Brazil win Copa America, Lionel Messi is sent off and Gary Medel loses the plot

zz63(1)

The Copa America 2019 is over and the first reaction is to say congratulations to Brazil, who without Neymar who was injured before the tournament won it. This was Brazil’s first international trophy since 2007 as they beat Peru 3-1.

The talking point of the competition though hasn’t really been about Brazil who conceded just 1 goal on their way to winning but about Lionel Messi and Argentina.

Yet again Messi has seen a competition pass him by and an opportunity to win something with the national team looks like a dream that will never realise itself for one of the greatest players to ever play the game.

But Argentina did improve as the competition went on, and did play well against Brazil even though they ended up losing 2-0. During that game they hit the woodwork twice, including a shot from Messi and claimed that they should have had two clear penalties. This is when the paranoia clicked in and Messi suggested that everything was being done to ensure Brazil win the competition in their own country. That sounds like a stretch but at the same time it could be suggested that VAR isn’t working.

VAR is at the teething stage and needs many more modifications to make it work 100% of the time. This is for another story, but as far as VAR goes it seems that Messi does have a point.

So Argentina were denied to play in the final which meant that they played in the match that no one really wants the 3rd place play-off, only it would be against a fierce rival in Chile. It seems that every time the nations play each other there is fireworks and their Copa America meeting would be no different. On top of that is the fact that there is no love lost between the nations after Chile beat Argentina in the final of the 2015 and 2016 Copa America finals.

It all came to ahead when Messi chased the ball out of play but got too close to Chile’s Gary Medal who was trying to shepherd the ball away. Medel reacted by body checking Messi not once, not twice but three times and then putting his head into his. The menace in Medel’s face as Messi just stood there was frightening. The referee ran over to both players and sent them both off.

Messi had done little to nothing to get his first red card in 14 years, while Medel’s was justified. At the same time it may have made sense to send both players off as the match could have continued to boil over had one stayed on.

Argentina won the game 2-1, but they would have wished that victory to be exchanged for the two final losses they have had to endure against them.

Argentina in a way go away from this competition not sad but seeing that there has been progress in a team who are on the face of it quite average. Messi will be hoping that his nation can rise from this and get better, but they clearly will need a couple of more players to break through into the squad if they are soon to win trophies.

Will Lionel Messi ever win a major trophy for Argentina?

zz44(1)

After Argentina were knocked out of the Copa America by Brazil this week a dejected Lionel Messi was not a happy man. He blamed the referee, he blamed VAR- and he had some points but at the end of the day Argentina simply were not good enough, even though the side had played one of their best games in the last three years. They were out and Messi’s quest for a national trophy goes on.

Of course suggesting that Messi has never won a trophy for Argentina is one of the biggest mistakes that fans and pundits regularly make. He has won two trophies in the under 21 World Cup and an Olympic Gold. But of course the trophies that really count at national level is the World Cup and Copa America. Messi has come close reaching 4 finals, 1 World Cup and 3 Copa America’s only to lose each time. Indeed Argentina had reached the last 2 Copa America finals only to go home empty handed as on both occasions they lost to Chile.

But is it simply to be accepted that Messi regarded as one of the true footballing greats will never win a national award- he would be one of the very first players to do so if it did happen. When Argentina did lose against Brazil journalists were waiting for Messi to announce his early retirement as he did a few years ago, borne out of frustration than actually meaning it, and Messi will not retire.

What is evident though is that he isn’t getting any younger. Messi is 32 now and probably has four more years at the very top of his game. That means that he should be able to compete in another World Cup and another Copa America. The next World Cup takes place in 2022 in Qatar but the next Copa America will be next year. It will be held in two countries in Colombia and Argentina and that could be significant for Messi. Not all is lost.

It could well be a fitting way for Messi to end his international career winning Argentina’s first national trophy in almost 30 years and it has been a frustrating time for a nation that has produced so much quality throughout the years and has had nothing to show for it.

For now the quest goes on and some will point to the fact that you can’t really be considered the best if you don’t win international trophies too- whether that is really true or not is open to debate for another time.

 

 

Lionel Messi’s missing trophy still on as Argentina reach the Copa America semi finals but Brazil are waiting

xxx87(1)

Lionel Messi is known as one of the greatest players that the game has ever produced, some say and rightfully so in most cases that he is the best player ever. He has won everything multiple times over and scored well over 600 goals, but there is one major gap in his resume and that is his lack of trophies for his national side Argentina.

True Messi does actually have two trophies. The under 20 World Cup and the Olympic Gold with Argentina. But his critics are not going to count that and question his greatness based on the fact that he hasn’t won a World Cup or a Copa America.

Messi has been to 4 major finals- 3 Copa America’s an 1 World Cup, including 3 finals in a row and lost them all. The ability then has been there but the final push or dare we say it a little frozen in a final has come back to haunt Messi on several occasions.

This year after a poor start Argentina find themselves in the semi-final of the Copa America. That’s the good news, the bad news is that it is against Brazil, and it is in their home country and everyone believes Brazil to be the big favourites to win. Indeed some bookmakers have Argentina at 4/1 to win the game.

All of the pressure will be on Argentina, although they will remember that last time Brazil were in a semi final in a major competition it was the World Cup when they historically lost 7-1 against Germany.

This is a massive match for Argentina and then again for Brazil too and the final will be on July 7th this Sunday. The other semi-final will be against Chile and Peru, Chile might be the favourites but Peru have proved their worth holding Uruguay to a 0-0 result in the quarter finals and then beating them on penalties and look like tough opposition. Having said that Chile have won the competition for the last 2 tournaments and are aiming for 3 in a row, each time beating Argentina in the final. Could it be destiny that they meet each other again?

Messi has not scored many goals in the competition just one so far which was a penalty- but he won’t care if he doesn’t light up the tournament but Argentina win it. At the same time his side will need to see Messi perhaps put in a vintage display against their great rival to get to the final. The match will take place early on Wednesday morning and shouldn’t be missed. Indeed with a plethora of football all around us at the moment this will be the biggest game in world football.

Is this the year that Lionel Messi wins a trophy for Argentina at the Copa America?

copa(1)

The Copa America kicks off tomorrow and all eyes will be on the most important competition in South America, which welcomes other nations this year such as Japan and Qatar who have been invited. But what is surely on everyone’s minds is can Lionel Messi finally win a major trophy for Argentina?

Time is running out for arguably one of the best players to ever grace the game to win something for his country. True Messi has actually won the under 20 World Cup and an Olympic Gold for the national side, but he will be well aware that what really counts is either a World Cup or a Copa America.

It’s not as if Messi hasn’t been close either. Argentina reached the World Cup final in 2014, their best performance since 1990 but lost 1-0 in a dire final against the more slicker Germany. In 2015 Argentina then reached the Copa America final but there would be more heartbreak for Messi and co when they lost on penalties to the hosts Chile after the game had finished 0-0 after extra time.

Then there was the major rub the salt in the wounds type of result when the following year the Copa America was held again this time in America. The reason for it being held in 2016 was to mark the 100th anniversary of the competition. Argentina were superb which included beating the USA 4-0 on their way to the final where they would meet Chile again. And again the match ended 0-0 after extra time and again Argentina lost the final on penalties, which included Messi missing his one.

This led Messi to quit the national team- everyone knew he hadn’t really not with a World Cup in Russia coming up and at the time he was still in his 20′s but it was a real shocker for Messi to lose yet again in a major final, his 3rd loss in a row.

The big news in Brazil is that the host nation will be without Neymar, that can only be good news for any rival nation. But can Argentina win the competition? Well they are the second favourites to do so, but as we’ve seen time and again even if Brazil falter at home there are some other strong teams and the likes of Chile who have won the competition two times in a row cannot be ignored.

Argentina will kick off their competition on June 15th against Colombia and will also play Paraguay in two potentially tough games. Their final group game is against Qatar where they will be big favourites to win, at the same time Qatar have improved significantly over the last year but Argentina should be able to qualify for the knockout stages.

July 7th will already be etched into Messi’s mind. That is the final date and could well end up being one of the most special nights in Messi’s career- who said the football season had finished?

Top Ligue 1 Goalkeepers in 2018/19: Walter Benitez

ben(1)

Nice may have finished 7th and a huge 35 points adrift of champions PSG but they still had the best goalkeeper statistically in the league in 26 year old Walter Benitez. The Argentinian is still very much unknown so much so that he has never played for the senior national side and if you go to his Wikipedia page you get the following: ‘Walter Daniel Benítez is an Argentine footballer who plays as a goalkeeper for Nice’. That is all the information on the world’s leading encyclopaedia on the internet.

And yet Benitez has been outstanding for Nice this season who just missed out on a European spot under coach Patrick Vieira who is in his debut season with the club in Ligue 1.

Benitez finished top of the Fantasy Football rankings in Ligue 1 with 91 points, 7 more than Mike Maignan of Lille and interestingly 29 points more than PSG’s Alphonse Areola. Benitez kept 16 clean sheets the most for any goalkeeper in Ligue 1 and had a superb period in the season which we must talk about.

It started against Amiens in November when Nice beat them 1-0, and it was to be a superb run of games for Benitez where he went the next 5 games without conceding one goal. It was at this time that the 26 year old started to garner attention from other teams and then other leagues including the Premier League. It is true to say that Benitez’s performances this season are like a catch 22 for a club like Nice. Good in the fact that he has undoubtedly won the club many points 10-15 at least but at the same time bad in the fact that they will almost certainly have to sell him at one point and that could be as early as this summer.

Overall Benitez ranks as the 6th best goalkeeper in Europe’s major leagues this past season. If you had Benitez in your fantasy team then you would have picked up a bargain as he is just 6.5m. He is sure to rise next season. There is little doubt that he is arguably one of the most underrated goalkeepers playing in Europe today.

Benitez has impressed Vieira and has been one of the real breakthrough talents in Ligue 1 even with his age in consideration. His benefit is that in his position he can be a goalkeeper easily for another 10 years.

Surely after this season and being ranked No.1. in the Ligue 1 Fantasy Football rankings he will get his break to be the number 1 choice for the Argentina national team. He recently said that getting the chance would be like touching the sky, but surely that will simply be the beginning for him, the sky in his case will not be the limit.

Prove you have what it takes to challenge the best French Fantasy Football managers here fantasyligue1.com

 

 

Does the importance of club football hamper Messi and Ronaldo in international games?

MEIOP(1)

The domestic football season has taken a break for the next week and some of the football results have been a surprise. Portugal drawing 0-0 with Ukraine was one, featuring Cristiano Ronaldo, the European champions could not beat Ukraine on their home turf. The other match that stuck out was a Lionel Messi Argentina team who lost 3-1 to Venezuela.

Argentina’s result was seen as a huge shock, even though the match was just a friendly and as usual Messi was given the scapegoat tag. How could it be that such a wonderful gifted player who is in brilliant form for his club side Barcelona not be able to perform and inspire his side to what should have been, at least on paper, a routine win?

One has to wonder if the importance of club football and the ever decreasing unimportance of international football is having its effect? Look at the evidence. An international match of no significance has come up bang in the last moments of the Spanish league title. Barcelona are 10 points clear and should win, but in a couple of weeks they will be playing in the Champions League against Manchester United.

Messi should be preparing for these matches both physically and mentally. Playing against Venezuela in a match that counts for very little save a few FIFA rankings points makes very little sense. The only saving grace for him and other international players who have bigger and more important games coming up is that the match was in Europe, Madrid to be exact at Atletico Madrid’s ground.

Is it any wonder then that players like Messi are not motivated to play in the match? It can end up being  a physical game, so what happens if he gets injured and then misses important matches for Barcelona, that actually mean something? At least in Europe, UEFA saw that friendlies were meaningless and introduced the UEFA Nations League. Whilst that competition does have its own flaws, it is still much better than friendless.

As for Ronaldo the situation was different in the fact that Portugal’s 0-0 draw with Ukraine was a Euro 2020 qualifier, but still it took the Juventus man time to get into the game. True the match ended up being a one sided affair where Portugal had an incredible 18 corners and dominated possession. But it was also a match where they really should have strolled home to a victory. With several players involved in title run ins again it just feels that such matches with just two months of the season in Europe left to play, simply come at the wrong time.

With such a full football calendar that UEFA have, it seems that nothing is going to change in the short run. But especially when matches are friendly ones, we shouldn’t be too shocked if the worlds best players are not up for a game, with so many important competitive fixtures around the corner.

 

 

 

Remembering Nantes and Cardiff player Emiliano Sala

sala-1-750x410(1)

Late last week we were all told of the news that we already knew, although this brought it home to us that the Argentinian player Emiliano Sala had died in a plane crash. This tragic news is of course beyond comprehension and at only 28 years old with his whole football career and life still ahead of him, Sala has lost that opportunity to shine even more than he already has.

Sala’s plane went down back on January 21st as the player had just agreed terms with Cardiff City to join the Premier League strugglers from Nantes in a deal wort £15m. On reflection this looked like a stunning deal for Neil Warnock and Cardiff and a bad one for Nantes. Sala had already scored 14 goals this season, and it seemed bizarre that Nantes would sell their star striker in the January transfer window. Alas Nantes needed the funds and Cardiff needed the player.

What happened next is incredibly sad. Sala’s plane went missing. There was of course some hope that he would be found in some kind of miracle rescue. But as hours turned into days and days turned into weeks that hope had faded. Everyone knew that he and pilot David Ibbotson had perished in the most horrific way possible. That confirmation hit the world of football hard at the end of last week.

Sala was a versatile player and was on the cusp of making the Argentina national squad, true his great form and scoring ability had started late in life but he had shown over the past 18 months at Nantes that he was developing into a proper centre forward. He would have been the perfect player for Cardiff, and would have saved them from the relegation battle that they face now in the Premier League.

But football of course has to take a step back, when life comes first and it is sad to think of all the great opportunities that Sala will now miss out on. Of course he reached and achieved his dream of being a professional football player but at the same time he was about to make that step up and play in the most competitive league in Europe.

While Sala’s family have at least some sort of closure with his body being recovered the poor family of the pilot Ibbotson do not have that joy, with his body still missing somewhere presumed in the sea.

Sala’s memory will live on and the great cities of Nantes and Cardiff will now be forever connected in this way.

Boca Juniors and River Plate final fiasco highlights the shame of football in Argentina

Boca-1 (1)

A great country, two fantastic and historical teams and yet it has come to this where the Copa Libertadores final will now not take place in Argentina, a final between two Argentinian teams in Boca Juniors and River Plate.

The disgraceful scenes which marred what would have been the 2nd leg match after the first ended in a cliff hanger at 2-2 is the reason behind it. First the final was cancelled for 24 hours then it was pushed back a few days more and more violent scenes erupted. The fans to blame are the fans of River Plate, this time. But last time going to 2007 it was Boca’s fans that had the tear gas out and were then kicked out of the very same competition. So now Boca want River kicked out, but something about that doesn’t seem right. Why do fans have so much ‘influence’ when not one player from either side was involved in the problems?

The decision to play the 2nd leg outside of Argentina is sadly the right one. Sadly because this simply should not be happening. But maybe this is a final and direct message that if you want to see your club in a final then we are going to make it as hard as possible to happen. What the authorities must do next though is make sure the final is in Europe. Move it to Brazil for example and you could end up with even more problems.

A Brazilian final would mean that both River and Boca fans would have the chance to travel to that game and even if they do not have tickets they could create ugly scenes outside of the stadium, at this stage we couldn’t put that past them. No this final needs to be far and away and Italy have stepped forward to take it on.

In an ideal world the final would have been played and sorted now and the most that losing and winning fans should be doing is calm banter. Instead these fans are used to creating violence at games, yes it makes for an electrifying atmosphere no doubt about it but it can cause problems. The Argentinian FA have had to deal with that and that is why no away fans are allowed to attend football games in the country. It’s a step that had to be taken but it is sad at the same time that it has come to this.

League matches have been affected before but now Europe is looking at what is South America’s equilivant of the Champions League final, and you look on in shame and disappointment that such a showpiece event can not take place because of violence.

 

Diego Simeone needs to leave Atletico Madrid

zzzzz (3)

If you look at this decade alone and name 5 brilliant managers surely one of them has to be Atletico Madrid’s Diego Simeone. The Argentinian has been in charge of Atletico since 2011 and has achieved some incredible results with the perennial underdogs.

In a league such as La Liga that contains the two best teams in world football in Barcelona and Real Madrid his achievements with the club cannot be underestimated. He has won 7 major trophies with Atletico which includes the title win of 2014 and the team have got to 2 Champions League finals- both lost to their eternal nemesis Real Madrid. But in Copa del Rey’s and the Super Cup they have also exacted their revenge. They have knocked Barcelona out of two Champions League campaigns and this season have already beaten Real Madrid 4-2, and let’s not forget their 2 Europa League titles.

Under Simeone Atletico are experiencing their greatest achievements and no matter what happens he will go down as a legend with the club. And he still has pulling power- that’s most of the reason that French World Cup winner Antoine Griezmann has stayed with the team, even when Barcelona have come calling and would easily spend £100m on the player. Simeone has made Atletico believe that they are invincible and for the most part his fantastic managerial tactics have been spot on. However after 7 years, which will be 8 years in 2019 in charge, is it time for Simeone to leave the club?

At just 48 Simeone does have time on his hands, at least another 20 years at the top but surely if he doesn’t leave Atletico soon he could become the forgotten man. He has won everything with the club apart from the Champions League, but he has nothing left to prove, and yet he still searches for more trophies. It is clear that he wants to add another Spanish title to Atletico’s history and of course make up for the two final losses in the Champions League. But he should be free to walk if he so chooses.

The time feels right for Simeone to branch out at pastures new. The Premier League has shown hints of wanting him to coach over there, how Manchester United perhaps could use his services right now. Arsenal were reported to be interested a few seasons ago but that has gone with Unai Emery in charge now. Over in Italy there is Inter Milan who have struggled since Jose Mourinho left the club in 2010.

If Simeone wants to be known as one of the greats, well you can’t do a Sir Alex Ferguson or Arsene Wenger anymore. It makes sense to leave and prove your worth elsewhere. What is sure is that the lucky team that gets the pleasure of working with him, will surely benefit, and yes it could well be the saddest day in Atletico Madrid’s history when he finally does decide to leave, but leave at one point he must.

 

Diego Maradona was misunderstood in his criticism of Barcelona star Lionel Messi

aaaaa (2)

Two of the very best players of their generations clashing will always garner attention and Diego Maradona, the Argentine legend has spoken out about another Argentine legend and a lot seems to have been lost in communication.

Maradona has spoken out about Messi and has said he is not a leader. It was these words that have been completely taken out of context, and it doesn’t matter what else Maradona said in his most recent interview. Messi not being a leader has been good enough for the worlds press and fans to run with it. Now Messi’s fans have turned against Maradona- ‘what do you mean he isn’t a leader?’

What Maradona was trying to say is that Messi should not captain the Argentina national side, you’re leader doesn’t have to be the best player in the world- and he’s absolutely right.

At the World Cup last summer Messi only showed flashes of his brilliance and for the most part he walked around the pitch with his hands on his head, it was a forgettable tournament in all truth for him and Argentina. And then there was Maradona high up in the VIP seats who really did cut a frustrated figure. Admittedly he refused to criticise Messi at the World Cup, and so doing so three months later has probably come as a shock to some, but you get the feeling that it had to be said. Read between the lines and Maradona is calling Messi a superb player that has to have his leadership within the team stripped away to become a better player for the national side. In truth there is nothing wrong and everything right in what Maradona is saying.

Maradona said: ” Messi’s a great player, but he’s not a leader, before talking to the coach and players, he’ll play on the PlayStation. Then, on the pitch, he wants to be the leader. He’s the best along with Cristiano Ronaldo but for me, it’s pointless to make a leader out of a man who goes to the bathroom 20 times before a match. There’s no two ways around it. Let’s stop making a God out of Messi. Messi is just another player for Argentina. I wouldn’t call him up right now. We need to take pressure off him and the leadership away from him for him to be the Messi we want him to be. I would make him play as I want, how I know Messi can play.”

No coach for Argentina including ironically Maradona has found the right balance to accommodate Messi and it seems no coach will. Although Messi is set to star in Copa America next year a trophy like the World Cup that has eluded him, could 2019 be the year to end Messi’s draught with the national side, and will anyone take positive notice of what Maradona has said? Only time will tell.