There are extraordinary years … and then there is the year Leo Messi is having.
So it comes as little surprise that Barcelona FC, the run-away leaders in Spain’s La Liga, have looked at Messi’s contract and decided that 2016 just isn’t long enough.
They have extended his contract two more years, until 2018, ensuring that one of soccer’s all-time bests remains at the Catalan club until past his 31st birthday.
The forward of forwards just scored his 89th and 90th goals of calendar 2012, continuing to add to the record formerly held by Gerd Muller (who scored a record 85 goals 40 years back.) Messi is a favorite to claim FIFA’s Ballon d’Or honor for 2012, which would be his fourth in a row.
Barcelona also extended the deals of midfielder Xavi Hernandez (commonly known just as Xavi) and commanding center back Carles Puyol. Both are now tied to the club through June of 2016.
Xavi’s former deal ran through 2014. He will be 36 when the new deal expires.
Puyol might be the only surprise here, as he is already 34 years old. So he will be 38 when the new deal expires.
As for tying up the backbone of the team, Andres Iniesta remains as the most critical – although several other figures are surely right behind in order of importance. Iniesta, 28, has a deal that now runs through 2014.
Newcastle United’s horror start under Steve McClaren just got worse.
Magpies No. 1 goalkeeper Tim Krul is on duty with the Netherlands, and was forced from the Dutch’s 2-1 win at Kazakhstan in Euro qualifying action.
[ MORE: Ultimate guide to USMNT vs. Mexico ]
Krul left the game after landing awkwardly on his knee, and left the stadium on crutches.
Newcastle’s back-up keepers are Karl Darlow, new from Nottingham Forest, and veteran Rob Elliot.
The Magpies are in 20th place, without a win through eight Premier League matches.
McClaren’s crew just finished a brutal run of matches that saw Newcastle face Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal and Manchester United.
Italy took a 1-0 lead over Azerbaijan through the in-form Eder in the 11th minute, but the true leg-work (see what I did there) came from bite-sized midfielder Marco Verratti.
The PSG playmaker pinged a beautiful long ball over the top of the Azerbaijan defense that fell right at the feet of Eder, who let the ball settle itself and touched home confidently past Kamran Arhayev for a 1-0 lead.
The goal is the second of Eder’s national career in just five caps, having scored on debut against Bulgaria back in March. He has six goals in seven matches for Sampdoria so far this Serie A season.
Italy needs three points in this match to ensure qualification to Euro 2016. A win would guarantee them a place in the field, while anything less would mean there is work to do in the final match on Tuesday against Norway.
Later in the match, Stephan El Shaarawy gave Italy a 2-1 lead just before halftime, his second career international goal and his first since September of 2012 which came in his third career start.