Lionel Messi scores 85th, 86th goals of year, passes Gerd Müller


Since Wednesday there were doubts whether he’d even play, but not only was Lionel Messi in the starting lineup for Barcelona at Real Betis today, he quickly answered the day’s big question:

Would he break the record?

That record was former Bayern Munich/Germany striker Gerd Müller’s, the three-time European champion posting 85 goals in all FIFA-sanctioned competitions in 1972. Messi entered today’s game on 84: 72 for Barcelona; 12 for Argentina.

The record-tying goal came after only 16 minutes, with Müller taking a back seat nine minutes later:


It’s apropos that the record-setter came on a goal that’s had to be added to Messi’s game. You didn’t see play like that when he broke into Barça’s senior team eight years ago. Since, Messi has matured from the widely talented right winger he was at 17 into the middle-of-the-field orchestrator he is today.

source: Getty ImagesCharging at the defense, he lets his pass for Andrés Iniesta go just in time to give his teammates space for a backheel. One touch later and Messi’s let go of a surgical far post finish. The opposing keeper has no chance.

Messi’s always been a phenom, but that kind of playmaking and precision are things he’s had to develop en route to becoming the world’s best player. His initial value was on the ball – taking on his man to create his own opportunities, occasionally setting his teammates up for others.

He was a wildcard to team built around Ronaldinho, Deco, Samuel Eto’o, and Xavi. Now his game embodies the best of all those players’ skills: Xavi’s precision and prolificness; Deco’s nous; Eto’o finishing; Ronaldinho’s flair.

Though today’s accomplishment highlights his individualism, Messi’s matured into a player you can build a team around without fear it will devolve into a quest for numbers. The records just come.

MORE: All 86 goals, one video

After today’s 2-1 victory in Seville, Barcelona has four more games left on their 2012 schedule: a Copa del Rey home-and-away against second division Cordoba, a huge home match against Atletico (and Radamel Falcao) and a year-ender at Real Valladolid.

If he plays every game, as he wants to do, Messi could come close to 95 goals, but with 100 out of reach and Cordoba offering a chance for rest, look for Messi to settle in just short of 90.

Xabi Alonso denies Spanish accusations of tax fraud

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The list of players pursued by Spanish authorities crying tax fraud is starting to resemble a pretty good team,

Call it The Longest Yard: La Liga.

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Xabi Alonso is being accused of not paying taxes on his image rights while a player at Real Madrid, joining Radamel Falcao, Neymar, Lionel Messi, Luka Modric, and Cristiano Ronaldo as World XI-caliber players who’ve faced legal troubles in Spain.

Jose Mourinho even had to travel to Spain earlier this season to face accusations from a Spanish court. Those found guilty have found punishment other than jail time.

Alonso denies any wrongdoing, according to Sky Sports:

Prosecutors say he defrauded the Spanish state of £1.75m between 2010 and 2012 and called for the same sentence to be applied to Alonso’s financial advisor Ivan Zaldua Azcuenaga and the administrator of consultancy shell company, Ignasi Maestre Casanova.

Iraq hosts friendly tournament after 3-decade FIFA ban

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BAGHDAD (AP) Iraq is hosting a friendly soccer tournament this week, with Syria and Qatar.

It comes just days after FIFA lifted a three-decade-long ban on Iraq hosting international competitions.

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An Iraq-Qatar match is to start Wednesday evening in the southern city of Basra.

FIFA lifted the ban on Monday for Iraqi cities of Basra, Karbala and Irbil, considered to be the safest in Iraq – but not the capital, Baghdad, which still sees frequent militant attacks.

Iraq’s minister of youth and sports, Abdul-Hussein Abtan, congratulated the Iraqi people following FIFA’s move and said it would change how Iraq is viewed in the region and beyond.

While the ban was in place, Iraq was still able to host friendly games and tournaments.

$280m? Who cares? Salah is the rare “unsellable” player


The gossip reports are out there, with lofty claims that Real Madrid and Barcelona are willing to pay as much as $280 million dollars for Mohamed Salah.

Normally that figure triggers something in my brain that screams, “Sell! Sell! Sell before they realize what they’ve offered!”

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That’s not happening with Mohamed Salah.

This isn’t an inflated fee for a young English player like Ross Barkley or John Stones, nor is it a club throwing a lofty and desperate figure at a very good but supremely overvalued player like Philippe Coutinho. Even Raheem Sterling, who I advocated selling, has proven replaceable.

In the case of Salah, his Golden Boot figure is likely to dwarf any in the Premier League era. He’s at 28, three behind Luis Suarez’s 31. Cristiano Ronaldo has bagged 31 once Alan Shearer and Andy Cole hold the modern record with 34.

Salah needs six to tie Shearer. Here’s Liverpool’s run-in: Crystal Palace (A), Everton (A), Bournemouth (H), West Brom (A), Stoke City (H), Chelsea (A), Brighton and Hove Albion (H).

Five of those teams absolutely hemorrhage goals. Would you bet against Salah?

By the way, Salah has 10 assists, too. Sure Jurgen Klopp deserves credit for buying and deploying the Egyptian wizard, but

When Klopp argued that Liverpool was not a selling club, this is the exact example to follow. Selling Coutinho — again, not trying to poke the bear that is ornery overvaluing fan — is fine in a world where your club has Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane, and Mohamed Salah

But selling one of Europe’s leading scorers is almost never okay for a club challenging for a Champions League crown and with the clear caliber of a Premier League title hunter.

I’d argue that for this club, one who has sold Coutinho and Suarez, there is not a fee that meets Salah straight-on.  He’s 25 and living in the air just below Lionel Messi and Neymar.

The Messi comparisons I keep reading are fun but still unbelievably premature by every stretch of the imagination. By the time Messi was Salah’s age he had league seasons of 34, 31, 50, and was en route to a 46-goal mark. He posted 68 combined assists over those four seasons.

If this is somehow an aberration, and Salah cannot find this form ever again, well, that’s bad luck and a risk worth its weight in standard setting.

There is not a replacement player.

There is no fee.

Say it again now.

Dangerous playmaker Silva joins Montreal Impact (video)

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Alejandro Silva’s got a creative mind, and that’s something Montreal will welcome with open arms.

The Uruguayan signed with the Impact this week, joining Ignacio Piatti and Saphir Taider as playmakers in Quebec.

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Silva, 28, is a right-sided and forward-playing attacker who can also play right back if necessary.

The Impact lost two of three to start the season, winning this weekend’s 401 Derby versus Toronto FC to put a number in the win column.

Lanus has been a fertile ground for Major League Soccer clubs in recent years, with Lucas Melano (Portland Timbers) and Miguel Almiron (Atlanta United) making the move to North America.

The South American club has also sent Gustavo Gomez to AC Milan and Oscar Benitez to Benfica.