Pressure is on Argentina to beat Brazil in Jeddah, says Sergio Romero

Argentina easily saw off the challenges of Iraq 4-0 last Thursday. (AFP)
Updated 15 October 2018
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Pressure is on Argentina to beat Brazil in Jeddah, says Sergio Romero

  • It may only be a friendly but Argentina goalkeeper says defeat against arch-rivals is not an option.
  • Clash in Jeddah will be the 105th time the South Americans have faced each other.

JEDDAH: Argentina may be without superstar Lionel Messi but the two-time world champions simply must beat Brazil in a friendly in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, Manchester United goalkeeper Sergio Romero says.
This will be the 105th time the South American arch-rivals have faced each other in an official match, with Brazil marginally ahead on 40 wins to 38, with 26 draws.
And while Brazil, record five-time winners of the World Cup, have picked most of their star names, Argentina are without the likes of Manchester City’s in-form forward Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain of AC Milan and Paris Saint-Germain winger Angel Di Maria, as well as Messi.
“I would love Messi to be here because that would give us a boost in quality,” said Romero, back in the Argentina squad following a knee injury that prevented him from featuring in two friendlies in September.
“Adding the best in the world would be best for the future of the national team.”
Messi also sat out Argentina’s last three matches, all friendlies, since the country’s disappointing last 16 elimination from the World Cup in Russia.
He is believed to have asked for some time off from international duty ahead of next year’s Copa America in Brazil.He may have won the Ballon d’Or five times and helped Barcelona lift the Champions League four times and La Liga on nine occasions, but Messi’s only international honor was an Olympic gold medal in 2008.
He’s been on the losing side four times in major finals: the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and three Copa America title-deciders.
At 31, he’s starting to run out of opportunities to lead his country to international glory.
“I haven’t spoken to him since the World Cup, but I hope his absence is only short-term. Hopefully he’s just taking a rest,” added Romero.
Even without a host of star names, and despite the prestigious opposition, anything other than victory would be met with consternation back home.
“Every time Argentina play, we have to win. And when playing against Brazil, even in a friendly, we still have to win and play our way, which is what the coach is asking of us,” added Romero.
“Here we have a new group of players and we’ll try to do our best for the team.”

MESSI BARELY MISSED

Argentina have not missed Messi too much so far, beating Iraq 4-0 in Riyadh on Thursday, having beaten Guatemala 3-0 in September, when they also drew 0-0 with Colombia.
Interim coach Lionel Scaloni picked an inexperienced line-up to face Iraq with Romero, defender Ramiro Funes Mori and striker Paulo Dybala the only established names on the team-sheet.
It will likely be a different-looking XI in Jeddah to take on a Brazil team that labored to a 2-0 win over hosts Saudi Arabia in Riyadh on Friday.
Despite featuring the likes of PSG star Neymar and Manchester City’s returning forward Gabriel Jesus, Tite’s side struggled on a muggy night in the Arabian desert.
But with Barcelona’s Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino of Liverpool likely to play too, Brazil won’t need any help in getting fired up to face the Albiceleste.
“Any game against Argentina is different, it takes on a huge dimension and we all know what this encounter means,” said Inter Milan defender Miranda.
“Our team has prepared well and we hope to play a great match and win.”
But just like Scaloni, Tite wants to give some younger players a chance to prove their worth.
He said it’s a match “between two teams undergoing a renovation. Here, we’re giving opportunities to youngsters.”
The two sides last met in June 2017 in a friendly in Australia, won 1-0 by Argentina, but Brazil romped to a 3-0 success in their last competitive fixture, a World Cup qualifier in November 2016.


Inquest begins at LA Lakers as LeBron James misses out on NBA playoffs

Updated 44 min 4 sec ago
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Inquest begins at LA Lakers as LeBron James misses out on NBA playoffs

LONDON: The post-mortem on Los Angeles’ Lakers season has begun after the storied franchise missed out on the NBA playoffs for a sixth consecutive year this weekend.
It was not meant to be like this, especially after the signing of LeBron James — the man who single-handedly dragged his hometown team Cleveland Cavaliers to a championship in 2016 and was instrumental in Miami Heat’s dominance in the first half of the decade.
James’ mercurial talent was often the difference for those two franchises in clutch situations throughout the season, but for all the fanfare on his arrival at the Staples Center last summer, the “James Effect” has failed to materialize in California.
He has often called his own superhuman efforts in the run up to — and during — the postseason the “Playoff Mode,” but even the genius of James was not enough to put his new franchise into the picture.
It did not help that as soon as it became clear they were not going to be appear beyond April 10, made all the clearer by a recent humbling defeat to the league’s worst team (New York Knicks), James has been benched more and more by the management.
And it speaks volumes about the problems at the Lakers that it will be the first playoffs without James featuring since 2005. Not only had he played in the playoffs for 13 consecutive seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Miami Heat, he had also played in eight straight NBA finals.
Granted, James — a three-time NBA champion and four-time league Most Valuable Player — was adamant back in September that the task of rebuilding the Lakers, who had missed the playoffs for five straight seasons would be a long-term project.
“Obviously, I would love for the team to be in the post-season,” James said as soon as it became clear he and the team would miss out on the playoff party.
“But right now, it’s not the hand I was dealt, so you play the hand that you were dealt until the dealer shuffles the cards and you’re dealt another hand and can do that.”
So what has gone so terribly wrong with the Lakers this year?
A big factor was injuries, not only to James but to other key players, throughout the season.
Everything looked rosy for the Lakers toward the end of December when they thrashed reigning champions Golden State Warriors, but a groin injury to James was a sign of the bad run to come. In his 17-game absence, the Lakers won just six games.
Then Lonzo Ball sprained an ankle in January, leaving the Lakers defense very vulnerable while Brandon Ingram, who had been influential in the team reaching the dizzying heights of fourth place in the Western Conference, was ruled out for the rest of the season due to a blood clot in his arm. Those certainly were damaging injuries.
The Lakers, also, have built too much of the team and its tactics around James. They have a good core of young talent in Ball, Ingram and Kyle Kuzuma, but management has not utilized them nearly well enough. Instead, for the first half of the season definitely, there was too much focus put on James and he was expected to win games almost by himself. Even the greatest player of a generation needs help from time to time.
The boardroom has to take some responsibility, too. Letting players like Brook Lopez (having a remarkable season with this year’s huge surprise package the Milwaukee Bucks), Julius Randle who averages 20 points per game at New Orleans and Brooklyn’s D’Angelo Russell (picked as an All-Star this year) leave was a major mistake on the Lakers’ part.
There will need to be a big rethink in the off-season at the Lakers, but with James admitting a break from the high-pressure playoffs will give him time to “recalibrate body and mind,” you cannot rule out “King James” coming back better and stronger than ever to claim a fourth NBA title and bring back the good times to LA.