2016 Copa America

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Ballon d’Or changes rules; Guessing the new 30-man shortlist

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FIFA’s six-year run as cooperating partner of the Ballon d’Or Award is over, and France Football is changing some things in how they handle the honor of naming the world’s top footballer.

This year, there will only be a 30-man shortlist before the awards, no narrowing of the field to three.

In the past, the shortlist was 23 players, and a three-man list was presented before the ceremony.

[ MORE: Big U.S. defenders thrive at FCD ]

For five of the six years, this list was Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, and another guy. Since 2007, either Ronaldo or Messi has been in the Top Three. Messi has five awards, Ronaldo three.

The time period used for voters is Nov. 22, 2015 until Nov. 20, 2016, and encapsulates the club season as well as EURO 2016, the Olympics, and Copa America Centenario. Voting runs from late October through Nov. 20, and Cristiano Ronaldo the winner will be given his award on Jan. 9.

Here a quick guess at the 30-man shortlist. These players are not listed in any PST-assigned order.

First, let’s expect that of the 23 men from last year’s shortlist, most will return. We’ll guess that Yaya Toure and Karim Benzema don’t make the cut.

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Arjen Robben and Ivan Rakitic could see their names drop, as they finished 22 and 23.

Returnees

  1. Lionel Messi
  2. Cristiano Ronaldo
  3. ZURICH, SWITZERLAND - JANUARY 11: FIFA Ballon d'Or nominees Neymar Jr of Brazil and FC Barcelona (L), Lionel Messi of Argentina and FC Barcelona (C) and Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal and Real Madrid (R) attend a press conference prior to the FIFA Ballon d'Or Gala 2015 at the Kongresshaus on January 11, 2016 in Zurich, Switzerland. (Photo by Philipp Schmidli/Getty Images)
    (Photo by Philipp Schmidli/Getty Images)

    Neymar

  4. Luis Suarez
  5. Robert Lewandowski
  6. Thomas Mueller
  7. Manuel Neuer
  8. Alexis Sanchez
  9. Andres Iniesta
  10. Sergio Aguero
  11. Zlatan Ibrahimovic
  12. Javier Mascherano
  13. Paul Pogba
  14. Gareth Bale
  15. Arturo Vidal
  16. Kevin De Bruyne
  17. James Rodriguez
  18. Toni Kroos
  19. Arjen Robben
  20. Ivan Rakitic

New names

(Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

That leaves 10 new spots (Sorry, Arjen and Ivan). There are some no doubters here, and I’ll plug in some explanation when necessary.

21. Pepe — EURO and Champions League double
22. Antoine Griezmann
23. Gonzalo Higuain
24. Dimitri Payet
25. Riyad Mahrez
26. Mesut Ozil
27. Olivier Giroud — 5 UCL goals, EURO bronze boot, 16 PL goals

Wild cards

We’re pegging Jamie Vardy and Leicester’s dream season to join Harry Kane for two of the final slots, and Sergio Ramos to edge Italian defender Leonardo Bonucci on the strength of another UCL title, and Real teammate Marcelo on the virtues of EURO success versus Copa America failure.

28. Jamie Vardy
29. Harry Kane
30. Sergio Ramos
Luka Modric
Philippe Coutinho
Marcelo
Leonardo Bonucci

Will just miss

We’re sure we are missing a ton, but here are the next names.

Rui Patricio — EURO team of tournament
Jerome Boateng
Angel Di Maria
Ivan Perisic
N'Golo Kante
Marek Hamsik
Eduardo Vargas — Leading scorer at Copa America
Alvaro Morata
Willian — 5 UCL goals
Javier Hernandez — 5 UCL goals, 17 Bundesliga, two for Mexico
Clint Dempsey — Yes, an MLS player; Three goals at Copa America
Raphiel Guerriero — EURO team of tournament
Nicolas Otamendi — Copa team of tournament
Ragnar Sigurdsson

Ronaldo admits he’s hurt at seeing Messi’s tears, failure

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Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are bitter foes on the pitch for bitter rivals Real Madrid and Barcelona.

Off it, it seems like there’s mutual respect even if their characters are polar opposites.

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Ronaldo, 31, has revealed his feelings about Messi, 29, retiring from international soccer following Argentina’s heartbreaking loss to Chile on penalty kicks in the Copa America Centenario final on Jun. 26.

Speaking to Mundo Deportivo, the Portuguese captain has issued the following message to Messi.

“Messi has taken a tough decision and people should understand,” Ronaldo said. “He is not accustomed to defeats and disappointments, not even finishing second. Missing a penalty does not make you a bad player. It hurts to see Messi in tears and I hope he returns to his country, because he needs it.”

Messi’s international future remains unclear but the fact that he has now lost in all four major finals he has played in for Argentina (plus, he missed a penalty kick in this particular final) seems to be weighing heavy on him.

[ VIDEO: Ronaldo inspires Portugal, rare footage ]

He is a five-time Ballon d’Or winner and alongside Ronaldo they’ve gone on an epic duel in Spain over the past seven years, setting record after record with goals, assists and constant magic.

However, you get the sense that with Ronaldo battling away in the semifinals of EURO 2016 with Portugal in quest of the first international title of his career, he understands Messi’s situation better than most.

Both the main men for their respective nations, it hasn’t been easy for Ronaldo and Messi to replicate their club success on the international stage throughout their careers.

Purists out there will say that both Diego Maradona and Pele will always be ahead of Ronaldo and Messi due to their success with national teams at World Cups.

It seems like Ronaldo wants Messi to come back and give it one last crack with Argentina at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

There’s huge respect between these two superstars.

Often critical, Maradona says “Messi must go on” for Argentina

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Lionel Messi had strong words after Argentina’s loss in PKs to Chile at the Copa America Centenario, claiming retirement.

And while there’s reason to think he’ll go back on his emotional but rather definitive statements, Argentina anxiously awaits what’s next.

The nation’s federation is in shambles, under FIFA administration ahead of a presidential election and with reports that major stars like Sergio Aguero, Angel Di Maria and Javier Mascherano could join Messi on the sidelines.

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Diego Maradona has been critical of Lionel Messi in the past, as has much of Argentina soccer since the world’s best player left home to join Barcelona at 13, but he has no interest in seeing him retire.

From the BBC:

“Those saying he should quit don’t want us to see what a disaster Argentinean football has become,” Maradona told La Nacion newspaper.

“Messi has to stay because he will reach the 2018 World Cup in Russia in conditions to become world champion.

“The lads have to be supported more to help him take the team forward.”

Maradona was very critical of the direction of the national team program, saying he’s worried the next president will be chosen like “a used car dealership”. He’s very right that Argentina will still be a prime contender in Russia.

We still await further word from Messi, who will turn 31 during the next World Cup. The oldest members of the current team — Mascherano and Ezequiel Lavezzi — will be 34 and 33, with players like Angel Correa or Paulo Dybala waiting in the wings.

Lionel Messi, Argentina continue wait for major title after heartbreaking loss vs. Chile

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UPDATE [1:30 a.m. ET]: Lionel Messi announces international retirement following Argentina’s Copa America loss to Chile.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. –  Moments after Chile secured its defense of the Copa America title in a pressure-filled penalty shootout, Argentina’s star players including world-beater Lionel Messi stood in the middle of the field trying to come to terms with a third consecutive final defeat.

It didn’t matter that Copa America organizers were creating a concert just a few feet away. The players laid on the pitch, trying to move past letting yet another opportunity to end the country’s now 23-year wait for a major trophy slip out of their grasp. Considering how La Albiceleste had played throughout the tournament, it almost appeared as if it was destiny that they would win. That Messi would finally live up to his legacy as Diego Maradona’s successor and come home as a champion. Instead, the wait continues and the 29-year-old will have to face even more criticism.

After Arturo Vidal saw the opening penalty saved by Argentina’s Sergio Romero, Messi had a chance to give his side an early advantage but he messed up on his run up to the spot and sent his shot wide left. The miss was so heartbreaking that he couldn’t stand next to his teammates on shooting line and laid motionless next to them before being pulled up. But this loss, like the previous final losses in both last year’s Copa America and the 2014 World Cup again doesn’t fall on his shoulders.

Gonzalo Higuain appeared to receive a gift from the football gods when Gary Medel missed a backpass and the striker was left alone with a golden chance against Chile’s Claudio Bravo. Yet his shot went left just past the post instead of behind goal. If it sounds familiar, that’s because it is.

Against Germany in 2014, Higuain had a very similar chance against Manuel Neuer and also missed. Then he followed suit in Copa America 2015 in both open play and penalties, where he completely missed target, skying above goal. It is questionable whether or not the Napoli striker should have started, considering his track record, with Sergio Aguero sitting on the bench.It’s the type of decision that has left managers like Tata Martino and his predecessor Alejandro Sabella having many sleepless nights. But Higuain wasn’t alone in missing chances.

[ MORE: Chile remain Copa America champions, defeating Argentina on PKs ]

Aguero and Angel Di Maria had their chances through the match but couldn’t find precision against a gutsy Chilean side that appears determined to prove that its success in 2015 wasn’t an aberration. La Roja now has two international titles in two years and one has to believe that bigger successes could be on the horizon. There’s the Confederations Cup next year and likely the the ambition to prove its quality in Russia in 2018. Considering that Vidal and fellow star Alexis Sanchez will still be in their primes, it isn’t a far-fetched expectation.

While Jorge Sampaoli, the manager who led Chile to its first-ever tournament win, is longer around, his successor Juan Antonio Pizzi continues Chile’s disruptive style of play that makes its competitors uncomfortable and at times even agitated. On paper, Argentina appeared to have a stronger squad but its frustration was evident, with several cards handed out to both teams throughout the match. Once La Roja gained a bit of control, it seemed as if they gained the psychological edge on their competitors and that’s ultimately what sealed them the title.

It is a shame to the winners that the focus will fall back on Messi, but that’s what happens when you have a five-time Ballon D’Or winner participating in a tournament. And there were definitely times where he showed that he was finally clicking with an Argentina side where he usually struggles to replicate his outer-worldly Barcelona form. Given a free role, the freedom enabled him to crush most sides in this tournament, even with limited minutes early on. But in the final, Chile managed to contain that threat.

Yet, there was one moment that in the final that struck as symbolic of Messi’s time with Argentina. Late on in the game, Messi dribbled from the halfway mark, trying to find a teammate to pass to. Seeing an opening he continued to drive ahead, cutting past four defenders to finally take a shot that skied above a goal. It was a moment that was brilliant and reminded you of Messi’s magic. But it almost seems like he’ll have to even better than his best just to finally get Argentina its long coveted trophy. At least until his teammates finally decide to lessen the burden.

Chile repeats as Copa America champions after dramatic penalty shootout

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After last year’s thriller in Chile, it was only fitting that the 2016 Copa America Centenario final would be decided by penalty kicks.

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Claudio Bravo played hero for Chile once again on Sunday, defeating rivals Argentina 0-0 (4-2 on penalty kicks). Francisco Silva netted the final penalty attempt for the Chileans, giving them their second straight Copa America title.

Arturo Vidal had Chile’s first attempt saved by keeper Sergio Romero, before Lionel Messi skied his effort into the crowd to open the shootout.

The game’s first quality chance came in the 21st minute, when Gary Medel‘s mistake at the back led to a Gonzalo Higuain breakaway. The Napoli striker found his way in on goal, chipped the ball past Bravo but missed just wide. Medel, trying to make up for his mistake, came crashing into the post as the ball traveled out of play.

From there, the game took a drastic dip in chances, as referee Heber Lopes stole the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.

Chile’s chances of repeating took a massive hit just before the half hour mark, when Marcelo Diaz received his second yellow card in a span of 12 minutes, reducing La Roja to 10 men for the remainder of the match. However, Argentina was forced to play with 10 players as well, after Marcos Rojo was sent off just prior to halftime.

Opportunities in front of goal were scarce throughout regulation, with three combined shots on net from Chile and Argentina during the 90 minutes.