Seven-Time Winner Messi Omitted From Ballon d’Or Nomination

File photo: Paris Saint-Germain’s Argentinian forward Lionel Messi reacts after Lyon scored its opener during the French L1 football match between Paris-Saint Germain (PSG) and Olympique Lyonnais at The Parc des Princes Stadium in Paris on September 19, 2021. FRANCK FIFE / AFP

 

Seven-time Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi paid a high price for an underwhelming first season with Paris Saint-Germain when he was left off the 30-strong list for this year’s coveted football award.

Lucy Bronze, who was runner-up in 2019, is one of three members of England’s Euro-winning squad to be short-listed for the women’s award.

Messi, who won the title last year, had been an ever-present amongst the nominations since 2006 and a regular feature in the top three since 2007 with the exception of 2018.

But Messi, 35, has missed out on the 2022 award following his switch from Barcelona to the French capital.

READ ALSO: Asisat Oshoala Nominated For 2022 Ballon d’Or

A change in the format has also worked against the Argentine superstar with the Ballon d’Or no longer acknowledging the best player over a calendar year.

Instead, it is based on a season’s record highlighting “the individual performances” and the “decisive and impressive character” of the nominees, according to the criteria.

After leaving Barcelona in the summer of 2021, Messi was unable to stamp his genius on a PSG team desperate for a Champions League title.

The French champions suffered a last-16 exit at the hands of eventual winners Real Madrid.

In total, Messi scored only 11 goals for PSG with his relatively indifferent club form failing to impress France Football magazine, the organisers of the Ballon d’Or which will be awarded in Paris on October 17.

PSG teammate Neymar also misses out after a season where he scored 13 goals in 28 matches.

The remainder of the list of nominees throws up a few surprises.

French international striker Karim Benzema is the overwhelming favourite after being the architect of Real Madrid’s 14th Champions League title.

He finished the European campaign with 15 goals.

Benzema is likely to become the fifth French winner after Raymond Kopa (1958), Michel Platini (1983, 1984, 1985), Jean-Pierre Papin (1991), and Zinedine Zidane (1998).

In the 2021/2022 season, Benzema scored 44 goals in 46 appearances for a Madrid side who also won the Liga title.

His goal in Wednesday’s 2-0 victory over Eintracht Frankfurt in the European Super Cup took the 34-year-old to 324 goals for the Spanish giants.

That edged him ahead of Raul in the club’s all-time list with only Cristiano Ronaldo in front of him with 450.

“He’s in line for the Ballon d’Or. Is there any doubt? For me, no,” said Real coach Carlo Ancelotti.

Manchester United’s Ronaldo, a five-time Ballon d’Or winner, is nominated again this year.

Benzema is joined on the 30-man list by teammates Thibaut Courtois, Casemiro, 2018 winner Luka Modric, Vinicius, and former Chelsea player Antonio Rudiger.

Beaten Champions League finalists Liverpool have seven players nominated, the most of any club.

They are Trent Alexander-Arnold, Luis Diaz, Fabinho, Sadio Mane, since transferred to Bayern Munich, Darwin Nunez, Mohamed Salah, and Virgil Van Dijk.

There is a 20-strong list for the women’s Ballon d’Or including English stars Bronze, Millie Bright, and Arsenal forward Beth Mead who won the Golden Boot at the women’s Euro.

France have four nominations — Selma Bacha, Kadidiatou Diani, Marie-Antoinette Katoto and Wendie Renard.

Defending champion Alexia Putellas, who was ruled out of the Euros with a last-minute injury, and Norwegian star Ada Hegerberg, the first winner of the prize in 2018, are also in the running.

AFP

Messi Steals Show As Argentina Beat Italy In Finalissima


Argentina’s striker Lionel Messi lifts the trophy as Argentina’s players celebrate on the pitch after their victory in the ‘Finalissima’ International friendly football match between Italy and Argentina at Wembley Stadium in London on June 1, 2022. Glyn KIRK / AFP

 

Lionel Messi stole the show as Copa America holders Argentina powered to a 3-0 win against European champions Italy in the Finalissima at Wembley on Wednesday.

Inspired by the peerless Messi, Argentina raced into a two-goal lead in the first half of the prestigious friendly thanks to strikes from Lautaro Martinez and Angel Di Maria.

Paulo Dybala capped Argentina’s rout, but after a disappointing season with Paris Saint-Germain by his sky-high standards, it was the sight of Messi back to his imperious best that took the spotlight.

The 34-year-old’s eye-catching display featured two assists and was worthy of his rare appearance at one of football’s great cathedrals.

It was another memorable moment for Argentina, who have qualified for this year’s World Cup as they extend the golden afterglow from the victory over Brazil that ended their 28-year wait to win the Copa America in 2021.

Argentina were already established as one of the leading contenders to win the World Cup and defeating Italy was another statement of intent from La Albiceleste, who are now unbeaten in 32 matches.

If Messi can play at this level in Qatar, Lionel Scaloni’s side will be a force to be reckoned with as they chase a first World Cup title since 1986.

READ ALSOPogba To Leave Manchester United

For Italy, it was a disappointing return to Wembley 11 months after they beat England on penalties in the Euro 2020 final.

Roberto Mancini’s team have gone into a steep decline since that memorable triumph.

They failed to qualify for the World Cup after suffering a humiliating loss to North Macedonia in their play-off semi-final.

Mancini admitted the Finalissima represented the “end of a cycle” for his European champions.

After the World Cup failure, Mancini is transitioning to a younger generation, with the forthcoming Nations League matches against Germany, England, and Hungary his real focus.

Mancini’s overhaul effectively started at half-time when Italy said farewell to 117-cap skipper Giorgio Chiellini, who was substituted in his final game before international retirement.

 Messi Masterpiece 


Argentina’s striker Lionel Messi waves to supporters as Argentina’s players celebrate on the pitch after their victory in the ‘Finalissima’ International friendly football match between Italy and Argentina at Wembley Stadium in London on June 1, 2022.  Glyn KIRK / AFP

 

This was only the third Finalissima contest between the respective champions of Europe and South America and the first since Diego Maradona’s Argentina beat Denmark in 1993.

Fittingly, Messi — the heir to the legendary Maradona — used the occasion to remind the world of his astonishing talents.

The 80,000 sell-out crowd created a colourful backdrop for Messi’s mastery, with Argentina’s raucous fans turning the north London suburb of Brent into Buenos Aires for one ear-splitting evening.

Every touch from Messi lifted the decibel levels and moments after his shot was saved by Gianluigi Donnarumma, the forward played a key role as Argentina took the lead in the 28th minute.

Messi worked his magic on the touchline, showing tremendous strength to hold off Giovanni Di Lorenzo before unfurling a precise low cross to Martinez, who applied the finishing touch from close-range.

Italy argued that the goal should have been disallowed for a foul in the build-up, but their protests were in vain.

With tempers still running high, Leonardo Bonucci was booked after leaving Messi writhing in pain with a flailing arm that caught him in the face.

Di Maria exacted revenge on Messi’s behalf in first-half stoppage-time.

Martinez drove forward with bullish tenacity and slipped a perfectly weighted pass to Di Maria, with the PSG forward producing a finish to match the approach play as he clipped a cool finish over Donnarumma.

Di Maria almost struck again on the hour, but his curler was brilliantly tipped over by Donnarumma as it fizzed towards the far corner.

Messi robbed Jorginho and embarked on a mesmerising run that finished with a save from Donnarumma.

Messi’s name echoed around the stands as Argentina’s fans paid tribute to their idol’s latest masterpiece.

Dybala’s clinical strike in stoppage-time came via a deft Messi pass as the maestro provided one final flourish.

AFP

‘World’s Worst Team’ Which Wanted To Sign Messi Ready To Win


Brazil’s Ibis players are seen at the Arena Pernambuco’s dressing room before their football match against Sport Recife in Recife, Brazil, on March 16, 2022.  LEO CALDAS / AFP

 

Their mascot is named “Little Defeat”. Their fans “protest” when they win. But after a notorious losing streak that earned them the nickname “the world’s worst football team”, Brazilian minnows Ibis are ready for victory.

Based in the city of Paulista in northeastern Brazil, Ibis Sport Club rose to infamy in the 1980s for going three years, 11 months and 26 days without winning a match.

But the regional club, who play in the Pernambuco state championship, have responded to decades of derision with good-natured humor, turning their mocking nickname into a badge of pride — and what is turning out to be a powerful brand.

With their penchant for self-deprecating tweets and Instagram posts that go viral, Ibis have drawn worldwide attention, including from Swedish online gambling firm Betsson, which signed the most lucrative sponsorship deal in the club’s 84-year history last June.

READ ALSO: Barcelona’s ‘Doors Are Open’ To Messi – Xavi

Now, flush with cash, the eternal losers are starting to do the unthinkable: win.

“Let’s leave our history as ‘the world’s worst team’ to the 1980s when Ibis really were the worst in the world. We’re not anymore — though we use it for marketing, so people know us,” said club president and passionate fan Ozir Ramos Junior.

Losers or not, Ibis have shown a knack for building their brand in the social media age.

When Lionel Messi left Barcelona last August, Ibis offered to sign the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner — on condition he not score “too many goals” or win a championship.

In the event, the Argentine superstar went to Paris Saint-Germain — whom Ibis now compare themselves to, given that neither team have had any luck winning the Champions League.

Lovable Losers 

“We’re known all over the planet as the worst in the world. But let’s not mix that up with our professional side. We’ve got highly competent people,” Ramos told AFP.

The sponsorship deal with Betsson has allowed Ibis to upgrade their sporting infrastructure and pay actual salaries to their footballers, who formerly played out of “love for the jersey”, Ramos said.

Last season, the club won promotion from the Pernambuco second division to the state’s top-flight league for the first time in 21 years.

The championship is the gateway to Serie D, the bottom rung of Brazil’s national league system — though Ibis, returning to form, have struggled for results, and risk being relegated again.

It is only a temporary setback, says coach Paulo Jesse.

“Today, we only work with winners. We’re going to ditch our reputation as the worst in the world,” said the coach, a school security guard in his day job.

Ibis have certainly come a long way since their worst ignominy, when they went from July 20, 1980, to June 17, 1984, without winning a match — racking up 48 losses and six draws, with 25 goals for and 225 against.

The losing streak was so bad sports magazine Placar wrote a profile of the club, declaring them “the worst team in Brazil” — a nickname that soon became more famous than the club’s official one, the Black Birds.

Ibis claim they even hold a Guinness record for the world’s worst losing streak — though there is no register of that.

Universal Appeal

Israel Leal, author of a book on the team, says Ibis have universal appeal.

“Ibis is resistence. It’s like any one of us who’s going through a bad time and then starts fighting to win,” he said.

“For many years the club did nothing but lose, and now they’re winning.”

Owner Ramos says Ibis have a way of conquering people’s hearts.

Among fans who support Pernambuco’s most popular sides, Nautico and Sport Recife, “Ibis are everyone’s second-favorite team”, he said.

Even the club’s best-loved legends tend to be everyman stars, such as Mauro Shampoo, a barber with a massive mane of hair who played as a midfielder for Ibis in the late 1980s.

He claims to have scored one goal, in an 8-1 loss to Ferroviario do Recife.

But there is no record of it.

The club president at the time said it was actually an own goal.

AFP

Barcelona’s ‘Doors Are Open’ To Messi – Xavi

In this file photo, Paris Saint-Germain’s Argentinian forward Lionel Messi looks on prior to the French L1 football match between Paris-Saint Germain (PSG) and Girondins de Bordeaux at The Parc des Princes Stadium, in Paris on March 13, 2022. (Photo by Alain JOCARD / AFP)

 

Barcelona coach Xavi Hernandez said on Saturday “the doors are open” to Lionel Messi.

Xavi was speaking in a press conference ahead of the Clasico on Sunday when Barca face La Liga leaders Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Messi has endured a disappointing season at Paris Saint-Germain although Barca’s dire financial situation would make re-signing the Argentinian difficult.

La Liga’s latest spending restrictions published last week set Barcelona’s limit at -144 million euros ($159 million). It means the club will have to make considerable savings to sign anyone in the next transfer window.

Messi was let go last year because Barca could not afford to renew his contract, bringing an emotional end to the striker’s historic career at Camp Nou.

Asked if he would open the door to Messi coming back, Xavi said: “He is the best player in history and the history of the club, he’s earned the right to have the doors open to him.

READ ALSO: Messi Absent As Monaco Thrash PSG

“As long as I am coach the doors are open to him if he wants to come any day. He is the best in history and as a club we owe him a great tribute, he deserves it, but he has a contract with PSG, so there is little more I can tell you.

“If he wants to come any day, to see training, talk to the coach, the doors are open because he is the best player in the history of the club.”

Without Messi, Barcelona struggled for much of the season but Xavi, who was appointed in November, has overseen a significant upturn in form.

 Real Without Injured Benzema 

Barca sit third, on course to qualify for next season’s Champions League, and will be hopeful of landing a statement victory against Real Madrid, who will be without their star striker Karim Benzema.

Benzema is out with a calf injury and will not be risked, allowing the Frenchman the international break to recover for the run-in and Champions League quarter-finals against Chelsea.

“Tomorrow he can’t play because he hasn’t trained,” said Carlo Ancelotti on Saturday. “He still feels a little discomfort, it’s a small injury, but it won’t let him train and obviously he won’t play either.”

“The fact that he doesn’t play tomorrow doesn’t worry me because it means we will have two weeks to get him ready for the end of the season when he will be very important as always,” Ancelotti added.

Xavi said Benzema’s absence would be a “significant blow” for Real Madrid while confirming that Gerard Pique will be available for Barca.

“He’s fine, he has some minor discomfort, but he’s fine,” said Xavi.

Despite winning their last four consecutive league games, Barcelona are 15 points behind Real Madrid in the table, albeit with a game in hand.

They could overhaul stumbling Sevilla to finish second but a late title charge appears almost impossible.

“We cannot rule Barcelona out, they will fight until the last game,” said Ancelotti.

“Winning the league is unlikely,” said Xavi. “I think will be difficult.”

But there is an opportunity for Barcelona to show they are ready to challenge for the title again under Xavi next season.

“We have grown as a team since I arrived but it doesn’t mean anything, it’s a Clasico and we have to show our personality,” Xavi said.

“It is a chance to show we are in a good moment because we have had good results but tomorrow is another litmus test, to prove that against another big team, we can play and impose our game.”

Xavi added: “Otherwise I know the media and they will say the improvement has not been seen in the most important game of the season.”

AFP

Messi Absent As PSG Suffer Worst Defeat Of The Season

Monaco’s French forward Wissam Ben Yedder (unseen) celebrates with teammates after scoring a penalty during the French L1 football match between AS Monaco and Paris Saint Germain (PSG) at the Louis II Stadium (Stade Louis II) in the Principality of Monaco on March 20, 2022. CLEMENT MAHOUDEAU / AFP

 

Paris Saint-Germain were beaten 3-0 at Monaco on Sunday after a Wissam Ben Yedder double strike, as Neymar and Kylian Mbappe were both booked in a feisty Ligue 1 encounter. It was the club’s worst defeat this season.

PSG remain 15 points clear of second-placed Marseille at the top of Ligue 1 after the fourth league defeat of the season for Mauricio Pochettino’s men, who have been shaken since being dumped out of the Champions League by Real Madrid.

Nice can close the gap to 12 points if they beat Marseille in Sunday’s late Ligue 1 game.

Monaco captain Ben Yedder is now Ligue 1’s top scorer with 18 goals after his 25th-minute tap-in from a rebound, and an 84th-minute penalty.

Ben Yedder also helped in the build-up for German striker Kevin Volland’s goal for Monaco, making it 2-0 on 68 minutes in what was the real turning point of the game as PSG began to chase.

Mbappe and Neymar started for PSG and had a string of opportunities as the visitors enjoyed the lion’s share of possession.

READ ALSO: Barcelona’s ‘Doors Are Open’ To Messi – Xavi

Monaco’s German forward Kevin Volland (C) celebrates with Monaco’s French midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni (C-R) after scoring the second goal during the French L1 football match between AS Monaco and Paris Saint Germain (PSG) at the Louis II Stadium (Stade Louis II) in the Principality of Monaco on March 20, 2022. Valery HACHE / AFP

 

Mbappe said the bitterness of the Champions League defeat earlier this month was still felt at the club.

“We could win 8-0 and nobody would care, they’d just be thinking about the Champions League,” he said.

“We need to remain professional, think of our families,” said Mbappe, who was full of praise for his old club.

“They are a great team, playing in European competition,” said the 23-year-old.

PSG captain Marquinhos described the defeat as a wake-up call.

“If we carry on like that the title will be in danger. We have been warned,” he said.

“We came here to win and have fun, but that was a catastrophe.”

PSG coach Mauricio Pochettino said it was time his players picked themselves up.

“On a sporting level, that was shameful. We have to get over the disappointment of being eliminated from the Champions League,” the Argentine said.

Monaco’s Belgian coach Philippe Clement can also thank his goalkeeper Alexander Nuebel, who made important saves from Mbappe, Neymar, and the marauding Moroccan Achraf Hakimi.

AFP

‘Unstoppable’ Mbappe Underlines Value To PSG, Leaves Messi In Shade

Paris Saint-Germain's French forward Kylian Mbappe (C) shoots and scores a goal during the UEFA Champions League round of 16 first leg football match between Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) and Real Madrid at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris on February 15, 2022. Alain JOCARD / AFP
Paris Saint-Germain’s French forward Kylian Mbappe (C) shoots and scores a goal during the UEFA Champions League round of 16 first leg football match between Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) and Real Madrid at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris on February 15, 2022. Alain JOCARD / AFP

 

Kylian Mbappe’s importance to Paris Saint-Germain was all too evident long before his stoppage-time strike gave them a narrow win over Real Madrid in the first leg of their Champions League showdown on Tuesday and left them on course for a place in the quarter-finals.

It is understood that PSG rejected an offer worth up to 180 million euros ($204m) from Real in August for Mbappe, despite the France World Cup-winning striker being in the final year of his contract.

They wanted at least one more season with Mbappe at the Parc des Princes knowing that, even with Lionel Messi and Neymar there too, he is the man they need if they are finally to win a first Champions League title since the Qatari takeover of 2011.

READ ALSO: Mbappe Strikes Late To Give PSG Edge Over Real Madrid

Mbappe is still expected to leave at the end of the campaign for Real, the club who have tracked him since he was a teenager but who are now in danger of going out of the Champions League after his last-gasp winner.

The last-16 first leg in the French capital was still goalless in the fourth and final minute of injury time when the 23-year-old Mbappe burst into the box and finished through the legs of Real goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.

That gave PSG a 1-0 victory that even Real coach Carlo Ancelotti admitted was deserved after a game dominated by the home side.

Mbappe had the Ligue 1 leaders’ best chance of the first half and forced a good save from Courtois early in the second half before winning a penalty just past the hour mark when he was fouled by Dani Carvajal.

Messi took the spot-kick only for Courtois to save, but Mbappe kept tormenting the Real defence and eventually got his reward, confirming why the Spanish giants are so desperate to secure his signature.

“I have been working with him for just over a year now and you could see tonight just how good a player he is,” said PSG coach Mauricio Pochettino.

Ancelotti described him as “unstoppable” and Real risk being exposed by his terrifying pace on the break as they chase the tie in the return in three weeks.

 Speculation over future 

Mbappe’s late strike against Real came four days after he also scored a last-minute winner in a Ligue 1 game against Rennes.

He now has 22 goals this season in all competitions, while PSG’s second-top scorer is Messi with seven.

Indeed Mbappe — Ligue 1’s top scorer in the last three seasons — has four more goals than Messi, Mauro Icardi, Angel Di Maria and Neymar combined in the current campaign.

For all the outstanding talent around him, he is the man who makes the difference and PSG’s Qatari president, Nasser al-Khelaifi, can only hope a victory in the tie might persuade the one-time Monaco prodigy to sign a new contract.

“Too many questions are asked and too many things are said,” Mbappe insisted when asked about the ongoing speculation over his future.

“The truth is that we are talking about Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid, two big clubs. I am a PSG player and I am still really happy.

“I said I would give everything here. I had to come out and prove it. I did it this first time and now I need to do it a second time at the Bernabeu.”

In contrast, Messi is struggling to reproduce his Barcelona form and he failed from the spot.

The Argentine, who won his seventh Ballon d’Or last year, has missed five of the 23 penalties he has taken in the Champions League.

He has scored just twice in Ligue 1 this season and two of his five Champions League goals so far came in an inconsequential group game against Club Brugge.

Meanwhile, Neymar made his return as a substitute after two and a half months out with an ankle injury and helped set up Mbappe’s late goal with a crafty backheel pass.

There is plenty more to come from the world’s most expensive player if he can just stay fit, but Mbappe holds the key to European glory and both PSG and Real know it.

AFP

Messi ‘Takes Longer Than Expected’ To Recover From Covid-19

This file photo taken on December 7, 2021, shows Paris Saint-Germain’s Argentinian forward Lionel Messi at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris on December 7, 2021. Lionel Messi has tested positive for Covid-19 and has entered self-isolation, his club Paris Saint-Germain announced on January 2, 2022. FRANCK FIFE / AFP

 

Lionel Messi said on Thursday he needs more time to recover before playing again after contracting Covid-19 earlier this month.

Paris Saint-Germain star Messi, 34, tested positive while on holiday in his hometown of Rosario before flying back to the French capital on January 5.

The seven-time Ballon d’Or winner has missed two PSG matches while in self-isolation.

“As you know I had Covid and I wanted to thank you all for the messages I received,” Messi posted on Instagram.

“It has taken me longer than I thought to be OK but I’m almost recovered and I’m looking forward to getting back on the field.

“I’m training to get back to being at 100%, great challenges are coming this year and I hope we can see each other again,” he added.

Since testing negative last week he has trained alone at PSG’s headquarters.

According to ESPN Argentina, the former Barcelona attacker will miss this weekend’s home Ligue 1 game against Brest.

Messi’s club teammates including Angel Di Maria, Gianluigi Donnarumma, and Julian Draxler have also tested positive for coronavirus since the Christmas break.

The Parisians host Real Madrid in the first leg of their Champions League last 16 tie on February 15.

AFP

Danilo Joins Messi Among PSG COVID-19 Cases

(FILES) This file photo taken on October 30, 2021 shows Paris Saint-Germain’s Portuguese midfielder Danilo Pereira passing the ball during the French L1 football match between Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) and LOSC Lille at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris. (Photo by FRANCK FIFE / AFP)

 

Danilo became the fifth Paris Saint Germain player to test positive for Covid-19 and will miss the French Cup match with Vannes later on Monday, the club said.

The 30-year-old Portuguese international midfielder joins Lionel Messi and other team-mates in self-isolating as the Omicron variant shows little sign of loosening its grip.

Messi, Juan Bernat, Sergio Rico and youngster Nathan Bitumazala were revealed to have tested positive on Sunday.

Their enforced absence has prompted PSG coach Mauricio Pochettino to call on South American players who only resumed training on Sunday for the clash with fourth division Vannes.

Marquinhos and Messi’s fellow Argentinians Angel Di Maria and Mauro Icardi are among those who could get a run out.

READ ALSO: India Begins Vaccinating Teens As Omicron Fears Rise

Home team Vannes are counting the cost of the French government’s newly introduced crowd restrictions on Monday with 5,000 spectators only permitted at outdoor events.

Vannes had been hoping for a 9,600 sell-out and according to their president Maxime Ray are set to miss out on revenue of 250,000 euros ($282,000).

“We are missing out on what is a fortune to us,” he said last week.

‘A Whole Career Together’: Messi Leads Tribute To Aguero On Retirement

Messi and Aguero won the football event of the 2008 Olympics. Photo: Instagram/Leomessi

 

Lionel Messi has paid tribute to compatriot, Sergio Aguero, following the latter’s retirement from football on Wednesday.

“I have decided to stop playing professional football,” said Aguero, who enjoyed 10 highly successful years at Manchester City before leaving at the end of last season. “It is a very hard moment but I am happy with my decision. My health comes first.”

Messi, who was among the first set of players to pay tribute to the Barcelona forward following the decision, said he shared some good moments with Aguero whom he won gold with at the 2008 Olympics.

READ ALSO: Sergio Aguero Retires From Football

“Practically a whole career together, Kun… We’ve had some great moments and others that weren’t so great, but all of them have made us grow closer and become better friends. And we’re going to continue spending them together off the pitch,” the Paris Saint Germain (PSG) star began in a lengthy Instagram post.

“With the great joy of lifting the Copa America just a little while ago, with all the achievements you obtained in England… And the truth is that now it hurts a lot to see how you have to stop doing what you love the most because of what happened to you. I’m sure you will continue to be happy because you are a person who radiates happiness and those of us who love you will be there for you. Now a new stage of your life is beginning and I am convinced that you will enjoy it with a smile on your face and with all the enthusiasm that you put into everything.

“All the best in this new stage! I love you very much my friend, I’m going to miss a lot being with you on the pitch and when we meet up with the national team.”

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Leo Messi (@leomessi)

Aside from Messi, footballers across the globe have also continued to send in their wishes to the Argentine star.

Kevin De Bruyne, who played alongside Aguero in Manchester City,  also shared a photo of himself and the Argentine player celebrating a goal in the colours of the English champions.

“One of the best strikers ever!” he said. “Want to wish you all the best for the future legend. See you soon @kunaguero.”

Adding to the torrent of tributes from fans and footballers alike, Ivorian legend, Yaya Toure, described Aguero as a friend.

“Sergio, my friend. I am sad to see you retire today but I am also excited for your future,” he said about his former Manchester City teammate in an Instagram post.

“You have so much still to offer the game. We shared many great times on the pitch and I feel blessed to have been your teammate. You will go down as one of the greatest ever and I can say playing alongside you was an honour!”

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Yaya Touré (@realtoureyaya)

UCL: Ronaldo, Messi To Rekindle Rivalry As Man Utd Draw PSG

file photo of Manchester United’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Paris Saint Germaine’s Lionel Messi

 

Manchester United are set to play Paris Saint-Germain in the last 16 of the Champions League.

It is the standout tie to come out of the draw, with six-time former winners Bayern Munich to play Spanish champions Atletico Madrid in the most notable another match-up, while leading English contenders Manchester City, Liverpool, and holders Chelsea were all handed opponents that they will expect to beat.

United and PSG will meet for the third time in four seasons with the French club at home in the first leg in February after coming second behind City in Group A.

That is despite signing the 34-year-old Ballon d’Or winner Messi from Barcelona in August, just before Ronaldo returned to Old Trafford for a second spell from Juventus.

Five of Messi’s six goals for PSG so far have come in the Champions League, while Ronaldo has 13 goals this season for United, with six in Europe.

Ronaldo will turn 37 in early February. He scored twice when Juventus beat Messi’s Barcelona 3-0 away in the group stage last season.

United famously beat PSG in the last 16 in 2018/19 at the start of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s reign as manager, recovering from a 2-0 loss at home in the first leg to win the return 3-1 and advance on away goals thanks to a late Marcus Rashford penalty.

The clubs also met in the group stage last season, with the away side winning on each occasion.

Pep Guardiola’s City will play Villarreal, who beat United on penalties in last season’s Europa League final and qualified for the last 16 ahead of Atalanta.

Premier League champions and current leaders City lost last season’s final in Porto to Chelsea, who were the only English team not to win their group.

That meant Thomas Tuchel’s team could have been drawn against Bayern or Real Madrid, so they will be relieved to be facing French champions Lille, who topped their own section but are currently in mid-table in Ligue 1 and are in the knockout phase of the Champions League for the first time since 2006/07.

Meanwhile, Liverpool, who have lifted the trophy six times, will play Austrian champions Red Bull Salzburg, a team through to the knockout phase for the first time.

Jurgen Klopp’s side beat Salzburg twice in the group stage in 2019/20, winning 4-3 at Anfield and then 2-0 away. Chelsea also won home and away against Lille in that season’s group phase.

Record 13-time European champions Real Madrid were drawn against two-time former European Cup winners Benfica, with the first leg in Lisbon.

Inter Milan play Ajax and Portuguese champions Sporting will take on Juventus. They will hope to emulate their compatriots Porto, who knocked out the Italian giants at the same stage last season.

The first legs will be played in the second half of February with the second legs in early March.

This season’s Champions League final will be played in the Russian city of Saint Petersburg on May 28.

-AFP

Atletico Qualify As Liverpool Complete Perfect Champions League Group Stage


Atletico Madrid’s players celebrate their victory at the end of the UEFA Champions League first round group B football match between FC Porto and Club Atletico de Madrid at the Dragao stadium in Porto on December 7, 2021. MIGUEL RIOPA / AFP

 

Atletico Madrid won a bad-tempered game in Porto on Tuesday to qualify for the last 16 of the Champions League as Liverpool and Ajax both completed the group stage with 100 percent records.

Diego Simeone’s Atletico, who lost to Real Madrid in the 2014 and 2016 finals, needed to beat Porto in Portugal to advance to the knockout phase and they duly triumphed 3-1 in a game which featured three red cards.

Antoine Griezmann put the Spanish champions ahead in the 56th minute at the Estadio do Dragao but they then had Yannick Carrasco sent off for wrestling Otavio to the ground.

READ ALSO: Mbappe And Messi Double Up In PSG Victory

With tempers flaring, Porto were also reduced to 10 men as Wendell was sent off for elbowing Atletico’s Matheus Cunha in the neck, before their substitute goalkeeper Agustin Marchesin also saw red.

With Porto pushing forward in search of the draw they needed to qualify, Atletico got their second goal on the break in the last minute through Angel Correa before Rodrigo De Paul scored their third in injury time. Sergio Oliveira’s penalty was a mere consolation for Porto.

Atletico finish second in Group B, a huge 11 points behind group winners Liverpool, who made it six wins out of six in Europe this season by beating AC Milan 2-1 at San Siro despite fielding a virtual reserve side.

Milan had to win to stand a chance of going through and they went ahead midway through the first half through Fikayo Tomori.

Mohamed Salah did start for the visitors and he equalised in the 36th minute before Divock Origi — who scored a stoppage-time winner in the Premier League at the weekend — made it 2-1 10 minutes into the second half, heading in after Sadio Mane’s shot was saved.

“It’s an exceptional performance,” said manager Jurgen Klopp. “With that many changes, the boys have to be confident enough to show how good they are. I saw so many good things tonight, it was unbelievable.”

Milan finish bottom of the group in their first Champions League campaign since 2013-14, with Porto parachuting into the Europa League.

Real Madrid Top Group

Elsewhere, Real Madrid secured top spot in Group D with a 2-0 defeat of Inter Milan at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Both sides had already qualified for the last 16 and Real just needed a draw to top the group.

They went ahead through an early Toni Kroos strike, and Inter had Nicolo Barella sent off just after the hour mark before substitute Marco Asensio sealed Real’s victory with a stupendous strike.

“Our objective is to go all the way, not just reach the last 16,” said Real coach Carlo Ancelotti.

Moldovan debutants Sheriff Tiraspol had already secured third place before Boban Nikolov’s injury-time goal earned them a 1-1 draw at bottom side Shakhtar Donetsk, for whom Fernando had opened the scoring.

Haller Strikes Again 

Ajax made it six wins out of six in Group C by defeating Sporting Lisbon 4-2 in Amsterdam in a game played behind closed doors due to coronavirus restrictions in the Netherlands.

Sebastien Haller put Ajax ahead with an early penalty for his 10th goal in the group stage, while Brazilian duo Antony and David Neres added further goals and Steven Berghuis was also on target.

Nuno Santos and Bruno Tabata netted for Sporting, who had already secured second place to qualify ahead of Borussia Dortmund.

The Germans crushed 10-man Besiktas 5-0 with Donyell Malen getting the opener and Marco Reus scoring a brace before Erling Haaland came off the bench to score two headers in the second half.

Mbappe, Messi Doubles 

Paris Saint-Germain's Argentinian forward Lionel Messi (L) is congratulated by Paris Saint-Germain's French forward Kylian Mbappe (R) after scoring a goal during the UEFA Champions League first round day 6 Group A football match between Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) and Club Brugge, at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris on December 7, 2021. FRANCK FIFE / AFP
Paris Saint-Germain’s Argentinian forward Lionel Messi (L) is congratulated by Paris Saint-Germain’s French forward Kylian Mbappe (R) after scoring a goal during the UEFA Champions League first round day 6 Group A football match between Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) and Club Brugge, at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris on December 7, 2021. FRANCK FIFE / AFP

 

Earlier Manchester City, having already clinched first place in Group A, lost 2-1 at RB Leipzig, with Dominik Szoboszlai and Andre Silva on target for the Germans in their first game since sacking coach Jesse Marsch.

Riyad Mahrez pulled one back for City, who had Kyle Walker sent off late on as Leipzig took third place.

Paris Saint-Germain, who finish second in the group, crushed Club Brugge 4-1 with Kylian Mbappe and Lionel Messi both scoring twice.

Mbappe’s goals both came inside the first seven minutes and he then set up Messi’s first goal, with the Argentinian adding a penalty as he moved on to five Champions League goals in five appearances this season.

AFP

Messi’s Enduring Brilliance Rewarded With Another Ballon d’Or

Paris Saint-Germain’s Argentine forward Lionel Messi poses after being awarded the Ballon d’Or award during the 2021 Ballon d’Or France Football award ceremony at the Theatre du Chatelet in Paris on November 29, 2021. FRANCK FIFE / AFP

 

Some might question whether Lionel Messi really deserved to win his latest Ballon d’Or prize ahead of other worthy candidates, but the Argentinian has been rewarded for continuing to be so good for so long.

The most turbulent year of Messi’s glittering career, in which he was forced to tearfully bid farewell to Barcelona, ends with him –- at the age of 34 — claiming a record-extending seventh Ballon d’Or for the best player in the world.

In Germany, they thought it had to be Robert Lewandowski’s year after he missed out 12 months ago when the 2020 edition was scrapped due to the pandemic.

Karim Benzema might have had plenty of support in Spain for his remarkable performances with Real Madrid, and Jorginho could stake a claim following a year in which he won the Champions League with Chelsea as well as Euro 2020 with Italy.

Yet it is the enduring brilliance of Messi -– who won the last award in 2019 — which stays in the minds of the jurors when it comes to voting.

Having joined Paris Saint-Germain in August, he is the first male player to win the award while with a French club since Jean-Pierre Papin of Marseille in 1991, although it was his achievements with Barcelona and with Argentina that counted towards him effectively retaining his crown.

Messi tried unsuccessfully to force his departure from Barcelona in August 2020 but he showed no signs of rancour as he stayed put at the Camp Nou and ended last season with 38 goals in 48 games for his boyhood club.

READ ALSO: Benzema Not Upset After Ballon d’Or Snub – Ancelotti

International success at last 

The Copa America was Messi’s first major international competition. AFP

 

These are the kind of remarkable figures that he has made so mundane over the course of his career –- indeed he had actually scored more goals than that in 10 of his previous 11 seasons.

Messi was the top scorer in La Liga for the fifth consecutive year with 30 goals and won the Copa del Rey, scoring twice in the final as Barcelona beat Athletic Bilbao 4-0.

This will always be remembered as the year his long association with the Catalan giants came to an end, after 672 goals in 778 appearances, a record goal tally for one club.

However, 2021 was also the year he finally won a major international title, captaining Argentina to victory in the Copa America with a 1-0 win against Brazil in the final at the Maracana.

He scored four goals in the tournament as Argentina won the South American championship for the first time since 1993.

“I think I won this trophy thanks to what we did at the Copa America so I dedicate this to my teammates,” he said after being handed his latest Ballon d’Or at the Chatelet Theatre in central Paris.

Unfinished Business

File photo: Paris Saint-Germain’s Argentinian forward Lionel Messi reacts after Lyon scored its opener during the French L1 football match between Paris-Saint Germain (PSG) and Olympique Lyonnais at The Parc des Princes Stadium in Paris on September 19, 2021. FRANCK FIFE / AFP

 

However, the shame was that hardly any fans were in the stadium to witness Argentina’s Copa America success due to coronavirus restrictions, only adding to the sense that, despite all he has achieved, Messi still has unfinished business.

Not least at PSG, where he has so far played just 11 games since arriving in August, and scored just four goals.

Messi did provide three assists for the Parisians in a Ligue 1 match on Sunday but it remains to be seen how motivated the Argentinian is by the French league. He has other priorities.

“My dream is to win another Champions League,” he said at his unveiling in August, with the last of his four European Cups coming in 2015.

Then there is the really big one: the World Cup in Qatar will be underway this time next year and Messi will be 35 by then.

That will surely be his last chance to win the greatest trophy of all, and you imagine he would swap his seven Ballons d’Or to get his hands on it.

AFP