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Higuain has ‘nothing to prove’ despite latest Argentina snub

Jorge Sampaoli has left Gonzalo Higuain out of his Argentina squad once again but told the Juventus striker he has “nothing to prove”.

Higuain has not featured for Argentina since the 1-0 friendly win over Brazil last June – Sampaoli’s first game at the helm after taking over from Edgardo Bauza.

Higuain 23/10 first scorer v Udinese

The 29-year-old has endured a difficult start to the season with Juventus, scoring just four goals in 12 appearances, and was overlooked for the crunch World Cup qualifiers against Peru and Ecuador.

Lionel Messi ensured Argentina will not be absent from the competition in Russia with a hat-trick in Quito and Sampaoli does not think Higuain can do anything more to try and earn a place in the squad.

“Higuain is a player who is very present. I have him in my mind and I know what he represents. With him there is nothing to prove,” said the former Sevilla boss.

Gonzalo Higuain Argentina

“It will be up to us to make an evaluation and decide whether he will go to the World Cup or not.”

Sergio Aguero is recalled after a rib injury following a car accident ruled him out of Sampaoli’s previous group, while Matias Kranevitter and Diego Perotti have been selected.

Argentina will take on Russia in Moscow on November 10 with another friendly expected to be confirmed shortly.

The Argentina boss will supplement Friday’s selection of players with a contingent of domestic-based players.

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Sampaoli confirmed that players from River Plate and Boca Juniors, who will dispute the Superclasico on November 5, will be allowed to join up with the squad following the famous derby clash, although he revealed no names from the Primera Division.

Argentina squad: Sergio Romero (Manchester United), Nahuel Guzman (Tigres UANL), Agustin Marchesin (Club America); Javier Mascherano (Barcelona), Federico Fazio (Roma), Gabriel Mercado (Sevilla), Nicolas Otamendi (Manchester City), German Pezzella (Fiorentina); Eduardo Salvio (Benfica), Lucas Biglia (AC Milan), Ever Banega (Sevilla), Marcos Acuna (Sporting CP), Leandro Paredes (Zenit), Emiliano Rigoni (Zenit), Matias Kranevitter (Zenit), Alejandro Gomez (Atalanta), Diego Perotti (Roma); Lionel Messi (Barcelona), Sergio Aguero (Manchester City), Mauro Icardi (Inter), Angel Di Maria (Paris Saint-Germain), Paulo Dybala (Juventus).


Atalanta 2 Juventus 2: Dybala misses penalty as champions held

Paulo Dybala missed a controversial late penalty as Juventus were held to a 2-2 draw by Atalanta in Serie A.

Juventus’ 100 per cent start to the Serie A season was snapped by a battling Atalanta side who came from two goals down to earn a 2-2 draw against the champions.

A roller-coaster ride at the Stadio Atleti Azzurri d’Italia featured four goals and a pair of contentious VAR decisions as either side felt aggrieved by reviews made by referee Antonio Damato.

Federico Bernardeschi, making his first start for Juventus, opened the scoring for the visitors in the 21st minute, before supplying the assist for Gonzalo Higuain to make it 2-0 three minutes later.

Atalanta’s fightback started when Mattia Caldara – on loan from Juventus – pulled a goal back shortly after the half-hour mark and at 2-1, Juventus had a Mario Mandzukic goal cancelled out following Stephan Lichtsteiner’s foul on Alejandro Gomez.

The comeback was completed by Bryan Cristante, who scored the pick of the goals with a pinpoint second-half header, but Atalanta’s efforts looked to have fallen short when Juve were given a controversial penalty late on for an Andrea Petagna handball, upheld on review.

But Etrit Berisha, at fault for the game’s opening goal, denied Paulo Dybala from the spot to leave Massimiliano Allegri’s side trailing the faultless Napoli at the top of the table.

Juventus had the better of the early going and went close after 14 minutes when Mandzukic knocked the ball down and into the path of Higuain near the penalty spot, but the Argentine’s effort lacked the necessary power to beat Berisha.

Bernardeschi was in the thick of the action as Juve forged ahead, first by pouncing when Berisha spilled Blaise Matuidi’s drive at his feet and poking the ball into the net from point-blank range.

The €40million signing from Fiorentina then threaded a pass into the box for Higuain, who shook off the challenge of Jose Luis Palomino and rifled the ball high into the roof of the net to double Juve’s advantage.

Juventus looked to be heading for a comfortable outing until the 31st minute when Gianluigi Buffon failed to hold Gomez’s free-kick and Caldara was on hand to side-foot the rebound into the corner of the net.

Gian Piero Gasperini sent on Josip Ilicic, who swung in a dangerous cross that Jasmin Kurtic headed just wide as the home side pushed for an equaliser before half-time.

Higuain and Dybala linked up well as Juventus reasserted their grip on the game in the second half and the former fired a shot just over the crossbar shortly before the visitors had the ball in the net for a third time.

Dybala crossed for Mandzukic to head the ball down into the net after 57 minutes but Damato consulted the video and ruled the goal out due to a foul in the build-up by Lichtsteiner, who was shown a yellow card for elbowing Gomez in the face.

Lichsteiner was swiftly withdrawn by Allegri as his spat with Gomez rumbled on and, having survived the scare, Atalanta sprung into life to draw level.

After he was booked for a foul on Lichtsteiner, Gomez found his composure to deliver a neat cross, which Cristante rose to meet with a powerful header into the corner of the net in the 67th minute.

Atalanta were fuming when Juve were awarded a penalty in the 83rd minute, and Damato saw fit to stick with his decision, despite viewing replays which appeared to show the ball hitting Petagna’s shoulder.

But Dybala’s spot-kick was saved by Berisha, who dived down to his left to push the ball away and preserve a passionately celebrated point for the hosts.


Ronaldo critics are stupid and the Winners & Losers of the Champions League


Harry Kane APOEL Tottenham

So impressed was midfield legend Glenn Hoddle by Harry Kane’s hat-trick in Tottenham’s 3-0 win over APOEL Nicosia that he suggested that the frontman could become Spurs’ “greatest striker in history”.

That is some praise when one considers that a certain Jimmy Greaves – the record scorer in the history of English top-flight football and the most natural finisher the country has ever produced – spent nine goal-laden seasons at White Hart Lane in the 1960s.

However, the way Kane is playing and developing, Hoddle’s statements are not completely fanciful. Since the start of the 2014-15 season, the 24-year-old has scored 103 goals in 147 games in all club competitions. He has nine goals in his last five games this term.

And having flopped at Euro 2016 and struggled in Europe last term, he is now producing on the very biggest stage. His treble in Cyprus means he has hit five goals in two Champions League matches, following his double versus Dortmund on matchday one.

Strong, mobile, intelligent, both-footed and powerful in the air, there are no weaknesses in Kane’s game. He is the complete centre-forward. Perhaps the only thing that can stop Kane from surpassing Greaves as Tottenham’s best ever striker is the club failing to stop him from joining one of Europe’s big clubs.


Cristiano Ronaldo Cartoon

It seems incomprehensible but having failed to score in two La Liga games since returning from suspension, some critics in the Spanish media were actually questioning whether Ronaldo was past his best.

With Madrid enduring a poor start to the new La Liga season and already seven points adrift of Barcelona, the knives were out for the 32-year-old.

“It seems that I have to keep showing exactly who I am in every match,” Ronaldo told Atresmedia after Madrid’s 3-1 win over Borussia Dortmund on Tuesday in Germany.

“I am an exemplary professional and I always have a clear mind. The criticism is getting worse. I am surprised by what the public thinks of me, my numbers speak for themselves.”

They certainly do. Ronaldo’s double against BVB means he now has an astonishing 14 goals in his last seven Champions League games. And aside from the two he also scored in matchday one this term versus APOEL Nicosia, all of these goals came against top opposition in big matches.

He hit five of Madrid’s six goals in their quarter final tie with Bayern Munich in April, a hat-trick in the semi-final win over Atletico and then a double in the Champions League final triumph over Juventus.

Ronaldo is not Zlatan Ibrahimovic, a flat-track bully scoring against smaller sides. He is not merely a penalty specialist, or ‘Penaldo’ as his haters call him. He is a goal machine who scores against everyone and performs at his best when it really matters.

And at the age of 32, he is showing no signs of slowing down. Those in the media who say he is finished are stupid.


Gonzalo Higuain Juventus Olympiacos Champions League

As Juventus kicked off their home match against Olympiakos, Gonzalo Higuain looked odds-on to be one of the big losers of this week’s Champions League.

The Argentine had endured such a slow start to the season that he had been dropped for the Turin derby at the weekend, with Mario Mandzukic pushed into his natural striker role. In Higuain’s absence, Juventus enjoyed their best game of the season so far as they crushed Torino 4-0.

The ex-Real Madrid man was thus kept on the bench for Wednesday’s visit of Olympiakos, a game Juve simply had to win following their 3-0 defeat to Barcelona on matchday one.

However, for an hour the Bianconeri toiled. Their build-up play was slow, Paulo Dybala was stifled and the crisis-hit Greeks were rarely troubled at the back – even spurning one glorious chance to score on the counter-attack.

Higuain was thus summoned from the bench and within nine minutes he became the hero, rifling home at the second attempt inside the area. Juve were transformed with the 29-year-old on the pitch and he was instrumental in creating their second goal as he slipped through Dybala whose goalbound shot eventually found its way into the net off Mandzukic.

“The credit goes to those who stood by me, who helped me and my team-mates who ran to hug me. This was one of the most wonderful moments of my career,” Higuain stated after the game. “I am not disturbed by criticism or insults, it’s all about having faith in yourself.”

Higuain will certainly have the faith of his manager, Max Allegri, again now.


Carlo Ancelotti Bayern Munich

“I thought a lot about what the best team to play was,” Bayern Munich boss Carlo Ancelotti said after leaving Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery and Mats Hummels out of the starting line-up for Wednesday’s dismal 3-0 loss at Paris Saint-Germain.

“I don’t think my team selection was risky. I thought it was a good team for this game but I know I will get criticism and that’s fine.” It’s just as well that Ancelotti is so thick-skinned because he is taking flak now from all sides.

There have already been public shows of petulance among the players after an uninspired start to the season and now he is being target by ex-pros and TV pundits for Bayern’s patchy performances. Oliver Kahn even claimed that Ancelotti had arrived in Paris with “no plan”.

Certainly, the Italian’s side looked rudderless at the Parc des Princes. They enjoyed 60 per cent possession, forced 18 corners yet never looked like scoring. The contrast with PSG was staggering, with the hosts netting with three of their five shots on target. So much for German efficiency!

Ancelotti’s reputation as a Champions League specialist is also coming under intense scrutiny, given his Bayern have lost four of their six Champions League away games – they were even beaten in Rostov last year – and three of their last four overall, which is as many as they’d lost in their previous 17 fixtures.

Of course, one could argue that this latest setback merely proved Robert Lewandowski’s point that Bayern must spend big in order to continue competing at the highest level, while it must also be remembered that the Bavarians would have beaten eventual winners Real Madrid in the quarter-finals last season had it not been for some horrendous officiating.

However, club chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge made it clear after the loss in Paris that he was not interested in hearing any excuses, “I think what we saw this evening was not Bayern Munich.”

Ancelotti, thus, needs the real Bayern to stand up for what now look like two potentially tricky ties against Celtic that will decide who joins PSG in the knockout stage. He needs Robben, Ribery and Hummels at their best. Whether they are willing to give him that remains to be seen.

Indeed, there are already rumours that Ancelotti’s position will be discussed at a crisis meeting in Munich on Thursday. If it emerges that he’s lost the dressing room, he might well lose his job too.


Luisao Benfica Basel

Thrilling as it was to see Basel record one of the biggest results in the history of Swiss football, it was difficult not to feel some sympathy for the Benfica supporters at St. Jakob Park. Even with their side 5-0 down, the Eagles fans kept singing right until the bitter end.

That was admirable in the extreme, given this was the Portuguese club’s heaviest European defeat since being routed 7-0 by Celta Vigo in the UEFA Cup in 1999.

“It’s hard to explain,” Benfica defender Jardel admitted after a game in which his side failed to manage a single shot on target. “But we can’t hide now. We have our responsibilities and need to deal with them.

“I have full confidence in this group of players, who were domestic league champions four times in a row.

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“With hard work and goodwill we will get out of this situation. We just hope the fans stay with us, just as they did today. Only in that way will we forget this bad moment.”

The only trouble is that Benfica’s slow, brittle back-line now faces a double-header against Jose Mourinho’s free-scoring Manchester United. Indeed, one shudders at the prospect of Jardel and Luisao trying to contain the likes of Anthony Martial given they could not get anywhere near Dimitri Oberlin on Wednesday night.

Benfica’s Champions League campaign could effectively be over by the end of Matchday Four.


Higuain elated with career-highlight goal against Olympiacos

Gonzalo Higuain hailed “one of the most wonderful moments of my career” after stepping off the bench to inspire Juventus to a Champions League win over Olympiacos on Wednesday.

Argentina striker Higuain had scored just twice in 2017-18 prior to the fixture at Allianz Stadium, with compatriot Paulo Dybala not only stealing the headlines but also marginalising him from Massimiliano Allegri’s attack.

Juventus 16/1 to win CL with dabblebet

But the former Napoli man proved his worth, scoring 10 minutes after coming on and then playing a key role in Mario Mandzukic’s goal that completed a 2-0 triumph.

Higuain insisted his stodgy start to the campaign had not burdened him, but laid bare how much the timely intervention meant.

“I didn’t feel a weight lifted off my shoulders. I always felt free,” Higuain said. 

“I’ve been playing in Europe for over 10 years and have always scored a lot of goals, so I was not remotely disturbed.

“The important thing is to keep working in silence, as that is what gets you back to the result. I am not disturbed by criticism or insults, it’s all about having faith in yourself.

“Anyone can talk now, but those who really matter are the ones who stay close to you even when things are going badly.

“The credit goes to those who stood by me, who helped me and my team-mates who ran to hug me. This was one of the most wonderful moments of my career.”

Juve captain Gianluigi Buffon was keen to direct all plaudits for the victory towards Higuain.

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“Once this game is over, everyone will give credit to Allegri, the club, the president. No,” he said.

“The credit goes all to Higuain. He deserves it, he had to give the response on the field and he did that. I’m happy he broke through, as we needed him and we need his goals.”


Juventus 2 Olympiacos 0: Higuain back on form as Bianconeri return to winning ways

Gonzalo Higuain inspired Juventus to a 2-0 victory in their Champions League Group D clash with Olympiacos at the Allianz Stadium.

Gonzalo Higuain returned to form in timely fashion as he scored one goal and played a key role in another to help Juventus claim a hard-fought 2-0 victory against Olympiacos in Champions League Group D.

The Argentina forward had netted just twice this campaign prior to Wednesday’s clash at the Allianz Stadium and was benched for the second game running, with Mario Mandzukic preferred up top.

However, with Juve – shorn of Miralem Pjanic, who was injured in the warm-up – struggling to break Olympiacos’ stubborn rearguard, Massimiliano Allegri called on the former Real Madrid man just short of the hour.

Higuain duly made his mark, thumping in from close range with 69 minutes played, giving the excellent Silvio Proto no chance.

Allegri’s tactical switch paid dividends again with 10 minutes remaining – Higuain teeing up Paulo Dybala, whose deflected effort was headed home by Mandzukic to wrap up the points.

Having been comprehensively beaten by Barcelona on matchday one, the victory represents a vital return to winning ways for last season’s beaten finalists, who move second in Group D.

Missing Pjanic’s guile in the middle, Juve were fortunate not to be behind inside 15 minutes, with Seba firing over after latching on to Vadis Odjidja-Ofoe’s pass.

Proto did well to keep out headers from Mandzukic and Stefano Sturaro as the hosts began to click, though Emmanuel Emenike should have done better after he raced clear of Juve’s defence only to seek a team-mate rather than go for goal when one-on-one with Gianluigi Buffon.

Going direct seemed Juve’s best option, Mandzukic testing Proto with a towering header before Dybala drew another fine save from the stand-in goalkeeper.

Proto was beaten moments later though, relying on the post to preserve his clean sheet when Bjorn Engels deflected goalwards.

Juve stepped up the pressure again after the restart and Dybala’s glancing header flashed across the face of goal.

Douglas Costa was the next to try his luck, his rasping free-kick whistling wide of the woodwork, with Higuain introduced soon after.

It was Higuain’s strike partner Mandzukic who could have finally put Juve ahead on the hour, but Proto was more than equal to the Croatian’s tame header.

Proto could do little to prevent Higuain’s first goal in four games, though, as the 29-year-old hammered in Alex Sandro’s cross at the second attempt.

And Higuain proved his worth once more in the closing stages as he set-up Dybala at the culmination of a fine run.

Dybala’s chip was cleared off the line, but Mandzukic was on hand to head in from a yard out and add gloss to a difficult victory.