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Palestinian FA head banned after call to burn Messi shirts

Rajoub protested after Israel switched the venue of the June game from Haifa to Jerusalem. He urged Palestinians to burn shirts bearing the name of Lionel Messi if Argentina’s star went ahead and played there.

The change of venue came at a particularly sensitive time, after U.S. President Donald Trump had recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, infuriating Palestinians who want the eastern part of the city as the capital of their own future state.
Global soccer body FIFA said on Friday its disciplinary committee considered Rajoub’s statements “incited hatred and violence”. It banned him for 12 months and fined him 20,000 Swiss francs ($20,000).

Rajoub, it said, was banned from “taking part in any future match or competition taking place during the given period”. That included attending matches in any official capacity and participating in media activities at or near stadiums on match days, it added.

Argentina decided to pull out of the friendly, which would have been their last appearance before the World Cup, as political pressure mounted over the game.

 Rajoub has long tried to get soccer’s world governing body, FIFA, and the International Olympic Committee to impose sanctions against Israel. This is mainly because of the Israeli government’s settlements policy in the West Bank and because it has imposed travel restrictions on Palestinian athletes citing security concerns. Those bodies have not heeded his calls.

(Reporting by Brian Homewood;)

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Argentina need Messi – Tevez urges Lionel not to retire

Carlos Tevez has told Lionel Messi not to retire from international football following Argentina’s chaotic World Cup in Russia.

It was a forgettable campaign for Messi and Argentina, who were eliminated by eventual champions France in the last 16 at Russia 2018 as Jorge Sampaoli later departed.

Argentina’s tournament was marred by reports of unrest following a 3-0 group-stage defeat to Croatia after a 1-1 draw with Iceland left the South American giants on the brink of a humiliating exit.

Messi – still searching for his first senior international title – and Argentina managed to sneak into the knockout phase thanks to a last-gasp win over Nigeria but the team’s shortcomings were exposed against France.

The international future of five-time Ballon d’Or winner Messi is uncertain after the 31-year-old retired briefly following Argentina’s Copa America final loss to Chile in 2016.

Tevez urged Argentina to do more to ensure the country’s all-time leading goalscorer can succeed on the world stage.

“I think Leo has to think about himself,” Tevez – a 76-time Argentina international – told ESPN. “He has to think that, if there is not a project that makes him happy and in which he feels comfortable, it is very difficult to take the responsibility of leading Argentina to become champions by himself.

“We are wasting a lot of time not having him happy and not being able to give him a hand to achieve that target. I think we are wrong in not being able to help him feel comfortable.

“As a player and as an Argentine I tell him that we need him, that he tries to rest, that he keeps a cool head and that we need him. We need him because he is the soul of Argentina and, as long as he continues playing football, it has to be that way because he is Argentina’s biggest idol and he has to take that responsibility.

“Now [I tell him] to rest, keep a cool head and try to be well, then we need him to take charge and on the pitch.”

In the meantime, the focus is on Argentina replacing former head coach Sampaoli.

Peru boss Ricardo Gareca and Colombia’s Jose Pekerman have been linked with the vacant post.

Pekerman led Argentina at the 2006 World Cup and Tevez – who was part of the squad that reached the quarter-finals in Germany – believes the Argentine Football Association (AFA) should bring back the 68-year-old.

“I think that the closest we were of winning a World Cup was with Jose [Pekerman],” the 34-year-old forward added. “When I felt closest to winning the World Cup was with Jose. If we had beaten Germany [in the 2006 quarter-finals], we knew we were going to be champions and we lost on penalties.

“Jose’s era has taught me a lot from when I was a kid, I am very grateful to him, to Hugo Tocalli, to professor [Gerardo] Salorio to [Eduardo Julio] Ortasun… because today I am what I am because they put a grain of sand in what I was. I will always be grateful to them because they taught me a lot.

“They taught me to be a professional at 14 years old and today I continue at 34. It is essential to start as a child. From my personal experience, I think Jose is the man who can do it [be Argentina coach] quietly because he knows what is being talked about.”

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Real Madrid v Barcelona: Messi and Ronaldo primed for classic festive argument

And so, we reach the time of year when groups of people familiar with and contemptuous towards one another get together in the hope of joyous celebration.

Pleasantries will be exchanged, along with handshakes and small gifts before getting down to business. Ultimately, the truce will be flimsy as well-trodden arguments are trampled over once more, old wounds are reopened and it all ends in screaming and tears.

That’s right, it’s time for El Clasico. For Real Madrid versus Barcelona. And, for a generation reared on the scintillating past decade of the rivalry, it is time for Cristiano Ronaldo versus Lionel Messi.

Messi or Ronaldo? Ronaldo or Messi? It often seems a shame that the exploits of two of the greatest footballers of all time are used to weight arguments over who is better by fervent disciples of each man.

Trawl through online comment sections and social media posts around the times either does something incredible – most weeks, in reality – and you instantly find mentions of the other. Two fanatically entrenched sides, for whom praise of Messi goes hand-in-hand with vilification of Ronaldo or vice-versa.

It is a maddening sight, this significant mass of football fans who will not allow themselves to enjoy the pleasure of a Messi dribble or a Ronaldo thunderbolt because of an allegiance to the other. It’s irrational, blind, partisan and angry.

For El Clasico, it’s perfect.

Realistically at either end of the autumn in their respective careers, Messi and Ronaldo have never been more ideal as the leading men in the Barca-Madrid drama.

Where once there was a dizzying unpredictability about where their incredible talents might lead, now each player has a precise understanding of their exquisite capabilities. They deliberately and clinically bend games to their will and completely grasp the significance of their great moments.

When Messi shuffled into space 30 yards from goal the last time these sides met in the league at the Santiago Bernabeu, his scampering equaliser for Barcelona felt inevitable. A sensational last-minute winner was not quite enough – he had to mark it by holding his shirt aloft to goad the Madridistas.

After each goal, the Spanish television director cut to images of Ronaldo’s anguish. The joy and despair; two sides of the same golden coin.

Four months later, we knew what was happening when Ronaldo cut inside Gerard Pique in the Supercopa de Espana before the top corner rippled. It would have been disappointing if the Portuguese great had not presented his shirt to Camp Nou, Messi-like.

Being defined by one another has driven Messi and Ronaldo to greater heights and it is a state of affairs both men appear to have grudgingly embraced.

It is not enough for Ronaldo to match Messi on five Ballons d’Or, he must give an interview claiming to be the best player ever. Barcelona would similarly never settle for being considered Madrid’s equal. Theirs is an emblematic rivalry.

Over the past year, they have seemingly delighted in providing big moments on the biggest stages. These are also big bulletpoints for those gleefully arguing for one against the other.

Messi only became the best player in the world because Pep Guardiola surrounded him with a immaculate passing team, right? Now at Barcelona, Ernesto Valverde’s tactics are generally based around getting the ball to the wandering genius who can do damage from anywhere on the field, even though Neymar has gone and Luis Suarez’s form is erratic. At international level, it was left to Messi to single-handedly drag a dishevelled Argentina to World Cup qualification.

Ronaldo is on the decline, with only four LaLiga goals this season, isn’t he? If that is the case, this is a decline being managed with the magisterial splendour of nine goals in the Champions League group stage this season and 10 from the quarter-final to the victorious final last time around, including two hat-tricks. Of course Ronaldo was the man to sink Gremio in last weekend’s Club World Cup final. He knows exactly how and when the individual prizes he craves are won.

This weekend they will daub another layer onto their legend. Like all the most anticipated festive treats, fresh arguments will probably not be far behind.

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MARCA interviews MessiArgentine superstar tells us how he is away from the spotlight

What remains of that child who arrived in Barcelona, aged 13 and full of enthusiasm?

“My dreams and desires remain the same. Obviously, a lot of time has passed since then and many things have happened, both on and off the pitch.”

How has your family life changed, with the stability of your relationship with Antonella Roccuzzo and the birth of your children?

“It’s a very big change in every respect. You start to see different things and in a different way. The truth is that being a father is the most beautiful thing that’s happened to me in all my life. We have two children and are waiting for another; the first was an incredible feeling, the second the same and so will be the third.”

How is day to day life with your children? The other day we saw a photo of you reading a story with Thiago.
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“My day to day life is very much based around the kids. In the morning I take them to school and when I come back from training I practically leave straight away to pick up Thiago. When he finishes school, we try to spend time together with Antonella and Mateo until dinner. We put them to bed and then not much else, spending time amongst ourselves to pass the time. Everything that a normal family does.”

Do they ask to play football with you at home?

“They don’t tend to ask me to play football with them, sometimes they do, even Mateo who is the youngest. Thiago is already going to training, but they don’t often ask me to play.”

And when you throw the ball to Mateo, he throws it back with his right or left hand?

“Right, they’re both right handed.”

When you get home do you talk football with Antonella and the kids or are you able to leave that at the door and disconnect completely?

“We talk very little about football at home, something very big has to happen at the club or in the national team for it to be a subject at home.”

What do your children ask you? Do they understand who Lionel Messi is?

“Obviously Mateo doesn’t yet, he finds it strange when someone comes and asks for a photo or an autograph. He doesn’t understand. Thiago is starting to understand, more or less but not quite. He likes to go to the stadium and watch games, but he doesn’t fully understand. Sometimes at home he sees me and calls me Messi like the fans do, he doesn’t quite understand.”

What will you do in the future? Will you be a coach or do you see yourself living quietly and playing golf?

“I don’t know what I’ll do. We’ve spoken several times as a family about how I’ll occupy my time once my football career is over, but it’s not something that is settled. I always said that I don’t see myself as a coach, I don’t have a feeling for it. In a few years, that may change but I still have several years left and then we’ll see. When the end is near, something will be done.”

A colleague of yours told me that you’re naturally quite hefty, is it more the case that you focus on physical workouts or on your diet?

“It’s nothing special, I have taken care of my diet for years. After training I strengthen my legs but I’m not really one for the gym.”

Do you like to cook?

“No, I never really have. I would be able to make something, but I wouldn’t market it.”

Tell us something that you’ve cut out your diet that you really liked?

“That would be chocolate, that’s the most difficult thing for me. Even now, from time to time, I sin with chocolate.”

Is taking a siesta still important in your routine?

“No, not anymore. The truth is that I miss it. When I’m with the national team, that’s the only chance I take to nap. Now I don’t have time, because of the kids.”

Do you get to watch many matches?

“Yes, I like to. I still follow football a lot.”

Do you follow any particular competition?

“I watch everything in general, obviously the leagues in Spain, England and Argentina, although my schedule has an impact on that. I follow a little bit of everything.”

Ligue 1 too?

“Yeah, a little more now than before.”

Is it easy to be Lionel Messi?

“I’m a normal person who tries to have a family life. Yes, it’s true that I’d like to go unnoticed and have a normal life without everyone watching me from time to time.”

(Luis F. Rojo)

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Messi 2021: A remarkable Barcelona career in Opta numbers

Lionel Messi has signed a new contract with Barcelona through to 2021, ensuring the continuation of a remarkable career with the club.

When Messi made his competitive debut in October 2004 at the tender age of 17, there was already plenty of buzz about the Argentine wizard following his quick rise through the ranks of La Masia.

The forward was not only seen as one of Barca’s brightest prospects, but there were also murmurs he could potentially become an all-time great.

Fast-forward 13 years and it is fair to say Messi has lived up to those prodigious expectations, to the extent his latest terms include a mammoth €700million release clause.

The prolific forward, now 30, holds numerous individual records, while acting as the driving force behind Barca’s mightily impressive trophy haul.

Below, we look at some of the best stats of Messi’s remarkable career and the way it has progressed year by year.

RECORD MAN

– Messi is LaLiga’s all-time top-scorer with 361 goals, at least 75 more than any other player (Cristiano Ronaldo, 286).
– The Argentinian is Barcelona’s all-time top-scorer with 523 goals in all competitions.
– Messi was the first player to score five goals in a single Champions League game (versus Bayer Leverkusen in 2012).
– The forward has scored more goals than any other player in El Clasico history (24 – all competitions).
– He has made 602 appearances for Barcelona in all competitions, more than any other non-Spanish player.
– Messi has scored more goals for the same club than any other player in Champions League history (97 goals).
– The 30-year-old is the only LaLiga player to reach 40 goals in each of the last eight seasons in all competitions.
– Messi scored 50 goals in LaLiga in 2011-12, the best tally by a player in a single season.
– The forward has won the Ballon d’Or five times, more than any other player in history.

– He is the player with the longest scoring run in LaLiga history (21 games).

IN NUMBERS

602 – Total Barcelona appearances
427 – Games won
106 – Draws
69 – Defeats
523 – Goals
423 – Left-footed goals
76 – Right-footed
22 – Headers
2 – Other

197 – Assists

THROUGHOUT THE YEARS

Aged 17 – Competitive Barcelona debut, first Barcelona goal, first LaLiga title.
18 – Argentina debut, first Argentina goal, second LaLiga, first Champions League, first Supercopa de Espana.
19 – Second Supercopa de Espana, first hat-trick to snatch 3-3 draw in El Clasico.
20 – A disappointing third-place finish in LaLiga heralds Pep Guardiola’s arrival as head coach.
21 – Third LaLiga, second Champions League, first Copa del Rey.
22 – First UEFA Super Cup, first Club World Cup, third Supercopa de Espana, fourth LaLiga, 100th Barcelona goal, first Ballon d’Or, first European Golden Shoe.
23 – Fifth LaLiga, third Champions League, fourth Supercopa de Espana, second Ballon d’Or.
24 – Second UEFA Super Cup, second Club World Cup, fifth Supercopa de Espana, second Copa del Rey, 200th Barcelona goal, third Ballon d’Or, second European Golden Shoe.
25 – Sixth LaLiga, 300th Barcelona goal, fourth Ballon d’Or, third European Golden Shoe.
26 – Sixth Supercopa de Espana, all-time Barcelona top-scorer.
27 – Seventh LaLiga, fourth Champions League, third Copa del Rey, 400th Barcelona goal.
28 – Eighth LaLiga, fourth Copa del Rey, third UEFA Super Cup, third Club World Cup, all-time Argentina top-scorer, fifth Ballon d’Or.

29 – Fifth Copa del Rey, seventh Supercopa de Espana, 500th Barcelona goal, fourth European Golden Shoe.

Lionel Messi has signed a new deal to stay at Barcelona until 2021, with the Catalan giants inserting a €700 million (US$835 million) buyout clause into the terms.

Barca said in July that Messi had agreed to a contract until June 2021, which would be signed “in the coming weeks”.

The lack of confirmation on that agreement had led to talk that Messi could leave Camp Nou, with the Argentina superstar reportedly the subject of an audacious bid from Manchester City for his services.

However, Barca president Josep Maria Bartomeu said earlier this month that Messi had signed three different deals – agreements with his Messi Foundation and one relating to image rights to run alongside the contract of employment – to cement his long-term future at the club.

And the long-running saga finally came to end on Saturday, with Messi putting pen to paper on his fresh terms with the five-time European champions, the mammoth buyout clause dwarfing the €222 million (US$265 million) Paris Saint-Germain spent to pry Neymar away from Barca in August.

Messi will be 34 when his newest extension reaches its expiration, and will have spent 17 years as a professional at Barca, having made his debut in 2004 after progressing from the club’s famed La Masia academy.

His time to date has yielded 523 goals from 602 appearances, while Messi has picked up eight LaLiga titles and four Champions League crowns among a lengthy list of honors.

A winner of five Ballons d’Or, Messi also picked up his fourth Golden Shoe award on Friday after finishing as Europe’s top league goalscorer in 2016-17.

 

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Messi accepts need to rest after being a rare Barca sub

BARCELONA- Lionel Messi said he understood the importance of resting occasionally in order to stay ripe for the end of the season as he accepted the European Golden Shoe award on Friday for being the top scorer in the continent last season.

The Barcelona striker had played every minute of their season in the Liga and Champions League until left out of the starting line-up against Juventus on Wednesday, four days before Sunday’s top-of-the-table showdown at Valencia.

Messi came on for a very rare appearance as a substitute in the second half as Barca drew 0-0 with the Serie A champions to seal their place in the last 16 of the Champions League as group winners.

Messi told reporters: ”Every time I‘m on the bench, there’s a lot of commotion because I usually play, I don’t like sitting out, I like to participate and help from the inside.

“But I understand it’s a long season and that I have to look after myself more because the seasons keep getting tougher.”

Messi, who turned 30 in June, has been instrumental in Barca’s fine start as they also fly high in the Liga and can strike an early blow in their bid to reclaim the title when they visit Valencia.

A win at Mestalla would see Ernesto Valverde’s side stride seven points clear of Valencia, their nearest challengers, while staying at least 10 points clear of champions Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid.

“We are at the early stage of the season but Valencia have a good squad, a great coach who is doing well, he has clear ideas about his team and they know exactly how they want to play,” added Messi.

“They have the advantage that they only play once a week so it’s a very difficult game for us, even more because it’s at their place, but we’ll go there with lots of enthusiasm and we’ll go all out to win the game.”

Messi received the European Sports Media Golden Shoe for the fourth time in his career after hitting 37 league goals last season, collecting it from his team mate Luis Suarez, who won it last year with 40.

Messi also won the award for 2009-10, 2011-12 and 2012-13.
(Richard Martin)

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Messi joins Ronaldo in European 100-goal club

Lionel Messi scored a landmark 100th goal in European competition, netting for Barcelona against Olympiacos in the Champions League on Wednesday to join Cristiano Ronaldo in an exclusive club.

The Argentina star went into the match having netted 96 in the Champions League and three in the UEFA Super Cup, and he brought up his continental century with a free-kick at Camp Nou.

Dimitris Nikolaou, whose own-goal let Barca open the scoring, scythed Messi down on the edge of the area and Olympiacos goalkeeper Silvio Proto could not prevent him making it 2-0, parrying a curling effort into the roof of the net.

Lucas Digne soon made it three, on the end of a Messi assist, with Ernesto Valverde’s men coasting despite Gerard Pique’s red card shortly before half-time.

Messi scored the first of his 100 in November 2005 in a 5-0 hammering of Olympiacos’ great rivals Panathinaikos, whom he has since gone on to score another three times against.

Arsenal remain his favourite prey, however, with Messi scoring nine times against Arsene Wenger’s men down the years, one more than both Celtic and AC Milan.

His tally against Arsenal is tied with Ronaldo’s respective haul against Bayern Munich in Europe, making them joint record-holders for goals against a single team.

Messi has, of course, scored all 97 of his Champions League goals for Barcelona, taking him five clear of Ronaldo as the player with the most goals for the same club in the competition.

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Magic Messi leads Barca demolition of Juventus

BARCELONA- A mesmeric Lionel Messi scored twice and inspired Barcelona to a 3-0 win over Juventus as the Catalans got off to a flying start in Champions League Group D on Tuesday avenging last season’s quarter-final elimination by the Italian champions.

Messi broke the deadlock on the stroke of halftime by playing a slick one-two off Luis Suarez and arrowing the ball beyond Gianluigi Buffon, finally getting the better of the veteran Italian in his fourth game against him.

The Argentine was also the catalyst for the second goal, forcing Juve to scramble the ball off the line and allowing Ivan Rakitic to shoot into an empty net in the 56th minute and add to his strike against Juve in the 2015 Champions League final.

But Messi was from done. For his second and Barca’s third he received a pass from Andres Iniesta and ripped more holes in a depleted Juventus defence before lashing beyond a dejected Buffon, scoring his seventh goal in three games.

Juventus, who were missing five key players including defensive warrior Giorgio Chiellini, looked a shadow of the team that beat Barca 3-0 on aggregate last season and reached the Champions League final, and have conceded seven goals in their last two games in the competition over two seasons.
(Richard Martin)