Barca criticized for supporting Messi after fraud verdict

AP Photo/Alberto Saiz
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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona has drawn widespread criticism for its campaign to support Lionel Messi after a court found the Argentine forward and his father guilty of tax fraud.

Barcelona launched its social media campaign following last week’s court verdict that found Messi and his father guilty of defrauding the Spanish state of 4.1 million euros ($4.6 million). Neither man is expected to go to jail despite being sentenced to 21 months in prison because courts in Spain often suspend sentences under two years for first-time offenders.

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The slogan “We Are All Leo Messi” is a play on the public awareness campaign by Spain’s tax authorities “We Are All The Tax Office.” That is meant to encourage people to pay their due in a country still struggling to recover from an economic recession that has left unemployment at more than 20 percent.

“The campaign invites all of Barcelona’s fans to show the best player in the world their unconditional support,” Barcelona said. “We want to transmit to Leo that he isn’t alone.”

The club also posted a video of several dozen of its employees gathered together with hands raised in a show of support for Messi.

Widely panned in Spanish newspapers and online, Barcelona’s campaign has earned a rebuke from Spain’s government.

“I am not Leo Messi. I haven’t committed a fiscal crime,” acting Justice Minister Rafael Catala said Thursday.

The president of Spain’s Higher Sports Council, the country’s leading sports authority, has also blasted the league champions for their rally call.

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“If the campaign intends to make a complaint of some type against the judicial ruling, then it is completely incorrect,” council president Miguel Cardenal said. “We have to respect and honor the (court’s) decision. You can’t have campaigns of this type in order to disagree with a court ruling.”

A worker’s union that represents Spanish tax inspectors has asked Barcelona to end the campaign, calling it “irresponsible.”

“The best thing for the club and the player would have been to accept the ruling and move on,” said Carlos Cruzado, the president of the union Gestha. “But this campaign . is destroying the educational work that must be carried out to make citizens conscientious (of their fiscal responsibilities.)”

Messi and his father deny any wrongdoing and have said they will appeal the verdict to a higher court in Madrid.

While his club has launched its campaign to back him, photos of Messi spending his vacation on a yacht have appeared this week in Spanish newspapers. Those photos of Messi soaking up the sun in a bathing suit have spawned several jokes on social media about how he must be “suffering.”

The spokesman for Barcelona’s board of directors, Josep Vives, has defended both Messi and the club’s campaign.

“In similar cases, we haven’t seen attacks like those Leo Messi is receiving,” Vives said. “It’s obvious that we can’t tolerate this derision of our player.

“We have found ourselves in a controversy because it appears that FC Barcelona is defending tax fraud. What we are defending is a person that is being treated unjustly.”

Besides his club, the Spanish league’s president has also said he believes Messi is innocent.

“I hope that the Supreme Court revokes the ruling because Messi is not a delinquent and shouldn’t be found guilty,” league president Javier Tebas said. “I have interpreted the campaign as meaning that Messi shouldn’t worry, and so he knows that his club is with him.”

Messi is not the only player to have gotten into trouble over taxes.

Also this year, Barcelona midfielder Javier Mascherno was handed a suspended one-year sentence for tax fraud; teammate Adriano is being investigated for allegedly not paying all he owes; and former Real Madrid player Xabi Alonso has been accused of tax fraud. Alonso and Adriano deny any wrongdoing.

In June, Barcelona paid a fine of 5.5 million euros ($6.21 million) to settle a case brought against the club by Spain’s tax authorities regarding the signing of Brazil striker Neymar. In that agreement, the club acknowledged it had made “an error in the fiscal planning of the player’s transfer.”

Croatia vs Canada: How to watch live, stream link, team news

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Newly famous international darlings Canada will try again for a number of firsts, when they face Croatia in their second game at the 2022 World Cup on Sunday.

STREAM CROATIA vs CANADA LIVE

Canada outshone many of the tournament’s heavyweights during the first round of group games, ultimately falling just short of their first World Cup point and, had things gone just a bit differently, their first win.

Group F is an intriguing one, with favorites Belgium struggling in their opener and Croatia and Morocco both failing to impress against one another. As things stand, it’s wide open for anyone (and everyone).

[ LIVE: World Cup 2022 schedule, how to watch, scores, hub ]

Here is everything you need for Croatia vs Canada. 


How to watch Croatia vs Canada live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 11am ET, Sunday (November 27)
Stadium: Khalifa International Stadium, Al Rayyan
TV channels en Español: Telemundo
Streaming en Español: Peacock (all 64 matches)


Key storylines, players to watch closely

On one hand, Canada were downright brilliant when they made their World Cup return, 36 years in the making on Wednesday. On the other hand, they lost 1-0 to Belgium and are the only team in Group F without a point thus far. The Canucks won plaudits (and new fans) as they showed no fear whatsoever playing against the no. 2 team in the world and were comfortably the better side on the day, so said Belgium boss Roberto Martinez after the game. Alphonso Davies was denied by Thibaut Courtois from the penalty spot, with the game still 0-0 and Canada seeking its first-ever World Cup goal (yeah, that too). Sunday, perhaps.

As for Croatia, their opening draw with Morocco raised a few red flags for a nation that went all the way to the World Cup final just four (and a half) years ago. With five of 11 starters age 30 or older, Croatia have very little range and mobility, and no explosiveness anywhere in the side. Despite holding nearly 65 percent of possession in the game against Morocco, Croatia managed just five shots in 90 minutes (two on target) and a paltry 0.52 xG. If things don’t turn around on Sunday, it’ll be the end of an iconic era that, unfortunately, lasted one cycle too long.


Croatia quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 12
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 6
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from UEFA (1st place)
Coach: Zlatko Dalic
Key players: Luka Modric, Andrej Kramaric, Mateo Kovacic

Canada quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 41
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 2
How they qualified: Qualified from CONCACAF (1st place)
Coach: John Herdman
Key players: Alphonso Davies, Jonathan David, Milan Borjan, Jonathan Osorio

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Lionel Messi goal, assist leads Argentina awakening vs Mexico

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Lionel Messi’s second-half goal gave Argentina’s World Cup hopes a massive lift as the Albiceleste broke through against stubborn Mexico to win 2-0 in Lusail on Saturday.

Enzo Fernandez, 21, also scored for Argentina in the win, which comes after a 2-1 loss to Saudi Arabia in the opener.

STREAM LIVE ARGENTINA vs MEXICO

Mexico’s brave performance was broken by Messi’s splendid finish and now Mexico (1 point) needs to beat Saudi Arabia (3 points) and get help from Argentina (3 points) vs Poland (4 points) to make the Round of 16.

[ LIVE: World Cup 2022 schedule, how to watch, scores, hub ]


Lionel Messi: Of course he did.

The world’s — maybe history’s — greatest ever player had a frustrating day and spent 65 minutes thinking this could’ve been his last World Cup match.

Twenty-five minutes later, he had a goal and an assist and Argentina was heading to Poland likely a draw or better away from going to the knockout rounds.

C’est la Messi.

Mexico executed Tata Martino’s masterful plan for over an hour and looked set to walk away with a point. Messi wasn’t getting the ball in dangerous spaces and Lautaro Martinez was so ineffective that he was taken off the pitch.

Then: One hesitation when Angel Di Maria spotted Messi. Two touches for the Atomic Ant. 1-0.

Messi would later assist young Enzo Fernandez’s goal to re-certify his status as one of the very best to do it in any team sport. Argentina only had 0.28 expected goals on the day but when you have two magic shots, it’ll get the job done.


Stars of the show

Lionel Messi

Nicolas Otamendi

Hector Moreno

Argentina vs Mexico
fotmob.com

Lionel Messi goal video: GOAT things

Enzo Fernandez goal video: Pearler of a finish delivers Messi assist


How to watch Argentina vs Mexico live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 2pm ET, Saturday Nov. 26
Stadium: Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail
TV channels en Español: Telemundo
Streaming en Español: Peacock (all 64 matches)


Key storylines, players to watch closely

It’s Messi, of course, who says he’s playing in his final World Cup, but it’s also about who’s going to step up as a difference maker for Argentina. Lautaro Martinez had a goal taken off the board for a razor-thin offside versus Saudi Arabia, while Julian Alvarez had a shot saved in his sub’s role and both Paulo Dybala and Angel Correa were unused subs in the opener.

Mexico’s midfield was excellent to start the tournament. Will Hector Herrera again join Edson Alvarez and Luis Chavez is setting the tone for Tata Martino’s team? And can El Tri find a finisher after Henry Martin and Co. failed to find the back of the goal versus Poland.


Argentina quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 3
World Cup titles: 2 (1978, 1986)
World Cup appearances: 17
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from CONMEBOL (2nd place)
Coach: Lionel Scaloni
Key players: Lionel Messi, Angel de Maria, Lautaro Martinez

Mexico quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 13
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 16
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from CONCACAF (2nd place)
Coach: Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino
Key players: Guillermo Ochoa, Hector Herrera, Raul Jimenez

World Cup 2022 Group E: Spain, Germany, Japan, Costa Rica schedule, fixtures, rankings

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Japan and Spain sent early messages in Group E with an upset of Germany and demolition of Costa Rica, respectively, to start the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

[ LIVE: Watch World Cup en Espanol en Peacock ]

Japan reached the Round of 16 at the last World Cup and gave Belgium everything it could handle before bowing out 3-2, while Costa Rica surprised everyone in 2014 when it emerged atop a Group D with England, Italy, and Uruguay, then beating Greece in the Round of 16.

Of course, Spanish boss Luis Enrique and Germany’s Hansi Flick will be fancying themselves the favorites to emerge from the group, but the latter now knows better than ever before that anything can happen in Qatar after a 2-1 loss to Japan. Spain hammered Costa Rica 7-0 in their opener and they look the real deal.

[ MORE: World Cup 2022 schedule, how to watch, scores, hub

Below is everything you need to know on World Cup 2022 Group E.


Group E schedule (all times ET)

Recap/highlights: Spain 7-0 Costa Rica – Al Thumama Stadium, Al Khor
Recap/highlights: Germany 1-2 Japan – Khalifa International Stadium, Al Rayyan
Sunday, November 27: Spain vs Germany – Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor – 2pm
Sunday, November 27: Japan vs Costa Rica – Ahmed bin Ali Stadium, Al Rayyan – 5am
Thursday, December 1: Japan vs Spain – Khalifa International Stadium, Al Rayyan – 2pm
Thursday, December 1: Costa Rica vs Germany – Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor – 2pm

How To Watch Group E matches live

  • When: November 23-December 1 2022
  • Group stage game kick-off times: 5am, 8am, 11am, 2pm (all ET)
  • Location: Qatar
  • TV channels en Español: Telemundo, Universo, Peacock
  • Streaming en Español: Peacock (all 64 matches)

Follow along with ProSoccerTalk for the latest news, scores, storylines, and updates surrounding the 2022 World Cup, and be sure to subscribe to NBC Sports on YouTube!


Group E table

1. Spain — 3 points (+7 GD)
2. Japan — 3 points (+1)
3. Germany — 0 points (-1)
4. Costa Rica — 0 points (-7)


Spain

Current FIFA world ranking: 7
World Cup titles: 1 (2010)
World Cup appearances: 16
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from UEFA (1st place)
Coach: Luis Enrique
Key players: Rodri, Pedri, Pau Torres, Jordi Alba

Germany

Current FIFA world ranking: 11
World Cup titles: 4 (1954, 1974, 1990, 2014)
World Cup appearances: 20
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from UEFA (1st place)
Coach: Hansi Flick
Key players: Manuel Neuer, Antonio Rudiger, Joshua Kimmich, Leon Goretzka

Costa Rica

Current FIFA world ranking: 31
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 5
How they qualified: Qualified from CONCACAF via interconfederation playoffs
Coach: Luis Fernando Suarez
Key players: Keylor Navas, Joel Campbell, Celso Borges, Bryan Ruiz

Japan

Current FIFA world ranking: 24
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 7
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from AFC
Coach: Hajime Moriyasu
Key players: Maya Yoshida, Takehiro Tomiyasu, Takumi Minamino, Daichi Kamada

World Cup 2022 Group F: Belgium, Canada, Croatia, Morocco schedule, fixtures, rankings

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Belgium, Canada, Croatia, and Morocco comprise a World Cup group that could produce any combination of knockout rounds entrants, even if there’s a sincere favorite.

Even after laboring to beat electric Canada in the opener, Roberto Martinez’s loaded Belgium will be widely-ticketed to emerge out of World Cup 2022’s Group F.

Kevin De Bruyne is capable of putting a Ballon d’Or on his mantle with a strong individual and team performance for the men’s team ranked No. 2 in the world by FIFA, but the World Cup Group F schedule is tough.

[ MORE: Full schedule for 2022 World Cup ]

Croatia has tournament acumen, Canada is coming off the best front-to-back performance in CONCACAF qualifying, and Morocco has the stars at the back and front to win in any number of fashions.

Below is everything you need to know on World Cup 2022 Group F.

[ MORE: Ranking every World Cup team, 32-1 ]


World Cup Group F schedule (all times ET)

Recap/highlights: Belgium 1-0 Canada – Ahmed bin Ali Stadium, Al Rayyan
Recap/highlights: Morocco 0-0 Croatia – Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor – 5am
Sunday, November 27: Belgium vs Morocco – Al Thumama Stadium, Al Khor – 8am
Sunday, November 27: Croatia vs Canada – Khalifa International Stadium, Al Rayyan – 11am
Thursday, December 1: Croatia vs Belgium – Ahmed bin Ali Stadium, Al Rayyan – 10am
Thursday, December 1: Canada vs Morocco – Al Thumama Stadium, Al Khor – 10am

How To Watch Group F matches live

  • When: November 23-December 1, 2022
  • Group stage game kick-off times: 5am, 8am, 10am, 11am, 2pm (all ET)
  • Location: Qatar
  • TV channels en Español: Telemundo, Universo, Peacock
  • Streaming en Español: Peacock (all 64 matches)

Follow along with ProSoccerTalk for the latest news, scores, storylines, and updates surrounding the 2022 World Cup, and be sure to subscribe to NBC Sports on YouTube!


Group F table

1. Belgium — 3 points (+1GD)
2. Croatia — 1 point (0)
3. Morocco — 1 point (0)
4. Canada — 0 points (-1)


Belgium

Current FIFA world ranking: 2
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 14
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from UEFA (1st place)
Coach: Roberto Martinez
Key players: Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku, Thibaut Courtois, Eden Hazard

Croatia

Current FIFA world ranking: 12
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 6
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from UEFA (1st place)
Coach: Zlatko Dalic
Key players: Luka Modric, Andrej Kramaric, Mateo Kovacic

Canada

Current FIFA world ranking: 41
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 2
How they qualified: Qualified from CONCACAF (1st place)
Coach: John Herdman
Key players: Alphonso Davies, Jonathan David, Milan Borjan, Jonathan Osorio

Morocco

Current FIFA world ranking: 22
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 6
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from CAF
Coach: Vahid Halilhodzic
Key players: Achraf Hakimi, Yassine Bounou, Youssef En-Nesyri, Romain Saiss