Messi back again for another shot at Copa America title

Argentina's players at Manoel Barradas Stadium in Salvador, state of Bahia, Brazil. (AFP
Updated 14 June 2019

Messi back again for another shot at Copa America title

  • Messi is the guy Argentina is relying on once again to end its trophy drought in international soccer

SAO PAOLO : Lionel Messi was fed up and hurting three years ago, on the losing side once again at the Copa America.

“For me, the national team is over. I’ve done all I can,” Messi said after Argentina's penalty-shootout loss to Chile at the 2016 edition in the US.

Three years later, the five-time world player of the year is back at South America's biggest tournament, the guy Argentina is relying on once again to end its trophy drought in international soccer.

Now 31, Messi is still among the best players in the world. He is coming off another prolific season for Barcelona — 51 goals in 50 matches in all competitions — where he led the Spanish team to a fourth league title in five years.

Trophies at club level and personal awards just keep on coming for Messi. It is on the international stage that he continues to fall short, meaning that for many — especially in Argentina — he still cannot compare to the country’s other great player, Diego Maradona.

Argentina enters the Copa America in Brazil without a major international trophy at the senior level since 1993. That was the year it won the South American championship for the second straight edition and 14th time overall. Seven years before that, Argentina won the World Cup, mainly thanks to Maradona.

A quarter of a century without a big title is too long for such a soccer-crazy nation and it is weighing heavily on its players. Hence Messi's emotional reaction after the 2016 final, when Argentina slumped a second straight shootout loss to Chile in the final.

When the tournament begins on Friday with Brazil playing Bolivia, the host nation will be the favorite but the absence of Neymar because of an ankle injury should provide Argentina with more optimism.

“We have the best player in the world, we will try to help him so he feels comfortable,” Argentina midfielder Rodrigo De Paul said of Messi. “But we are aware that Brazil is the favorite.”

Led by interim coach Lionel Scaloni, Argentina has many young players in their first international tournament. With Sergio Aguero, Paulo Dybala and Angel di Maria among the other attackers, the concerns again lie in the defense, where Argentina has been weak for some time.

Here is what else to watch out for at the Copa America:

It would be the ideal time for South American soccer to put on a show at the Copa America and reassert some of its grandeur.

European teams have won the last four World Cups, the biggest streak on record. The club game in Europe, led by the Champions League, has never been so dominant and appealing.

Is South American soccer being left behind?

At the end of 2016, four South Americans players were widely considered the best in their positions: Messi, right back Dani Alves (Brazil), left back Marcelo (Brazil) and Luis Suarez (Uruguay). Other players like Thiago Silva (Brazil), Alexis Sanchez (Chile) and Gonzalo Higuain (Argentina) were coming off impressive seasons. Every match played at the 2016 tournament in the US included a key player from a top European team.

Former Brazil player Junior, who is a commentator at TV Globo, said those days are over and South American players are lagging behind the Europeans.

“The great players in the region are either nearing their retirement, in trouble or not ready to have a leading role,” he said. “This Copa America is important. We need to see either new stars rising or a last great run of the veterans. If not, European domination could advance into the next World Cup cycle.”


Saudi helpers step up to the tee at first women’s golf tournament

Updated 26 February 2020

Saudi helpers step up to the tee at first women’s golf tournament

  • Volunteers will have the chance to step inside the ropes and get up close with the sport’s leading players

JEDDAH: Saudi volunteers will be able to write their names into the history books by helping at the first-ever Saudi Ladies International professional golf tournament.

Competition organizers are looking to recruit hundreds of people to help with the smooth running of the four-day event from March 19-22 at the Royal Greens Golf & Country Club in King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC).

Volunteers will have the chance to step inside the ropes and get up close with the sport’s leading players, including Order of Merit winner Beth Allen, three-time Ladies European Tour (LET) winner Carly Booth and Solheim Cup hero Azahara Munoz, as they compete for $1 million in prize money. 

The LET tournament in Saudi Arabia will mark the first time that professional female golfers have played competitively in the country, and comes hot on the heels of last month’s triumphant men’s equivalent, the Saudi International, won by Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell.

Online registration is now open for the debut event’s volunteers’ program.

Volunteers will be briefed before the event and receive a tournament uniform to wear while they work.

Marshals, including traveling, static, crossing and transitional positions, will be required for the tournament. Mobile scoreboard operators and walking scorers are among other roles that will offer volunteers a unique insight into the world-class event.

Mike Oliver, event director at Golf Saudi, said: “For the first year of this event, we are offering volunteers a chance to be part of history, working at the first professional women’s golf event to be held in the country.

“Volunteers, from both Saudi Arabia and abroad, will play a key role in helping us deliver a successful inaugural tournament,” he said.

A certificate of service will be presented to volunteers at the completion of the tournament.

As a bonus, volunteers will have their photo taken with the 2020 ladies winner during the prize presentation — a moment that will be seen by a worldwide audience via live broadcasts.