Spain admit trying to steal Messi from Argentina

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Imagine Lionel Messi being the focal point of the Spanish national team.

Just imagine that. Well, the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) tried to make it happen.

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The manager of the 2010 World Cup champions — who, for the record, have also won back-to-back European Championship titles — Vicente Del Bosque has revealed that they asked Messi to switch to Spain from Argentina after he moved to Barcelona to play at their academy at the age of 13. The fact that Messi is a dual national of Argentina and Spain meant he could play for Spain but instead he made his debut for Argentina at the age of 18 and that was that for the Rosario-born superstar.

In an interview with the Independent ahead of Spain’s high-profile friendly against England in Alicante on Friday, Del Bosque revealed that the Spanish authorities tried to convince Messi to switch his allegiance.

“There was an attempt to do that at the time but he decided to stick with the country of his birth, he remained steadfast,” Del Bosque said.

“This is a phenomenon that we cannot turn our back on, we can’t pretend it doesn’t exist,” Del Bosque added. “It happens too often for that, it’s too significant.  You see the players coming from outside of Spain and we don’t know where the next Messi or the next [Cristiano] Ronaldo is going to come from. It could be one of those who arrives here from another country looking to make a better life.”

Messi, 28, led Argentina to the 2014 World Cup final where they lost to Germany in extra time and is the focal point of La Albiceleste. He is said to be extremely patriotic despite living in Spain longer than he lived in Argentina but the four-time World Player of the Year is yet to win any silverware for his country of birth.

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Just think about what I mentioned at the top of this piece. Imagine if for the last 10 years Messi had played up front for Spain alongside Fernando Torres, David Villa and others in their prime plus had long-time teammates Xavi and Andres Iniesta feeding him the ball. How much more convincing would they have been in winning three of the last four major titles they competed for? How many goals would Messi have? Talk about the icing on the cake… Then again, I’d argue along with many others that you cannot simply choose which nation you want to play for based on who you think will be more successful.

In today’s world where families move across the globe to seek better opportunities, children are often born in a different country than where they grow up. Take the U.S. national team for example. Youngsters like Gedion Zelalem, Julian Green and Rubio Rubin all have very different backgrounds and could play for multiple national teams.

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When looking at higher profile cases, Diego Costa‘s decision to switch his allegiance from Brazil to Spain was because he felt more Spanish after living there for many years so he took advantage of residency rules. When I spoke with Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger about Zelalem’s decision to turn down Germany, the country of his birth, to play for the USA, he said it is because he “feels more American” after spending his formative years living in the States.

This is a complex issue and with youngsters from all over the globe moving to foreign countries to play for academies and then after five years being able to count as homegrown players, this notion of deciding which national team you want to play for will not disappear. It will only be more widespread and become more complex

Man City skates past 10-man Fulham in FA Cup

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Just six minutes into Fulham’s trip to the Etihad, the game was essentially over. Tim Ream upper-body tackled Gabriel Jesus who was through on goal, the American international was sent off for denying a goalscoring opportunity, and Ilkay Gundogan bagged the penalty.

A goal down and a man down, that was all she wrote for the Whites. The rest was a formality.

[ LIVE: Follow all the FA Cup scores here ]

All told, Manchester City held nearly 70% possession and completed a 4-0 victory to advance to the FA Cup fifth round.

Bernardo Silva scored the second before the 20-minute mark with a brilliant turn and shoot into the bottom-right corner, and while Man City slept through the next stage of the match, they awoke again on the hour mark as Raheem Sterling hit the post. The hosts poured men forward and Jesus nearly had City’s third as he was fed through on goal, but new Fulham signing Terence Knogolo made a last-gasp tackle that saved a goal.

Jesus would get his goal, a 72nd minute effort after David Silva forced a turnover deep in the Fulham defensive third. Raheem Sterling’s cross found the head of Jesus, and his effort survived a tight VAR check for offside. He got a second immediately after, following up a Marek Rodak save with another header to make it 4-0.

Man City advanced to the fifth round of the FA Cup with the win, becoming the fifth Premier League team confirmed to have reached the next stage, with another five possible to advance either later today, tomorrow, or on replays. The draw for the next round will be held on Monday.

Nainggolan pegs back Inter in draw with Cagliari

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Inter’s challenge of Juventus for the Scudetto this season continues to absorb punches, each one slightly more damaging than the last.

The most recent blow came on Sunday as Inter suffered its third straight draw, pegged back by Cagliari as Radja Nainggolan delivered a 78th minute equalizer in a 1-1 draw.

Lautaro Martinez put Inter in front in the first half, with a pinpoint header buried off new signing Ashley Young‘s cross just before the half-hour mark. Unfortunately, as has been the story of late, they were unable to tack on the all-important second. The best chance came via Romelu Lukaku who dazzled the San Siro crowd by dodging and weaving through midfield and charging forward towards net, but was ultimately let down as he dragged the big chance wide with 10 minutes remaining. Young also seemed to have won a penalty at one point in the second half, but none was given and VAR did not intervene.

Nainggolan was the man to keep Cagliari in the hunt for a Champions League place, delivering a 78th minute shot that deflected off the heel of Inter defender Alessandro Bastoni and tucked perfectly inside the bottom-left corner. The deflection was a stroke of luck, but not all that harsh as Cagliari finished the match with a whopping 60% possession on the road at the second-placed Inter side.

To make matters worse, Martinez – who has been so massively important to Inter this entire season – lost his head deep in stoppage time, sent off for dissent after arguing a non-call. That leaves him suspended for the next league match against Udinese.

The lone point leaves Inter three points back of Juventus, who plays later Sunday against Napoli. A victory would carry the Old Lady six full points atop the table, with Inter having drawn against Atalanta and Lecce previously. The draw also leaves Inter vulnerable to Lazio below them, who sits three points back with two games in hand. A January slump is not uncommon for Inter, having won more than one league game just once in the last seven seasons.

There are still other competitions for Inter to focus on, however, with a Coppa Italia quarterfinal game against Fiorentia this week plus the Europa League knockout stage which begins in late February with a matchup against Russian side Ludogorets.

Atletico Madrid held scoreless by lowly Leganes

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Diego Simeone was once again flummoxed up front as Atletico Madrid was toothless in a 0-0 draw with lowly Leganes, leaving them seven points behind leaders Barcelona in the La Liga table, and leaving them looking for answers up front as well.

Joao Felix and Thomas Partey were bright, but Alvaro Morata was quieted by a well organized Leganes side as Atletico failed to produce any type of solid chance on net until Saul and Ivan Saponjic each missed decent efforts in the final minutes of play, including the latter’s which came in the 93rd minute and left the hosts with just the lone point. The meek result against La Liga’s 19th-placed team is the most recent setback in a season of spotty performances.

All season long, scoring goals has been an enormous problem for Atleti. They haven’t scored more than two goals in any game since a 3-2 win over Eibar way back on September 1, and have been blanked in eight league matches this year, including two in a row now. They have scored 22 goals this season in La Liga play, a paltry total only matched by eighth-placed Atletic Bilbao and those in 14th and below.

Felix has drowned in abuse from fans over the last month given the team’s struggles, but in all honesty he was the team’s best attacker at the Wanda Metropolitano on Sunday. The young Portuguese forward worked both flanks and earned four fouls, including two in the attacking third. Still, he had little support and was unable to get by a packed-in Leganes defense on his own. Partey was good as well, producing a quality shift in his defensive midfield role but unable to chip in moving forward.

In contrast, Morata was a complete no-show. Producing just two total shots in the 90-minute performance, Morata has now failed to score in three straight league games and owns just two in his last eight. Simeone’s attack was completely devoid of answers, resorting to futily pummeling the Leganes box with crosses, finding a teammate with just six of their 23 attempts. They won just two of seven aerial duels in the Leganes area, and over the 90 minutes produced an expected goal total of 1.02 with 14 shots, including nearly half of that xG value (0.45) on the aforementioned two late chances coming in the final three minutes of play.

With a Champions League matchup against Liverpool on the horizon, Simeone has plenty to sort out as Atletico Madrid looks to challenge both domestically and in Europe.

FOLLOW LIVE: Man City, Man United, Liverpool in FA Cup

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It’s a big Sunday slate in the FA Cup fourth round as Manchester City, Manchester United, and Liverpool all take the field, each with their own time slot. Click the link below to follow along with the action.

[ LIVE: Follow all the FA Cup scores here ]

Fulham and Tranmere have already knocked off Premier League opponents. The Whites took down Aston Villa 2-1 in the third round on Harry Arter‘s absolutely stunning winner with 16 minutes to go, while Tranmere topped Watford just three days ago in extra time of their replay.

Manchester City has delivered a strong starting lineup at the Etihad to face Fulham, with David Silva, Riyad Mahrez, and Ilkay Gundogan all in the eleven, while 19-year-old Spanish defender Eric Garcia also appears alongside Nicolas Otamendi. Fulham, meanwhile, is struck by injuries at key places, with talismanic striker Aleksandr Mitrovic out as is the goalscorer Arter from last round.

Full Sunday FA Cup schedule

Manchester City v. Fulham – 8:00 a.m. ET
Tranmere Rovers v. Manchester United – 10:00 a.m. ET
Shrewsbury Town v. Liverpool – 12:00 p.m. ET