Lionel Messi is a "competitive beast" who will definitely play at the 2022 World Cup according to Xavi, who has reiterated his desire to one day coach his beloved Barcelona. 

Argentina great Messi will be 35 by the time the next international global showpiece is held in Qatar across November and December. 

Messi has suffered more than his fair share of heartbreak with La Albiceleste, losing three Copa America finals and the 2014 World Cup final to Germany. 

Despite turning 33 last month, Messi's numbers continue to be phenomenal and he topped LaLiga's goalscoring and assists charts with 25 and 21 respectively this term. 

Xavi, who played alongside Messi in Barca's first team from 2004 until his Camp Nou departure in 2015, is coaching Qatari side Al Sadd and fully expects to see his former team-mate involved at the next World Cup. 

"I see Leo playing until he wants to. On a physical level, he is fast, strong, he is a competitive beast, physically an animal," Xavi told Marca.  

"I have no doubt that he will play in Qatar 2022."

Xavi won eight league titles and the Champions League four times during a glittering Barca career. His name was heavily linked with the coaching vacancy at Camp Nou when Ernesto Valverde was sacked and while Quique Setien got the job, there is now speculation over his future too. 

Xavi has made no secret of his desire to one day return to Barca but says respect must be shown to Setien, who he feels has done some good work despite missing out on the league title to rivals Real Madrid.  

"I do not hide, and I have always said, that my main goal, when it occurs, is Barca. It is my home and it would be a dream," he said. 

"But now I am focused on Al Sadd, looking forward to the new season. When Barca has to come, in the short or long term, it will come. Above all, Quique Setien must be respected and I wish the team all the best. 

"Sometimes Barca plays very well, others well, and others not so well. But I like the idea of Setien, now and with his previous teams - dominate and make an attractive game.  

"Sometimes it is not possible, it is true, but the rival makes it difficult for you. We have seen very nice and very good games of Barca with Setien. Definitely."

It was revealed over the weekend that Xavi had returned a positive test for coronavirus, which meant he was not on the bench for Al Sadd's 2-1 victory over Al Khor. 

The World Cup winner says he is doing well but expects the transfer market to suffer as a result of the global health pandemic. 

"I am fine, although logically isolated, and wanting to train soon," he said. 

"It [coronavirus] will lower the level [of the market], like everything after this pandemic. It will be very damaged. There will be a reorganisation of everything, of clubs and players. It is a shame, but it will be so." 

Xavi has been in charge at Al Sadd for a little over a year, during which time they have won the Qatari Super Cup and Qatar Cup, while they also reached the AFC Champions League semi-finals last term. 

He spoke of the difficulty of trying to compete against other wealthy teams in Qatar and welcomed the arrival of former international team-mate Santi Cazorla to Al Sadd. 

"When you are in a winning club, like this one, the goal is to win everything, although you have to be aware of our rivals," he added.  

"In Qatar, we have ahead of us Al Duhail, who has twice the budget of us and Al Rayyan, who has made a great financial effort.  

"With them it is difficult to compete. At the Asian level, we want the Champions League. We have reached the semis two years in a row [as player and coach].  

"In 2020, I have the hope of reaching the final. For that we have signed Cazorla, to make a good team." 

World Rugby has proposed the introduction of a temporary international window before the end of 2020, a move that would allow this year's Six Nations to be completed.

The governing body's executive committee is keen for international fixtures to be staged again to aid the sport as it tries to deal with the off-field impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Having held discussions with all international and club competitions, as well as players and national unions, World Rugby wants a window that will start in late October and run into December.

The revised calendar would allow for the 2020 Six Nations tournament - suspended due to the COVID-19 outbreak in March - to stage the final four fixtures still outstanding, followed by Test matches in Europe organised by the individual unions.

As for the Rugby Championship, the 2020 edition would take place in one country over a six-week period spanning November 7 to December 12.

"Recognising the importance of a balanced and shared compromise among all stakeholders, a temporary international window between October 24 and December 5 has been recommended," said a statement from World Rugby.

"In the north, this window will accommodate the postponed men's and women's Six Nations matches at the end of October, a rest weekend on November 7 and a programme of international matches involving the Six Nations and invited teams hosted in Europe from November 14 through to December 5."

With the Rugby Championship, "special" measures would be put in place to cope with travel restrictions, while the changes to the schedule allows leading players to be available for their clubs.

"With COVID-19 restrictions continuing to impact international travel and borders across southern hemisphere unions, on an exceptional basis the Rugby Championship 2020 will be hosted in full in a single country over a reduced six-week period between November 7 and December 12," the statement continued.

"Special measures will be implemented to deal with any government-required quarantine period prior to the start of the competition.

"The rescheduling of the domestic, European and international calendars will accommodate the ability for the professional clubs to have access to their star southern hemisphere international players for the completion of the postponed and rescheduled 2019-20 seasons at a time in which they would have ordinarily been on international duty in August and September."

The recommendations will need to receive approval at next week's meeting of the World Rugby Council.

Another week, another Lionel Messi milestone.

The Barcelona forward has scored his 700th career goal just a little over two years since reaching 600 for club and country.

It's another remarkable feat for a footballer who continues to break new ground after turning 33.

Here, we look at the details behind the incredible numbers to see when, where and how he tends to find the net, who likes to set him up, and who is sick of the sight of him...

 

FOR BARCELONA:

- Messi has scored 630 goals in 724 appearances for Barca in all competitions - that's 0.87 per game on average. 

- His first goal came on May 1, 2005 against Albacete in LaLiga. Since then, he has reached 441 goals in 480 matches in Spain's top flight, at least 130 more than any other player in history.

- He has scored 114 goals in the Champions League, 53 in the Copa del Rey, 14 in the Supercopa de Espana, three in the UEFA Super Cup, and five in the Club World Cup.

 

FOR ARGENTINA:

- Messi has scored 70 senior international goals. His first came on March 1, 2006 in a friendly against Croatia, and his most recent was in a friendly last November against Uruguay.

- He has scored 34 goals in international friendlies, 21 in World Cup qualifiers, nine at the Copa America, and six at the World Cup.

 

PER YEAR:

- In each of the past 11 calendar years, Messi has scored at least 40 goals for club and country. In nine of the last 10, he has reached at least 50.

- His best record in a single year came in 2012, when he scored 91, breaking the previous record of 85 held by Germany great Gerd Muller. He already has 12 in 2020, despite the COVID-19 disruption.

 

HIS FAVOURITE OPPONENT:

- Messi has scored 37 goals in 39 games against Sevilla in all competitions. Next up are Atletico Madrid (32 in 41 games).

- He has managed 26 in 43 games against Real Madrid, making him the all-time top goalscorer in Clasico history.

- Messi has faced 40 different LaLiga teams and scored at least once against 37 of them. Last November, he became the first player to score against 34 different Champions League opponents, surpassing Cristiano Ronaldo and Raul on 33.

 

HIS LEAST FAVOURITE OPPONENT:

- Only three LaLiga teams have ever avoided conceding a goal to Messi: Xerez, Real Murcia and Cadiz.

- Xerez are the only team Messi has faced more than once without scoring. He has played against them twice.

 

WHEN AND HOW HE SCORES:

- Messi has scored 43.32 per cent of his goals in the last 15 minutes of the first half or last 15 minutes of the second.

- He has scored 142 times from set-pieces: 90 penalties and 52 free-kicks.

- Only 24 of his career goals are headers. The most recent was back in March 2017 against Sporting Gijon. 

- Messi has scored 83.1 per cent of his goals (582) with his left foot, and 82.8 per cent (580) from inside the box.

- He has scored 36 LaLiga hat-tricks, which is a record. He has scored three or more times in 54 different matches, the most being five against Bayer Leverkusen in March 2012.

- His tally of 50 for the 2011-12 LaLiga season is a record.

 

WHO SETS HIM UP:

- Luis Suarez has assisted more Messi goals than any other player: 47 in six seasons with Barcelona. Messi has returned the favour 36 times. (CHECK WHO SETS UP ATHLETIC GOAL)

- The other players with the most assists for Messi are Dani Alves (42), Andres Iniesta (37), Xavi (31), Pedro (25), Neymar (22) and Jordi Alba (20).

- Messi has 247 assists for Barca. Since his first goal for the club, he has been involved in 879 of their 2,183 goals in all competitions, or 40.2 per cent.

Lionel Messi scored the 700th goal of his remarkable career in Barcelona's LaLiga clash against Atletico Madrid on Tuesday.

The Argentina great reached 699 with a penalty against Leganes on June 16 but failed to find the net in subsequent games against Sevilla, Athletic Bilbao and Celta Vigo.

However, he finally ended his wait to reach the landmark with another spot-kick to make it 2-1 over Atletico in Camp Nou, his delicate 'Panenka' effort leaving Jan Oblak no chance.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner is the all-time record scorer for Barcelona and in LaLiga due to a stunning career at Camp Nou, which began with his first-team debut in 2004.

His goals have helped Barca to 10 LaLiga titles, six Copas del Rey and four Champions Leagues, with Messi winning 34 major honours with the Blaugrana.

Silverware has frustratingly eluded Messi on the international stage with Argentina, but his return of 70 goals is the most by any player in the history of his national team.

Lionel Messi's cheeky, chipped penalty against Atletico Madrid on Tuesday took him to 700 career goals for club and country.

The Barcelona and Argentina star has been the scourge of defenders in Spain and across the globe since making his debut professional debut at 17 and his career has now yielded another incredible landmark.

In the process, the forward has collected 34 club trophies and a record six Ballons d'Or, but international honours have eluded him since he won gold at the 2008 Olympics.

To celebrate Messi's latest century, we take a look at 10 of his very best and most important goals.

 

Albacete (H): May 1, 2005

Even at 17, Messi had the confidence of a veteran. Having already had one goal wrongly ruled out for offside - an audacious chip from the edge of the box - Messi's confidence was far from knocked and just a minute later he latched onto Ronaldinho's pass before lobbing the ball over Albacete stopper Raul Valbuena from 16 yards. Some way to open your account for a club.

 

Getafe (H): April 18, 2007

In the 12 years since he first got on the scoresheet, only one of Messi's strikes was ever going to top this list: his Diego Maradona-esque solo goal against Getafe. Messi picked up the ball in his own half and danced around two players before turning on the pace, beating two more defenders and going around the goalkeeper, capping it with a right-footed finish.

Real Zaragoza (A): March 21, 2010

Described by some as 'a defining goal' in his career, Messi's strike against Real Zaragoza seemed to take him from very good into another class entirely. Messi displayed all he had to offer in this goal, which began when he won the ball from a tackle on halfway. From there, he shrugged off one challenge, raced towards the box and turned a defender inside out before drilling the ball into the far corner - leaving Pep Guardiola speechless.

 

Real Madrid (A): April 27, 2011

This was the height of one of the fiercest Clasico rivalries in decades, as Jose Mourinho's Real Madrid waged war on Guardiola's Barca. They met four times in three competitions in less than a month, including in the Champions League semi-finals, when Messi faced pretty brutal treatment as Madrid tried to shackle him. He scored twice in a 2-0 first-leg win at the Santiago Bernabeu but it is the first goal people remember: the tension of the match, the bitterness of the rivalry, the ducking, weaving slalom through the defence and the composed finish past Casillas, all from the most nonchalant Sergio Busquets assist you will ever see.

 

Iran (N): June 21, 2014

Prior to the 2014 World Cup, Messi had only scored one goal in eight appearances. Seemingly determined to step up for Argentina, he netted in his side's opening match before going on to score one of the goals of the tournament in the second against Iran. With the score at 0-0 heading into stoppage time, Messi took control of the ball and bent a powerful strike past the despairing arms of Alireza Haghighi to break Iranian hearts.

Bayern Munich (H): May 6, 2015

Having already opened the scoring three minutes earlier to give Barca a 1-0 advantage over Bayern Munich in the Champions League semi-final, Messi doubled his tally with a sumptuous effort. Ivan Rakitic's pass sent Messi on his way, before the little maestro's trickery put Jerome Boateng on his backside and allowed the Argentine to casually lift the ball over the onrushing Manuel Neuer.

 

Athletic Bilbao (N): May 30, 2015

The second part of a treble-winning season for Barca came in the form of the Copa Del Rey against Athletic Bilbao. With 20 minutes gone and the score deadlocked, Messi set off on a marauding run down the right wing and soon found himself trapped amongst three defenders. Naturally, Messi was able to float past the trio as if they weren't there, before cutting into the box and beating Iago Herrerin at his near post.

Real Madrid (A): April 23, 2017

El Clasico rarely disappoints for football fans around the globe, and this edition was no different. Anything but a win would essentially hand Real Madrid the title, and it looked to be headed for a 2-2 draw until Sergi Roberto's swashbuckling run in the 92nd minute gave Jordi Alba the chance to square it to Messi, who finished with aplomb from the edge of the area for his 500th Barcelona goal.

 

Ecuador (A): October 11, 2017

Romario Ibarra's first-minute goal in the last match of CONMEBOL qualification left football fans across the globe staring at the prospect of the unthinkable – a World Cup without Messi. Enter the man himself, who dragged Argentina out of a bumbling stupor to single-handedly tear Ecuador apart with a sensational hat-trick. The shift of pace and stunning, dipping finish into the top corner to claim the matchball was the best of the bunch and a grateful bench spilled on to the field to mob their hero.

 

Real Betis (A): March 17, 2019

Messi has never won the FIFA Puskas Award for the best goal of the year, although he has twice come second, most recently for this effort against Real Betis in a 4-1 win last season. He sent the ball left to Ivan Rakitic and hurried to the edge of the box for the return ball, then - having shaped for a powerful strike towards the near post - chipped a sublime effort into the far corner beyond the despairing Pau Lopez. The goal completed his hat-trick and earned an ovation from the home fans but was not enough to beat Debrecen's Daniel Zsori to the Puskas prize.

Germany will give Lionel Messi a passport if he feels underappreciated by Argentina, joked Lothar Matthaus, who would love to see the Barcelona star in the Bundesliga.

Messi has won 34 trophies with Barca but has been unable to translate that success to the international stage, losing in four major finals, with his country still waiting for a first senior title since 1993.

Coupled with the fact he has lived in Spain for the majority of his life, the six-time Ballon d'Or winner has often come in for criticism in Argentina.

Messi is relentlessly compared to compatriot Diego Maradona, who was not as successful at club level but led Argentina to World Cup glory in 1986.

Matthaus is baffled by Messi's treatment in his home country and playfully suggested Germany would be more than willing to offer him an alternative.

"I cannot believe it. If you do not like Messi, he can come to Germany any time, we are waiting with open arms and we'll give him a passport. I cannot understand it," Matthaus, who won the World Cup and Ballon d'Or in 1990, told La Nacion.

"It's the same as the discussion about whether Maradona or Messi is better. [Argentina] are lucky to have had these two great players, and they fight over which one is better than the other? Please.

"They have two of the best football players in history."

It has been reported that the deadline has passed for Messi to activate a clause in his contract that would have allowed him to leave Barca for free at the end of the season.

The 33-year-old is expected to sign an extension at Camp Nou, but Matthaus would relish seeing him perform in the Bundesliga on a regular basis.

"Of course we'd take him! We'd be very happy if we had a chance to have Leo in the Bundesliga," he said.

"But I'll be honest with you: I'm happy to have Messi in football. He's a great player and a good human being.

"I know him personally and he makes me happy with his style of play."

Lionel Messi is celebrating his 33rd birthday, which provides the perfect excuse to reflect on the Barcelona star's best 10 goals.

The Argentina forward has been the scourge of defenders in Spain and across the globe since making his professional debut at 17.

He has now scored 699 goals, collecting 34 club trophies and a record six Ballons d'Or, but international honours have eluded him since he won gold at the 2008 Olympics.

To celebrate Messi's special day, we take a look at 10 of his very best and most important goals.

Albacete (H): May 1, 2005

Even at 17, Messi had the confidence of a veteran. Having already had one goal wrongly ruled out for offside - an audacious chip from the edge of the box - Messi's confidence was far from knocked and just a minute later he latched onto Ronaldinho's pass before lobbing the ball over Albacete stopper Raul Valbuena from 16 yards. Some way to open your account for a club.

 

Getafe (H): April 18, 2007

In the 12 years since he first got on the scoresheet, only one of Messi's strikes was ever going to top this list: his Diego Maradona-esque solo goal against Getafe. Messi picked up the ball in his own half and danced around two players before turning on the pace, beating two more defenders and going around the goalkeeper, capping it with a right-footed finish.

Real Zaragoza (A): March 21, 2010

Described by some as 'a defining goal' in his career, Messi's strike against Real Zaragoza seemed to take him from very good into another class entirely. Messi displayed all he had to offer in this goal, which began when he won the ball from a tackle on halfway. From there, he shrugged off one challenge, raced towards the box and turned a defender inside out before drilling the ball into the far corner - leaving Pep Guardiola speechless.

 

Real Madrid (A): April 27, 2011

This was the height of one of the fiercest Clasico rivalries in decades, as Jose Mourinho's Real Madrid waged war on Guardiola's Barca. They met four times in three competitions in less than a month, including in the Champions League semi-finals, when Messi faced pretty brutal treatment as Madrid tried to shackle him. He scored twice in a 2-0 first-leg win at the Santiago Bernabeu but it is the first goal people remember: the tension of the match, the bitterness of the rivalry, the ducking, weaving slalom through the defence and the composed finish past Casillas, all from the most nonchalant Sergio Busquets assist you will ever see.

 

Iran (N): June 21, 2014

Prior to the 2014 World Cup, Messi had only scored one goal in eight appearances. Seemingly determined to step up for Argentina, he netted in his side's opening match before going on to score one of the goals of the tournament in the second against Iran. With the score at 0-0 heading into stoppage time, Messi took control of the ball and bent a powerful strike past the despairing arms of Alireza Haghighi to break Iranian hearts.

Bayern Munich (H): May 6, 2015

Having already opened the scoring three minutes earlier to give Barca a 1-0 advantage over Bayern Munich in the Champions League semi-final, Messi doubled his tally with a sumptuous effort. Ivan Rakitic's pass sent Messi on his way, before the little maestro's trickery put Jerome Boateng on his backside and allowed the Argentine to casually lift the ball over the onrushing Manuel Neuer.

 

Athletic Bilbao (N): May 30, 2015

The second part of a treble-winning season for Barca came in the form of the Copa Del Rey against Athletic Bilbao. With 20 minutes gone and the score deadlocked, Messi set off on a marauding run down the right wing and soon found himself trapped amongst three defenders. Naturally, Messi was able to float past the trio as if they weren't there, before cutting into the box and beating Iago Herrerin at his near post.

Real Madrid (A): April 23, 2017

El Clasico rarely disappoints for football fans around the globe, and this edition was no different. Anything but a win would essentially hand Real Madrid the title, and it looked to be headed for a 2-2 draw until Sergi Roberto's swashbuckling run in the 92nd minute gave Jordi Alba the chance to square it to Messi, who finished with aplomb from the edge of the area for his 500th Barcelona goal.

 

Ecuador (A): October 11, 2017

Romario Ibarra's first-minute goal in the last match of CONMEBOL qualification left football fans across the globe staring at the prospect of the unthinkable – a World Cup without Messi. Enter the man himself, who dragged Argentina out of a bumbling stupor to single-handedly tear Ecuador apart with a sensational hat-trick. The shift of pace and stunning, dipping finish into the top corner to claim the matchball was the best of the bunch and a grateful bench spilled on to the field to mob their hero.

 

Real Betis (A): March 17, 2019

Messi has never won the FIFA Puskas Award for the best goal of the year, although he has twice come second, most recently for this effort against Real Betis in a 4-1 win last season. He sent the ball left to Ivan Rakitic and hurried to the edge of the box for the return ball, then - having shaped for a powerful strike towards the near post - chipped a sublime effort into the far corner beyond the despairing Pau Lopez. The goal completed his hat-trick and earned an ovation from the home fans but was not enough to beat Debrecen's Daniel Zsori to the Puskas prize.

Barcelona slipped up with a 0-0 draw at Sevilla to hand Real Madrid a huge LaLiga title boost, as Lionel Messi was kept waiting for his 700th career goal.

Messi had scored 37 in his 38 previous outings against Sevilla, more than against any other team, but a series of threatening free-kicks were repelled by the home side this time.

Antoine Griezmann was surprisingly left out of Barcelona's starting line-up for the clash with third-placed opposition, as Martin Braithwaite was preferred, and the visitors lacked penetration.

The draw leaves them still top of the table, but Real Madrid, with a game in hand, are just three points off the summit.

This stalemate at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan stadium could prove a costly one for Barcelona come the end of the season, and it was almost worse for them, with Sevilla's Sergio Reguilon, on loan from Real Madrid, squandering a glorious late chance.

Sevilla defender Jules Kounde drilled an early shot a yard wide, but Barcelona were soon on top and for a while they looked terrific.

It took two Sevilla players to stop Messi at the expense of a free-kick on the edge of the penalty area at the 20-minute mark.

Up stepped Messi, and his shot beat the wall and might have beaten Tomas Vaclik too, but the goalkeeper was done a favour by Kounde, who cleared the ball from almost on the line with a flicked header over the bar.

Messi tested Vaclik moments later with another free-kick, and the goalkeeper was more comfortable second time around.

Inevitably at the centre of things, Messi avoided punishment for shoving Diego Carlos to the ground in first-half stoppage time after the home defender fouled Suarez.

Marc-Andre ter Stegen came to Barcelona's rescue early in the second half with a fine parry to deny Lucas Ocampos, the goalkeeper's strong left hand keeping out a thunderous shot from a tight angle to the right of goal.

The German thwarted Munir moments later too, pushing away a vicious left-footed strike.

Vaclik tipped another Messi free-kick over his crossbar at full stretch as the game entered its final 20 minutes, before Jordi Alba made a key block at the other end as Sevilla launched a three-on-one breakaway raid.

Ocampos drew a save from Ter Stegen with a low shot but neither side could successfully plot a way to a goal, Reguilon failing to properly get hold of a close-range shot at the death, to Barcelona's great relief.

Barcelona great Hristo Stoichkov says he would be willing to give up the Golden Boot he won at the 1994 World Cup if it meant Lionel Messi could win international football's greatest prize.

Despite sweeping the board during a glittering career with Barca, six-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi has never lifted a major honour with Argentina.

There were a succession of near misses during the past decade, with Germany beating La Albiceleste after extra time in the final of the 2014 World Cup, before Chile prevailed on penalties in the 2015 Copa America and Copa America Centenario showpieces.

The 2020 Copa America was due to start on Friday but has been put back 12 months due to the coronavirus pandemic, while the 2022 World Cup in Qatar is likely to be Messi's final tilt at the big prize.

Speaking to Argentinian station Radio Villa Trinidad, Stoichkov said he felt the 32-year-old had shouldered an unfair share of criticism over the failures of his national team.

"To see a friend happy, like Leo, and to stop him suffering so much for not being able to win a World Cup, I would change my Golden Boot, which I got at the 1994 World Cup, to see Messi world champion," he said.

"Always when he loses, Messi has the blame and they never talk about those who are next to him and fail.

"In South Africa [at the 2010 World Cup under Diego Maradona], they had a great team and where did it end and why? No one asks it.

"Later in Brazil, Argentina reached the final and when [other players] have clear opportunities, the fault lies with Messi and Messi loses.

"In the Copa America they have lost two finals on penalties. And again, Messi cannot win, but what do we do with the players who failed and Messi assisted them? They are hiding."

Nevertheless, Stoichkov does not think all is lost for Argentina ahead of Qatar 2022.

"Sooner or later the glory of Messi will end," he added. "Then we must value everything that was done in football.

"I believe that in 2022 in Qatar this Argentine national team will have the last great opportunity to win the World Cup in its history .

"With Lautaro Martinez, with Paulo Dybala, with the last campaigns, I imagine, by Sergio Aguero and Angel Di Maria. There is a very competitive team."

Squad line-ups for the next Copa America could look vastly different by the time the tournament comes around following its postponement.

The newest edition of the competition was scheduled to start on Friday, but the coronavirus pandemic saw it pushed back by 12 months in March.

Some veteran players might now fade from the picture before the Copa America gets under way next year, while other stars will have time to recover from injury.

There could also be new faces on the scene, with a host of uncapped prospects given an extra campaign to break through.

With just under a year to go until the tournament starts, we take a look at five players who might emerge on the international scene before then.

GABRIEL MARTINELLI (BRAZIL)

Even beyond Neymar, Roberto Firmino, Gabriel Jesus and co, Brazil have a wealth of attacking talent.

Matheus Cunha and Paulinho each starred at this year's CONMEBOL Pre-Olympic Tournament and are already plying their trade in the Bundesliga, yet the nation's most outstanding prospect might reside in London.

Gabriel Martinelli is eligible for both Brazil and Italy, but the Selecao will surely move swiftly to cap-tie the forward, who has represented them at under-23 level. Indeed, he is one of just three teenagers to have reached 10 goals in all competitions across Europe's top five leagues this term, the other two being Erling Haaland (13 for Borussia Dortmund) and Mason Greenwood (12 for Manchester United).

Martinelli trained with Brazil last year aged 17 after starring for Ituano, and he has continued to impress in his first season at Arsenal – his solo goal against Chelsea in January a fine example of his talents, as he carried the ball 61.6 metres before scoring. Only Son Heung-min (71.4m) has travelled further with the ball in the build-up to netting in the Premier League this term.

 

Further progress in the coming weeks and next season would really give Tite something to think about.

 

CRISTIAN ROMERO (ARGENTINA)

Argentina have long had problems at centre-back, with Manchester City defender Nicolas Otamendi still a regular at international level. However, head coach Lionel Scaloni could soon have greater options to choose from, with younger talents now breaking through.

Nehuen Perez might well have gone to the 2020 Copa America, having been called up for the first time late last year after promising loan spells away from Atletico Madrid, while Borussia Dortmund's Leonardo Balerdi is also highly regarded.

But there's every chance Cristian Romero will leap ahead of both in the pecking order given his greater exposure to first-team football at a higher level, having earned a €26million move from Genoa to Juventus at the start of the season, before being loaned back.

It's not proven to be a straightforward season for Genoa, however. Although their form picked up before before the suspension, they will resume their season later this month just above the relegation zone.

Romero has played 21 of their 27 Serie A games - more than any of his defensive colleagues - and made 51 interceptions, a figure bettered by only Armando Izzo (58) among defenders in Italy's top flight.

Eight defenders have attempted more than his 40 tackles, but none of those above him have succeeded as often as him (68 per cent success). A difficult year it may have been, and reports suggest Juve could even sell him on again, but he has done relatively well despite the circumstances.

 

DIEGO ROSSI (URUGUAY)

Uruguay continue to rely on a number of their veterans of previous tournaments, but this will have to change in the coming months and years - especially in attack.

Although Luis Suarez remains a potent weapon, Edinson Cavani has shown signs of decline in the past year, while Cristhian Stuani is now playing in Spain's second tier. All three will be 34 years old by the time the tournament starts.

Diego Rossi should back himself to be in position to put pressure on that star trio. He left Penarol for Los Angeles FC aged 19 and has proven an instant hit in MLS, having a hand in 41 goals (12 assists, 29 goals) in 68 regular-season appearances – only three players have contributed more.

His ability to play effectively alongside another forward could also help his chances of breaking into the team – Rossi and Carlos Vela have created 84 chances for each other, the second-highest such figure in MLS since 2018, while in the same timeframe only Julian Gressel and Josef Martinez (18) have set up more goals for each other than the LAFC pair (16).

LAFC general manager John Thorrington has spoken of "significant interest" in Rossi from Europe, and such a move would give the forward a great chance of making the grade for Uruguay.

JORGE CARRASCAL (COLOMBIA)

Versatile River Plate attacking midfielder Jorge Carrascal will get fans off their seats if he manages to secure a place in the Colombia squad alongside club-mate Juan Quintero.

A tricky player, comfortable out wide or behind a striker, Carrascal debuted for Millonarios at just 16. He initially struggled after joining River Plate on loan from Ukraine's Karpaty Lviv last year, but he has shown glimpses of immense promise and been capped by Colombia's Under-23s.

Representing his country at youth level for the first time since 2015, the 22-year-old scored in each of his first three games at the Pre-Olympic Tournament and started all seven matches.

For River, the former Sevilla youngster - whose time in Spain was curtailed by injuries - has scored four goals and set up another in 17 matches across all competitions.

Running at defenders is his best quality, however. A flamboyant player, Carrascal has averaged 4.9 successful take-ons per 90 minutes in the Superliga this term, succeeding 53 per cent of the time. Only one under-23 player tries his luck more often in this regard - he certainly likes to entertain.

Who knows, a few successive starts could be all that stands in Carrascal's way before an international call-up - then his future will surely lead him back for another crack at Europe.


REINIER (BRAZIL)

It might seem a long shot for a player who has yet to feature for Real Madrid's first team and started only twice at the Pre-Olympic Tournament to be playing for Brazil's senior side in just over a year's time.

But Reinier will have the benefit of 12 months in the limelight at one of the world's biggest clubs. After signing from Flamengo for €30m, Reinier netted a brace in just his third Castilla appearance - his final match before the coronavirus crisis intervened.

The pre-season will be key if the 18-year-old is to get a chance at Madrid in 2020-21, and there is no reason why he could not then do enough to catch Tite's eye.

During his brief time in professional football back in Brazil, Reinier made 14 Brasileiro appearances and had a hand in eight goals (six assists, two goals), one every 118 minutes on average.

By comparison, Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo were significantly less effective - they played a role in a goal every 239 minutes and 341 minutes, respectively, when they were in Brazil, yet both have enjoyed largely promising starts in Madrid.

Vinicius made the big-money move from Flamengo to Madrid in 2018 and had debuted for Brazil within 12 months of his LaLiga bow. The path is clear.

The one-year postponement of the Copa America gives Argentina time they must use wisely to avoid squandering probably the most precious asset ever granted to any international team in football history.

A yawning gap remains in Lionel Messi's glittering collection of honours. At club level, the Barcelona superstar has won it all, won it again and won it some more just for good measure. For Argentina, he is yet to lift a major honour.

A sixth Ballon d'Or and a host of typically imperious performances this season show Messi is going nowhere just yet, but he turns 33 this month. His own 'Last Dance' is nearing.

Realistically, the rearranged 2021 Copa America that they will co-host with Colombia and the 2022 World Cup in Qatar represent his final shots at glory for La Albiceleste, with the nagging sense his best chance to emulate the likes of Pele and Diego Maradona with a defining triumph at the highest level might already have passed him by.

 

THE GOLDEN GENERATION

Over recent years, Messi has frequently appeared wearied as a man carrying the weight of his team on his shoulders for club and country.

Of course, this was not always the case. At Barcelona he was the shimmering jewel in Pep Guardiola's slick and sublime masterpiece before starring as part of Luis Enrique's turbo-charged MSN forward line.

Argentina's more forlorn efforts of late make it easy to forget what a defining generation of talent Messi once spearheaded.

Any heavyweight football nation collecting back-to-back Olympic gold medals, as Argentina did in 2004 and 2008, would reasonably expect the senior honours to follow – with or without arguably the greatest of all time at their disposal.

Names from those podiums in Athens and Beijing trip off the tongue. Javier Mascherano, Carlos Tevez, Javier Saviola, Pablo Zabaleta, Fernando Gago, Ever Banega, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Angel Di Maria and Sergio Aguero are all Olympic champions.

At the 2010 World Cup, the fairytale combination of Messi and the Messiah – Maradona inimitably entertaining but evidently ill-cast as head coach – fell to Germany in the quarter-finals.

Die Mannschaft also beat them in 2014 – this time as Mario Gotze scored the only goal in the final during extra time. Alejandro Sabella's steadying hand brought them to the brink of sporting immortality and Messi was named player of the tournament, despite some underwhelming showings by his own standards.

NEAR MISSES, RETIREMENT AND SHAMBLES

Gerardo Martino managed not to win a major trophy when he led Barcelona in 2013-14 and, unfortunately for Messi, history repeated during his tenure with the national team.

Gonzalo Higuain missed a glorious chance in the World Cup final and he and Banega erred from the spot as Chile won the 2015 Copa America in a penalty shoot-out.

Against the same opponents at the Copa America Centenario 12 months later, Messi himself failed amid further heartache from 12 yards.

As emotions ran high in the aftermath, the number 10 announced his retirement from international football, with rumours other stars would follow suit due to disaffection with the Argentine Football Association.

By the time Messi returned for a 3-0 World Cup qualifying defeat to Brazil that November, Edgardo Bauza's tenure as head coach was already on the rocks.

Jorge Sampaoli replaced him and Argentina needed an utterly majestic hat-trick from their talisman away to Ecuador to snatch a place at Russia 2018.

Perhaps they shouldn't have bothered.

Having brought Argentina to their knees while in charge of Chile, Sampaoli inadvertently did the same again during a shambling turn ended by eventual champions France in the last 16. There was a near revolt after a group-stage thrashing from Croatia and the coach left with his reputation in tatters.

LIONEL, LIONEL AND LAUTARO

Star names such as Martino and Sampaoli not working out probably help the cause of the unheralded Lionel Scaloni, who emerged from the rubble of Russia to take temporary and then full charge.

The 2019 Copa America got off to a similarly inauspicious start, but they scrambled out of the group and were arguably a little unlucky to lose 2-0 to hosts and eventual winners Brazil in the semis.

A feisty third-place match against Chile was won 2-1 thanks to goals form Aguero and Paulo Dybala, despite Messi bizarrely getting sent for being repeatedly butted by Gary Medel.

An indignant post-match interview brought a four-game ban, although a more vocal Messi leading through words as well as deeds is a pleasing development. In his absence, 4-0 and 6-1 wins over Mexico and Ecuador suggested brighter times ahead with a younger core – even if a diet of friendlies this season makes progress a little hard to judge.

At centre-forward, where Argentina's surplus of riches makes their lack of reward so embarrassing, Lautaro Martinez looks to have established himself as the new number one ahead of Messi's great friend Aguero.

Since Scaloni took charge, the Inter star has nine goals in 13 starts – averaging one every 109.6 minutes and outstripping his expected goals (xG) figure of 6.4. Messi has five goals at 160.4 per minute from an xG of 6.3 over the same period.

European club form coming back home to the national team has not always been a given during the Messi years, so it is encouraging to see Martinez scoring at a faster rate under Scaloni than he has during an acclaimed campaign at San Siro (11 Serie A goals at one every 152 minutes). Aguero's 16 Manchester City goals have arrived every 87.6 Premier League minutes in 2019-20, but his strikes come every 201.7 minutes in the Scaloni era.

THE NEW GENERATION

Aguero still looks highly likely to have some role to play in trying to right a journey of heartache he has charted alongside Messi in blue and white. Others have not been spared as Scaloni quietly shapes a team in his own image. Moulding the ramshackle embarrassment of two years into a compact and hard-working unit necessitated high-profile casualties

Angel Di Maria has not added to his 102 caps since being dropped to the bench during the Copa. Argentina's all-action midfield creator is now Rodrigo de Paul.

One of Scaloni's dependable in a new-look engine room alongside Di Maria's Paris Saint-Germain colleague Leandro Paredes, De Paul's 81 dribbles completed for Udinese were the second most in Serie A last season and his eight assists put him joint fifth alongside Cristiano Ronaldo.

Staying in Serie A, German Pezzella's 60 interceptions, 155 clearances, 96 headed clearances and 30 blocks all see the Fiorentina man rank highly. A late bloomer on the international stage, the 28-year-old was named captain against Ecuador – alongside Ajax's left-back dynamo Nicolas Tagliafico – and he might have just enough about him to offset Nicolas Otamendi's frequent reversions to slapstick.

Scaloni still looks light on quality and cover behind an all-star attack, where Lucas Ocampos and Angel Correa are also thrillingly part of the equation. This is where the 12-month delay could really come in handy.

Paredes, De Paul and Pezzella will all be better with another year of their primes under their belts, while Giovani Lo Celso's development under Jose Mourinho at Tottenham will be watched with interest.

Leonardo Balerdi and Exequiel Palacios are each 21 and early in their Bundesliga careers at Borussia Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen – two clubs with exceptional records when it comes to developing young talents.

If this more unheralded generation continue to grow in stature, Scaloni might just have a team to let Argentina dream again. After all, their captain isn't bad either.

Lautaro Martinez and Lionel Messi teaming up at Barcelona would have a positive impact on Argentina, according to the national team's assistant coach Roberto Ayala.

Having scored 16 goals in 31 appearances for Inter in 2019-20, Martinez is a target for LaLiga champions Barca and it was last week reported he had agreed a five-year deal at Camp Nou.

Former Napoli, Milan and Valencia centre-back Ayala has been impressed by the 22-year-old's development under Antonio Conte this season and the partnership he has struck up with Romelu Lukaku.

With the coronavirus pandemic meaning the Copa America has been postponed until 2021, Ayala thinks Martinez potentially playing with six-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi at club level next term would be of huge benefit to Argentina.

The South American powerhouse have not won a senior international trophy since 1993, with Messi on the losing side in four finals during his career.

"The more matches they play together, the more they can get to know each other, it can be an advantage [for Argentina]," Ayala told Ole.

"But we will have to see if Lautaro plays for Barcelona or not because we can't forget [Luis] Suarez is there. We will see.

"It's an important decision Lautaro will have to make. Whatever he decides you have to respect because he's managing his career.

"The more chances of them playing together, the more they're going to understand each other.

"Lautaro is in a very important club at the moment and scoring goals in Italy is not easy.

"At Inter he's grown a lot and learned to earn his place. Inter trust in him a lot, his coach is empowering him, he found a partnership that complements him very well."

Inter are set to play their first game in over three months with a Coppa Italia semi-final against Napoli on Saturday, having lost the first leg 1-0 before football was suspended amid the COVID-19 crisis.

June 8 is likely to be a date forever remembered fondly by Rafael Nadal, who secured two of his historic 12 French Open titles on this day.

Serena Williams also twice had reason to celebrate on the clay of Roland Garros on this date, although one final was tinged with the regret of having beaten her sister.

The Golden State Warriors tasted glory once again in 2018, while there was truly a shock for the ages when Argentina faced Cameroon at the World Cup in 1990.

Going back nearly 60 years, there was also a moment of baseball history for the Milwaukee Braves.

 

1961 - Milwaukee Braves hit home-run record

There were six teams scrambling for top spot in the National League when the Braves met the Cincinnati Reds at Crosley Field.

In front of a sparse crowd of just over 5,000 fans - many seem to have been exhausted by three previous night games in the series - the Reds claimed a 10-8 victory.

The Braves did at least make history with four consecutive home runs through Eddie Mathews, Hank Aaron, Joe Adcock and Frank Thomas in the seventh inning.

 

1990 - Argentina shocked by Cameroon

Perhaps the biggest World Cup upset in history, the reigning champions were beaten 1-0 by Cameroon at Italia 90.

A solitary goal from Francois Omam-Biyik was enough for the Indomitable Lions to defeat Diego Maradona's Argentina at San Siro.

Cameroon progressed as group winners and reached the quarter-finals, where they lost to England. Argentina made it to the final again but were beaten by West Germany.

 

2002 - Serena wins all-Williams final in Paris

The first of Serena's three French Open singles titles came 18 years ago when she defeated sister Venus 7-5 6-3.

It was the first step in the American's path to winning all four majors in a row, which would become known as the 'Serena Slam'; she claimed Wimbledon and the US Open later that year before winning the 2003 Australian Open, defeating her sister in each of those finals.

Twelve years later, Serena would achieve the feat a second time.

This date also marks seven years since Serena beat Maria Sharapova in the final at Roland Garros.

 

2008 - Nadal equals Borg record with Federer thrashing

Nadal became the first man since Bjorn Borg to win four French Open singles titles in a row when he defeated Roger Federer in the 2008 final.

The Spaniard, a 12-time champion at Roland Garros, triumphed 6-1 6-3 6-0 in a decidedly one-sided contest against his long-time rival.

Six years later, Nadal won French Open number nine on the same date, defeating Novak Djokovic 3-6 7-5 6-2 6-4 to draw level with Pete Sampras on 14 major singles titles. He has won a further five since.

 

2018 - Warriors claim third title in four years

Inspired by NBA Finals MVP Kevin Durant, the Warriors claimed their third NBA championship in four seasons on this day two years ago.

Golden State completed a 4-0 sweep of the Cleveland Cavaliers with a 108-85 win at what was then known as Quicken Loans Arena.

It was the second time in his career that LeBron James suffered the ignominy of a Finals sweep, having also endured it against the San Antonio Spurs in 2007.

Rugby Football Union (RFU) chief executive Bill Sweeney is hopeful England will not have to play autumn internationals behind closed doors at Twickenham.

England are due to host New Zealand, Argentina, Tonga and Australia in November but there are doubts over whether fans will be allowed in due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Sweeney stressed the importance of supporters being able to attend for financial reasons and, with lockdown measures being gradually eased, he is optimistic Eddie Jones' side will not have to run out in an empty stadium.

"Playing behind closed doors - for us - is not much different to the games being cancelled," he told BBC Sport.

"By the time you fire up the stadium, pay for the players and the costs associated with preparation time and camps, when you play behind closed doors for us, there is not a huge difference between that and the games not taking place.

"Having attendance and having fans turning up is key."

Sweeney added: "If things progress as they seem to be progressing now, hopefully we will see crowds at Twickenham in October and November."

RFU boss Sweeney says alternative options are being explored if southern hemisphere teams are unable to head north.

"The preference from both the north and the south is that the original programme will go ahead," he said.

"But there are two or three different options that feature more northern hemisphere competition around that autumn window.

"One of them is you'd play a Six Nations tournament in that autumn that would combine with fixtures next year and for the first time ever you'd have home and away.

"Every [plan] has pros and cons to it and those are being evaluated."

Lionel Scaloni said playing alongside countryman Lionel Messi is better for Inter star Lautaro Martinez amid growing links to Barcelona.

Martinez has been tipped to swap Serie A side Inter for LaLiga champions Barca in the off-season following his exploits in Italy.

The Argentina international forward scored 16 goals in 31 matches across all competitions before the 2019-20 season was halted due to the coronavirus pandemic.

As speculation grows over Martinez's future, Argentina head coach Scaloni discussed the 22-year-old.

"If he plays with Messi he is better, no doubt. Beyond that later he will have to fight for the position as he did in Inter," Scaloni told TyC Sports.

"We have to be calm. If he changes clubs, maybe he does not have to be the undisputed starter, and it will not affect us, as long as he has a number of minutes that allows him to be in force.

"He has a huge future but still has a lot to give."

With Martinez dominating headlines, Scaloni issued a reminder about Sergio Aguero's exploits for Argentina and Manchester City.

Aguero is City's all-time top scorer as he celebrated his 32nd birthday on Tuesday, while he is third on Argentina's overall goals list with 41.

"Talking so much about Lautaro, it is Sergio who is breaking all the records," added Scaloni. "That is why you have to go calmly and wait for the moment of each one."

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