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My goal now is to win World Cup —Messi

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Superstar footballer Lionel Messi will take a break from his Barcelona soap opera as he bids to fire Argentina to the World Cup in Qatar and what will probably be his last chance to try to win the coveted trophy.

The 33-year-old, a record six-time winner of the Ballon d’Or, has won everything in the club game with Barcelona several times over but his international trophy cabinet looks bare in comparison.

“The only goal I have now is to win the World Cup with the national team,” he has said.

The closest he has come so far was as losing finalist against Germany in 2014.

Thursday’s clash with Ecuador gives him the chance to start building towards one last tilt at that goal.

He will be 35 by the time the Qatar World Cup ends, and will turn 39 during the following global showpiece in North America.

In the meantime, he has a pair of qualifiers — Argentina also travel to Bolivia next Tuesday — to distract him from his club travails.

Messi tried to force his exit from the Catalan giants in the close season but Barca held firm and a 700 million euro release clause ensured he remained, albeit disgruntled.

Playing Ecuador in his homeland may provide a welcome respite but it is also fraught with potential difficulty.

Four years ago at the start of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, Ecuador stunned Argentina 2-0 at River Plate’s iconic Monumental stadium in Buenos Aires.

It took a hat-trick by an inspired Messi in Argentina’s final qualifier — away to Ecuador — to send the twice world champions to Russia.

 

Thursday’s match will be in another iconic stadium: Boca Juniors’ Bombonera.

But it will be a surreal experience in an empty ground that would normally be bouncing with stands packed full of some of the most fervent and passionate fans in the world.

Covid-19 has put paid to any hopes of a paying public.

 

– ‘Memory’ players –

This is a much-changed Argentina from that which disappointed at the last World Cup.

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Pedro scores as Watford defeat Rooney’s Derby

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Joao Pedro’s strike saw Watford to a 1-0 win as Derby suffered a fifth consecutive home English Championship defeat at Pride Park on Friday.

Pedro settled the match 14 minutes from time.

England great Wayne Rooney could have equalised late on but shot wide, with Derby now having lost four of their opening five matches, while Watford are up to fifth place in the table.

Watford had scored only two goals in four league games this season prior to this match.

In a game of few chances, Derby created an opening in the 40th minute only for Duane Holmes to shoot over the crossbar from 15 yards out.

On the hour, Watford had a penalty appeal rejected when Nathaniel Chalobah’s shot appeared to hit George Evans on the arm.

Eventually, Pedro produced a rare moment of quality when he curled in a shot from the left edge of the area.

Rooney could have made it 1-1 moments later but the former Manchester United striker was off target and he then saw a free-kick just go over the bar.

 

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Olympics: NBBF prepares ahead of likely NBA players’ ban

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vice President of the Nigeria Basketball Federation, Babs Ogunade, says the country has enough players to prosecute their 2020 Olympics campaign in Tokyo, should the event coincide with the 2021 NBA season.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver warned players hoping to represent their countries at the Games that it was “unlikely” the league would accommodate Tokyo 2020 by pausing their delayed 2021 season.

NBA stars Al-Farouk Aminu, Josh Okogie, Chimezie Metu and D’Tigers prospects are among several other players that may miss out on the global sports showpiece following Silver’s declaration.

Ogunade, however, disclosed that the country had players that could conveniently represent the country well at the Olympics should the NBA be in session while the Games were ongoing.

“Until we have clarity on the situation, we are going ahead with our plans. We have a lot of players in Europe, we have players in America and all around the world,” Ogunade told The PUNCH.

“If players in the NBA won’t be part of the Olympics, it will affect everyone.

“Luckily for us, we are going to be in the Afrobasket before the Olympics and there are also the Afrobasket qualifiers in Rwanda. All of these will help us discover new players as we go.

“During the World Cup qualifiers the only player that came from the NBA was Al-Farouk Aminu and we were the first to qualify globally, so we have fallback positions.”

Ogunade also stated that not having NBA players at the Games may take away some of the glamour of the Games.

“It will bite the Olympics if the NBA players are playing when the Games are going on, but if they can’t make it, we have where to fall back on.”

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French Open: Nadal beats Sinner to reach 13th semi-finals

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Rafael Nadal reached his 13th Roland Garros semi-final early Wednesday, defeating Italian teenager Jannik Sinner in a high-quality clash which ended at 01:30, the tournament’s latest ever finish.

Nadal, the 12-time champion, won 7-6 (7/4), 6-4, 6-1 to clinch his 98th victory in his 100th match at the French Open.

The 34-year-old will now face Argentina’s Diego Schwartzman, who knocked out third seeded US Open champion Dominic Thiem, the runner-up in Paris to Nadal in the last two years, for a place in Sunday’s championship match.

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