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Messi, Argentina set to pull a big crowd in Beijing exhibition game against Australia

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Lionel Messi gestures to Chinese fans on a bus as he and other members of the Argentina national soccer team return to their hotel from practicing in Beijing, Tuesday, June 13, 2023. Argentina is scheduled to play Australia in a friendly match in China's capital on Thursday. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

Lionel Messi and his World Cup-winning Argentina teammates are expected to draw almost 70,000 fans to Beijing Worker’s Stadium for an exhibition against Australia.

With tickets starting at around $80 for Thursday’s game, local supporters are excited to see Messi and continue the World Cup celebrations. Fans have flocked to all opportunities to see the Argentine star since the team arrived in China, with large crowds angling for photographs and chanting his name.

Messi’s move to “continue my path” in Miami last week made global headlines after he turned down extremely lucrative offers from Al-Hilal in Saudi Arabia in favor of Major League Soccer.

He said that after winning the World Cup, it was his time to go the United States and “live football in another way.”

Before then, he’s with the Argentina squad that is scheduled to play Australia in the Chinese capital and take on Indonesia in Jakarta four days later.

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Australia coach Graham Arnold said he was looking forward to giving a selection of young players some valuable experience.

“There’s no better team to test yourself against than he best in the world,” Arnold said in an interview for Chinese TV. “It’s going to be great for the players — not only the players, but for everyone here in China and back in Australia — to see Lionel Messi play.

“He’s such a wonderful player and obviously best in the world. To have those privileges to test yourself against him, it’s important.”

Messi led Argentina to a 2-1 win over the Australians in the Round of 16 at the World Cup last year in Qatar.

For the Socceroos, though, this rematch is not about revenge for a defeat but more the journey to the next Asian Cup, at Qatar in January, and beyond.

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“It’s a younger squad but I’m also looking with one eye on the World Cup in 2026 and getting players ready for that,” Arnold said. “I don’t believe there’s a better way to test them out.”

Australia, which joined the Asian Football Confederation in 2006 and won the regional title on home soil in 2015, will take on India, Syria and Uzbekistan at the Asian Cup.

Arnold has handed first call-ups to Italian-based defender Alessandro Circati and Melbourne City goalkeeper Thomas Glover, and has recalled Gianni Stensness and Denis Genreau.

In other international friendlies this week, Japan will play El Salvador and South Korea, led by former U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, will take on Peru on Friday.

Klinsmann is sweating on the fitness of Tottenham star player Son Heung-min, who had a hernia operation after the end of the English Premier League season. According to Korea Football Association officials, Son wants to play but it has yet to be decided.

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Oh Hyeon-gu, who helped Celtic to the Scottish championship, could make the step up in Son’s absence.

“I don’t know about playing time, but whether I am given one minute or 90 minutes, I will do my best,” Oh said. “I traveled to Qatar for the World Cup. I was so desperate to play and I know all the stadiums … I want to make those dream moments if I can go to the Asian Cup.”

Oh’s Celtic teammate Kyogo Furuhashi did not make Japan’s roster at the World Cup but the Scottish Premiership Player of the Year has been recalled by Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu.

“He has been contributing to the team’s victories with consistent performance and a strong presence on the field,” Moriyasu, who is looking to lead Japan to a fifth continental title, said of the striker. “We expect him to score goals and be involved in creating goal-scoring opportunities.”

As well as the Asian Cup, Qatar is preparing for a second successive guest appearance later this month at the CONCACAF Gold Cup, the tournament that determines the champion of the region that encapsulates North and Central America as well as the Caribbean.

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It starts with a friendly against Jamaica in Austria on Thursday. At the World Cup, Qatar lost all three of its group games but appointed former Real Madrid and Portugal boss Carlos Queiroz in February.

The defending Asian champion, which also reached the semifinals of the 2021 Gold Cup, will take on Haiti, Honduras and Mexico in the tournament hosted by the United States.

-AP

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Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

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International Football

Former Italy international Roberto Baggio robbed at gunpoint

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Former Italy international Roberto Baggio was assaulted and robbed at gunpoint at his home in northern Italy while watching his country’s match against Spain in the Euro 2024 tournament on Thursday, local police said.

Burglars broke into Baggio’s house near Vicenza, hit him on the head with a gun butt and locked him and his family in a room while they stole jewellery, watches and cash, daily Il Corriere della Sera reported. It said he suffered a deep wound.

“Luckily, the violence I suffered only resulted in a few stitches, bruises and a lot of fear. Now it is to overcome the fear,” Baggio was quoted as saying by Italian news agency ANSA.

Baggio, 57, played for clubs including Juventus (JUVE.MI), opens new tab, AC Milan and Inter Milan. He also played 56 times for Italy, scoring 27 goals, and is widely seen as one of his country’s all-time greats.

After the robbery, Baggio, widely known as the “divine ponytail”, was treated at a local hospital where he received stitches for the head wound, Italian media reported.

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Italy lost to Spain 1-0 on Thursday and now must avoid defeat by Croatia to guarantee progression in the tournament.

-Reuters

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New twist in Cameroon football coach crisis

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BY KUNLE SOLAJA

The coaching crisis in Cameroon’s Indomitable Lions has taken a new dimension as the football federation, FECAFOOT, led by former international, Samuel Eto’o goes in direct confrontation with the coaching crew appointed by the sports ministry which also picks the bills.

  According to a Cameroon official who will not like to be named as he was not authorised to speak on the matter, the claims and counter claims of both the sports ministry and the FECAFOOT led by Eto’o had been heard and decided by the conciliation and arbitration chamber of the Cameroonian national Olympic committee, which is a court in charge of sports cases in Cameroon.

  “What is in contention is not the position of the Belgian coach, Marcc Brys, but that of the Cameroonian assistants attached to him.”

  The source explained to Sports Village Square that although the employment of Brys by the sports ministry was initially contested by Eto’o, the former player has come to accept the situation.

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  “In Cameroon, there is always a techenical crew of nine to 11. The foreign coach is allowed to bring in two foreign assistants, while the others are always Cameroonians.

  In this case, the sports ministry approved the list of two foreign assistants by Brys while also announcing another set of local assistants that included former international, François Omam-Biyik, one of the stars of Italia ‘90  and the scorer of the goal that gave Cameroon a 1-0 win over a Diego Maradona-inspired  Argentina.

  “That is where the problem is. FECAFOOT also submitted a list of technical crew that included Brys and his two foreign assistants but dropped the names of the local assistants with new ones.”

  In essence, there are two lists with both having three names as same, but differ on the rest.

 According to the source, the list submitted by the sports ministry was upheld by the tribunal which threw aside that of FECAFOOT.

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  In another twist, FIFA has already removed the name of Marc Brys from the profile of Cameroon on its website. Only the name of national women’s coach, Jean-Baptiste Bisseck is listed.

The removal of Brys’ name is happening a second time as it was first removed at the end of last month before being reinstated.

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Cameroon’s appointment of Brys as manager suspended by sports tribunal

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Marc Brys

Cameroon’s appointment of Belgian Marc Brys as head coach was suspended by the country’s top sports tribunal on Tuesday following the petition of an amateur football club.

The country’s sports ministry stirred controversy last month when it named 61-year-old Brys as manager of the Indomitable Lions without consulting the football federation (FECAFOOT).

The move sparked a dispute between the sports ministry and FECAFOOT, which said the government had made a unilateral decision.

In response, it asked its president Samuel Eto’o to propose a national coach and other management staff for the national side within 72 hours, deepening its standoff with the sports ministry.

Eto’o kept Brys as head coach but named different assistants, technical, medical and administrative staff.

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An amateur club, meanwhile, took the matter to the Arbitration and Conciliation Chamber of the Cameroon National Olympic and Sports Committee.

In a provisional ruling on Tuesday, the court suspended the FECAFOOT appointments while it fully examined the matter. Concerned parties have 24 hours to appeal.

FECAFOOT in response said it “reserves the right to refer these decisions to FIFA, as they hinder the preparation process for the forthcoming sport events.

“The Emergency Committee of FECAFOOT will meet immediately to take appropriate measures,” it said in a statement.

Soccer’s world governing body FIFA has strict rules against government interference in national federations and has frequently banned countries when governments get involved in federation affairs.

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The president of the Cameroon Association of Amateur Football Clubs, Balla Ongolo Henri, had previously said Eto’o’s appointments would damage Cameroon’s image and disrupt preparations for the 2026 World Cup qualifiers next June.

Brys, 61, penned a contract on May 8 as head coach of the Indomitable Lions following the dismissal of Rigobert Song in February. FECAFOOT did not attend the signing ceremony.

The sports ministry says it has acted in accordance with national and international regulations.

Reuters

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