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As Messi struggles at World Cup, Argentina’s supporting cast steps into the breach

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It’s impossible to underestimate the impact of Lionel Messi for Argentina.

The seven-time Ballon d’Or winner had notched 13 goals and 15 assists in his last 20 appearances for the South American behemoth before the do-or-die showdown with Poland. La Albiceleste have become used to seeing the world’s finest football maestro drive them to dreamland when things go their way and overcome obstacles when the going gets tough.

But not this time.

Messi bewitched his adoring public on Wednesday night with the scintillating solo runs, ingenious defense-splitting passes and dazzling vision on the pitch, yet he was unable to find a way past Polish goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny.

Even when Messi won a controversial penalty after Wojciech Szczesny was adjudged to have fouled the Paris Saint-Germain talisman by the video assistant referee, the usually reliable Argentina captain fluffed his lines from the spot. For the second time in the Qatar World Cup, Szczesny displayed admirable composure between the sticks to save a poorly taken penalty.

According to stats provider Opta, Messi has now missed four penalties in his international career, taking his combined tally for club and country to a stunning 31. Messi also set an undesirable record as he became the first player in history to have two penalties saved in the World Cup.

This could have been an insufferable nightmare for Messi if his missed penalty ends up crushing Argentina’s long-awaited World Cup dreams. For once, fortunately, when Messi could not make the difference, his teammates raised their game and stepped into the breach.

Brighton’s Alexis Mac Allister settled Argentina’s nerves when he lashed home Nahuel Molina’s cross just a minute after the interval. Then Manchester City star Julian Alvarez sealed victory as he met Enzo Fernandez’s pass before firing the ball into the roof of the net.

“I was so happy,” Mac Allister told reporters afterwards. “It was so emotional for me and the whole squad. I think we’re back to being the team we used to be. We controlled the ball more, we were calm and we didn’t get desperate.”

The 2-0 win means Argentina advanced to the knockout stages as Group C winners and have a last-16 match-up with Australia to look forward to despite another poor start at the World Cup.

“I’m angry for having missed the penalty, but the team came out stronger after my mistake,” observed Messi, who carries most of the burden but usually makes light of it. “We knew that once the first goal went in, it would change the game and they would open up… The previous game gave us a lot of peace of mind and we went out onto the field thinking we had to win.”

When asked about his team’s chances in the next round, Messi said, “The match against Australia is going to be very difficult. Anyone beats anyone, everything is very even. We have to prepare the game in the best way as we always do.We must be calm and go game by game. Now another World Cup begins and hopefully we can continue to maintain what we did today.”

Robert Lewandowski (R) of Poland is foulded by Cristian Romero (L) of Argentina during their World Cup clash at Stadium 974 in Doha, Qatar, November 30, 2022. /CFP

In sharp contrast, Poland could consider themselves fortunate to sneak into the last 16 for the first time since 1986. Czeslaw Michniewicz’s side went through on goal difference having finished level on points with Mexico, who only beat Saudi Arabia 2-1 in the group’s other game.

“We lost the game, it is very important but sometimes those defeats are bittersweet – or bitter and sweet – this was our case, we lost but we went through,” Michniewicz told a press conference. “After many, many years we went through to the next stage, I would like to congratulate my whole team and staff.”

“It was not a match for a striker but I knew it would be like this,” added Poland superstar Robert Lewandowski, who was a shadow of his former self and never got into the game. “For me, for the Poland team, given the possibilities we have, it was a success.

“No-one will remember what this match was like — we will just be getting ready for France.”

Earlier in the day, Australia stormed into the knockout stages for for just the second time in their history after upsetting Denmark, who were tipped as one of the potential ‘dark horses’ ahead of the World Cup after their impressive run to the semifinals of Euro 2020.

Mathew Leckie’s wonder strike dashed the hopes of the Danes, who have now failed to earn a victory in any of their past six games at the World Cup.

“The belief within our group is massive, I think we’ve shown that. We’ve just beaten Denmark, a world-class opponent,” beamed Australia striker Mitchell Duke. “I could play another match right now with all the adrenaline. Bring on whoever. I feel like we could take on anyone right now.”

Elsewhere, Tunisia clinched their first ever World Cup win against European opposition after stunning defending champions France 1-0 at Education City Stadium, but the shock result failed to prevent them from suffering an early exit.

“We were superb today and I think the result is down to us,” said Tunisia captain Wahbi Khazri, who scored the only goal of the game. “Unfortunately in football it is better not to have to rely on others for results, but we can go out with our heads held high.”

Source(s): CGTN

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Analysis: Bayern remains in unrest, Nagelsmann’s future depends on success against Paris

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by Oliver Trust

BERLIN, Feb. 7 (Xinhua) — Seven days ahead of the last-16 duel against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League, Bayern Munich remains in a state of deep unrest.

The delicate statements of keeper Manuel Neuer create a decisive rift in the Bavarian side and in the club’s surroundings.

The 2014 world champion accused the club’s leaders of “brutal” actions when firing his favorite goalkeeper coach Toni Tapalovic.

Everything between the noisy departure of the currently injured 36-year-old German international and the dismissal of coach Julian Nagelsmann seems possible.

The outcome of the showdown against the French giant seems to play a vital role when it comes to predictions.

Not only that former Chelsea coach Thomas Tuchel is mentioned as a possible Nagelsmann successor. Further involved parties such as chairman Oliver Kahn and sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic seem exposed to great pressure.

An opinion battle of pundits and former Bayern players endangers the team’s efforts to concentrate on sportive issues.

THE COACH

Nagelsmann is mentioned as the initial point for the Tapalovic sacking while Neuer is sidelined due to a skiing injury.

Inside reports speak of a damaged relationship between the coach and the captain. The Bayern manager is said to need success against Paris to secure his future at the club.

While Nagelsmann called Neuer’s statements far from helpful considering the team is ahead of important games, the Bayern coach triggered indignation among rival Paris assuming the news of the injury loss of star striker Kylian Mbappe is a bluff.

The coach is said to have lost support in the locker room while he claims it’s on Neuer to put things back to normal. “My doors are open,” he said.

SALIHAMIDZIC/KAHN

The leaders face the allegation to disturb the team’s internal harmony and not consider players’ demands.

Both claim Neuer is putting personal issues above the club’s purposes. “We expected other reactions from him,” Salihamidzic said while Kahn announced “straight talking” with Neuer shortly.

Both are under fire after Nagelsmann failed to lead the team to calm waters despite the club having paid 25 million euros to secure his signing from Leipzig 18 months ago.

NEUER

The goalkeeper’s statements are considered a direct attack on Nagelsmann as the Bayern coach is said to have neglected the relationship with his team captain.

Reports speak of the coach consulting midfielder Joshua Kimmich instead of Neuer when discussing team issues.

TEAM DIVIDED

Several squad members expressed understanding for Neuer and revealed the team’s inner struggle.

Nagelsmann and the club leaders’ harsh comments on the free day trip of striker Serge Gnabry to a fashion fair in Paris between two league games have been taken by surprise by most players.

Source(s): Xinhua

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Premier League announces charges of breach of financial rules against Manchester City

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LONDON, Feb. 6 (Xinhua) — Premier League champions Manchester City have been charged by the Premier League with a series of breaches of the competition’s financial rules.

The Premier League issued a statement on Monday morning confirming it had “referred a number of alleged breaches of the Premier League Rules by Manchester City Football Club to a commission under Premier League Rule W.3.4.”

The Premier League explains the commission is “independent of the Premier League and member clubs” and that the members of the commission will be appointed by the independent chair of the Premier League judicial panel, in accordance with Premier League rules.

“The proceedings before the commission will, in accordance with Premier League rule W.82, be confidential and heard in private. Under Premier League rule W.82.2, the commission’s final award will be published on the Premier League’s website.”

“This confirmation is made in accordance with Premier League rule W.82.1. The Premier League will be making no further comment in respect of this matter until further notice,” reads the statement.

The charges are thought to come from an investigation which opened in March 2019 in relation to the seasons from 2009 to 2018. They relate to financial information, over the club’s income, payments to playing and coaching staff, profitability and financial sustainability.

Manchester City are currently second in the Premier League, five points behind Arsenal and it is so far uncertain what punishment they would face if found guilty, although it is possible they could have points taken away from them and face a heavy fine.

Source(s): Xinhua

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Lautaro’s header decides Milan Derby

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ROME, Feb. 5 (Xinhua) — Lautaro Martinez continued his scorching form with his header deciding the Derby della Madonnina on Sunday, as Inter Milan beat AC Milan 1-0 in Serie A.

The Nerazzurri lost the Milan Derby back in September but took revenge on their city rivals in the Supercoppa last month, while AC Milan were looking for a resounding response after a dismal run since the start of 2023.

Inter Milan had a relatively full squad to choose from, but AC Milan still had to do without Mike Maignan and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Head coach Stefano Pioli made a tactical tweak to opt for a 3-5-2 system, as Rafael Leao was benched again. The Italian manager Roberto Mancini also presented on the stand for the showdown.

Hosts Inter pressed high from the start, trying to use their aggression and tempo to good effect as a couple of attempts from Lautaro threatened goalkeeper Ciprian Tatarusanu.

The efforts paid off in the 34th minute as Hakan Calhanoglu’s corner found Lautaro, whose twisting header went beyond Tatarusanu.

Inter Milan kept creating havoc after the break, but AC Milan were poor in their attacking quality, they had the chance to level the scoring, but Olivier Giroud’s awful first touch fumbled a golden opportunity.

Romelu Lukaku came off the bench and found the net in the 83rd minute, but the goal was wiped out while Lautaro’s second was also canceled for offside.

With the win, Inter still rank second with 43 points, 13 points behind Napoli who staged a second-half show to crush Spezia 3-0, while the third consecutive defeat in the league dropped AC Milan to sixth place.

Also on Sunday, Torino edged Udinese 1-0, Fiorentina lost to Bologna 2-1 on home turf.

Source(s): Xinhua

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