Xavi: Aguero situation ‘uncertain’ amid retirement reports

Xavi has spoken out over speculation Sergio Aguero is set to retire because of heart problems, indicating the Barcelona forward’s situation remains uncertain.

Reports in Catalan media on Saturday stated Aguero, 33, is expected to call time on his playing career due to recent heart trouble.

He was taken to hospital after Barcelona’s 1-1 draw with Alaves at the end of October when he experienced chest pains and breathing difficulties during the game.

The Argentine was subsequently ruled out of action for three months following a cardiac arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) diagnosis.

Sergio Aguero
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Aguero joined Barca on a free transfer in the summer

After overseeing his first game as Barca manager, a 1-0 win over Espanyol, Xavi said: “About Kun Aguero I don’t know anything. I spoke to him the other day and what came out is not certain.

FC Barcelona's new coach Xavi Hernandez gestures during his official presentation at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona
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Xavi was recently named as Barca’s new head coach following the sacking of Ronald Koeman

“We don’t have this information. We are in touch with him and we will follow the evolution of what he had and hopefully he can keep playing football.

“This is the information I have. I don’t know where it came from [the news about Aguero’s retirement].”

Xavi’s comments came shortly after Aguero’s former Manchester City team-mate Samir Nasri claimed the striker is set to hang up his boots as a result of his ongoing health issue.

Aguero and Nasri played together for six years at Man City
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Aguero and Nasri played together for six years at Man City

Speaking to Canal+, Nasri said: “He just sent me a message and unfortunately it’s confirmed. I have a lot of trouble because besides having been the player that everyone knows, he is a very good guy. I have great pain because it is not a choice, it is forced.”

Responding to rumours earlier this month he was considering retirement, Aguero took to social media to say he was feeling “positive” and making “progress” with his health.

Sergio Aguero
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Aguero scored 260 goals in 390 games for former club Man City

He tweeted: “Amid the rumours, I’m telling you that I’m following the indications of the club’s doctors, undergoing tests and treatment and seeing my progress within 90 days. Always positive!”

Aguero, Manchester City’s record goalscorer, left the Etihad Stadium to move to the Nou Camp in the summer on a free transfer and has scored once in five appearances for the club.

A number of his former colleagues including Pep Guardiola and Raheem Sterling wished him a speedy recovery after news of his heart issue was confirmed by Barca.

Guardiola said: “We wish him well from all the people here at Manchester City, we wish him a safe recovery. The time doesn’t matter. Health and life are much more important than anything else.

“We wish him as speedy and safe recovery as possible and he comes back, if possible, to play again, otherwise to enjoy his life and what he has done, and to be careful and be safe for the rest of his life.”

On Tuesday, Argentina’s players unfurled a banner that read “We are all with you Kun” before their 0-0 draw with Brazil in World Cup Qualifying.

Argentina qualify for WC after draw with Brazil

Argentina drew 0-0 with Brazil to become the second South American team to qualify for the 2022 World Cup on Tuesday, with coach Lionel Scaloni saluting his players at the end of what he called a “magnificent” year.

The point, combined with results elsewhere, means Argentina join Brazil as the only two of the 10 South American sides to guarantee their place in Qatar with between four and five games still remaining.

The feat came four months after Scaloni led Argentina to the Copa America, their first major trophy in 28 years.

“This was a magnificent year,” the former Lazio, Deportivo La Coruna and West Ham player said. “Winning the Copa, qualifying for the World Cup unbeaten. It was a dream.”

Argentina players applaud the fans after qualifying for the 2022 World Cup
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Argentina players applaud the fans after qualifying for the 2022 World Cup

Scaloni had never been a head coach when he was appointed in 2018 but he has turned Argentina into a team that can look ahead to Qatar with optimism.

Lionel Messi at last appears to be enjoying his international football after years of ups and downs in a blue and white shirt and the midfield, anchored by the increasingly influential Rodrigo De Paul, is settled and solid.

Most noticeably, Scaloni has shored up a creaky defence, especially between the posts where Aston Villa’s Emi Martinez is the most reliable goalkeeper they have had in years.

His side have conceded just six goals in their 13 qualifiers, only two more than Brazil.

Tuesday night’s draw against their arch rivals was their 27th match unbeaten, a run that dates back more than two years, and came just days after they beat another fierce rival Uruguay 1-0 in Montevideo.

“We got four points against two very difficult rivals,” Scaloni said after an entertaining match in San Juan. “We all like to win of course but these games help a team to mature. Without a doubt, the balance is positive.”

“Having qualified so far in advance, in a really difficult qualifying section, is something we should be proud of.”

Who has qualified for Qatar 2022?

Check the table below to see all the confirmed teams to date…

As hosts, Qatar receive automatic qualification to next year’s tournament, which consists of 32 teams in eight groups of four and will be held between November 21 and December 18.

What is the World Cup format and schedule?

The 2022 World Cup in Qatar will feature 32 teams in eight groups of four.

Four matches will be played each day during the group stage, which will run over a 12-day period and see winners and runners-up progress to the round of 16.

Matches will only be assigned to particular venues after the finals draw, so organisers can choose optimal kick-off times to suit television audiences in different countries, as well as supporters in Qatar.

The finals draw is scheduled to take place in April 2022, after the March window for international fixtures.

Unlike at Euro 2020, there will be a third-place play-off game on December 17.

Group stage: November 21- December 2
Round of 16: December 3-6
Quarter-finals: December 9/10
Semi-finals: December 13/14
Final: December 18

Di Maria helps Argentina close in on WC spot

Argentina closed in on a direct World Cup spot on Friday with a 1-0 win in Uruguay despite the absence of Lionel Messi for most of the match as he recovers from a knee injury. 

Veteran winger Angel Di Maria scored the only goal in the seventh minute with a powerful shot from the right corner of the penalty box, with Uruguay goalkeeper Fernando Muslera not even getting close to stopping the ball.

Second-place Argentina now have 28 points from 12 matches, with the top four teams in South America earning direct entry to the World Cup. The fifth-place team goes into an intercontinental playoff for a spot in Qatar next year.

“Winning today was a gigantic step. We deserve this, we have worked for this,” Argentina goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez said. “They needed points, playing here was hard. This Argentina has amazing courage, and when we don’t play well we have to win anyway.”

Argentina were less dominant in Montevideo in comparison with recent qualifying matches. Messi only came on in the middle of the second half, but did not make an impact. The absence of defensive midfielder Leandro Paredes, who has a hip injury, also affected the Copa America champions.

Uruguay’s Luis Suarez hit the post after Argentina’s goal and his team had the better opportunities in the second half, but they largely missed the target.

A number of Uruguay players missed the match due to injuries, including defenders Sebastian Caceres, Sebastian Coates and Matas Via, midfielders Federico Valverde, Nicols de la Cruz and Giorgian de Arrascaeta and forwards Edinson Cavani, Darwin Nez and Maximiliano Gomez.

This week’s round of games saw Brazil, with 34 points, become the first South American team to qualify for Qatar. Ecuador remain third with 20 points, while Chile, Colombia and Uruguay follow with 16 points, two ahead of Peru. Paraguay and Bolivia have 12 points and Venezuela has seven.

Argentina’s next match is against Brazil when they meet in San Juan on Tuesday. Their match in September was suspended after seven minutes of play because of concerns from authorities over breaches of COVID-19 protocols. FIFA has not yet decided whether it will be replayed.

Argentine coach shot by fans during third-tier match

The head coach of a third-tier Argentine football team was shot in the shoulder and players fled the pitch on Sunday as Huracan Las Heras fans fought among themselves during a match in Mendoza province.

Videos showed players from Huracan and opponents Ferro de General Pico running for cover and fans hiding behind walls as shots rang out at the ground.

Sports newspaper Ole said Ferro coach Mauricio Romero received a gunshot wound to the shoulder as organised fans groups linked to Huracan fought among themselves.

A video showed Romero being treated for a wound to his shoulder, with the club later saying he had gone to hospital.

“Romero is doing well and out of danger,” Ferro tweeted.

“After leaving the stadium he underwent tests in a local hospital and is now giving a statement to police.”

Huracan said the fighting was “ruining” the club.

“For years families have been chased from grounds,” they said in a Facebook post. “May all those that harm the club stay away so that the real fans can return.”

The match in the Federal A league was suspended late in the second half with Huracan leading 3-1.

CONMEBOL countries reject biennial World Cup plans

Brazil and Argentina are among the CONMEBOL members who have confirmed they would not take part in a World Cup every two years.

Former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, now FIFA’s chief of global football development, has been tasked with examining whether shortening the gap between the finals from four years to two is possible.

CONMEBOL, the governing body for football in South America, held an in-person meeting in Paraguay on Wednesday and its 10 member countries made it clear they would not give the green light to a biennial World Cup.

A CONMEBOL statement said: “There are no reasons, benefits or justification for the change promoted by FIFA.

“In view of this, the 10 countries that make up CONMEBOL confirm that they will not participate in a World Cup organised every two years.

“The project in question turns its back on almost 100 years of world football tradition, ignoring the history of one of the most important sporting events on the planet.

“CONMEBOL supports the World Cup currently in force, with its terms and classification systems, because it has proven to be a successful model, based on sporting excellence and that rewards effort, talent and planned work.”

Closing the gap between World Cups from four years to two has already been met with widespread opposition, including from the International Olympic Committee.

UEFA has said it would stand against them “until common sense prevails and they are dropped” while last week FIFA’s proposals to reshape the international calendar were firmly rejected by European Leagues.

The Premier League, EFL and SPFL are among its members and European Leagues managing director Jacco Swart said Wenger’s proposals created a “severe shift” in the balance between club and national team football in sporting terms and in economic value.

Meanwhile, FIFA is expected to hold a global summit in December aimed at reaching a consensus over its controversial calendar plans, which include biennial World Cups.