CONMEBOL has confirmed the 2021 Copa America will go ahead as planned, with Brazil taking over hosting duties.

This year's edition of the tournament – postponed from 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic – had been due to be shared between Colombia and Argentina.

However, Colombia lost co-hosting status amid mounting political unrest in the country, while the event then needed to find a new location after a surge in coronavirus cases ruled out playing games in Argentina.

CONMEBOL met on Monday to determine the future of the competition, electing to move the tournament to Brazil, who were crowned champions on home soil in 2019.

A post from the governing body's official Twitter account read: "The CONMEBOL Copa America 2021 will be played in Brazil!

"Tournament start and end dates are confirmed. The venues and the fixture will be informed by CONMEBOL in the next few hours. The oldest national team tournament in the world will make the whole continent vibrate!"

The tournament will run from June 13 to July 10, though further details over locations and the exact schedule are to be released in the near future.

However, the decision to move the Copa to Brazil does not come without controversy.

The nation has been one of the worst hit by the COVID-19 health crisis with nearly 460,000 deaths, according to figures from the World Health Organisation.

CONMEBOL's decision also comes in the aftermath of protesters in cities across the country calling for Jair Bolsonaro's impeachment, with Brazil's president having previously played down the severity of the virus and also questioned the importance of vaccinations.

"The best soccer in the world will bring joy and passion to millions of South Americans," CONMEBOL added in a further tweet.

"CONMEBOL thanks the president Jair Bolsonaro and his team, as well as the Brazilian Football Confederation for opening the doors of that country to what is today the safest sporting event in the world.

"South America will shine in Brazil with all its stars!"

CONMEBOL has confirmed the 2021 Copa America will go ahead as planned, with Brazil taking over hosting duties.

This year's edition of the tournament – postponed from 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic – had been due to be shared between Colombia and Argentina.

However, Colombia lost co-hosting status amid mounting political unrest in the country, while the event then needed to find a new location after a surge in coronavirus cases ruled out playing games in Argentina.

CONMEBOL met on Monday to determine the future of the competition, electing to move the tournament to Brazil, who were crowned champions on home soil in 2019.

A post from the governing body's official Twitter account read: "The CONMEBOL Copa America 2021 will be played in Brazil!

"Tournament start and end dates are confirmed. The venues and the fixture will be informed by CONMEBOL in the next few hours. The oldest national team tournament in the world will make the whole continent vibrate!"

The tournament will run from June 13 to July 10.

The Copa America has been thrown into disarray after CONMEBOL removed Argentina as hosts amid the country's coronavirus situation.

Argentina were set to stage the showpiece South American tournament, starting June 13 in Buenos Aires, following the governing body's decision to strip Colombia of co-hosting rights due to anti-government protests and COVID-19 concerns in the nation.

CONMEBOL had been identifying new locations in Argentina to replace Colombia ahead of next month's curtain-raiser between Lionel Messi's La Albiceleste and Chile at El Monumental.

Instead, Argentina will not stage the Copa America – already pushed back a year due to the coronavirus pandemic – as CONMEBOL considers new hosts.

Chile, Paraguay and the United States are reportedly the frontrunners to host the event.

"CONMEBOL informs that in view of the present circumstances it has been decided to suspend the development of the Copa America in Argentina," a statement read on Sunday.

"CONMEBOL analyses another offers from countries that showed interest in hosting the continental tournament."

Before the announcement, Argentina's interior minster Wado de Pedro had admitted it would be "very difficult" for the Copa America to be played in the country due to the COVID-19 situation.

"Today I was talking with the president about the health situation of certain jurisdictions, such as Mendoza, Cordoba, Tucuman and Santa Fe [the first two designated venues of the tournament], and due to the health diagnosis we see very difficult that the cup can be played in Argentina," De Pedro told C5N.

Lionel Messi is "very excited" about the upcoming Copa America as Argentina eye a long-awaited title.

Argentina are set to host the 2021 Copa America after Colombia were stripped of co-hosting rights amid safety concerns in the country due to anti-government protests.

Messi's Argentina, who finished third in 2019 following back-to-back runners-up performances in 2015 and 2016, will open the South American tournament against Chile in Buenos Aires on June 13.

Argentina will also face Uruguay, Paraguay and Bolivia in Group A and Messi is relishing the Copa America as the superstar captain seeks his first senior trophy with La Albiceleste.

"I'm very excited and eager, I'll try to do things right," Messi said on Sunday, with Argentina riding an 11-match unbeaten streak.

"In the last Copa America we left a good image, but we cannot stay with that and we will have to continue growing.

"The last qualifying games we did well too, although it's been a long time since those games and we couldn't get back together, we'll have to get back on track quickly and keep growing."

"I'm always excited to compete with the national team, whatever game it is, we always want to win, it's always the same goal," added the record six-time Ballon d'Or winner.

"The truth is that the youngest are eager and the oldest too, with the same or more eagerness. We are a very nice and united group with a good base that has already been working since [head coach Lionel] Scaloni started and some new ones who joined at the last moment. The important thing is to form a very strong group for the objectives that lie ahead."

Before their Copa America campaign, Argentina will meet Chile (June 3) and Colombia (June 8) in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying.

The coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc with matches postponed, but before COVID-19 led to suspensions, Argentina had won three of their first four games to be two points behind Brazil in second spot.

"I'm happy to be here with all my colleagues. It is a strange and different situation from what we usually live in and we cannot live in a normal way, but little by little we are getting together and working for the two qualifying games because both will be very difficult.

"All qualifying games are very tough. Chile are a great team with very good players, although they have a new coach and he didn't have many games, they have very experienced players base and many kids who are up to the task. They had a generational change like us and they are growing and preparing, it is a very competitive team.

"We try to comply with all the recommendations they give us, the last qualifying matches we had were very similar to what we are experiencing now, although now it is more serious due to the situation in the country. Unfortunately we are having a hard time, there are many infected, so we are trying to accommodate ourselves and comply with what they tell us to do everything well."

Colombia will not co-host next month's Copa America alongside Argentina amid safety concerns in the country, CONMEBOL announced.

South American nation Colombia is currently in its fourth week of violent anti-government protests and growing safety concerns, along with increased worries over the spread of coronavirus, has forced the governing body to act.

The Colombian cities of Cali, Medellin and the capital Bogota had all been due to host matches, including games in the knockout phase, while Barranquilla was originally slated to host the final.

Colombia had asked for the tournament, which is due to be played between June 13 and July 10 after it was postponed last year due to COVID-19, to be rescheduled in November or December.

But CONMEBOL rejected that request in a statement released on Thursday, with the reallocation of games that were due to be staged in Colombia set to be announced.

"For reasons related to the international competition calendar and the logistics of the tournament, it is impossible to transfer the 2021 Copa America to the month of November," the statement read.

"CONMEBOL appreciates the enthusiasm and commitment of the president of the Republic of Colombia, Ivan Duque, and his collaborators, as well as the President of the Colombian Football Federation, Ramon Jesurun, and his team.

"Certainly, in the future, new joint projects will emerge for the growth of Colombian and South American football.

"CONMEBOL guarantees the holding of the CONMEBOL Copa America 2021 and will inform in the coming days the reallocation of the games that should be played in Colombia."

Australia and Qatar, who were both due to participate in the tournament as invited guests, have already withdrawn.

Brazil are defending champions and have been drawn in Group B alongside Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Venezuela.

Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Paraguay and Bolivia are in Group A.

Lionel Messi's two-match ban is to be appealed by Barcelona, the club confirmed.

Messi was dismissed in the 121st minute of Sunday's Supercopa de Espana defeat to Athletic Bilbao as he took a swing at Asier Villalibre in an off-the-ball incident that was spotted by the VAR.

It was the first time he had been sent off for the club and only the third red in his entire 17-year career for Barca and Argentina.

Barca lost the match 3-2 in Seville and a ruling by the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) competition committee on Tuesday deemed Messi's offence serious enough to warrant a two-match suspension.

That will rule him out of the Copa del Rey match against Cornella on Thursday and Sunday's LaLiga trip to Elche, before returning for another tussle with Villalibre and Athletic on January 31.

But Barca seemingly deemed the punishment too sever and announced plans to appeal soon after the RFEF's initial decision.

Barca's statement read: "Barcelona is to appeal the suspension issued to Leo Messi. The competition committee announced on Tuesday that the Argentinian's red card in the final minutes of the Supercopa de Espana final against Athletic Club shall incur a two-match ban."

Barcelona captain Lionel Messi has been banned for two domestic matches following his red card in the Supercopa de Espana final defeat to Athletic Bilbao.

Messi was dismissed in the 119th minute of Sunday's game as he took a swing at Asier Villalibre in an off-the-ball incident that was spotted by the VAR, and referee Jesus Gil Manzano subsequently showed him the red.

It was the first time he has been sent off for the club and only the third red card in his entire 17-year career for Barca and Argentina.

Reports in Spain had suggested an extended ban could be imposed on Messi, and a statement by the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) confirmed on Tuesday that he will be suspended for Barca's next two games.

Therefore, he will miss the Copa del Rey game against Cornella and the league trip to Elche – he will return in time for another tussle with Villalibre and Athletic on January 31.

 

Lionel Messi's Barcelona career has had just about everything - but until Sunday night the Argentine superstar had not been red-carded for the Camp Nou giants.

That changed when Messi was sent off for the first time in his club career after dramatically losing his cool late on in the 3-2 Supercopa de Espana final loss to Athletic Bilbao.

Messi, who recovered from a minor injury to take a place in Barca's starting line-up, saw red in what was his 753rd appearance for the club.

With 119 minutes of the match played, Messi swung at Asier Villalibre in an off-the-ball incident that was spotted by VAR and referee Jesus Gil Manzano reached into his back pocket.

The 33-year-old is now facing a possible extended ban that will carry over into LaLiga, with the disciplinary committee of the Spanish FA (RFEF) to have the final say on the length of the suspension.

It was the third red card of Messi's 17-year career overall, having also previously been dismissed twice for Argentina.

He was given his marching orders following a clash with Gary Medel in a Copa America third-place play-off in July 2019 and was famously sent off on his international debut against Hungary in 2005.

Messi failed to find the target from any of his three attempts in the loss to Athletic, who twice came from behind to win the competition for just a third time.

Antoine Griezmann scored twice, either side of Oscar De Marcos' equaliser, but Villalibre levelled up in the 90th minute and Inaki Williams scored a sublime winner three minutes into extra time.

Reflecting on the defeat, Barca boss Ronald Koeman - denied a first piece of silverware since succeeding Quique Setien at Camp Nou in August - said: "It was a difficult game. 

"We were really close to the victory. It is always difficult to concede just before half-time, and then again at the end. It's really difficult to handle."

Diego Maradona has been hailed as a "poet and a great champion" by Pope Francis, the head of the Catholic Church.

Maradona passed away at the age of 60 in November having suffered heart failure.

The former Argentina star is considered as one of the world's greatest ever players, having led his country to World Cup glory in 1986 and taken Napoli from Serie A also-rans to one of Italy's dominant forces.

Maradona had his off-field issues, including drug abuse and doping scandals, but Pope Francis, who met Maradona in 2014, praised the impact his compatriot had.

"I met Diego Armando Maradona during a Match for Peace in 2014: I remember with pleasure everything that Diego did for Scholas Occurrentes, the foundation that takes care of the needy all over the world," The Pope told Gazzetta dello Sport.

"On the pitch he was a poet and a great champion who gave joy to millions of people, in Argentina as in Naples. He was also a very fragile man."

Pope Francis also recalled his memories of the 1986 World Cup, with Maradona starring in Mexico, finishing with five goals and assisting Argentina's winner in the final.

"I have a personal memory linked to the 1986 World Cup, the one that Argentina won thanks to Maradona," Pope Francis continued.

"I was in Frankfurt; it was a difficult time for me, I was studying the language and collecting material for my thesis.

"I hadn't been able to see the World Cup final and I only learned the next day of Argentina's victory over Germany, when a Japanese boy wrote 'Viva l'Argentina' on the blackboard during a German lesson.

"I remember it, personally, as the victory of loneliness because I had no one with whom to share the joy of that sporting victory: loneliness makes you feel alone, while what makes joy beautiful is being able to share it.

"When I was told of Maradona's death, I prayed for him and sent the family a rosary with a few personal words of comfort."

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