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Football Extras: Will Messi return to national team?

Last updated on: January 25, 2019 19:59 IST

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Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni believes Lionel Messi will end his self-imposed exile from the national team

IMAGE: Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni believes Lionel Messi will end his self-imposed exile from the national team. Photograph: Sipa USA via USA TODAY Sports/Reuters

Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni said he has a "good feeling" about Lionel Messi's possible return to international soccer and will talk to the Barcelona forward about a possible return from his self-imposed exile.

Messi took a sabbatical from the national side after another disappointing World Cup, with Argentina knocked out in the second round after winning just one game in four.

He has not said whether he will return for the Copa America in Brazil in June but the interim coach said at Thursday's draw he was hopeful the inspiring forward might return for a March friendly.

 

"We will speak with Leo in the days before the March list. When the time is right we will speak," Scaloni told reporters.

"I hope he can be here but more than that, we want him to be happy. I have a good feeling."

Argentina, who are desperate to end a trophy drought that dates back to 1993 when they last won the Copa America, were drawn in Group B for the upcoming tournament, alongside Colombia, Paraguay and invited side Qatar.

Hosts Brazil will play face Peru, Venezuela and Bolivia in Group A, while Uruguay, Japan, Ecuador and reigning champions Chile are in Group C.

Hatem wonder strike secures Qatar upset of South Korea

Qatar's Abdulaziz Hatem scored with a stunning late strike as the 2022 World Cup hosts upset Son Heung-min's South Korea 1-0 to reach the semi-finals of the Asian Cup for the first time on Friday.

The defensive midfielder's left-footed shot came out of the blue in the 78th minute and flew past South Korea goalkeeper Kim Seung-gyu to decide a largely disappointing contest in front of a crowd of only 13,700 at Zayed Sport City.

Twice former champions South Korea poured forward to try and rescue the match but were unable to produce an equaliser and it will be the Qataris who face holders Australia or hosts the United Arab Emirates for a place in the final next Tuesday.

The political rift between Qatar and the UAE meant the Maroons were supported by only a couple of hundred Omanis but they celebrated wildly in front of them at the final whistle.

Pre-tournament favourites South Korea, who had been looking to reach the last four for a record-extending 11th time, bowed out before the semi-finals for the first time since 2004.

Both teams had played their last 16 matches on Tuesday, which perhaps contributed to a forgettable first half with just one shot on target -- Akram Afif's long-range effort after 32 minutes which South Korea keeper Kim safely gathered.

The Qataris, who started with five at the back, came out with more attacking intent in the second half but were almost immediately caught on the break with Hwang Ui-jo forcing a save out of Saad Al Sheeb.

The game was opening up with chances at both ends and Son, who had looked fatigued since joining the South Korean squad for their third group game, started to impose his influence.

The Tottenham Hotspur forward got a low drive on target in the 72nd minute which went straight to Saad and made a decoy run before Kim Jin-su curled the ball onto the outside of the post from a free kick three minutes later.

Just when it looked like the Koreans might be getting on top, though, the ball broke for Hatem in midfield and seconds later it was nestled in the bottom right-hand corner of the South Korean net.

Hwang Ui-jo had the ball in the back of the opposite net two minutes later but was ruled offside, a decision confirmed by the video assistant referee, and Qatar held on to secure a famous victory.

Asensio and Bale boost Madrid after injury layoffs

Real Madrid forwards Marco Asensio and Gareth Bale both returned to full training on Friday after injury layoffs, handing the European champions a boost in attack three weeks before their Champions League last-16 tie with Ajax Amsterdam.

Spain international Asensio has been out for over a month with a thigh injury sustained during Madrid's Club World Cup campaign, while their record signing Bale has been sidelined since a 2-2 draw at Villarreal in early January with a calf problem.

Despite their pedigree, Asensio and Bale both face a daunting task in attempting to win a place back in the team ahead of Brazilian teenager Vinicius Jr, who has spearheaded Madrid's return to form in an otherwise disappointing season.

Santiago Solari's side lie third in La Liga, 10 points behind leaders Barcelona, but earned a fourth win in five games in all competitions by beating Girona 4-2 in a Copa del Rey quarter-final, first leg on Thursday.

That win followed a therapeutic 2-0 victory over Sevilla in the league in their previous outing.

"We are playing well, at the start of the year we had two slipups which didn't help us at all, but now we are feeling good again and believe we can achieve great things," said Madrid winger Lucas Vazquez on Friday at a promotional event.

"The best way to fight for the Copa del Rey and the Champions League is to do well in the league. We are on a good run now and the way we played in the last two games is the way we want to go."

Hosts Brazil face Peru, Venezuela, Bolivia in Copa America

Hosts Brazil were given a kind draw and will face Peru, Venezuela and Bolivia in the 2019 Copa America, a tournament they have not won since 2007 and one they will be under huge pressure to win on home soil.

Thursday's draw also placed Argentina, another side desperate for a major title after an even longer trophy drought, with Colombia, Paraguay and invited team Qatar.

The third of the three top seeds Uruguay are in perhaps the most difficult Group C, along with the other invited side Japan, plus Ecuador and reigning champions Chile.

This year's tournament will kick off with Brazil against Bolivia in Sao Paulo on June 14 and take place in five Brazilian cities. The final is at Rio de Janeiro's Maracana stadium on July 7.

"People have questioned me about the draw and some said, it's easy, others said, be careful," Brazil coach Tite said.

"Our responsibility is to perform at the highest level, to play with joy and to be proud of representing Brazil."

"We need to play really well, and that's how you become champions."

The draw at a cavernous Rio concert hall was led by former Brazil captain Cafu and aided by soccer luminaries like former Inter Milan defender Javier Zanetti, Uruguayan Diego Lugano and six times FIFA Player of the year Marta.

It marked the starting gun for what promises to be a high pressure year for both Brazil and Argentina.

The host nation have not won a major title since lifting the Copa America in 2007 and coach Tite, whose side were knocked out the World Cup at the quarter-final stage last year, is under pressure to deliver some silverware.

Argentina, meanwhile, have reached the last two finals of the Copa America and lost both times on penalties. Another loss would extend a trophy drought that stretches back to 1993.

The two-times World Cup winners will come to the tournament with Lionel Scaloni in charge and although the interim coach, who has a contract until after the Copa, would not be drawn on his rivals he said his aim was to triumph.

"It's going to be difficult and no matter who we play we have to win," he told reporters.

"The idea is that we are as good as anyone; we just need to keep notching up the victories."

The Copa America is the oldest international tournament in the world and is played between the 10 South American nations and invited teams.

In addition to Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, matches will be held in Porto Alegre, Belo Horizonte and Salvador.

"Undoubtedly, there is always a great respect and admiration for Brazil's footballing culture," said Chilean coach Reinaldo Rueda.

"I think that will guarantee a great tournament."

Tite stays as coach even if Brazil lose Copa: CBF head

Brazilian coach Tite will keep his job even if Brazil lose the Copa America at home in June and July, the incoming president of the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) told Reuters on Thursday.

Tite's future "doesn't depend" on success for Brazil, said Rogerio Caboclo.

"There's no link between the two things. His contract is for four years and is to be served for four years. Even if we're not champions."

Tite took over as Brazil coach after they were knocked out the 2016 Copa America at the group stages and immediately turned their fortunes around, becoming the first team to qualify for the 2018 World Cup with a string of impressive performances.

However, they were disappointing in Russia and were eliminated by Belgium in the quarter-finals.

That exit led Brazilian media to speculate that anything less than a Copa America win on home soil would see the former Corinthians and Gremio coach depart one of the most high pressure positions in the soccer world.

Brazil were placed in Group A alongside Peru, Venezuela and Bolivia in Thursday's draw, a result that Caboclo said was kind to the host nation.

"The group is far from being a nightmare," said Caboclo, who takes over as CBF head in April.

"We need to play football."

Suspended Henry set to lose Monaco job

Thierry Henry was suspended by Monaco on Thursday and looked set to lose his job as coach after only three months in charge at the Ligue 1 club, with former manager Leonardo Jardim expected to take control from Friday.

"Monaco have decided to suspend Thierry Henry ... until a final decision (on his future) is made,” the principality club said in a statement.

Jardim, who was sacked himself last October and replaced by Henry, was expected to be unveiled as the manager on Friday after agreeing terms on a two-and-half-year contract late on Thursday, L'Equipe reported.

Portuguese coach Jardim led Monaco to the Ligue 1 title in 2017, the same year they reached the Champions League semi-finals, before being sacked after a poor start to the current season.

Monaco, who appointed the former Arsenal and France striker to replace Jardim in October, have picked up only two points in their last five Ligue 1 encounters and sit second from bottom in the table.

The principality side were also knocked out of the French Cup in the last 32 by Ligue 2 side Metz on Tuesday.

This followed a 5-1 demolition at home by Racing Strasbourg in their last league outing with the club showing no signs of improvement since signing midfielder Cesc Fabregas from Chelsea earlier this month.

During that game, Henry made an abusive remark to a Strasbourg player and later apologised.

The club said Franck Passi, Henry’s assistant coach since December, would be in charge of the team’s training on Friday.

Passi has previously had caretaker roles at Lille and Olympique de Marseille.

Henry, who started out playing for Monaco and went on to enjoy a stellar club career with Arsenal and Barcelona, worked as assistant coach for Belgium for two years until 2018 but had never been in charge of a team in his own right.

Henry, 41, played for Monaco for five seasons, winning a league title with them in 1997.

Henry said earlier on Thursday that he would downsize his squad ahead of a crucial game at fellow strugglers Dijon in Ligue 1 on Saturday.

“We need guys who want to save the club, who don’t think about themselves. We’re going to war,” he told reporters.

“But despite the results we are still alive,” he added, refusing to speculate on his future at the club.

Monaco are three points from the safety zone with 15 points from 21 games. Under Henry, they have won only four out of 20 competitive games.

Their only chance of a trophy this season is in the League Cup, where they will face En Avant Guingamp in the semi-finals next week.

Arsenal's Emery not surprised by Mourinho’s sack

Manchester United's sacking of Jose Mourinho after a dismal run of results did not surprise Arsenal's Unai Emery, with their squad having the potential to win the Premier League.

United sacked Mourinho in December after a 3-1 defeat to league leaders Liverpool left the club 19 points behind Juergen Klopp's side and 11 points off a Champions League spot.

Emery, whose side host United in a fourth round FA Cup tie on Friday, said it was "normal" for a manager's job to be on the line when the team was not performing to their potential.

"I was not surprised because this team has big players and can think about winning the Premier League," Emery told reporters.

"They can be in the position to win the league, but the reality is they have lost a lot of points this season."

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was appointed in a caretaker role after Mourinho was sacked and he has overseen a remarkable turnaround to win six successive league games and go level with fifth-placed Arsenal on 44 points, behind only on goal difference.

"Now, they are very dangerous and in a good moment," Emery added.

"I don't know why but this team is different and they are playing with more confidence."

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