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Try, try again: Messi seeks 1st goal vs. Chelsea in 9th attempt

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LONDON (AP) As unlikely as it sounds, Lionel Messi is still waiting to score his first goal against Chelsea after drawing a blank in eight previous Champions League matches.

The five-time World Player of the Year is likely to get another chance to break his duck this week and Chelsea manager Antonio Conte believes the past will count for little when Barcelona visits Stamford Bridge on Tuesday.

“I hope we maintain this tradition but we are speaking about a fantastic player,” Conte said ahead of the last-16, first-leg Champions League game. “The most important thing is the present.

“We must have great respect but at the same time we must be excited to play this type of game and take on this type of challenge. It won’t be easy because we know very well this player, we are talking about one of the best in the world.”

The teams have produced some epic games in the past although they have not met in the Champions League since Chelsea pulled off a remarkable backs-to-the-wall semifinal victory over Barcelona on the way to winning the trophy in 2012.

Messi missed a penalty in the second leg at the Nou Camp as the London club overcame the first-half dismissal of captain John Terry, and a 2-0 deficit, to draw the game 2-2 and secure an unforgettable 3-2 aggregate win.

Bayern Munich hosts Besiktas in Tuesday’s other game while the following day sees Manchester United traveling to Sevilla, and Shakhtar Donetsk playing host to Roma.

Two weeks ago, the prospect of a Chelsea win over Barca would have been unthinkable after Conte’s men had slumped to successive defeats by two of the Premier League’s lesser lights.

The London club was still smarting from a 3-0 home loss against Bournemouth when it traveled to Watford and succumbed to an embarrassing 4-1 reverse.

Chelsea has got back on track since then, though, easing past West Bromwich Albion 3-0 in the league last Monday before swatting aside second-tier Hull 4-0 in the FA Cup four days later.

Conte has several selection dilemmas. He must choose between captain Gary Cahill and Antonio Rudiger for a place at the back, and between Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud up front.

Cesc Fabregas will also be desperate to play against his former team but may have to settle for a spot on the bench.

Barca has lost only once in 38 matches this season since falling in the Spanish Super Cup to Real Madrid in August. It has a seven-point lead at the top of La Liga and has reached the final of the Copa del Rey.

Messi is having another stellar campaign, scoring 27 times in all competitions, and he helped set up two goals in Saturday’s 2-0 win at Eibar.

Philippe Coutinho is ineligible for Barca following his move from Liverpool.

Messi, Mascherano confronted Argentine coaching staff at World Cup

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After two games at the 2018 World Cup, Argentina was in serious trouble.

With an aging team that lacked world class defenders, the Albiceleste managed just a draw with Iceland while eventual World Cup finalists Croatia reminded Argentina what it used to have in midfield with a dominating 3-0 win.

The defeat put Argentina in a precarious position, needing a win on the final group stage day and some luck to go through into the knockout stage past Nigeria and Iceland. Now, a new book by Argentine journalist Ariel Senosiain could shed some light on what happened between the match against Croatia and Nigeria.

According to Senosian’s digital book, called El Mundial es Historias, Lionel Messi and Javier Mascherano ordered a meeting with manager Jorge Sampaoli and his coaching staff, and it did not go down well.

“We don’t get what you say, we don’t trust you anymore and we want to have an opinion,” Messi and Mascherano are reported to have said to Sampaoli, which surprised the veteran manager. When Sampaoli asked the players what they wanted an opinion on, they responded, “everything.”

Messi was reportedly also upset with Sampaoli for the manager asking Messi who he thought should come on as a substitute during the match.

“You asked me 10 times which players you wanted me to see on and which ones I didn’t and I never gave you a name,” Messi reportedly said.

In the days following the defeat to Croatia, many reports emerged out of the Argentina camp that Messi had essentially organized a mutiny, and he was going to select the squad and tactical instructions. The team made the switch from a three-man backline to a more standard 4-4-2, and it delivered some better performances, even though Argentina’s defense was still shambolic, especially in the 4-3 defeat to France.

With 15 members of the 23-man roster over the age of 30 and no head coach, the Argentina National Team is set for a huge upheavel, and there’s not much in terms of youth players who could replace the likes of Mascherano, Banega, Otamendi and of course Messi and Sergio Aguero in the lineup.

These alleged quotes are just the beginning of what should be a messy year for Argentina, as it tries to get itself back on track, renewing its youth development and forming the next generation of Albiceleste stars.

Spurs sign Son to contract extension

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One of the Premier League’s most underrated wingers is getting a well-deserved pay day.

Heung-Min Son has signed a new five-year contract at Tottenham, the club announced Friday. Details of the contract were not disclosed.

Son became the leading goalscorer from Asia in Premier League history last season, with 47 goals in 140 total appearances for Spurs, and he scored 20 goals last season in 55 total games.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Coming off a somewhat disappointing performance at the World Cup, Son is expected to take part in Tottenham’s U.S. tour in preseason and play in the club’s Premier League opener against Newcastle before taking part in the Asian Games in August.

The Asian Games are of massive importance to Son, as well as his teammates.

In South Korea, players can only defer military service for so long, and if South Korea fails to win the Asian Games, it’s unlikely that Son will be able to see out his contract with Spurs, unless he wants to spend the rest of his life outside of South Korea.

If he’s unable to defer military service, which for Son would likely involve playing for the Army’s soccer team Sangju Sangmu, he’ll have to return to South Korea within the next year or two.

If South Korea wins, he can extend his European stay well into the future. A lot is riding on next month’s tournament in Indonesia.

Cahill open to offers for club football outside Australia

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SYDNEY (AP) Tim Cahill says he hopes to continue playing club football outside Australia despite retiring from national duties with the Socceroos.

The 38-year-old Cahill, who announced his international retirement earlier this week, said Friday he would also be open to collaboration with Football Federation Australia, serving as an “ambassador” to the A-League and beginning a potential career in coaching.

[READ: Report: Conte to sue Chelsea]

The former Everton and New York Red Bulls midfielder became the first Australian to play at four consecutive World Cups when he came off the bench in Australia’s 2-0 defeat to Peru in the group stages in Russia.

Cahill retires as Australia’s leading goal scorer with 50 goals from 107 appearances

“I’ve not really entertained anyone when it comes to football because I’ve been selfish enough to have some serious family time,” said Cahill, who plans to live in the United States.

“To live in America and try and play in the A-League would be impossible,” he said.

Cahill played only sparingly last season during spells with the A-League’s Melbourne City and English Championship side Millwall.

Cazorla overcomes odds, returns to field after 21 months

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Santi Cazorla was facing the prospect of never walking again.

Now, he’s back where he belongs.

Cazorla made his incredible return to soccer 636 days after his last match, coming off the bench in Villarreal’s first preseason match of the season, a 1-1 draw with Hercules. Between his last game and now, Cazorla had to endure eight (8!) operations on his Achillies tendon, an infection to the tendon and his leg, and nearly two years on the sidelines as he contemplated and worried if he would ever play again.

[READ: Man United draws with Club America]

After years as a top player and 77 caps for the Spanish National Team, Cazorla is thankful to just put on his shirt and boots for a game.

 “To feel like a football player is very special,” Cazorla told Villarreal’s website. “Without a doubt, I stay with the affection of the people throughout this period. The fans have given me strength and accompanied me during difficult times. “

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