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

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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:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ok8SeyOGbH8]

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.

Reina faces hearing over links with trio connected to mafia

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ROME (AP) Outgoing Napoli goalkeeper Pepe Reina has been summoned to a hearing at the Italian football federation over his association with people with links to the mafia.

Reina, along with Paolo Cannavaro and Salvatore Aronica, is to face the FIGC’s disciplinary committee after an investigation by Naples’ anti-mafia department.

It is reportedly one of the reasons why Napoli decided not to renew Reina’s contract, with the former Liverpool goalkeeper set to move to AC Milan on a free transfer.

The FIGC says Reina “has had and continues to have inopportune association and friendship with Gabriele Esposito, Francesco Esposito and Giuseppe Esposito.” It adds that that includes holidays and “an exchange of favors.”

Cannavaro, who had two spells with Napoli, retired at Sassuolo last year. Aronica also spent several years at the southern club before joining Palermo in 2013.

Iran names initial squad for World Cup

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TEHRAN, Iran (AP) Jalal Hosseini and Vouria Ghaffouri have both been left off Iran’s provisional 24-man squad for the World Cup.

Iran coach Carlos Queiroz did not say why Hosseini, a Persepolis defender, and Ghaffouri were not included.

There was space for midfielders Masoud Shojaei and Ehsan Hajsafi, however. Both played with Greek club Panionios against Maccabi Tel Aviv in August 2017. Iran does not recognize Israel and its supreme leader has threatened the country in the past. Both Shojaei and Hajsafi missed matches with the national team after the game.

Alireza Jahanbakhsh, a 24-year-old forward who plays in the Netherlands with AZ Alkmaar, is also in the squad, which was announced Sunday.

In the midfield, Queiroz chose Saeid Ezatolahi, although the Amkar Perm player will miss the team’s first World Cup match because he was given a red card in a game against South Korea in qualifying.

Nottingham Forest midfielder Ashkan Dejagah was also chosen.

Goalkeeper Amir Abedzadeh of Portuguese club Maritimo made the squad. His father, Ahmadreza Abedzadeh, was Iran captain and goalkeeper at the 1998 World Cup in France.

Iran will play in Group B at the World Cup with Portugal, Spain and Morocco. The team will play warm-up matches in Turkey and Greece before heading to Russia.

Goalkeepers: Alireza Beiranvand (Persepolis), Rashid Mazaheri (Zob Ahan), Amir Abedzadeh (Maritimo)

Defenders: Ramin Rezaeian (KV Oostende), Mohammad Reza Khanzadeh (Padideh), Morteza Pouraliganji (Al Saad), Pejman Montazeri (Esteghlal), Seyed Majid Hosseini (Esteghlal), Milad Mohammadi (Akhmat Grozny), Roozbeh Cheshmi (Esteghlal)

Midfielders: Saeid Ezatolahi (Amkar Perm), Masoud Shojaei (AEK Athens), Mehdi Torabi (Saipa), Ashkan Dejagah (Nottingham Forest), Omid Ebrahimi (Esteghlal), Ehsan Hajsafi (Olympiakos), Vahid Amiri (Persepolis), Saman Ghoddos (Ostersunds FK), Ali Gholizadeh (Saipa)

Forwards: Alireza Jahanbakhsh (AZ Alkmaar), Karim Ansarifard (Olympiakos), Mahdi Taremi (Al-Gharafa Sports Club), Sardar Azmoun (Rubin Kazan), Reza Ghoochannejhad (SC Heerenveen)

Six Premier Leaguers named to Argentina, but no Icardi

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Argentina’s World Cup roster features a number of the usual suspects, particularly up front, but Serie A’s top goalscorer has been surprisingly left off the list of 23.

[ MORE: Belgium goes to World Cup without Nainggolan ]

Manager Jorge Sampaoli’s squad was made official on Monday, which includes the likes of Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain.

The Albiceleste won’t be taking Inter Milan striker Mauro Icardi though, which has raised some questions about the decision.

Icardi led all scorers in Italy’s top flight this season, scoring 29 goals in 34 Serie A matches, while Paulo Dybala edged out the final striker spot in the Argentina squad.

Dybala is teammates with Higuain at Italian giants Juventus.

Meanwhile, six Premier League players were named into the South American nation’s squad, including goalkeepers Sergio Romero (Man United) and Willy Caballero (Chelsea), as well as Nicolas Otamendi (Man City), Marcos Rojo (Man United) and Manuel Lanzini (West Ham).

Men in Blazers POD: FA Cup recap, UCL final preview and more

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Rog and Davo recap a spite-fueled, snear-filled, peak Phil Jones FA Cup Final, preview this weekend’s Champions League tilt between Liverpool and Real Madrid and eulogize Big Sam… gone the opposite of too soon. Plus, World Cup rosters and MLS.

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