a tight encounter.

The six-time Ballon d’Or winner unsuccessfully tried to force his way out of the Catalan giants in the close season but he seemed much happier in the light blue and white jersey of his country.

And Argentina needed him to be on top form in a bid to avoid slipping up at home to Ecuador for the second successive time in an opening World Cup qualifier having lost 2-0 to the same opponents four years ago.

Ecuador’s goalkeeper Alexander Dominguez (R) and Argentina’s Lionel Messi greet each other at the end of their 2022 FIFA World Cup South American qualifier football match at La Bombonera stadium in Buenos Aires on October 8, 2020, amid the COVID-19 novel coronavirus pandemic.
AGUSTIN MARCARIAN / POOL / AFP

 

In the surreal atmosphere of an empty Bombonera — the iconic stadium in Buenos Aires that is usually bouncing from the passion of fervent fans was left barren by coronavirus restrictions — Argentina never looked in danger of another shock defeat.

The hosts predictably dominated possession but struggled to break down an organized and physical Ecuador outfit that proved a different proposition to the one dispatched 6-1 in a friendly a year ago.

The breakthrough came after a reckless challenge by Pervis Estupinan sent Lucas Ocampo sprawling in the box, with Messi stepping up to lash home his 71st international goal.

Ocampos was presented with a glorious chance to double the lead early in the second half but goalkeeper Alexander Dominguez dived full length to keep out his low shot from eight yards.

Rodrigo De Paul fired narrowly wide for the hosts with the last kick of the match.

In Montevideo, Luis Suarez scored a record-extending 60th international goal for Uruguay before substitute Maxi Gomez bagged an injury-time winner against Chile.

Atletico Madrid forward Suarez opened the scoring from the penalty spot on 39 minutes after Sebastian Vegas was harshly penalized for handball.

Inter Milan’s Alexis Sanchez equalised with a low shot on 54 minutes but Gomez had the last word with a stunning half-volley from 20 yards to complete the 2-1 win.

It was honors even between Paraguay and Peru in Asuncion as Angel Romero for the hosts and Andre Carrillo both scored a brace.

AFP

My Goal Is To Win World Cup With Argentina – Messi

In this file photo taken on July 02, 2019, Argentina’s Lionel Messi strikes the ball during the Copa America football tournament semi-final match against Brazil at the Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. Pedro UGARTE / AFP

 

Superstar footballer Lionel Messi will take a break from his Barcelona soap opera as he bids to fire Argentina to the World Cup in Qatar and what will probably be his last chance to try to win the coveted trophy.

The 33-year-old, a record six-time winner of the Ballon d’Or, has won everything in the club game with Barcelona several times over but his international trophy cabinet looks bare in comparison.

“The only goal I have now is to win the World Cup with the national team,” he has said.

The closest he has come so far was as losing finalist against Germany in 2014.

Thursday’s clash with Ecuador gives him the chance to start building towards one last tilt at that goal.

He will be 35 by the time the Qatar World Cup ends, and will turn 39 during the following global showpiece in North America.

In the meantime, he has a pair of qualifiers — Argentina also travel to Bolivia next Tuesday — to distract him from his club travails.

Messi tried to force his exit from the Catalan giants in the close season but Barca held firm and a 700 million euro release clause ensured he remained, albeit disgruntled.

Playing Ecuador in his homeland may provide a welcome respite but it is also fraught with potential difficulty.

Four years ago at the start of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, Ecuador stunned Argentina 2-0 at River Plate’s iconic Monumental stadium in Buenos Aires.

It took a hat-trick by an inspired Messi in Argentina’s final qualifier — away to Ecuador — to send the twice world champions to Russia.

Thursday’s match will be in another iconic stadium: Boca Juniors’ Bombonera.

But it will be a surreal experience in an empty ground that would normally be bouncing with stands packed full of some of the most fervent and passionate fans in the world.

Covid-19 has put paid to any hopes of a paying public.

– ‘Memory’ players –
This is a much-changed Argentina from that which disappointed at the last World Cup.

Young coach Lionel Scaloni embarked on an ambitious regeneration of the squad following the abject exit from Russia under the tutelage of Jorge Sampaoli.

However, alongside Scaloni’s ‘new guard’ remain several old hats, like Messi.

“We can say that there are seven or eight “memory” players that are the foundation,” said Scaloni, pointing out that with “only one day of preparation” they would need the experienced heads to help the team hit the ground running.

He will be without the injured Manchester City forward Sergio Aguero, though, while Scaloni has left out Paris Saint-Germain winger Angel Di Maria.

“Messi needs two players ahead of him that he can assist, and sit deep, not at the tip. That’s how we got results at the Brazil 2019 Copa America,” added Scaloni in reference to Argentina’s third-place finish.

One player competing to lead the line is Sevilla’s Lucas Ocampos.

“He’s strong, technical and scores goals, and also helps in the defensive phase,” said Scaloni, who will have to also select between Paulo Dybala of Juventus and Inter Milan’s Lautaro Martinez.

– Cruyff’s successor –
It’s been a turbulent covid period for Ecuador, who will be led by Argentine Gustavo Alfaro after Dutchman Jordi Cruyff quit without ever leading the team.

Cruyff, the son of late Dutch legend Johan Cruyff, was hired in January but football was put into lockdown over covid-19 before he could take charge of his first match and he subsequently resigned in July with no restart date yet fixed.

Alfaro has coached 13 clubs in Argentina, winning the Copa Sudamericana with Arsenal in 2007, but this is the 58-year-old’s first job as a national team coach.

AFP

Messi Vs Ronaldo In Champions League Group stage, Man Utd To Face PSG

(COMBO) This combination created on October 1, 2020, shows file pictures of Barcelona's Argentine forward Lionel Messi (L) Juventus' Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo. Miguel MEDINA, Josep LAGO / AFP
(COMBO) This combination created on October 1, 2020, shows file pictures of Barcelona’s Argentine forward Lionel Messi (L) Juventus’ Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo. Miguel MEDINA, Josep LAGO / AFP

 

Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo will meet in a mouthwatering clash in this season’s Champions League after Barcelona and Juventus were placed in the same group in Thursday’s draw.

Messi and Ronaldo will resume the rivalry they developed when the Portuguese superstar was at Real Madrid. Between them, they have won 11 of the last 12 Ballons d’Or.

The two heavyweights were drawn in Group G along with Dynamo Kiev of Ukraine and Ferencvaros, the Hungarian club returning to the group stage for the first time in quarter of a century.

Meanwhile, beaten 2020 finalists Paris Saint-Germain will have a chance for revenge against Manchester United, who ousted the French club in the last 16 two seasons ago.

READ ALSO: Lewandowski Named UEFA Men’s Player Of The Year

PSG will also come up against RB Leipzig in Group H. The sides met in last season’s semi-finals in Lisbon in August, with Paris winning 3-0 before losing to Bayern Munich in their first-ever final appearance.

Completing the group is Istanbul Basaksehir, who are appearing in the tournament proper for the first time.

English Premier League champions Liverpool, who won the Champions League in 2019, will face Ajax as well as Atalanta and Midtjylland of Denmark in Group D.

Holders Bayern will take on Atletico Madrid and will also have a short trip across the border to Austria to take on Salzburg in Group A. Lokomotiv Moscow are other team in the section.

Other notable match-ups will see 13-time European champions Real Madrid meet Inter Milan in Group B and Chelsea come up against debutants Rennes as well as Europa League winners Sevilla in Group E.

Chelsea signed goalkeeper Edouard Mendy from Rennes last week.

The group stage starts on October 20, and all six rounds of games will be crammed into eight weeks in a schedule that is even more packed than usual because of the coronavirus pandemic.

This season’s final is scheduled to be staged in Istanbul, which was initially the host for last season’s final before UEFA was forced into a change of plans because of the health crisis.

It remains to be seen whether spectators will be able to attend matches in the group stage.