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

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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.

Does Neymar’s injury prove that friendlies are pointless matches?

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Neymar, Brazil’s gold dust will miss this summers Copa America which is being held in his native Brazil because of ankle ligament damage and it is a massive blow for the player and his country.

The frustrating situation is that one of the best attacking players in the world will miss a major competition in his home country because of an injury sustained not in a Champions League final or a league title run in, but because he played in a money spinning friendly against Qatar, in a match that meant nothing, save to please some sponsors.

It is a desperate situation in modern day football how many games players have to play every year, some play as much as 70 when you take in internationals, and for the most part if you are playing for nothing, what is the point in playing? Of course it comes down to money and contracts, which is evidently ruining the game.

Now Neymar cannot play in what will be one of the biggest tournaments for Brazil in their home country. The last time they had this opportunity was in 2014 in the World Cup. Though for the semi-finals they missed Neymar through injury yet again.

But this injury feels different as it was obtained in a meaningless friendly. If we go back a few years the same situation happened to Zinedine Zidane. Picture the scene, France came to the 2002 World Cup as the champions and Zidane was now a Real Madrid player, he was rightly seen as the best player on the planet. But alas we were robbed of his talent when he was injured in a nothing game, a warm up for the World Cup. He missed the bulk of group games, and was rushed back for the final by which time they were virtually out and he was rusty, the champions were knocked out at the group stage that year.

It may seem harsh on neutral fans especially who want to watch their heroes but one wonders if friendly matches should only be played by up and coming players and not recognised ones such as the Zidane’s and Neymar’s of this world. What difference would it have made if Neymar had played against Qatar? From his ability/fitness point of view the answer is none, again it comes down to bums on seats and money, but it’s incredibly unfortunate that the Copa America will now be robbed of Neymar’s skills and inevitable goals.

 

7 Premier League players to watch at the Copa America

Sergio Aguero (Argentina)

Argentina’s embarrassment of attacking riches throughout the last decade has not been sufficient to bring them a trophy at senior level. Lionel Messi, 32 later this month, is running out of time to scoop an international honour, while Aguero is similarly closer to the end of his career than the start of it.

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

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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.

 

Champions League: Higuain Answers the Call

Much has been written about Gonzalo Higuain’s inability to deliver the goals on the big stage. Higuain cannot score in important games is a statement all too familiar for football followers, particularly for Argentina fans. For a rather deadly striker, his reputation had become tarnished by a failure to show up in big matches- with the World Cup 2014 and Copa America finals both cited as glaring examples of his ineptitude when it matters most.

Fast forward to Monaco on May 3rd, 2017, and the football world finally witnessed Higuain seize the opportunity not only to silence his critics but also to score what is likely the most important brace in his career. As has become expected from naysayers, some still made it a point to mention Higuain looked out of shape.

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Higuain looks overweight is another statement Juventus fans have heard often this season. Not that it has stopped Higuain from delivering the goals. In 34 Serie A games, of which he started 29 of them, Higuain managed to score an impressive 23 goals while dishing out two assists. He only trails Roma’s Edin Dzeko & Torino’s Andrea Belotti, both of whom have 25 goals, followed by Inter’s Mauro Icardi at 24. However, Juve did not splash €90 million to sign Higuain to score goals just in Serie A and against domestic rivals in Coppa Italia. The Argentina striker is not a luxury but rather an integral part in Juve’s plan to finally win the Champions League after a 21-year wait.

Many pundits noted earlier in the season that Higuain’s proper assessment and whether he will be considered as a successful signing will depend heavily on his output on European nights, in particular in the knockout stages. The outlook seemed bleak as Higuain managed just three goals in Europe prior to his double against Monaco. Of those three goals, one was a penalty-kick against Lyon while the other two successful strikes came in the 4-0 and 2-0 wins against light-weight opposition in the form of Dinamo Zagreb. Hence, there was nothing to rave about and coupled with Higuain’s failure to find the back of the net against both Porto and Barcelona, the critics began to sharpen their pencils.

Even his start against Monaco was not very promising, he slipped once and failed to connect with a Dani Alves fierce cross-shot earlier in the game. It looked as if this would be another frustrating night for Higuain in Europe. However, the Argentina striker responded with great composure and timing not only to score the first goal but also seal the 2-0 win for the Bianconeri. Both goals required a single touch by El Pipita, highlighting his goal-scoring prowess and uncanny ability to find the back of the net when provided with the slightest of chances.

The first goal was one of the best one can hope for in terms of team play and the buildup leading to the goal, starting with goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon and with both Higuain and flying Brazilian full-back Alves playing a crucial role in its creation. The game highlights, particularly the two goals, underline how good Higuain’s finish and first-touch can be. You can check the link here for the game’s highlights and goals: Monaco 0-2 Juventus Highlights. Courtesy www.goalsarena.org

The question now is, will Higuain striker again in Turin? And will he be decisive if Juve reach the final in Cardiff? Expect the critics to keep questioning Higuain because that is the nature of the game. However, Higuain has at least one more opportunity, in Turin, to end the debate about his disappearing acts in big games!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Argentina hit new low with 3-0 loss over Brazil

Brazil v Argentina - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Qualifier

Just when you thought it couldn’t go any more wrong in Argentina’s quest to qualify for the 2018 World Cup finals, it just did. This time they comprehensively lost to the old enemy, Brazil but in losing 3-0 it was the manner of the defeat that has raised even more questions about this talented but lacklustre squad.

True Argentina did have the better opening exchanges in Belo Horizonte, the same stadium that witnessed Brazil’s meltdown when they were thrashed 7-1 by Germany in the 2014 World Cup. But Brazil have moved on since then, though it seems Argentina who were the runners up in that World Cup have taken one step forward and three steps back.

Once Phillpe Coutinho’s stunning strike put the Selecao 1-0 up the visitors seemed to show all of the usual cracks. Suddenly instead of Lionel Messi distributing balls and making quick clever runs his face was full of doubt. Suddenly at 1-0 Argentina knew they had to score two away from home, since  a draw would do nothing for them in this late evening game.

Messi’s ever reliant team mate at Barcelona Neymar put the sword in the chest when he scored Brazil’s second and if the game had not in theory been over after the first goal, it was most certainly now.

Edgardo Bauza the Argentine coach is under serious pressure to keep his job as Argentina are now 6th in the South America standings with only the top four places assured of qualification. Fifth place goes into a play off with an Oceania nation over 2 legs.

Bauza said: “We still have a lot to do before the qualifiers end, we know that classification still depends on what we do. The game against Colombia will be different.” That game takes place on Tuesday and will be huge given that it is the nation’s last game in these groups until next March. Argentina will be at home and will be obliged by a country to get all three points. Added to the pressure is that in March they will face Chile the current Copa America champions who have beaten Argentina back to back in Copa America finals.

Argentina need to find their worth and they need to do it ever so quickly. Against Colombia in the past. The omens may be with Messi and co as Argentina haven’t lost to Colombia at home in 12 years. For now everyone will wait for baited breath and hope to see the mother of performances from what has been a dejected team who has now gone 4 games without a win in any competition.

 

What are the Best Teams Left in Copa Centenario?

Euro 2016 may be grabbing most of the headlines this month, but the 100th Copa America has already reached its quarterfinal stage, and there’s been some interesting action along the way. Brazil fizzled without Neymar, Argentina thrived (largely) without Lionel Messi, and hopeful contenders like Mexico and the United States have looked fairly strong.

Argentina v Panama: Group D - Copa America Centenario

Now the Americas are down to eight remaining teams, but how do they stack up? Here’s a ranking of the remaining teams, with action scheduled to resume on Thursday.

Argentina
There’s really not much debate about which team has looked best thus far, particularly with Brazil having drastically underperformed. Other football pundits ranking the remaining teams have noted that Argentina is the only team to win all its matches, and frankly, they did it with ease. Ten goals forced to just one against, and a combined score of 8-0 in its final two matches, helped this team to absolutely dominate Group D. Argentina will next face Venezuela.

Colombia
The two through four spots on this list are fairly tight, and Colombia did end the group stage with a whimper, falling 2-3 to Costa Rica. Still, behind James Rodriguez and Co. this is a formidable side. The Colombians showed a little bit of a tendency to let up with a lead—both in individual matches and in the group at large—but when they’re locked in they’re probably the best team on the bottom half of the bracket. They’ll take on Peru in the quarters.

United States
The U.S. lost its opening match to Colombia, 0-2, but didn’t look horrible in the effort. More importantly, the team then rebounded to crush a decent Costa Rica team and defeat Paraguay despite being a man down for half the match. The U.S. has shown its trademark grit and determination thus far and seems to have the talent to facilitate a deep run this time around. Ecuador is next up for the Yanks.

Mexico
The Mexicans might have earned the number-two spot on this list a few days ago, as El Tri looked better than everyone but Argentina through two matches. Indeed, heading into the final group match the football betting oddsmakers tabbed Mexico to stay perfect in Group C, and it seemed like a good pick. However, El Tri stumbled against a pretty weak Venezuela team, ending up in a 1-1 draw. And things only get tougher moving forward with a match against Chile in the quarters.

Chile
Chile was the only team in Group D to manage a goal against Argentina and looked competitive in a 1-2 loss to the favourites. Chile also won the event a year ago, which means many of the players who are active this time around know what it takes. The upcoming match against Mexico may be the most tantalising of the Copa quarters.

Peru
The Peruvians face a difficult task in taking on Colombia, but the team will no doubt get a mental boost from the fact that it already took down Brazil. There was controversy surrounding that Brazil win, but Peru is in the quarters nonetheless. The talent level isn’t quite on par with the top five teams on this list, but it could be a competitive match against the Colombians.

Ecuador
Ecuador will attempt to stop the U.S. in its tracks in the quarterfinal round. Ecuador had a little bit of a strange run through the group stage, drawing both Brazil and Peru before managing a vital 4-0 defeat of Haiti to advance. Like Peru, its talent level is lower than the top contenders, but this is still a tricky and capable side that will give the U.S. a tough match.

Venezuela
Venezuela is the only genuine underdog remaining in the tournament. Most expected Uruguay to accompany Mexico out of Group C, but Venezuela stood up well to both sides, defeating Uruguay and forcing the aforementioned draw with Mexico in the final group match. Even so, this side should be outmatched against Argentina in the quarters.

 

La Liga con un ojo en la Copa América

Lionel Messi

Empieza la Copa América, la copa del Centenario. Todo el continente americano se centra en lo que ocurrirá en el gran torneo de fútbol… pero la Liga española tampoco estará ajena a todo lo que suceda. ¿Por qué? Porque tiene a 30 futbolistas que disputarán el campeonato y porque, si algún jugador destaca, puede engrosar ese amplio listado.

Atlético de Madrid y Barcelona son los equipos españoles que más futbolistas aportan al torneo, cada uno contará con la representación de 5 jugadores. En el caso de los colchoneros acudirá casi toda la defensa que ha realizado una temporada excepcional: está la dupla uruguaya de Godín y Giménez junto al lateral brasileño Filipe Luis, en el centro del campo aparecen las dos incorporaciones argentinas que llegaron este verano, Kranevitter y Augusto. El Barcelona cederá a su Bota de Oro, Luis Suárez, y a su Balón de Oro, Leo Messi. Además, el portero chileno Bravo, el defensa argentino Mascherano y el aún futbolista brasileño Alves completan la lista. Por su parte, Venezuela es la Selección que más futbolistas recibe de la Liga española, con un total de 6 (entre jugadores de Primera y de Segunda división).

Aunque también hay ausencias sonadas, sobre todo la de Neymar. El Barça y la Federación Brasileña han llegado a un acuerdo, el delantero descansará durante este mes pero sí irá a los Juegos Olímpicos este verano. Marcelo, que no está convocado por sus desavenencias con el seleccionador a pesar de demostrar una temporada más su alto rendimiento. O Keylor Navas, el muro de Europa, por culpa de una lesión en el tendón de Aquiles.

Por tanto, los clubes españoles estarán pendientes de sus jugadores para que no se produzca una temida lesión, mientras que los ojeadores buscarán futbolistas que despunten con el fin de mejorar las plantillas de la próxima temporada.