Chile vs. Argentina – Three key battles that will decide the Copa America final

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The 2015 Copa America final promises to be a belter in Santiago.

Host nation Chile face Argentina in the final, as Lionel Messi aims to win his first piece of major silverware with La Albiceleste.

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Chile has never won the Copa America before and its been 22 years since Argentina last prevailed. So, whoever succeeds on Saturday will be entitled to quite the celebration.

Below is a look at three key battles to watch out for. You can follow the Copa America final follow live here, and we will have updates, a recap and analysis from the game that will crown the champions of CONMEBOL.

Lionel Messi vs. Gary Medel

The genius vs. the Pitbull. Lionel Messi has been magisterial for most of Argentina’s Copa America tournament. He set up three goals in their 6-1 semifinal drubbing of Paraguay and embarrassed more Paraguay defenders with this audacious run. The man tasked with stop messing is certainly up for a scrap. Gary Medel plays in a holding midfield role for Inter Milan but the reverse Javier Mascherano (more on him, shortly) excels for Chile at center back. His ability to read plays, step out of the back four with the ball and extinguish fires before they’ve even begun to smolder make him perfect for the oft languid pace of international soccer in South America. Messi explodes into life without warning and Medel will have to be at his best to keep Barcelona’s superstar at bay.

Plus, you know, Sergio Aguero, Angel Di Maria and Gonzalo Higuain will be floating around too. All three have looked razor-sharp in this tournament with seven goals between them. Messi is desperate to win a first Copa America medal but he will have to get the better of Medel to lead Argentina to glory.

Javier Mascherano vs. Arturo Vidal

Before this game, Barcelona’s Javier Mascherano has tried to play down the intense battle which will likely play out in the Chilean capital.

“I hope that people can understand that football is a sport, not war,” Mascherano said. “The past is the past. We must not put sport in the middle of politics. Chile and Argentina are brother countries, we have to show mutual respect. If we stoop to aggression and violence, we lose that message of respect. Sport is about trying to be healthy and having fun, not a war.”

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Well, expect the midfield area to be a war-zone on Saturday. It will be home to a pivotal battle in determining the winner as Arturo Vidal and Mascherano square off. Vidal has redemption on his mind, as his DUI car crash scandal during the group stages shocked the world but Chile stood by him. Oh how Vidal would love to repay the faith shown in him and led his nation to glory.

He also has a bone to pick with Mascherano as the Barca man beat Vidal’s Juventus in the UEFA Champions League final less than a month ago. Mascherano operates as a center back for Barca but in his usual holding midfield role for Argentina he is a machine. Vidal may start on the right-hand side of a diamond formation for Chile but expect him to drift inside to try and link up with Alexis Sanchez and Eduardo Vargas up top. If Mascherano can cut that supply line to Sanchez and Vargas off, Argentina’s chances of glory will increase exponentially.

Martin Demichelis vs. Alexis Sanchez

If Chile keep things tight then this is the one matchup you really fancy them to come out on top. Sanchez’s pace and direct play saw him give Demichelis all kinds of problems when Arsenal faced Manchester City this season in the Premier League. The veteran Argentine defender, 34, has superb positioning but Sanchez’s sheer persistence and pace could be too much for him to handle. If Chile can get the ball up to Sanchez frequently, expect Demichelis and other Argentine defenders to be drawn to the Arsenal forward. If that happens, the so-far lethal Vargas (he leads the tournament in goals with four) could have a field day. Sanchez has only scored once so far this summer, but expect the shackles to be well and truly off on Saturday.

CCL wrap: Atlanta United, Cruz Azul advance

CONCACAF Champions League
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The underdogs did not have their days on Tuesday in the CONCACAF Champions League.

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MLS side Atlanta United and Liga MX mainstays Cruz Azul cruised to second legs win at home to clinch places in the quarterfinals.

Cruz Azul 4-0 (6-1 agg.) Portmore United

Bringing a pair of away goals from Jamaica, the Liga MX hosts just needed to put this one on ice early.

Orbelin Pineda did that in the 22nd minute, and Cruz Azul struck thrice in the second half to win in a landslide.

Atlanta United 3-0 (4-1 agg.) Montagua

It was all about the Martinezes in Georgia, as Pity sandwiched a pair of goals around Josef’s 61st minute tally to send the Five Stripes into the next stage.

All the goals showed calm under pressure, but Pity’s first was gorgeous football. He also assisted Josef’s goal in Honduras during the first leg.

Remaining Round of 16 second legs

NYCFC v. San Carlos (5-3) — 6 p.m. Wednesday
Montreal Impact v. Deportivo Saprissa (2-2) — 8 p.m. Wednesday
Tigres UANL v. Alianza (1-2) — 8 p.m. Wednesday
Club America v. Comunicaciones (1-1) — 10 p.m. Wednesday
Seattle Sounders v. Olimpia (2-2) — 10 p.m. Thursday
LAFC v Leon (0-2) — 10 p.m. Thursday

Coronavirus: Italy may lift ban on sporting events by Monday

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MILAN (AP) The Italian government could lift its ban on sporting events by Monday in areas affected by the coronavirus if the number of cases stabilizes.

The outbreak forced a number of sporting events to be called off throughout the country this past weekend, including four Serie A matches in the north of Italy.

This week, the ban on sporting events was extended from Lombardy, Veneto and Piedmont – the areas hardest hit by the outbreak – to also include the regions of Friuli Venezia Giulia, Emilia Romagna and Liguria, until March 1.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

“If, as I hope, the statistics don’t give us different signs then maybe already by Monday these measures won’t be continued,” Sports Minister Vincenzo Spadafora said. “But it’s only Tuesday today and we have to wait and see what happens over the next few days. The health of the Italian citizens is the most important thing.”

Italy reported a 45% increase in the number of coronavirus cases Tuesday, from 222 to 300. Ten people have died, all of them elderly or suffering from other ailments.

“Obviously, I can’t say I’m not worried because I don’t want anyone to think we’re underestimating this emergency,” Premier Giuseppe Conte said before meeting with visiting World Health Organization representatives. “But we trust that with the measures we have implemented, there will be a containing effect in the coming days.”

Italy has closed schools, museums and theaters in the two regions where clusters have formed and troops are enforcing quarantines around 10 towns in Lombardy and the epicenter of the Veneto cluster, Vo’Euganeo.

Serie A matches this weekend are set to be played behind closed doors, including Juventus’ key match against Inter Milan. That game is not only potentially crucial to the title race but also sees the return of former Juventus coach Antonio Conte.

Inter’s Europa League match at home to Ludogorets on Thursday will also take place without any fans allowed in.

Serie C canceled all games in two leagues which have teams in the north. Volleyball and rugby games were also suspended nationwide through next weekend.

The Italian Winter Sports Federation suspended all of its events throughout the country for an entire week, although it said that “for now” next weekend’s World Cup ski races in La Thuile in the Valle d’Aosta region were still set to go ahead. Those races are operated by the International Ski Federation, which has already canceled races this season in China that were slated to test the course for the 2022 Beijing Games.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

El Tri winger Jurgen Damm headed for MLS this summer

Jurgen Damm
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This season’s Liga MX invasion of MLS continues with Jurgen Damm announcing that he’ll leave UANL Tigres this summer after five years with the club.

TUDN has the destination as Atlanta, though previous reports have linked Damm to the LA Galaxy is the spot.

And MLSSoccer.com scribe Tom Bogert says the Houston Dynamo have his “discovery rights” (which remains the worst concept in the entire league).

Reports emerged over the past 48 hours that the El Tri man was headed for an MLS club.

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The 12-times capped winger has one goal for Mexico, but has not been capped since Oct. 2018. He has spent his entire career in Liga MX.

Damm spent the early part of his career with Tecos and Pachuca, but has been with UANL Tigres since 2015.

He won four league titles with UANL, as well as the 2018 Campeones Cup.

Ex-Arsenal man Gnabry: “London’s still red” after Bayern beats Chelsea

Serge Gnabry
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Ex-Arsenal man Serge Gnabry still has love for the club.

Gnabry tweeted that “London is still red” after he scored twice for Bayern Munich in a 3-0 beating of Chelsea on Tuesday in the first leg of a UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie.

This after scoring four times against Spurs in a previous Champions League group stage match and Tweeting that “North London is Red.”

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So what’s with the London form?

“I’ve got a lot of friends here,” Gnabry said after the game. “A lot of them were in the stands tonight, and it seems they give me a lot of good power.”

Gnabry only scored once during his time in England with Arsenal and West Brom but is a bona fide star in the Bundesliga.

With a three-goal advantage over Chelsea heading to Munich for a second leg, however, he’s not got his head in the clouds.

“Three goals ahead gives us a little bit of confidence, but we need to be prepared for the second leg. We can’t take it not seriously enough. … We’ve seen it last year with Liverpool beating Barcelona, so we have to be careful. We have to go into the second leg with all of our focus.”

Gnabry now has 51 goals and 29 assists in four seasons since returning to Germany from Arsenal. Not terrible production for a player the Gunners offloaded to Werder Bremen for under $6 million in 2016.

What color will London be when Chelsea buys him next year? We kid, we kid…