Julian Alvarez Scores First-Ever World Cup Goal to Help Lead Argentina into the Round of 16

It’s a special World Cup first for Julian Alvarez.

The 22-year-old Argentine professional footballer, nicknamed “La Araña,” scored his first FIFA World Cup goal on Wednesday during Argentina’s Group C 2-0 win against Poland.

Julian Alvarez, Alvarez and Alexis Mac Allister’s second-half goals at Stadium 974 in Qatar helped Argentina advance to the last 16.

Great news for the Argentina team, which was shocked by Saudi Arabia in their group opener, in their quest for a first World Cup title since 1986.

“It’s so emotional for me, for the whole squad. It’s a dream come true,” Mac Allister told reporters. “I debuted with this team, I’m so proud of that. And now managing to score in a World Cup. I’m so happy.

“[After Messi’s penalty miss] we tried to stay positive, to stay calm. We did not feel down. We tried to be optimistic. Fortunately we managed to win and go through.”

Despite being thoroughly outplayed through the 90 minutes, Poland also snuck into the knockout round in second place thanks to a superior goal difference over Mexico and will face Group D winners France on Sunday.

Argentina is set to face Australia on Saturday with a spot in the quarterfinals on the line.

Lionel Messi, meantime, was playing in his 22nd game at the World Cup — and 999th of his career for club and country — breaking a tie with Diego Maradona for the most by an Argentine in the world’s biggest tournament.

Poland goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny saved a Messi penalty that was awarded by VAR as Argentina dominated the first 45 minutes but had nothing to show for it with the halftime score 0-0.

Szczesny had been kept busy the entire half with the Poland defence breached time and again, but the Juventus keeper stood firm to deny the Argentines who grew more confident with every attack.

He first denied Alvarez, who broke through the offside trap before he tipped Angel Di Maria‘s cross over the bar when his Juve teammate attempted to score directly from a corner kick.

The opener for Argentina came right after the restart when Brighton striker Mac Allister redirected a Nahuel Molina cross with a first-time shot that trickled past Szczesny and off the far post.

Manchester City teenager Alvarez announced himself on the world stage and doubled Argentina’s lead midway through the second half, picking up a pass from Enzo Fernandez in the penalty area and lashing a shot past Szczesny to all but secure the three points.

With Poland’s spot in the round of 16 looking like it could come down to a fair play (yellow and red card accumulation) tiebreaker with Mexico, Poland coach Czeslaw Michniewicz had instructed his players to avoid unnecessary bookings as the match wore on.

“I didn’t tell players to take their foot off the ball, but I did tell them to avoid silly bookings,” Michniewicz told a news conference. “We even talked about the yellow cards for those on the bench, because it was only before the match, after the meeting with the delegate, when we learned that cards awarded to players on the bench do not count for the fair play classification.

“We were afraid that one of the players would jump out, or the coach, and would get booked and therefore we might not advance further. But I also asked that we do not provoke, not pull their shirts, not argue with the referee.”

Lionel Messi Reportedly In Talks to Join MLS’ Inter Miami

Lionel Messi may be playing Major League Soccer next season…

The 35-year-old Argentine professional footballer is reportedly close to an agreement with Inter Miami to join the team after the conclusion of the 2022-23 European season, according to the Sunday Times.

Lionel Messi Messi would be the highest-paid player in MLS history and also the highest-profile player to ever play in MLS.

Inter Miami is co-owned by David Beckham, the man who made waves in the 2000s when he came to MLS to play for LA Galaxy.

The Sunday Times also reports that Inter Miami is looking to recruit players who have played with Messi previously in Europe to join him in the United States.

Messi currently plays for Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) in France’s Ligue 1 after playing most of his career at Barcelona. Messi established himself as one of the best players ever at Barcelona and has won a record seven Ballon d’Or awards given to the best player in soccer.

Messi joined PSG ahead of the 2021-22 season after he couldn’t come to a contract agreement with Barcelona amidst the club’s financial issues. Messi scored 474 goals in 520 LaLiga appearances for Barcelona and tallied a staggering 96 goals over 69 appearances over the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons as Barcelona was one of the best squads modern soccer history.

Messi’s contract with PSG is up at the end of the season and a possible move to MLS has long been rumored. It’s unclear how much he’d actually play for Inter Miami after he would join the team in 2023. Major League Soccer’s schedule doesn’t match up with the schedule for major European club soccer. Combine the overlapping schedules with the 2022 World Cup and Messi would be facing over 14 straight months of soccer without a break if he joined Inter Miami as soon as PSG’s season was over and immediately featured in the squad.

Lionel Messi Makes Champions League History with Goal vs. Benfica

Lionel Messi has set yet another record…

The 35-year-old Argentine professional futbol star hit a sublime opening goal but Paris Saint-Germain were held to a 1-1 draw by Benfica in their Champions League clash at the Estadio da Luz in Lisbon on Wednesday.

Lionel Messi Messi opened the scoring midway through the first half after link-up play involving Kylian Mbappe and Neymar before a trademark curling left-foot finish from the edge of the box.

The goal meant Messi became the first player in Champions League history to score goals against 40 different opponents.

But the lead did not last long with Benfica hitting back in the 41st minute when an inviting in-swinging cross from Enzo Fernandez touched off PSG defender Danilo and into the net.

The result means PSG and Benfica remain level on points at the top of Group H after three matches. The two teams will meet again in Paris on Tuesday. Juventus sit in third on three points after they got their first win of the competition at point-less Maccabi Haifa.

Benfica had begun Wednesday’s encounter the better team, with their press disturbing PSG’s rhythm. On multiple occasions, Gianluigi Donnarumma was called into action to keep efforts from the home side at bay.

But a moment of brilliance from Messi looked to have turned the game on its head.

All three of PSG’s star attacking trio were involved. Messi drove in from the right and found Mbappe who laid it off to Neymar before the Brazilian put it back into Messi’s path for a sumptuous finish.

Messi has now scored in six successive games for club and country, the first time he has done so in nearly four years.

PSG looked set to take control but some less than resolute defending gave Benfica a chance to draw level. There was an element of fortune, too, about the equalizer as Fernandez’s cross appeared to miss the head of Goncalo Ramos before glancing off the chest of Danilo and beating Donnarumma.

The French champions came out for the second half with a renewed intensity and several times came close to going back in front. Neymar clipped the crossbar with a spectacular overhead kick while Achraf Hakimi and Mbappe both forced smart saves from Odysseas Vlachodimos in the Benfica goal.

But Donnarumma had to be alert to deny Rafa Silva from close range following a surging run in the final 10 minutes.

Messi was substituted in the 81th minute. PSG coach Christophe Galtier indicated that the change for Pablo Sarabia only took place because Messi was tired.

“He signaled that he wanted to come off. On the final sprint, he felt tired. He came off as he was tired and a fresher teammate was a much better option at that moment,” Galtier said to RMC Sport after the game.

Ultimately both sides are unlikely to be too disappointed with a point each.

Erik Lamela Wins FIFA’s Puskas Award

Erik Lamela is celebrating his award-winning rabona

The 29-year-old Argentine professional footballer, who plays as an attacking midfielder or winger for La Liga club Sevilla and the Argentina national team, has won this year’s Puskas Award.

Erik Lamela

Lamela earned the award for his “rabona” for Tottenham Hotspur against Arsenal.

Meanwhile, Bayern Munich forward Robert Lewandowski equaled Cristiano Ronaldo‘s FIFA The Best record when he won the award for a second time on Monday.

The Bayern Munich forward retained his FIFA The Best award following an incredible campaign in which he scored a Bundesliga record 41 goals, fighting off competition from Lionel Messi and Mohamed Salah.

Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel claimed the Manager of the Year award following success in the Champions League in 2021.

Chelsea and Senegal‘s Edouard Mendy won the Goalkeeper of the Year award.

Denmark team and staff won the Fair Play award following their reaction to Christian Eriksen‘s cardiac arrest at Euro 2020. Denmark and Finland fans also received the Best Fan award for their spontaneous unified chanting in support of Eriksen after he was taken off the pitch.

The award was first handed out in its present guise in 2016, after FIFA ended their five-year partnership with the Ballon d’Or. Ronaldo, who was given a special award for breaking the international men’s goal scoring record in 2021, won back-to-back awards in the first two years.

Meanwhile, Messi and part-Brazilian player Jorginho were named to the FIFA FIFPro Men’s World XI team.

FIFA FIFPro Men’s World XI
Gianluigi Donnarumma – Paris Saint-Germain, Italy
David Alaba – Real Madrid, Austria
Ruben Dias – Manchester City, Portugal
Leonardo Bonucci – Juventus, Italy
Jorginho – Chelsea, Italy
N’Golo Kante – Chelsea, France
Kevin De Bruyne – Manchester City, Belgium
Cristiano Ronaldo – Manchester United, Portugal
Erling Haaland – Borussia Dortmund, Norway
Robert Lewandowski – Bayern Munich, Poland
Lionel Messi – Paris Saint-Germain, Argentina

Barcelona midfielder Alexia Putellas won the women’s award.

Aston Villa Agrees to Deal for Philippe Coutinho

It’s official…Philippe Coutinho is headed to Birmingham.

Aston Villa has agreed on a deal to sign the 29-year-old Brazilian professional footballer and former Liverpool midfielder on loan from Barcelona until the end of the season, the Premier League club announced on Friday.

Philippe Coutinho

The agreement, which is subject to Coutinho completing a medical and receiving a work permit, also includes an option to buy, and Philippe will travel to Birmingham in the next 48 hours.

ESPN sources say that five Premier League sides held talks with Coutinho’s camp, with Villa and one other English club showing the most serious interest.

However, the presence of Steven Gerrard, Coutinho’s former teammate at Liverpool, helped swing the balance in Villa’s favor.

The Premier League club said in a statement: “Aston Villa and FC Barcelona have agreed terms for Philippe Coutinho to spend the rest of this season on loan at Villa Park.

“The agreement, which is subject to the player completing a medical and receiving a work permit, also includes an option to buy and Philippe will travel to Birmingham in the next 48 hours.”

Gerrard, who left Rangers to replace Dean Smith as the coach at Villa Park at the end of last year, played a key role in persuading the Brazilian to make the move to the Midlands.

Coutinho has previously been reluctant to leave Barca, but a desire to play regular football in a World Cup year has led to a change of mind.

Barca made Coutinho their most expensive signing ever when they paid Liverpool €160 million for him in 2018.

His first season at Camp Nou, playing alongside Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi, ended with a domestic double, but he lost his way in his second term.

He spent the 2019-20 season on loan at German giants Bayern Munich, scoring twice as they beat Barca 8-2 on the way to winning the Champions League, before returning to Spain for the following campaign.

Ronald Koeman said he would help Coutinho rediscover his best form, but injury problems held the player back under the Dutch manager.

He missed the second half of last season with injuries and has started just once, a 1-0 loss to Real Betis, since new coach Xavi Hernandez was appointed in November.

When asked about Coutinho’s departure in a news conference on Friday, Xavi said: “It says a lot about Coutinho that he’s gone out on loan because he wants to play, and reducing his salary. He’s a great pro.

“It wasn’t working for him here and he’s looked for a solution. He wants to succeed. We will see what happens with Samu [Umtiti.] I don’t have any complaints about anyone. All the players are professional. I’m delighted with those that are playing but also those that aren’t.”

Coutinho tested positive for COVID-19 last week, but should be cleared to fly to England in the coming days and could come into contention for Villa’s Premier League game against Manchester United on January 15.

FC Barcelona Completes Signing of Ferran Torres from Manchester City

Ferran Torres is headed home to Spain… 

FC Barcelona has completed the signing of the 21-year-old Spanish professional footballer from Manchester City.

Ferran Torres 

Sources tell ESPN that Barca were nearing a €55 million ($62m) deal for Torres, with the move now completed.

Manchester City director of football Txiki Begiristain said: “Ferran should be proud of what he has achieved here at Manchester City.

“Last season was his first time in a new country, but he adapted well. He always gave 100%, worked hard for the team and scored goals which helped us win trophies.

“Injury unfortunately prevented him from playing more games this season, but Ferran is a player we have all enjoyed working with and we wish him all the best at Barcelona and for the rest of his career.”

Torres has signed a contract at Camp Nou until 2027 with a €1 billion release clause and could make his debut in the Copa del Rey against Linares Deportivo on January 5 — he won’t be registered in time to face Mallorca on January 2 — having recovered from a foot injury that’s kept him out since September.

Barcelona’s financial problems have been well documented, with gross debts of over €1 billion leading to the exits of Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann last summer.

However, club sources told ESPN they don’t envisage any problems inscribing Torres with LaLiga when the registration window opens on January 3.

The club must also register Dani Alves, but the departure of Griezmann at the end of August and Sergio Aguero‘s retirement due to a heart condition have given them some room to maneuver inside their LaLiga-imposed €97m spending limit for the season — the limit includes salaries and money spent on signings, but fees are broken down over the length of the contract.

Barca are permitted by the Spanish league to spend 25% of whatever they save in wages or by bringing in transfer fees.

The club continue to work on making more room and sources add they hope to do so by ending the loans of Yusuf Demir and Luuk de Jong early and are open to offers for several other players.

Penning Ousmane Dembele down to a new contract would also help, as it would spread the amortisation payments for his fee over a longer length of time.

Torres becomes the second Barca signing under head coach Xavi Hernandez, following the arrival of Alves on a free transfer in November.

ESPN reported in November that Barca had stepped up their efforts to sign Torres, a player they have held a long-standing interest in, and Torres informed City boss Pep Guardiola of his desire to leave last week.

When asked about Torres’ imminent exit from the Premier League, Guardiola said he did not want to keep a player who wanted to play elsewhere.

“I want the happiness of my players. I said many times, if you are not happy, you have to leave. We are not a club like other clubs, the guys who want to leave have to leave,” Guardiola said.

Torres scored 16 goals in 43 appearances for City since joining in a €23m ($26m) in August 2020. He has 12 goals in 22 caps for Spain.

Lionel Messi Wins Record-Extending Seventh Ballon d’Or

It’s Lucky No. 7 for Lionel Messi

The 34-year-old Argentine professional footballer and Paris Saint-Germain forward has been awarded the prestigious Ballon d’Or for a record-extending seventh time in a ceremony at the Theatre du Chatelet in Paris.

Lionel Messi

Messi, who led Argentina to Copa America success in Brazil in July for their first major trophy since 1993, spent the majority of 2020 at Barcelona before his 21-year stay at the club ended when he left as a free agent in August and joined PSG soon after.

He now has two more Ballon d’Or awards than Manchester United‘s Cristiano Ronaldo, whose tally of five is two more than anyone else.

Messi added to his 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2015 and 2019 trophies with the announcement on Monday.

“It’s incredible to be here again. Two years ago I thought it was the last time. Winning the Copa America was key,” Messi said. “It is a special year for me with this Copa America title. It meant a lot to win at the Maracana stadium and I was so happy to celebrate with the people from Argentina.

“I don’t know if it’s the best year of my life, I’ve had a long career, but it was a special one with the title with Argentina after the tough times and the criticism.”

Messi beat 29 other nominees for the award, including Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski, who was the favorite for last year’s prize before it was cancelled because of the lack of football during the coronavirus pandemic.

 

Lewandowski was nominated for the award again this year after he broke late Bayern legend Gerd Muller‘s single-season Bundesliga goal record in May after he netted 41 league times last season, as well as winning the European Golden Shoe.

Although Lewandowski didn’t win the night’s biggest prize, he was named Striker of the Year at the ceremony and finished second to Messi on the final ballot.

Chelsea midfielder Jorginho was also tipped for the award after winning last season’s Champions League with his club side before playing a crucial part in Italy’s triumph at Euro 2020.

 

Liverpool‘s Mohamed SalahReal Madrid‘s Karim Benzema and PSG’s Kylian Mbappe and Neymar were also nominated for the award.

AC Milan‘s Gianluigi Donnarumma, who was also a finalist for the Ballon d’Or best player, was named Goalkeeper of the Year.

Chelsea, whose men won the UEFA Champions League in 2021 and saw their women’s side win the Women’s Super League, were named Team of the Year, with managers Thomas Tuchel and Emma Hayes accepting the award remotely because of COVID-19 restrictions.

The Ballon d’Or is awarded annually by France Football, with FIFA‘s The Best a separate honor handed out every year — Messi won that award for the first time in 2020.

Barca midfielder Pedri won the Kopa Trophy as Europe’s best young player, which comes just a week after he claimed the Golden Boy award.

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Lionel Messi Among Finalists for FIFA’s Annual Awards List for Best Men’s Player of 2020-21 Season

Lionel Messi is back in familiar territory… 

The 34-year-old Argentine soccer star, who plays as a forward for Ligue 1 club Paris Saint-Germain and captains the Argentina national team, appears on FIFA‘s annual awards list for best men’s player of the 2020-21 season.

Lionel Messi

Messi appears on a finalist alongside Cristiano Ronaldo and last year’s winner, Robert Lewandowski.

A men’s list dominated by forwards was completed by Mohamed SalahKylian MbappeErling HaalandKevin De BruyneKarim Benzema and Neymar in the nominations by a FIFA-appointed panel. Two Chelsea players — Jorginho and N’Golo Kante — rounded out the 11 candidates.

There are no defenders or goalkeepers in contention for the main FIFA award, though goalkeepers have their own separate award.

Italy’s Gianluigi Donnarumma, who was named player of the tournament at Euro 2020, is among the five goalkeeping candidates.

Robert Mancini, who led Italy to the European title, is among seven candidates for the men’s coaching award that include Chelsea’s Thomas Tuchel and Lionel Scaloni, whose Argentina team won the Copa America.

The winner of the women’s award last year, England defender Lucy Bronze, is nominated again and the 13 candidates include her national and Manchester City teammate Ellen White.

Olympic gold medal-winning Canada has just one candidate, veteran forward Christine Sinclair, 19 years after she was first voted into the top 10.

No player was nominated from the United States women’s team, which took bronze at the 2020 Tokyo Games.

Two men and three women are in contention to be the best coach in women’s football. They include Bev Priestman of Canada, Lluis Cortes of European champion Barcelona, and Emma Hayes of runner-up Chelsea.

Votes in all categories from national team captains and coaches, fans and media worldwide will be collected through Dec. 10. A virtual ceremony will be held on Jan. 17 remotely, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, from FIFA headquarters in Zurich. Ahead of the awards, three-candidate shortlists will be announced for each award, FIFA said.

Pedri Wins Golden Boy Award, the Prize Given to Best Young Player in Europe

Pedri is having a golden moment…

The 18-year-old Spanish soccer player, a Barcelona midfielder, has been named the winner of the 2021 Golden Boy award, seeing off competition from Borussia Dortmund and England‘s Jude Bellingham.

Pedri

 

Pedri becomes the first Barca player since Lionel Messi in 2005 to win the prize given to the best young player in Europe.

He succeeds Erling Haaland, who won it last year, with Joao FelixMatthijs de Ligt and Kylian Mbappe also listed among the recent winners.

Italian newspaper Tuttosport, which hands out the award, revealed that Pedri’s winning margin was the biggest ever.

The Spain international collected 318 points from 40 voting journalists, 199 more than second-placed Bellingham.

“I want to thank Tuttosport for this trophy which makes me so proud,” he told the newspaper. “Thanks also to the members of my team and the fans who have always supported me throughout a 2021 which for me has been simply incredible.

“Of course, I want to thank Barcelona, the national side, my family, my friends and everyone who has been with me day-in-day-out without whose help I would not have been able to win the Golden Boy award.”

Pedri has enjoyed a remarkable year. He joined Barca as a 17-year-old from Las Palmas in the summer of 2020 but quickly established himself as a key fixture in the Catalan club’s midfield.

He made 52 appearances in his first season at Camp Nou, winning the Copa del Rey, and playing a major role in Spain’s run to the semifinals at Euro 2020, where he was named Young Player of the Tournament. He made his international debut in March.

A month after the Euros, he was also part of the Spain under-23 team that reached the final of the 2020 Tokyo Games, losing to Brazil after extra time.

Injuries have delayed his progress this season, though. He has made just four appearances for Barca thanks to a thigh problem and is expected to remain sidelined for the next few weeks.

Lionel Messi Scores First Ligue 1 Goal in Paris Saint-Germain Win

Lionel Messi has kicked his way into the Ligue 1 books…

The 34-year-old Argentine professional footballer scored his first goal in the league as Paris Saint-Germain opened a 13-point lead at the top of the table despite playing almost half an hour with 10 men in a 3-1 home win against Nantes on Saturday.

Lionel Messi

Messi found the back of the net with a curled left-footed effort from outside the box three minutes from time, adding to Dennis Appiah‘s own goal after Randal Kolo Muani had cancelled out Kylian Mbappe‘s first-half opener.

The result left PSG with 37 points from 14 games ahead of a Champions League trip to Manchester City on Wednesday, while Nantes are 11th on 18 points.

Messi has scored three goals in the Champions League since joining from Barcelona during the close season but the Argentine forward had not found the back of the net for PSG in his five previous appearances in Ligue 1.