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Argentina’s Lionel Messi hints at retirement

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Lionel Messi has come out of international retirement once before but it sounds like he may retire for good very soon.

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Messi, 30, will captain Argentina at the 2018 World Cup this summer after being persuaded to return to La Albiceleste following his knee-jerk retirement in the summer of 2016 after they lost the Copa America Centenario final to Chile on penalty kicks in New York City.

Speaking to Spanish outlet Sport, Messi was asked if he has plans to retire from the Argentine national team anytime soon.

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Here was his answer on the eve of the World Cup in Russia.

“I don’t know. It will depend how we do, how it ends,” Messi said. “The fact we’ve lost three finals now has led to some complicated moments with the Argentine press due to the differences in seeing what it means to reach a final. It is not easy and [reaching three finals] has to be appreciated. It’s true that winning them is important, but getting there is not easy.”

So, in a nutshell, unless Argentina win the World Cup or bow out heroically after dominating the tournament, he’s out.

The burden on Messi to deliver a major trophy for Argentina is intense and losing three consecutive major finals (2014 World Cup to Germany in extra time, then the 2015 and 2016 Copa America finals to Chile on penalty kicks) hit him hard.

Argentina’s record goalscorer (64 goals in 124 appearances) will probably overtake Diego Maradona in terms of fame when his career is over, but that’s largely due to his success at club level with Barcelona after winning five Ballon d’Or trophies and becoming both the leading scorer for Barca and in La Liga’s history. Maradona delivered a World Cup success for Argentina in 1986 and single-handedly dragged the team through in Mexico. Messi will have plenty of help going forward in this tournament, but it’s true that plenty of problems elsewhere on the pitch persist for the South American giants.

There’s no doubt that Messi and his teammates such as Sergio Aguero, Javier Mascherano and Angel di Maria greatly value playing for their national team and at times it seems like they’re almost trying too hard to succeed.

Jorge Sampaoli has Argentina playing a high-pressing style but with defensive deficiencies obvious, once again, Messi’s knows he may never win the major trophy he craves on the international stage.

Maybe that’s what his comments are all about as he aims to put a rocket close to the posterior of his teammates in order to get them all pulling in the same direction and peak at the World Cup this summer.

Argentina have been placed in Group D alongside Croatia, Iceland and Nigeria and they should make it safely out of the group stage.

Real Madrid to reject La Liga’s plans for USA games

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Real Madrid aren’t interested one little bit about moving La Liga games from Spain to the United States of America.

La Liga, along with clubs Barcelona and Girona, have asked the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) to move their league game from Catalonia to Miami, Florida in January 2019.

Amid growing negativity towards the idea from FIFA president Gianni Infantino plus several other La Liga clubs, Real Madrid president Florentino Perez has now stuck his oar in.

“We won’t go to the United States,” Perez said. “I don’t know whose interest it is in to play there but it is not in the interests of the clubs or the supporters, so we outright reject it.”

And there you go.

This idea seemed to be a decent one to start with but the more it has developed, the more it has become a bit of a PR disaster for the league.

With the Spanish FA, La Liga, U.S. Soccer, CONCACAF and others all having to agree on moving a regular-season game out of Spain, it seems like a lot of people will need a lot of convincing between now and November/December time when this will have to be confirmed or canceled.

Last week RFEF demanded more details on the game in Miami from La Liga and refused to give the green light to the game.

Javier Tebas, head of La Liga, seems desperate to make this happen after agreeing to a 15-year deal to play one league game a season in North America. But Tebas hasn’t received much backing from clubs, officials and pretty much anyone else in-between.

La Liga is trying to grow its global brand but moving regular season games across the Atlantic Ocean a la the NFL, NBA and MLB doesn’t seem to be the way fans and players in Spain want to go about it.

What other alternatives are there?

They could perhaps start by playing the Spanish Super Cup in the USA and see how that fares? Or maybe host a mini preseason tournament in the USA involved over half of the La Liga teams? Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid, Barcelona and others already spend pretty much every preseason in the USA playing in front of European giants in prestigious friendly games and fans accept it is a scrimmage but still show up in their thousands.

If La Liga’s brand is that strong, fans will want to travel from across the globe to watch Real, Barca, Atletico and others in action. That already happens, but can you fault them for trying to strengthen it by taking games elsewhere?

La Liga want to try something different and to close the gap between themselves and the Premier League. Throw in the growing popularity of the Bundesliga and Serie A, at least from a commercial standpoint, and it makes sense fo think outside the box, or the country in this instance.

But if the key stakeholders do not agree, it can’t happen. End of discussion.

VIDEO: Worst dive in history? Quite possibly

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Now, we’ve all become accustomed to seeing some of the ugly parts of the beautiful game.

Diving is undoubtedly one of the biggest problems we needed to clean up. And ridiculous videos like this one may help to do that.

Feyenoord’s Steven Berghuis got a little pat on his head from an opposition player at the weekend. It was a friendly ‘nice one, mate’ from Utrecht player Willem Janssen. That was it. Nothing more.

Yet this was how Berghuis reacted as he is being ridiculed across social media.

Now, we all know that ‘trying to win a free kick’ and other forms of embellishment are apparently part of the game. We don’t like it. But until VAR is commonplace at all levels of the game, players will continue to try and get away with whatever they can.

But incidents like this and some of Neymar’s antics this summer, coupled with the public ridicule that type of simulation has received, will surely act to dissuade future generations from attempting such outrageous levels of skullduggery.

We live in hope.

Word has it Berghuis is off to a swimming pool in Rotterdam on Monday to perfect his diving skills…

Women’s Ballon d’Or award launched

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PARIS (AP) A woman will win the most prestigious individual trophy in soccer for the first time this year.

Awarded every year by France Football magazine since Stanley Matthews won it in 1956, the Ballon d’Or for the best player of the year will be given to both a woman and a man on Dec. 3 in Paris.

Pascal Ferre, the magazine’s editor in chief, told The Associated Press women’s soccer has grown so much in recent years it was a logical step to create the new award.

“Women’s soccer is a booming discipline that deserves the same respect as men’s soccer,” Ferre told the AP. “It’s coming to maturity and growing bigger. More than 760 million TV viewers watched games at the last women’s World Cup in 2015, this did not happen by chance.”

France Football will make an official announcement in Tuesday’s edition of the magazine.

A list of 15 nominees for the prize will be announced on Oct. 8 alongside the 30-man selection. The players will be selected by France Football and a panel of international journalists specialized in women’s soccer will vote on a winner.

“The jury won’t be the same as the jury voting for the men,” Ferre said. “Only experts can vote. I’m confident we will get a jury of about 40 journalists, from countries where women’s soccer is growing.”

The Ballon d’Or merged with the FIFA World Player of the Year award from 2010-15, but the magazine and soccer’s governing body split two years ago. FIFA also awards a trophy to the best women’s player.

Ferre said most of the female players he spoke with about the new Ballon d’Or have been enthusiastic.

“They are thrilled and can’t wait for it,” Ferre said. “They are very proud to see that the world of soccer considers that women should be treated in the same respect as men.”

France Football is also launching a new award for the best young player of the year, the Kopa trophy, named after the late Raymond Kopa. The former Real Madrid attacking midfielder who became the first French player to win the Ballon d’Or back in 1958 died last year at 85. Only former winners will be entitled to choose the winner from a list of 10 under-21 players.

The award ceremony will be broadcast live in more than 120 countries.

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

VIDEO: 7-year-old’s amazing national anthem at LA Galaxy

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Sometimes you see something which makes you stop in your tracks and marvel in the wonder of the world.

This is one of those occasions.

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Seven-year-old Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja stole the show before the LA Galaxy’s 3-0 win against the Seattle Sounders on Sunday, with the youngster performing an incredible rendition of the National Anthem ahead of the Major League Soccer clash.

Emma was the winner of the #GalaxySocial Day Instagram Anthem contest and her prize was to sing the Star Spangled Banner at the StubHub Center.

Take a look at the video below to see the youngster steal the show, as Zlatan Ibrahimovic declared her the MVP of the game.

Simply amazing.