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Brazil, Argentina set for epic Copa America semifinal showdown

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The list of storylines set to litter the field in Belo Horizonte Tuesday night reads like an unfurled medieval scroll.

Lionel Messi and his international goose egg is yet again put to the highest of tests. Brazil returns to the site of a painful memory, the stadium where the Selecao was pummeled by Germany in its own World Cup five short years ago. Star striker Sergio Aguero has just one international goal since last summer’s World Cup. Brazil’s brutal recent results in the Copa America are staggeringly disappointing, while Argentina’s dismal decade against Brazil makes for equally painful reading.

All the talking points come to a head as the two heavyweights go head-to-head in a headlining Copa America semifinal on Tuesday, with kickoff set for 8:30 p.m. ET.

[ MORE: Preview USWNT vs. England in World Cup semifinals ]

The Copa America hosts have failed to reach the final – or even the semifinal, for that matter – since they last won the competition in 2007, a title which gave Brazil a second straight Copa America win and four of five. Since, they have two quarterfinal exits and a group stage flop, not much to boast about for a country that sees itself as a world soccer superpower.

Argentina, meanwhile, hasn’t beaten Brazil in a competitive match since way back in 2005 during World Cup qualification for the tournament in Germany that following year. They have since lost four and drawn two against their rivals, sandwiching a six-year gap without a competitive meeting between the two sides from 2009-2015.

Brazil will have much of the obvious pressure as hosts of the competition, but Argentina has plenty on the line as well. This competition could be one of Lionel Messi’s last chance for a major trophy with Argentina, with just the 2020 Copa America in Colombia and the 2022 World Cup in Qatar reasonably remaining on the docket, as the next continental competition doesn’t come around again until 2024.

With Neymar injured and Richarlison recovering from illness, much of the goalscoring threat for Brazil lies at the feet of Roberto Firmino (Photo by Kaz Photography/Getty Images).

Still, the visitors have a personnel edge as Brazil must work around a growing collection of injuries. Most notably Neymar still finds himself sidelined for the foreseeable future, but that is only the beginning of Tite’s worries. Important midfielder Fernandinho isn’t expected to play thanks to a right knee injury that has seen him miss the last two matches, and defender Felipe Luis is also a doubt after picking up an injury in the win over Paraguay. Richarlison, who has been fantastic in his short international career, has missed the last two matches after contracting the mumps, and while he’s expected to be in the squad, he’s unlikely to start.

Argentina has not played well in the competition, but put forth its best performance last time out against Venezuela, finally  looking more comfortable and mistake-free at the back than previously against the likes of Colombia and Paraguay who were happy to sit back and let the Albiceleste beat itself. Argentina boss Lionel Scaloni has slowly brought young players into the fold to rousing success, with Giovani Lo Celso finally utilized centrally, Lautaro Martinez scorching hot up front, and Juan Foyth the most recent positive addition at the back. The coaching staff has finally come to the realization that running out retreads like Angel di Maria or out-of-form attackers like Paulo Dybala brings little value to the side, and the young players deployed instead have proven hungry to bring Argentina back to the top in a competition they have not won since 1993.

Brazil, meanwhile, had looked its best in quite some time during the group stage, only to draw a blank against Paraguay, requiring penalties to advance after a 0-0 draw that featured 26 shots – eight of which hit the target but none found the back of the net. A rejuvinated Philippe Coutinho and new Champions League winner Roberto Firmino had looked strong until the Paraguay game, and the pair will need to return to form.

While this edition of the Copa America has been generally a dud through the quarterfinals, the semis present fans with a mouth-watering matchup to erase the earlier doldrums. It may not be an electric, high-scoring affair – these anticipated meetings between world giants rarely are – but should prove a tense, well balanced clash that will leave fans on the edge of their seats.

Josef Martinez scores 2 more in win, including sensational solo work

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Josef Martinez scored his 25th and 26th goals of the MLS season, and if he challenges his MLS record of 31, he may also stare down soccer royalty.

The Venezuelan striker scored two more on Wednesday in a 2-0 defeat of FC Cincinnati in Ohio to give him goals in 15-straight league contests.

He now has 76 goals in 80 MLS games, which is good.

[ MORE: Champions League wrap ]

On the season, he’s six goals shy of matching the Major League Soccer record he set with last season’s 31 regular season goals.

According to MLSSoccer.com, he’s six games shy of tying Lionel Messi’s world record for consecutive league matches with a goal.

Even that’s a little tricky: Messi scored in 21-straight games in which he was eligible for selection, but 19-straight before missing two matches for injury. In that remarkable run of 21, he also had a run of six-straight braces.

It’s not really worth it to attempt to compare the two streaks: If Martinez gets to 21 (or even 19), it’s amazing stuff and worth celebrating on a worldwide level. Everyone has a bad game every now and again, but Martinez still finds the score sheet in ’em.

Look at the magician’s tricks he used for this one, including a back heel first touch and two freeze-frame cut moves. That’s not even mentioning the finish.

USWNT announces final matches of World Cup-winning year

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CHICAGO (AP) The Women’s World Cup champion U.S. team will wrap up 2019 with matches against Sweden and Costa Rica.

U.S. Soccer announced Wednesday that the U.S. will face Sweden in Columbus, Ohio, on Nov. 7 and Costa Rica in Jacksonville, Florida, on Nov. 10.

[ MORE: Champions League wrap ]

The team is wrapping up its World Cup victory tour next month with matches against South Korea on Oct. 3 in Charlotte, North Carolina, and on Oct. 6 in Chicago.

Coach Jill Ellis is stepping down following the match in Chicago after leading the team to a pair of consecutive World Cup titles.

The United States is 15-1-2 this year and currently riding a 14-game winning streak.

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

Report: Mane to get big raise, Liverpool contract through 2025

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Liverpool’s Senegalese sensation looks set to stay at Anfield deep into his 30s.

Sadio Mane is in talks with the Reds hierarchy over a new deal that will run through 2024-25, and pay him more than $15 million per season.

[ MORE: Champions League wrap ]

Mane, 27, currently has a deal through 2023, but surely wouldn’t mind a raise. And Liverpool will be happy to tie him down on Merseyside a bit longer.

He’s scored six times in seven matches this season, also grabbing an assist. That’s on a better pace than his 26 goals and five assists over 50 appearances in 2018/19.

Mane has 70 Premier League goals at the moment. Do you tip him to eclipse 100 while still at Anfield? 125?

Europa League preview: Man Utd, Wolves, Arsenal begin group stage

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The Europa League begins its group stage on Thursday, with the three Premier League combatants taking on clubs from Kazakhstan, Portugal and Germany.

Manchester United’s kids are gonna get some playing time when Astana visits Old Trafford on Wednesday.

Teenager Mason Greenwood and 21-year-old Axel Tuanzebe will start, and Sergio Romero will be between the sticks.

[ MORE: Champions League wrap ]

And the Manchester Evening News notes that Tahith Chong and Angel Gomes could also start at Old Trafford, meaning the veterans in the fray will be quite important.

Enter Fred, the forgotten $68 million man from Shaktar Donetsk. The 23 minutes he played last week versus Leicester City account for his lone time on the pitch this season.

Here’s Ole Gunnar Solskjaer:

“I’m sure we’ll see more and more of Fred. We spoke about it earlier, he’s had some great games in midfield with Scott against PSG and Arsenal, for example, and we’re just waiting for that to flourish.”

Fred had an odd record under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer last season, barely in the squad when the team started hot but trusted against PSG and Barcelona in the Champions League.

Speaking of little-used midfielders, Arsenal boss Unai Emery is getting a little grief for leaving Mesut Ozil behind for the Gunners’ trip to Germany for a big match with Eintracht Frankfurt.

Ozil made his first start of the season in Arsenal’s 2-2 draw with Watford at the weekend, playing 71 minutes and departing with the club up 2-1.

So why not even bring him abroad? Rest.

“Because we are going to play another match on Sunday,” Emery said, via The London Evening Standard. “My decision is because he played and also I’m thinking tomorrow the focus and the first 11 and after that I decided who are the players who can be the best for tomorrow and also the players not and that is Sokratis and Mesut.”

Sokrastis Papastathopoulos is also out, having played a big role in the embarrassing performance at Watford.

There have been tough times for Wolves as well, who sit in the relegation zone after five matches of the Premier League season.

They’ve been quite good in Europa League, though, dispatching a pair of minnows before winning both legs against Serie A side Torino.

Why the inconsistency? It’s not fixture congestion, according to Ruben Neves:

“I don’t think fatigue has anything to do with it, Neves said, via The Birmingham Mail. “We’re all top players, we’re used to it, we’re used to playing a lot of games in quick succession. I don’t think the Europa League has (anything) to do with our position in the Premier League. Obviously, we haven’t had the start that we’ve wanted, but it’s been a beautiful journey into the Europa League. This is a historic moment for Wolves and we’re going to do our best in this competition.”

Nuno Espirito Santo‘s men are in Portugal to meet Braga, one of three tricky opponents in Besiktas and Slovan Bratislava.

Full slate

12:55 p.m. ET
CFR Cluj v. Lazio
LASK v. Rosenborg
Getafe v. Trabzonspor
PSV Eindhoven v. Sporting Lisbon
Basel v. Krasnodar
APOEL Nicosia v. Dudelange
Copenhagen v. Lugano
Standard Liege v. Vitoria SC
Qarabag v. Sevilla
Eintracht Frankfurt v. Arsenal
Rennes v. Celtic
Dynamo Kiev v. Malmo

3 p.m. ET
Wolfsburg v. Oleksandriya
Espanyol v. Ferencvaros
Rangers v. Feyenoord
Porto v. Young Boys
Slovan Bratislava v. Besiktas
Borussia Monchengladbach v. Wolfsberg
Partizan v. AZ Alkmaar
AS Roma v. Istanbul Basaksehir
Gent v. Saint-Etienne
Manchester United v. Astana
Wolves v. Braga
Ludogorets Razgrad v. CSKA Moscow