Lionel Messi and Argentina stalk Copa America title as world turns its attention to Euro 2020

Lionel Messi and Argentina stalk Copa America title as world turns its attention to Euro 2020
Argentina's Lionel Messi gestures during the Conmebol 2021 Copa America football tournament semi-final match against Colombia, at the Mane Garrincha Stadium in Brasilia, Brazil, on July 6, 2021. (File/AFP)
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Updated 10 July 2021

Lionel Messi and Argentina stalk Copa America title as world turns its attention to Euro 2020

Lionel Messi and Argentina stalk Copa America title as world turns its attention to Euro 2020
  • But should his unquestioned legacy still be tied to winning an international title?

It would have been a sweeter win had it happened in 1959 or 1962. Or even 1968.

But it would take a while longer.

In 1987, at the age of 62, Paul Newman won his one and only Oscar for Best Actor — on his seventh attempt and for his role in “The Colour of Money.”

Not in “The Hustler.” Not in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” And not in the peerless “Cool Hand Luke.”

No doubt, Newman was still a formidable actor, and he would go on to be nominated two more times, once for a supporting role.

But it felt a touch too little, too late. A year after winning an Academy Honorary Award, which is never an encouraging sign, this award felt even more valedictory.

Above all, his greatness was in no way enhanced by this award.

And so, obviously, to Lionel Messi.

It’s one of football’s most tedious debates that only in winning an international title can he be considered the greatest player of all time. Win a cup with Argentina, Leo, or you’ll forever remain in Diego Maradona’s shadow. Or worse, Cristiano Ronaldo’s.

Messi’s well-documented tragi-comedies with Argentina are the stuff of legend and no little gloating by his critics. His time has passed, we’ve been assured.

But while the world has been preoccupied with the mesmerizing Euro 2020, Messi and Argentina are just one match away from claiming their first Copa America win since 1993. Beat hosts Brazil in Sunday morning’s final and, in many people’s eyes, Messi will, overnight, suddenly become worthy of the title of greatest footballer of all time.

For those of us on the other side of the world, the timing of the Copa America matches couldn’t be more inconvenient. But while most fans have slept through it, Messi and Argentina have inched their way toward what would be an unexpected triumph.

The symbolism of a win, for many, will reignite the pointless debates. But just where would it rank in among Messi’s achievements?

International football trophies are not handed out like Oscars of course, but winning this sleepy tournament, as much as it will mean to a man desperately coveting a title with his country, will have a bit of a lifetime achievement award feel to it. A bit “The Color of Money.”

The truth is, of course, that Messi does not need to win this Copa to validate his greatness, just as he did not need to win the 2014 World Cup or the 2015 and 2016 Copa America titles, which were both lost on penalties to Chile.

Perhaps a more appropriate comparison to an Oscar as a barometer for individual greatness would be the Ballon d’Or, of which Messi has just the five. But that’s not good enough for some people.

How about the four Champions League medals, 10 La Liga titles, seven Cop del Rey wins, and absurd goal records?

Why deeds in summer international football should outweigh his weekly acts of the unimaginable remains unexplained by football’s very own flat-earthers.

But while winning the Copa America 2021 couldn’t possibly make up for losing the 2014 World Cup, try telling that to 34-year-old Argentina captain, who has said he’d give up all his Ballon d’Or awards for a single trophy with his country.

Something strange has happened at Copa America 2021. Messi, often seemingly carrying the weight of the world, not to mention his other 10 teammates, on his shoulders, looks happy playing for Argentina.

There have been four goals and five assists and, against Ecuador in the quarterfinal, two stunning passes and a trademark freekick goal.

Seven years on from the disappointment of losing the World Cup final to Germany at the Maracana in Rio, Messi looks determined to right that wrong.

Just before Maxi Rodriguez scored Argentina’s winning penalty against the Netherlands to take Argentina to that 2014 World Cup final, television footage showed Messi drifting alone, nervously, seemingly lost in his own world, separated from the rest of his teammates.

In the early hours of Wednesday, as Argentina won the semi-final penalty shootout against Colombia, Messi stood front and center — furious, encouraging and celebrating in a way you’d more associate with Georgio Chiellini or Sergio Ramos.

This was a reborn Messi for Argentina, one that we thought we’d never see again.

It helps that, for once, some of his teammates have stepped up, rather than been struck by the paralysis of playing alongside him. And none more so than the hero of the shootout win over Colombia, the extraordinary Emi Martinez.

Messi’s joyful reaction at the end, as he sought out the mobbed Aston Villa goalkeeper, was touching even for a player who has seen and done it all before. Or, almost all.

Perhaps it was the realization that this, alongside Qatar 2022, really is it for him at the international level, and perhaps the last chance to get the Maradona monkey off his back.

It should not have come to this, of course, and maybe Messi’s international career will always leave many questions unanswered.

Why should the profligacy of Gonzalo Higuain, Rodrigo Palacio and others in the 2014 World Cup final have any bearing on Messi’s greatness? Would he be any more of a player had the seemingly jinxed Higuain scored in stoppage time of the 2015 Copa America final?

And how does the result of Sunday’s final retrospectively shape how Messi’s career is conceived? If you are, somehow, still not convinced by his otherworldliness, of his sheer genius, would a Copa America win be some kind of deus ex machina for his legacy?

If you don’t already think he’s the greatest player of all time then, clearly, you never will.

Messi doesn’t need to win the Copa America to prove anything to anyone.

But it would be sweet.


360VUZ to bring football action to fans’ mobile phones

360VUZ has partnered with the Saudi Professional League to bring top tier football action to fans’ mobile phones. (Supplied/360VUZ)
360VUZ has partnered with the Saudi Professional League to bring top tier football action to fans’ mobile phones. (Supplied/360VUZ)
Updated 24 sec ago

360VUZ to bring football action to fans’ mobile phones

360VUZ has partnered with the Saudi Professional League to bring top tier football action to fans’ mobile phones. (Supplied/360VUZ)
  • Under agreement with Saudi Professional League a new dedicated channel will allow users to navigate easily on the app and watch the top tier Saudi clubs in action

RIYADH: 360VUZ, the immersive virtual mobile app has partnered with the Saudi Professional League to offer a fuller experience to football fans, enabling them to watch highlights of the SPL games, behind the scenes videos and exclusive interviews with players all in 360 degrees.

The new partnership will play a major role in engaging 360VUZ users with the Saudi league, making it one of the first major leagues in the world to bring an immersive football content to screens.

Khaled Zaatarah, founder and Chief Executive Officer of 360VUZ, said: “We are happy to team up with Saudi Professional League to show spectacular videos of the league on our platform. In 360VUZ we strive to offer an immersive experience with vital content for all our users just through using their phones.”

360VUZ will offer a dedicated channel for SPL, which will allow the users to navigate easily on the app and watch the top tier Saudi clubs in action. The app includes KBW Ventures — founded by Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz, President of Saudi Sports For All Federation — as one of its investors.

“Seeing 360VUZ ink this partnership with the Saudi Professional League is really exciting for me as an investor,” Prince Khaled said. “During their initial pitch, I could see how well their immersive experience would work for Saudi sports enthusiasts, and now with SPL the app can bring these moments to fans both in and outside of the Kingdom.”

Abdul Aziz Al Afaleq, Chairman of the Board at Saudi Pro League, said: “We are keen on adopting the latest trends and technologies around the world, and featuring our league on 360VUZ app makes us the first league to present exclusive and immersive video content to our fans.”

“This partnership aims at enhancing our connection with the league’s fans by offering a one-of-a-kind experience to watch the league’s stars and the latest highlights of our matches,” he said.


Faf du Plessis stars as Chennai Super Kings down Kolkata Knight Riders to win fourth IPL title in Dubai

Chennai, winners in 2010, 2011 and 2018, remain one of the most successful IPL franchises after five-time champions Mumbai Indians. (Twitter: @IPL)
Chennai, winners in 2010, 2011 and 2018, remain one of the most successful IPL franchises after five-time champions Mumbai Indians. (Twitter: @IPL)
Updated 16 October 2021

Faf du Plessis stars as Chennai Super Kings down Kolkata Knight Riders to win fourth IPL title in Dubai

Chennai, winners in 2010, 2011 and 2018, remain one of the most successful IPL franchises after five-time champions Mumbai Indians. (Twitter: @IPL)

DUBAI: Faf du Plessis smashed an attacking half-century to help Chennai Super Kings thrash Kolkata Knight Riders by 27 runs and clinch their fourth Indian Premier League title on Friday.
Du Plessis’ 86 off 59 balls guided Chennai to 192-3, a total their bowlers defended by restricting Kolkata to 165-9 in the final in Dubai.
Opener Venkatesh Iyer hit a 32-ball 50 but the knock was not enough to stop Chennai’s M.S. Dhoni from a landmark win in his 300th match as T20 skipper.
“We had match winners coming game after game and doing really well,” said Dhoni who also praised Kolkata for reviving their fortunes in the tournament’s second leg.
“Every final is special, if you look at the stats, we may say we’re the most consistent team to lose the final too. I feel it’s important to come back strong, especially in the knockouts.”
Chennai, winners in 2010, 2011 and 2018, remain one of the most successful IPL franchises after five-time champions Mumbai Indians who failed to defend their title this season.
Shardul Thakur took three wickets including twin strikes in one over to hurt two-time champions Kolkata who came into the final on the back of four successive wins.
Spinner Ravindra Jadeja and pace bowler Josh Hazlewood took two wickets each.
Eoin Morgan’s Kolkata won the toss and elected to field but their bowlers failed to get a wicket until the ninth over and took a hammering in Dubai.
Ruturaj Gaikwad fell for 32 off spinner Sunil Narine but Du Plessis kept up the charge to raise his fifty with a six amid raucous support for Chennai at a nearly packed stadium.
The South African veteran smashed seven fours and three sixes and put on key partnerships with Robin Uthappa, who made 31, and Moeen Ali, who hit an unbeaten 37 off 20 balls.
“That was a great day. It was also my 100th game in the IPL,” said man of the match Du Plessis who scored 600 runs this season.
“I have loved my time here. I have done almost ten years here — two seasons were a bit of a break. Number four in the trophy cabinet is really good.”
Du Plessis was all praise for his opening partner Gaikwad who topped the season’s batting chart with 635 runs and named emerging player of the tournament.
Du Plessis was out on the final ball off pace bowler Shivam Mavi. Narine was Kolkata’s best bowler with figures of 2-26.
Kolkata started strongly with Iyer and Shubman Gill, who made 51, putting on a quickfire opening stand of 91.
But Chennai hit back with Thakur’s twin strikes in one over including Iyer’s key wicket as wheels came off the Kolkata chase.
“We are extremely proud of the fight we have shown. The character and fight is trademark,” Morgan said of his side that bounced back from a seventh place in the first leg to storm into the playoffs and then the final.
The tournament was halted midway due to a surging pandemic in India in may and resumed in the United Arab Emirates last month.


Infantino says biennial World Cup gives countries chance to ‘dream’

Infantino says biennial World Cup gives countries chance to ‘dream’
Updated 15 October 2021

Infantino says biennial World Cup gives countries chance to ‘dream’

Infantino says biennial World Cup gives countries chance to ‘dream’
  • The biennial World Cup project has come in for heavy criticism from continental federations UEFA and CONMEBOL
  • "Our job as FIFA is to constantly think about how we can improve football in the world, to make football truly global," Infantino said in Caracas

CARACAS: FIFA president Gianni Infantino on Friday defended his plan to hold the World Cup every two years during a visit to Venezuela, a country that has never qualified for the global showpiece.
The biennial World Cup project, which has the backing of former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, has come in for heavy criticism from continental federations UEFA and CONMEBOL, as well as coaches and pundits.
“Our job as FIFA is to constantly think about how we can improve football in the world, to make football truly global,” Infantino said during an event in the Venezuelan capital Caracas.
“The FIFA president is president of the 111 countries and all those countries have the right to dream, a dream like the Vinotinto (Venezuela’s national team) dream.
“They also have to be able to achieve that dream because if you have to dream for eternity, in the end you prefer to do other things.”
Infantino insisted that a biennial World Cup would increase the chances for smaller nations to qualify.
“When it was decided to organize a World Cup every four years, more or less 100 years ago, FIFA had 40 countries. It’s time to re-analyze the issue.”
Infantino said South American sides were often at a disadvantage due to the amount of travel they have to do compared to European sides.
Europe has hosted the World Cup more than twice as often (11 times) than any other continent.
South America have welcomed the tournament five times. Africa and Asia have only hosted it once each, although the next one is in Qatar.
“If Messi has to travel 350,000 kilometers to play a World Cup and Cristiano Ronaldo 50,000 to play ... I think it’s normal that in June the South Americans are a bit more tired than the Europeans,” said Infantino.
“Since 2002, Brazil have not won a single World Cup knock-out match against a European side ... Not for 20 years, and that’s Brazil!“


The joy is back for Neymar in World Cup qualifying

The joy is back for Neymar in World Cup qualifying
Updated 15 October 2021

The joy is back for Neymar in World Cup qualifying

The joy is back for Neymar in World Cup qualifying

SAO PAULO: Neymar started the week facing criticism after a poor performance in a World Cup qualifying match and his suggestion that the next tournament in Qatar might be his last.
But the striker helped erase many of those thoughts by providing key elements in all of the Brazil goals in Thursday’s 4-1 win against Uruguay.
The 29-year-old Neymar, who had a disappointing performance in Sunday’s 0-0 draw at Colombia in the previous round, arrived in the northwest Brazilian city of Manaus on Monday with dozens of fans in front of the team’s hotel. That would be the usual, were it not for a wave of criticism he has faced at home for months.
Neymar scored the opening goal against Uruguay after dribbling past goalkeeper Fernando Muslera. He then took the shot that allowed Raphinha to add the second. And then he provided two assists; one in a through pass to Raphinha and a cross that landed on the head of Gabriel Barbosa.
Midfielder Fred, who assisted Neymar on his goal, said Brazil players felt the difference in atmosphere since they arrived in Manaus. And that includes the team’s star.
“These fans gave us support every day in the stadium, in the hotel. They bought all the tickets and it was an extra strength for us,” he said, referring to the attendance of 12,500, the maximum allowed by COVID-19 protocols in Brazil. “We want them to be here supporting us, giving this great energy again in the next matches,” he added.
Raphinha praised Neymar’s performance on Thursday.
“Playing with Ney was very easy. I am a big fan of his, I take a lot of inspiration from him, in the way he plays and dribbles the opposition,” Raphinha said. “I watch a lot of his videos. To have played alongside is a dream coming true.”
Neymar also showed his reinvigorated happiness on social media.
On Instagram, he posted pictures celebrating his goal with teammate Lucas Paquetá, a montage to mark his 70th goal for Brazil and also a video of himself hugging his friend and Uruguay striker Luis Suárez.
“A giant by nature,” Neymar said in the caption of a picture of himself celebrating.
The Brazil star, who has been overshadowed by Kylian Mbappé and Lionel Messi’s arrival at his club Paris Saint-Germain, once again dribbled past defenders with a smile on his face.
Before Neymar’s showing against Uruguay, local fans were still accusing him of being in poor shape, failing in delivering the latest Copa America, focusing too much on his events off the pitch and, finally, of remaining mostly silent about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in Brazil.
Brazil coach Tite agreed that the first match in front of home fans boosted the team’s morale after two lackluster performances. Neymar did not play in the 3-1 win against Venezuela due to a suspension.
“Thank you, Manaus. You had extraordinary human warmth with us,” Tite said at a media conference. “With fans back in the stadium . . . celebrating when our bus arrived. It was beautiful. Maybe today’s showing had to do a little with all this love, being welcome here.”
Neymar will return to action with Brazil in November, when his team will qualify for the World Cup if it scores a home win over Colombia in the next round. A few days later he will face Messi’s Argentina in San Juan.
Brazil leads qualifiers with 31 points in 11 matches, six ahead of second-place Argentina.


Pedri signs new deal with ‘greatest club’ Barcelona

Pedri signs new deal with ‘greatest club’ Barcelona
Updated 15 October 2021

Pedri signs new deal with ‘greatest club’ Barcelona

Pedri signs new deal with ‘greatest club’ Barcelona
  • Pedri has been one of the very few bright spots for Barcelona over the past year
  • “My desire was to remain here for many years,” the 18-year-old Pedri said after signing

BARCELONA: Barcelona midfielder Pedri González signed a new contract through 2026 on Friday, with the club hoping the teenager can help it recover from the traumatic departure of Lionel Messi.
Pedri has been one of the very few bright spots for Barcelona over the past year, during which a president has resigned and its debt has skyrocketed. Barcelona had to let Messi walk away when it could not pay his wages. Painful losses on the field have followed.
“My desire was to remain here for many years,” the 18-year-old Pedri said after signing. “It is true that we are going through a difficult moment, but we are the greatest club in the world and we are going to work this out.”
Pedri is coming off a breakout season, his first with Barcelona after joining from Las Palmas. The playmaker led Barcelona with 53 appearances, helping it win the Copa del Rey.
Pedri also became a key player for Spain, helping the national team reach the semifinals of the European Championship and winning a silver medal at the Tokyo Olympics.
His salary was not made public but Barcelona president Joan Laporta thanked Pedri for making “an effort” to reach an agreement that the cash-strapped club could afford. An exultant Laporta, who at one point in their joint news conference accidently called Pedri “Messi,” said re-signing the teenager was “of those days when it pays to be Barça’s president.”
In a sign of the expectations Barcelona has placed on Pedri, his contract includes a release clause of 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion), the highest in club history. Barcelona director of football Mateu Alemany said Pedri’s release clause “means he will be off the market for several years.”
Pedri signed for Barcelona in 2019 from Las Palmas, a second-division club on his native Canary Islands. The transfer fee of 5 million euros ($5.8 million) proved a steal. At Barcelona, Pedri quickly convinced coach Ronald Koeman that he should be his central playmaker in a similar role to former great Andrés Iniesta.
Spain coach Luis Enrique took note and gave Pedri a starting spot in the European Championship, where his precision passing and ball control earned him the award for the tournament’s best young player.
With Messi gone and no money to make big signings, Pedri forms part of a youth movement at Barcelona along with forward Ansu Fati and Gavi Páez, who recently became the youngest player to debut for Spain at age 17.
Pedri is currently recovering from a left thigh injury. He said that he did not believe the injury was due to the staggering total of 74 matches he played for country and club last season.
“I am eager to get back out there and make good on the trust that (the club) has placed in me,” Pedri said.