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Copa America preview: Brazil on home soil, Messi’s last shot at (int’l) glory?

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For the first time in 30, the country of Brazil will host the Copa America when the 2019 edition kicks off on Friday. The pressure to win on home soil, as it was when Selecao hosted the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, will be immense.

[ MORE: Predicting the 2019 Gold Cup ]

For the first time in a long time, there is no clear-cut favorite. The best team in South America is anybody’s guess.

Tite’s Brazil was seen as a heavy favorite a couple weeks ago, but will now have to cope without its brightest superstar and captain, Neymar, after he suffered an ankle injury during a pre-Copa friendly against Qatar. Brazil can still be called slight favorites, with many thanks to the attacking duo of Roberto Firmino and Gabriel Jesus, but more than a few defensive questions must be answered: most notably, does this veteran group of defenders, with just three of eight players under 30 years of age (an average of 58 international caps), have one more major tournament left in it?

All of the attention that will inevitably be paid to Brazil could turn out to be a blessing in disguise for some of the tournament’s other heavy hitters, particularly the two-defending champions from Chile. Lionel Messi and Argentina, who have reached four of the last five Copa finals (2004, 2007, 2015 and 2016) but lost each and every one of them, also fit that billing.

[ MORE: Premier League 2019-20 schedule announced ]

Chile hope to squeeze one last run out of the Arturo Vidal, Alexis Sanchez, Eduardo Vargas and Gary Medel era, which is a slightly risky proposition given each of their injury histories and their slightly advanced ages (31 years on average). There’s also a small matter of who’ll start in goal: 31-year-old Gabriel Arias is the most experienced of the bunch, but he’s won just six caps in his career and has never played club soccer outside of South America.

Argentina, on the other hand, are about as inexperienced as a national team of their prestige could be. Messi, Angel di Maria and Sergio Aguero have 130, 97 and 90 caps to their names, respectively, followed by Nicolas Otamendi with 60. After them, Ramiro Funes Mori is the next-highest, with 25. 12 of the 23 players making up Lionel Scaloni’s squad have made single-digit appearances for the Albiceleste. Argentina’s last major trophy came at the 1993 Copa America, when Messi was six years old. Now 31 years old, the undisputed greatest player of all time might be down to his last (realistic) chance at winning a major tournament.

Colombia will again be the favorite pick as “dark horse,” but their route to a first major trophy since winning the 2001 Copa will be difficult: facing Messi and Co., in the two sides’ Group B opener on Saturday (6 p.m. ET). Japan and Qatar, the two non-South American teams invited to participate in 2019, will be fascinating wild cards as well.

What we’re saying is: Brazil and Argentina taking a small (or large) step back to the pack should make for one of the best editions of the Copa we’ve ever seen, and just about every game should be appointment television beginning with Friday’s curtain raiser between Brazil and Bolivia (8:30 p.m. ET).

Quick facts

Final date: July 7

Semifinal dates: July 2 and 3

Current holders: Chile (2015 and 2016)

Most titles: Uruguay (15), Argentina (14), Brazil (8), Chile (2), Paraguay (2), Peru (2)

Most goals: Zizinho and Norberto Mendez (17)

Most goals (active): Paolo Guerrero and Eduardo Vargas (11)

This weekend’s Copa America schedule

Friday

Brazil v. Bolivia — 8:30 p.m. ET

Saturday

Venezuela v. Peru — 3 p.m. ET
Argentina v. Colombia — 6 p.m. ET

Sunday

Paraguay v. Qatar — 3 p.m. ET
Uruguay v. Ecuador — 6 p.m. ET

Social media reacts to Pochettino’s shock firing

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Mauricio Pochettino has been sacked by Tottenham Hotspur after he spent over five years in charge.

The Argentine coach has seen his Spurs side slump in recent months as they stumbled through the latter months of last season despite a miraculous run to the UEFA Champions League final as they lost to Liverpool in Madrid.

Pochettino’s side currently sit 14th in the Premier League table after three wins from their opening 12 games of the season and with so many players seemingly ready to leave this summer (Jan Vertonghen, Toby Alderweireld, Christian Eriksen and Danny Rose to name a few) all was not well behind-the-scenes.

But nobody expected this so early in the season and so soon after Tottenham moved into their new home and big spending was promised.

Here’s a look at some of the reaction on social media to the shock firing of Pochettino.


Mauricio Pochettino fired at Tottenham Hotspur

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In a shocking turn of events during the international break, Mauricio Pochettino has been sacked as Tottenham Hotspur manager.

The club sits 14th in the Premier League table, without a win in its last five league games.

“We were extremely reluctant to make this change and it is not a decision the Board has taken lightly, nor in haste,” the club said in its official statement. Regrettably domestic results at the end of last season and beginning of this season have been extremely disappointing.

“It falls to the Board to make the difficult decisions – this one made more so given the many memorable moments we have had with Mauricio and his coaching staff – but we do so in the Club’s best interests. Mauricio and his coaching staff will always be part of our history. I have the utmost admiration for the manner in which he dealt with the difficult times away from a home ground whilst we built the new stadium and for the warmth and positivity he brought to us. I should like to thank him and his coaching staff for all they have contributed. They will always be welcome here. We have a talented squad. We need to re-energize and look to deliver a positive season for our supporters.”

Reports had suggested over the past few days that his position was becoming more and more untenable, but there was no indication that a change was this imminent. The Telegraph reported Monday that Pochettino was set to meet with Daniel Levy during the international break about the direction of the club, and they suggested the game against West Ham United this weekend could be “make or break” for the Argentine.

Pochettino had been with the club since joining in 2014. They reached the Champions League final last season, losing to Liverpool.

Maradona resigns as manager of Gimnasia

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Diego Maradona has resigned as boss of top-flight Argentine club Gimnasia, the club president told domestic media on Tuesday.

According to Argentine journalist Juan Pablo Varsky, Gimnasia president Gabriel Pellegrino told Radio La Red on Tuesday that Maradona had stepped down as boss with just three matches to go in the league season. The 59-year-old has reportedly been disillusioned that Pellegrino will not be running for another term as club president and has thus decided to end his tenure early.

Maradona’s contract was set to run through the end of the league season, which concludes December 8. The election for club president takes place this coming Saturday.

Maradona has only been in charge of the club since early September, and while he lost his first three matches in charge, he has since won three of the last five. The club sits 22nd in the 24-team league table.

 

Pellegrino has been in charge of the club since 2016, with elections taking place every three years.

The legendary former player has previously managed Liga MX side Dorados de Sinaloa, UAE club Fujairah, and the Argentina national team.

LA Galaxy extend Pavon loan another year

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The LA Galaxy announced on Monday that star attacker Cristian Pavon will remain with the club next season, extending his loan through the 2020 MLS campaign after agreeing to a deal with his parent club Boca Juniors.

The 23-year-old Argentinian made a splash when arriving to the Galaxy in early August, helping push the club to an appearance in the quarterfinals of the MLS Cup Playoffs. He scored three goals and assisted eight more in 11 regular season matches, plus another goal in the playoffs.

Pavon’s arrival was of the utmost importance for the Galaxy as they looked to make up for a sub-par defense that conceded goals in waves. His presence will be even more critical next season as the Galaxy are without goal hawk Zlatan Ibrahimovic who left the club this offseason.

Terms of the extension were not released, but it was confirmed that Pavon will occupy a Designated Player slot for the upcoming season, alongside fellow DP Jonathan dos Santos. Romain Alessandrini was the third DP on the club, but his contract expires this offseason and no resolution to that has yet been announced.

Pavon was a regular for Argentina during the 2018 World Cup but has not been a regular since, missing from the 2019 Copa America squad and not among the players for the current international break. He has 11 international caps in total, yet to score a goal.