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Not-so-shy Messi tying the knot with childhood sweetheart

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There is a different side to Lionel Messi, one that not everyone gets to see.

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The player who shines with the ball by his feet appears to be extremely shy off the field. But the timid-looking Argentina star, who for years has been attracting the world’s attention because of his mind-boggling soccer skills, is an outgoing, cheerful and humorous character when he is among those he knows and trusts.

It’s the lighthearted and extroverted version of Messi that will be the center of attention on Friday in his hometown of Rosario when he marries 29-year-old Antonella Roccuzzo, his childhood sweetheart and mother of his two children.

The wedding is a highly anticipated event in the central Argentine city, located about 300 kilometers (186 miles) northwest of the capital of Buenos Aires, although the public is not expected to have any access to the festivities.

About 250 guests, including some current and former teammates, are expected to attend the ceremony in a five-star hotel that overlooks the city’s largest shantytown. Special security measures are expected to be in place as guests begin arriving for the event.

Among those expected to attend are Barcelona teammates Neymar, Luis Suarez and Gerard Pique. Colombian singer Shakira, Pique’s wife, is also expected at the ceremony.

Organizers said personal hairdressers will be available for the guests, along with entertainment services for their children. About 150 journalists will be allowed to cover the wedding under very strict rules, without any direct access to the ceremony or the party.

Messi and Roccuzzo have requested that wedding gifts come in the form of donations to the Leo Messi Foundation.

Messi is already in Rosario on vacation, but hasn’t made any public appearances. He was in the city to celebrate his 30th birthday this week.

Messi grew up in a lower-middle-class neighborhood in Rosario along with two brothers and a sister. Roccuzzo was the cousin of a close friend of Messi, and the two were always around each other and shared a close relationship from a young age.

They stayed in touch after Messi left to play in Spain as a teenager, and eventually started their relationship in the late 2000s, reportedly after he returned to Argentina following the death of one of Roccuzzo’s close friends in a traffic accident.

Roccuzzo eventually moved to Barcelona, where the couple have two boys, 4-year-old Thiago and 1-year-old Mateo.

“I’m a normal person. I have the same life as any human being,” Messi said in an interview with ESPN before the 2014 World Cup. “When I finish playing, I have my family, my friends. I live like any other person.”

Even before Messi turned into one of the best players in the world, he was already the type of person who kept to himself and avoided the spotlight but opened up in the company of friends and relatives.

People close to Messi and some of his former teammates say he is just a normal guy, talkative and often joking. The serious-looking player who rarely shows any expressions on the field or in front of the cameras is nothing like “the real Messi,” they say.

“No, no, no …,” former Barcelona teammate Jonathan Dos Santos said when asked if Messi was as shy as he appears.

Dos Santos, in Russia with Mexico’s national soccer team at the Confederations Cup, said that Messi always opened up while with his teammates.

“He is a great guy, just a great guy,” said Dos Santos, who was a teammate of Messi’s at Barcelona from 2009-14.

Messi and his family recently were photographed with friends on vacation on a boat in Ibiza. Messi was seen playing with his children and laughing with his friends. It was the same when an Uruguayan television channel showed footage of Messi and Suarez playing cards with friends, with Messi joking and smiling all the time.

Messi, who has tattoos of both of his children, showed a more rebellious side of himself recently, dying his hair blond. He also has tattoos honoring his mother and Jesus.

He became much more active in social media recently, opening an Instagram account and posting many pictures of his children and some private moments with his family.

“I think that on the field I’m completely different than I am off,” Messi told Television Publica Argentina a few years ago.

The soft-spoken Messi rarely speaks publicly and almost never talks to the media after or before games. Only a few times he has shown up at news conferences during tournaments with his club or national team.

Messi moved to Barcelona when he was 13 after being diagnosed with a hormone disorder that affected his growth. Barcelona offered to help him with the treatment.

The entire family initially moved with him, but Messi’s mother and two siblings soon returned to Argentina. Messi stayed in Spain with his father, but he couldn’t play at first because he didn’t have the proper documentation.

“One day I asked him, `What do you want to do? Because in the end, the decision is yours,”‘ his father, Jorge, said in a television documentary about Messi’s life. “And he told me, `I want to stay. I want to play for Barcelona.”‘

Now he wants to get married, and he’s gone back home to do it.

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

Germany snatches late win over Sweden to avoid elimination

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Germany dodged a fatal bullet on Saturday, coming back from a goal down to Sweden to steal a 2-1 victory at the 2018 World Cup and keep their world title defense alive… barely.

For all of 16 minutes — plus halftime — the Germans were in line to be eliminated with one Group F game still to play, but ultimately, Ola Toivonen‘s unlikely opener was canceled out by Marco Reus in very short order after the restart, and Toni Kroos broke Swedish hearts in the 94th.

Put another way, Joachim Loew survives to manage another day.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Sweden felt massively aggrieved to have not been awarded a penalty kick in the 17th minute, when Jerome Boateng took out the legs of Marcus Berg as he bore down on an out-rushing Manuel Neuer. The combination of leg-to-leg contact and a strong push in the back appeared an obvious error for the video-assistant referee to right a wrong, but the call never came.

The opening goal was the direct result of a careless giveaway by Kroos near the center circle, and needed just three touches and two passes to cut through the German defense and spring Toivonen behind Antonio Rudiger. The finish, a perfectly weighted dink — perhaps aided by the slightest of deflections by Rudiger — left Neuer with no chance (WATCH HERE).

Then, with the final touch of the first half, Berg glanced a header from a free kick that was destined to his the inside netting at the far post, but Neuer redefined the phrase “at full stretch” to keep the scoreline 1-1.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.

That save proved invaluable for Joachim Loew’s side, as Marco Reus pulled the defending world champions level less than three minutes into the second half. Timo Werner dribbled to the endline and cut the ball back toward the penalty spot, and Reus got on the end of the deflected cross and struck it home with his knee. A semblance of order restored.

Bedlam ensued in the final 15 minutes, as Boateng was sent off for a second yellow card and Neuer lost his footing while scrambling across the face of goal to make a save, only narrowly preserving the 1-1 scoreline. Robin Olsen one-upped Neuer in the 88th minute, rising to his crossbar to punch Mario Gomez’s header just over.

In the fourth of five minutes of second-half stoppage time, Kroos became the hero. From a nearly impossible angle on the left side of the penalty area, Kroos rolled the ball forward to Reus on the restart, creating an ever so slightly wider angle from which to curl his shot toward the far post. It worked to perfection.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

Germany (3 points) will finish group play against fourth-place South Korea (0 points) on Wednesday, while Sweden (3 points) will face Mexico (6 points), who had clinched their place in the knockout rounds until Germany’s late winner.

VIDEO: Toivonen chips Neuer; Germany on brink of elimination

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Germany, the defending world champions, have their backs firmly pressed against the wall, less than an hour away from elimination, in just their second game of Group F play at the 2018 World Cup. As of this moment, they’re set to be eliminated with one game still to play.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.

After losing to Mexico in the opener, Joachim Loew’s side now trails Sweden in game no. 2, just shy of 45 minutes on the clock. As of right now, Mexico and Sweden (six points each) would go through to the knockout rounds, and Germany and South Korea (zero points) would go home.

Die Mannschaft were utterly dominant for the game’s first 30 minutes, holding more than 75 percent of possession, until Ola Toivonen, who scored all of two goals for Ligue 1 side Toulouse this season, got in behind the German backline and dinked the ball over the head of Manuel Neuer for the game’s opening goal.

Report: Player “coup” has Sampaoli on the outs at Argentina

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The Argentina men’s national team has been a mess for some time, with Lionel Messi retiring the last time controversy reared its ugly ahead, but this is something else.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Reports out of Argentina say manager Jorge Sampaoli has lost the team, who is now making decisions on their own ahead of their World Cup group stage finale against Nigeria.

Argentina drew Iceland in its opener before being embarrassed in a 3-0 defeat to Croatia in the second match, one in which Sampaoli’s lineup choice, tactics, and in-match decisions were skewered in the media.

Sergio Aguero was among the players to bristle at talk of the coach after the game.

This just hours after Sampaoli’s lineup to face Nigeria was “leaked” via training ground photos on Saturday.

More to come…

MLS weekend preview: Busy Saturday following the World Cup

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You won’t have to wait too long after the final World Cup game of Saturday to get more soccer.

Major League Soccer is back with a busy night of fixtures.

[ RECAP: Mexico 2-1 South Korea ]

Here are some 1-2 liners to get prepared for what’s in store.

Philadelphia Union vs. Vancouver Whitecaps — 5 p.m. ET

Carl Robinson’s rising visitors will hope the inconsistent side of the Union hits the field in Pennsylvania.

New York Red Bulls vs. FC Dallas — 6 p.m. ET

Dallas’ seven-match unbeaten run includes four-straight wins, but RBNY has not lost at home since late April.

Orlando City vs. Montreal Impact — 7:30 p.m. ET

Orlando has not gained a point of its last available 18, while Montreal is slowly finding form.

Sporting KC vs. Houston Dynamo — 8:30 p.m. ET

The Western leaders host a Houston side with a tough 1-3-3 mark away from home.

Colorado Rapids vs. Minnesota United — 9 p.m. ET

Two-win Colorado has been much better at home than away, and the Loons can’t afford to give the Rapids win No. 3 if they want to stay in the playoff picture.

Real Salt Lake vs. San Jose Earthquakes — 10 p.m. ET

Real has won six of seven at Rio Tinto, and San Jose has just two wins this season (So, MLS rules dictate this will go in the Quakes’ win column).

Seattle Sounders vs. Chicago Fire — 10 p.m. ET

The Sounders’ awful season gets a Chicago with points in five of six.

LAFC vs. Columbus Crew — 10:30 p.m. ET

Traveling across the country without Carlos Vela and beating a very solid Crew side is asking a lot of Bob Bradley‘s expansion side.


Atlanta United vs. Portland Timbers — 4:30 p.m. ET Sunday

Gio Savarese has manufactured some fine away performances for Portland, but this is a long flight and a tall ask in a possible MLS Cup Final preview.

NYCFC vs. Toronto FC — 5 p.m. ET Sunday

TFC has yet to climb back into the East’s Top Six, but will like its chances to make a statement against Patrick Vieira-less NYCFC on the postage stamp pitch at Yankee Stadium.