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Football Briefs: Messi fitness doubts dog Barca

Last updated on: March 29, 2018 20:00 IST

News of all that's transpired on and off the football field

Lionel Messi

IMAGE: Argentina's Lionel Messi during training. Photograph: Jason Cairnduf/Reuters

Barcelona must decide whether to field Lionel Messi as they resume their bid for the Liga title away to Sevilla on Saturday amid doubts about their talisman's fitness at the start of a gruelling period of seven games in 22 days.


Messi missed Argentina's friendlies against Italy and Spain due to a muscle problem sustained after Barca's last Liga outing against Athletic Bilbao and only completed half of a training session on Thursday.

He is the top scorer in La Liga with 25 goals and has featured in all but one of Barca's league games this campaign, only sitting out the match against Malaga following the birth of his third son.

The trip to Sevilla is likely to be Barca's hardest away game left this season although their 11-point lead over nearest challengers Atletico Madrid gives coach Ernesto Valverde wiggle room in their bid to reclaim the title.

Barca have the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final tie against AS Roma on Wednesday and five more games, culminating in the Cup final against Sevilla on April 21 before earning a seven day rest before their next league game.

Barca have failed to win on two of their last three visits to Sevilla's famously atmospheric Sanchez Pizjuan stadium, however, and will be keen to extend their 36-game unbeaten record in the league.

They are targeting the Liga record of 38 games unbeaten, held by Real Sociedad from the 1979/80 season.

Valverde said on Wednesday he was not overly concerned about Messi's fitness and laughed off suggestions his forward would be affected by Argentina's humiliating 6-1 defeat to Spain on Tuesday.

Messi left his seat at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium immediately after the sixth goal went in.

“Messi has a bit of discomfort but we think it’s nothing important. We’re relaxed,” Valverde said.

“Argentina only lost a friendly. The World Cup hasn’t started yet and not all our players will be able to win it.”

Barca are still missing midfield anchor Sergio Busquets with a toe problem, while left back Lucas Digne is out for three weeks with a muscle injury sustained on international duty with France.

Sevilla host runaway Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final tie on Tuesday and will be without suspended midfielder Pablo Sarabia against Barca as well as veteran Jesus Navas, who is injured.

On Sunday second-placed Atletico host struggling Deportivo La Coruna, who are still without a win under coach Clarence Seedorf, while champions Real, four points behind their city rivals in third, visit 18th-placed Las Palmas.

No British referees at World Cup for first time since 1938

No British referees will take part in this year's World Cup in Russia, the first such absence in 80 years.

The list of 36 referees and 63 assistant referees published by world soccer's ruling body FIFA on Thursday confirmed officials from 46 countries but none from England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland.

The United States, with two referees and two assistants, was best represented.

Video assistant referees, who will be used for the first time at a World Cup when the tournament starts on June 14, will be chosen from the pool of named officials.

England's Mark Clattenburg, who refereed the 2016 European championship final between hosts France and Portugal, had been on FIFA's early list but he left the Premier League last season for a job in Saudi Arabia.

"It is a disappointment, because we pride ourselves on the international games that our referees have had over the years," Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL) boss Mike Riley told Sky Sports television this month.

"At the time Mark left for Saudi Arabia, there were actually no competitions left to train the referees, so there was no opportunity to replace him with another English referee."

Howard Webb, who refereed the 2010 World Cup final in South Africa, was the sole English referee that year and in Brazil in 2014.

Three other finals have been refereed by Englishmen -- George Reader in 1950, William Ling in 1954 and Jack Taylor in 1974.

England have qualified for the finals, the only home nation to do so.

Britain has said it will not send ministers or members of the royal family in delegations to the World Cup, blaming Russia for the chemical poisoning of a former Russian double agent in the English city of Salisbury this month.

PAOK's president gets 3-year ban for gun incident

Ivan Savvidis

IMAGE: Russian-born Greek businessman and owner of PAOK Salonika, Ivan Savvides, centre, pictured with what appears to be a gun in a holster, enters the pitch after the referee annulled a goal of PAOK during their soccer match against AEK Athens. Photograph: Reuters

Greek club PAOK Salonika's president Ivan Savvidis was banned from all soccer stadiums for three years for storming onto the pitch with a gun during a league game, the league's disciplinary committee said on Thursday.

The club were also stripped of three points, ending their title chances.

Savvidis, a Georgia-born businessman and former Russian state Duma deputy, charged onto the pitch with a gun in his belt when a goal for PAOK was disallowed in a match against fellow title contenders AEK Athens on March 11.

The game was interrupted and the incident prompted an immediate suspension of the league by the Greek government as world soccer's governing body FIFA considers possible action against Greece over repeated crowd trouble and violence in the stadiums.

The government lifted the ban on Tuesday with Superleague matches set to resume over the weekend.

Savvidis was also fined 100,000 euros ($123,000) and the club, fined an additional 63,000 euros, must play three matches behind closed doors.

PAOK sports director Lubos Michel, a former international referee, was banned for 90 days and fined 15,000 euros after also entering the pitch and complaining to the referee.

The disciplinary committee awarded the game to AEK Athens and stripped two points from PAOK from next season's championship.

PAOK said they would appeal.

"The sanction is harsh and was delivered under the pressure of a coordinated media storm against PAOK," the club said in a statement. "We are proceeding with an appeal and await to be judged on real facts."

FIFA has warned Greece to clean up football or risk a possible international ban.

"The word Grexit is no more impossible. Greek football is going to an edge," Herbert Huebel, head of a FIFA monitoring committee for Greek football, said earlier this month.

Ex-Atalanta coach Mondonico, 71, dies after losing battle with cancer

Former Atalanta, Fiorentina and Torino coach Emiliano Mondonico has died at the age of 71 after losing his battle with cancer, the Italian news agency Ansa said on Thursday.

Much-loved Mondonico, who also coached Napoli, Cremonese and a number of other Italian clubs, led Torino to the Italian Cup in 1993 and the UEFA Cup final in 1992.

He also guided Atalanta to the semi-finals of the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup in 1988 when they were still competing in Italy's second tier.

Mondonico famously lifted his chair over his head in protest at a refereeing decision during the 1992 UEFA Cup final second leg. Torino lost the final to Ajax Amsterdam, led by former Netherlands and Manchester United coach Louis van Gaal, on the away goals rule.

"Bye Dad... you were our example and our strength... now we'll try to do as you taught us," Mondonico's daughter Clara said on Facebook.

Mondonico had been fighting cancer for seven years and was forced to retire from coaching in 2012.

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