Olympics: France stage stunning comeback

Teji Savanier was the last-gasp match winner as France staged a remarkable comeback to beat South Africa 4-3 in the Olympic football group stages.

After a goalless first half, Kobamelo Kodisang’s goal put South Africa in front in the 53rd minute. Andre-Pierre Gignac, aged 35, levelled up with his first goal of the match four minutes later.

Evidence Makgopa put South Africa back in front but Gignac again equalised with 12 minutes remaining. Teboho Mokoena then put South Africa ahead for a third time in the 81st minute before Gignac converted from the penalty spot in the 86th to set the stage for Montpellier midfielder Savanier’s late blast.

France midfielder Teji Savanier (L) scored his side's winning goal
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France midfielder Teji Savanier (L) scored his side’s winning goal

South Africa lost to hosts Japan 1-0 to open Group A on Thursday in their first group match, while France were routed by Mexico 4-1 in their opener.

Takefusa Kubo and Ritsu Doan scored in the opening 11 minutes to lead Japan to a 2-1 victory over Mexico.

Japan's Takefusa Kubo (2nd from L) is congratulated by his teammates after opening the scoring
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Japan’s Takefusa Kubo (2nd from L) is congratulated by his teammates after opening the scoring

Mexico had Yohan Vzquez sent off in the 67th but Roberto Alvarado still gave them hope of a comeback by scoring in the 86th minute. However, Japan held on to maintain their perfect record in Group A and move to within touching distance of the knockout stages.

Playing with 10 men for most of the game, Brazil held the Ivory Coast to a 0-0 draw in Group D.

The defending Olympic champions were at an early disadvantage early when Aston Villa midfielder Douglas Luiz was sent off in the 13th minute.

Ivory Coast's Christian Kouame battles for a ball with Brazil duo Richarlison and Claudinho
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Ivory Coast’s Christian Kouame battles for a ball with Brazil duo Richarlison and Claudinho

In the other game in Group D, centre-back Felix Uduokhai pounced on a late header as Germany edged out Saudi Arabia 3-2 in a Group D thriller in Yokohama, with both teams combining for 32 attempts on goal.

Germany twice threw away the lead and had a player sent off before Uduokhai struck late to hand his side a first win in Japan.

Victory means the Germans now have three points in Group D, a point behind both Brazil and Ivory Coast. Saudi Arabia are without a point and sit bottom of the group.

Elsewhere, Honduras picked up their first win of the tournament as Rigoberto Rigas’ 87th-minute winner earned them victory over New Zealand in Group B, while Lee Kang-in scored twice after coming off the bench in the second half to lead South Korea to a 4-0 victory over 10-man Romania in the other game in the group.

Honduras celebrate Luis Palma's goal against new Zealand
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Honduras celebrate Luis Palma’s goal against new Zealand

South Korea’s victory leaves all four teams with three points in Group B heading into the final round of games on Wednesday.

Lens defender Facundo Medina was the matchwinner for Argentina, scoring the only goal in their 1-0 win over Egypt in Group C.

Facundo Medina scores Argentina's goal
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Facundo Medina scores Argentina’s goal

“This victory is very good for us, especially in terms of spirits,” said Argentine coach Fernando Batista. “We knew it was going to be a difficult match. Egypt had not lost for a long time. Now we have to rest and prepare for the best way to define the group against Spain.”

Finally, Spain winger Mikel Oyarzabal ended his country’s 21-year wait for an Olympic goal in a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Australia in Group C.

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Higuain future as Argentina see success with Copa America title

Despite being Argentinian, we have not seen Higuain at the current Copa America since he retired from international football a few seasons ago. This was a surprise at the time, but he had long been out of favour and there is no doubting he did not get the same respect for Argentina, as he has had at many of the clubs he has played for over time. Higuain made his debut for Argentina back in 2009 and since scored 31 goals in 75 appearances, which is an impressive strike rate.

Argentina also saw some incredible success at the Copa America, as they went onto land the title, which was a first for Messi. This cashmo online casino review was a platform that had proven popular throughout from fans, who had been looking to get involved on the event and support Argentina for the victory.

Moving back to Higuain and he has also been on the move recently and signed for Inter Miami CF back in September of 2020. This is a team that is managed by Phil Neville and is currently sitting in mid table, but Higuain will be expected to play a major role in the success of the side, and we are likely to see them continue to climb up the ranks of the MLS, with Higuain at the forefront of this.

Prior to this and Higuain of course was playing for Chelsea, having been loaned to the club from Juventus, before returning and then moving over to the States. His period at Juventus was one of success, where he scored 66 goals from his 149 starts and this continued his previous success from Napoli and of course Real Madrid. Real Madrid was his longest serving club and he again showed his goal scoring abilities at the Spanish club. He made 262 appearances for Real Madrid and in this period, he was able to score 121 goals and pick up a further 56 assists. This is a very impressive return, and he also played a role in the success of the club for a number of years. It is also why he has moved to a number of the best sides across Europe and again proven to be a great asset to each side, helping them to a number of trophies.

Higuain will now be expected to continue his impressive attacking form in America and help the Inter Miami CF to success and maybe some trophies in the near future.

Messi’s wait over as Argentina win Copa America

Lionel Messi’s long wait for a major trophy with Argentina is over after a 1-0
win against Brazil in the Copa America final

The 34-year-old, currently a free agent after his contract at Barcelona expired, fell to the floor at full-time in a sign of huge relief, while his former team-mate Neymar was in tears after he was unable to inspire Brazil to victory after Angel Di Maria’s first-half winner.

It was a huge hurdle crossed for the six-time Ballon d’Or winner, who has been a beaten finalist on four separate occasions with Argentina – three times in the Copa America and once in the World Cup.

The match was decided by a goal midway through the first half from Di Maria, who lobbed Manchester City goalkeeper Ederson following a perfect Rodrigo De Paul pass.

Brazil were poor throughout the contest and struggled to test Emiliano Martinez at the other end. Everton forward Richarlison had Brazil’s best chance when he forced the Aston Villa ‘keeper into a save.

Messi, who was named player of the tournament – a prize he shared with Neymar – after his four goals helped Argentina lift the trophy, should have found the net himself at the Maracana, but with the goal at his mercy he slipped when through one-on-one against Ederson.

Argentina lift the Copa America title
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Argentina lift the Copa America title

It mattered not and, 16 years after making his debut for Argentina, Messi finally got his hands on an international title.

In the process, he silenced critics who had always pointed to his lack of success with his country as a reason why he should not be considered the best player of all time, despite his brilliance at club level.

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Copa America: Argentina to face Brazil in final

Argentina goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez made three shootout saves to beat Colombia 3-2 on penalties and book a Copa America final with Brazil.

With just seven minutes on the clock, Messi earned his fifth assist in the tournament with a pass to Lautaro Martinez, who put the ball in the right corner past Colombia goalkeeper David Ospina.

A more aggressive Colombia, led by Juan Guillermo Cuadrado, hit the bar and the post in the first half before they levelled in the 61st minute with Luis Diaz, who received the ball on the left of Argentina’s box and shot almost with no angle to beat Emiliano Martinez.

Luis Diaz
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Luis Diaz equalised for Colombia

Argentina reacted after 67 minutes when Angel di Maria came into the match, replacing Nico Gonzalez. The winger created several opportunities, including one in the 80th minute that ended with Davinson Sanchez preventing a finish by Lautaro Martinez on the goal line.

The last big opportunity in regular time came with Messi hitting Ospina’s right post in the 81st minute from short range, with the game finishing 1-1.

Martinez saved shots taken by Sanchez, Yerry Mina and Edwin Cardona in the shootout. Messi converted his opportunity from the spot and was one of the most joyous players in the celebrations – now seeking his first major title with Argentina against favourites Brazil.

Argentina goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez saves Yerry Mina's penalty
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Argentina goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez saves Yerry Mina’s penalty

Rodrigo de Paul missed his shot, but Leandro Paredes and Lautaro Martinez netted their chances for Argentina in the shootout. Cuadrado and Miguel Borja scored from the spot for Colombia.

Argentina haven’t won a major title since 1993 when they clinched the Copa America. On that occasion, the team eliminated Colombia on penalties 6-5 in the semi-final after a goalless draw.

Brazil beat Peru 1-0 on Monday to advance to the final. They have never lost a Copa America final at home and won five out of six matches so far.

Argentina will now face Brazil on Saturday at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, while Colombia will play on Friday in the third-place play-off against Peru.

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Messi’s moment with Argentina?

Graffiti adorns the wall at the southern end of Copacabana beach on Avenida Atlantica by the old fort. It commemorates Germany’s win over Argentina in the 2014 World Cup final, schadenfreude for Brazilians, taking comfort in their neighbours falling short.

That evening in the Estadio do Maracana will always be part of the Lionel Messi story. He could never hope to eclipse what Diego Maradona had done in Mexico in 1986 but this was his opportunity to hold a mirror up to it by bringing the World Cup back from Brazil.

His big chance came at the start of the second half. Manuel Neuer was well beaten but the ball drifted past the far post. Nobody had as many shots in that final, nobody created more chances and nobody completed even half as many dribbles. Nobody cared.

Lionel Messi closes in on Manuel Neuer in the World Cup final between Argentina and Germany in 2014
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Messi shoots wide of Manuel Neuer in the 2014 World Cup final

It felt like failure. Accepting the World Cup’s Golden Ball, a perverse joke. Twice, Messi has reached the final of the Copa America since then. Twice, Argentina have been beaten on penalties. Twice, Messi has been close to retiring, bereft, seemingly accepting of his fate.

On Saturday evening, three nights short of seven years since Messi’s date with destiny in the Maracana, he is set to return. A fourth Copa America final looms. Another shot at glory and redemption for the game’s most celebrated player, now 34 years young.

The Maracana will look and feel different. This Copa – moved to Brazil just weeks before it began – has been played out without crowds. It has taken some Messi magic to ignite it and there has been plenty of that on show. He has been the player of the tournament.

Ahead of Argentina’s semi-final against Colombia in the early hours of Wednesday morning, Messi already has four goals and four assists – topping both charts. In the quarter-final against Ecuador, he was decisive, cleverly setting up the first two goals before scoring the third in stoppage time.

That strike – “a work of art dressed as a goal,” wrote Maximiliano Uria in Clarin – was his second free-kick goal of the tournament, two more than have been scored in total at Euro 2020. Messi continues to amaze. He has been directly involved in eight of Argentina’s 10 goals in Brazil and played his part in the build-up to the other two.

Lionel Messi helped fire Argentina into the Copa America semi-finals
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Messi has the most goals and the most assists at the 2021 Copa America

Officially, he has been named man of the match in four of Argentina’s five matches. Unofficially, such things matter less than they ever have – to him and to his legacy. “The individual awards are secondary,” says Messi. “We are here for something else.”

That specific comment came in response to the reminder that Messi is one goal away from Pele’s record of 77 international goals by a South American player. That record will tumble soon, just as another did against Bolivia as Messi became Argentina’s most capped player.

The doubts about his commitment to his country are long gone. He sat out Barcelona’s last game of the season, an indication of his priorities. Technically, he is now a free agent, without a club at all.

Lionel Messi of Argentina and Argentina alone.

The group put together by Lionel Scaloni is functioning with the spirit of a club side. There have been more talented Argentina incarnations and doubts remain about the defence but there have not been many so together, so bonded by the bubble they are in.

DF - Brasilia - 06/21/2021 - COPA AMERICA 2021, ARGENTINA VS PARAGUAY - Argentina's Messi player celebrates victory with his team's players at the end of the match against Paraguay at the Mane Garrincha stadium for the Copa America 2021 championship. Photo: Mateus Bonomi /AGIF
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There is a unity to Lionel Scaloni’s Argentina team evident at the Copa America

There is the hint of an idea too, a tempo to the attacking play. “I do not want to have the ball for the sake of it, but to attack,” says Scaloni. Against Ecuador, there was a conspicuous desire to win the ball back quickly that was instrumental in each of the first two goals.

That is no longer Messi’s natural game, although he did recover possession 10 times at the weekend. “He seems to walk in slow motion,” wrote Mariano Bereznicki in La Capital. “In reality, he is reading the play.” Others are able to complement his style now.

De Paul and Giovani Lo Celso have the close control and quality to exchange passes in midfield but there is energy and endeavour there too. Crucially, Nicolas Gonzalez and Lautaro Martinez have the pace and movement to latch onto his through balls in attack.

Lautaro Martinez and Lionel Messi celebrate after scoring
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Lautaro Martinez has been thriving on the service provided by Messi

There are signs of synergy on and off the pitch. “You can see it in the videos,” says 1986 World Cup winner Nery Pumpido. “They have barbecues, they are there with a smile. I think that is the main merit of Scaloni, he knows how to manage the group.”

All of which means that Messi, for whom carrying the national team has too often seemed like some of penance, finally appears to be having some fun in an Argentina shirt.

“Even the opponents enjoy it when they face him,” says Scaloni. After the game against Bolivia – two goals and an assist, by the way – beaten goalkeeper Carlos Lampe managed to snare Messi’s shirt, draping it from his television during the Ecuador game.

Brazil will not be so starstruck if the old rivals meet on Sunday. Though there will not be a hostile crowd awaiting Argentina, it will still feel like a disadvantage. Remember, second is nowhere.

“It’s not enough to just get to the final and not win,” said Messi of his previous Copa America final in 2016. That sense of urgency has only increased and this would be a particularly emotional triumph for player and country in the wake of Maradona’s passing in November.

Perhaps nowhere more so than in Rosario, Messi’s home town.

Lionel Messi mural in Rosario, Argentina
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Mural in honour of Messi in his home town of Rosario, Argentina

There, another piece of art, very different from the one on Copacabana beach, now decorates a building overlooking the school that he attended as a child. It includes a larger than life image of Messi and reads, ‘From another galaxy, from my neighbourhood.’

The player from another planet is close to bringing the trophy home.

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