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Skipper Messi skips Argentina’s last practice before World Cup qualifier in Bolivia

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Argentina's Lionel Messi walks after national football team practice in La Paz, Bolivia, Monday, Sept. 11, 2023. Argentina will face Bolivia for a qualifying soccer match for the FIFA World Cup 2026, in La Paz, on Tuesday. Photo: AP

Lionel Messi skipped Argentina’s last practice session on the eve of a World Cup qualifying match in Bolivia.
he 36-year-old Inter Miami striker left Argentina’s match against Ecuador late last week complaining of fatigue, which could impact coach Lionel Scaloni’s selections for Tuesday’s match in challenging conditions at La Paz’ altitude of 3,000 meters.
Scaloni told a news conference Sunday that he could leave a decision on Messi until a few hours before the match.
During Monday’s training, Messi sat on a chair close to Scaloni and watched his teammates practice. He spoke to the coach as other players tried to adapt to the altitude and the quicker speed of the ball, which is a characteristic that makes it so hard for visitors to win at Bolivia.
Scaloni gave no hints at the practice session on what he will do if Messi doesn’t play at the Hernando Siles Stadium against a team that was battered 5-1 by Brazil last week in its opening game of South American qualifying.
Messi scored from a free kick to give Argentina a 1-0 home win against Ecuador in its first official international since winning the World Cup last December.
The 2026 edition of the World Cup in the United States, Mexico and Canada is expanding to a 48-team format. The leading six teams in South America will secure a direct spot. The seventh-place team will contest an intercontinental playoff for another spot at the finals.
If Messi doesn’t play on Tuesday it will disappoint many Bolivians, including hundreds of local fans who turned out to welcome him to the country Sunday evening.
La Paz’ city hall sponsored a sign close to the venue of the match with the Spanish inscription “Sos grande Messi” (You’re great, Messi). The decision brought criticism to mayor Iván Arias.
Messi has never scored in La Paz, but has eight goals in 11 matches against Bolivia. If the star striker plays and scores on Tuesday, he will overcome Luis Suárez of Uruguay as the all-time leading goal scorer in South American World Cup qualifying.
-AP

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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World Cup

Can of worms discovered in Super Eagles camp

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BY KUNLE SOLAJA

All is not well at the moment with the Nigeria’s Super Eagles who have gone seven World Cup qualifying matches since November 2021 without a win.

The dwindled fortunes contrast sharply for a team noted before now as the African sides with the longest unbeaten streak in the World Cup qualifiers. At time, they were unbeaten since losing through a late goal to Angola in Luanda on 20 June 2004 till 10 November 2017 when their 1-1 draw with Algeria was converted to a 3-0 forfeiture owing to NFF featuring an unqualified player. At  the time, Super Eagles had raked 35 unbeaten run. At another time from 2012 to 2013, the team had an unbeaten run of 18 matches from 3 June 2012  when they beat Namibia 1-0 in Calabar to 21 June 2013 when they were beaten 2-1 by Uruguay in a FIFA Confederations match in Brazil.

 Yet the same outfit has turned laborious after losing its flairs. A source close to Finidi George told Sports Village Square that the coach complained that the NFF just heaped all the blames of the team’s current precarious situation on him while exonerating the players.  

  He also reportedly remarked that the NFF did nothing to mobilise crowd support for the Super Eagles in the back-breaking encounter with Benin Republic in Abidjan despite the presence of large Nigerian community in the Ivorian commercial capital city.

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 A Benin Republic sports journalist confirmed this to Sports Village Square. The journalist remarked that it was true that there “were not many Nigerians at the Félix Houphouet Boigny stadium even though Nigeria has a strong community in the Ivory Coast.  I see that the defeat against the Republic of Benin really hurts.”

  Dr. Rafiu Ladipo, the President General of the Nigeria Football and other Sports Supporters’ Club (NFSP) had earlier made the same assertion on the neglect of crowd mobilisation for the Super Eagles and that those who made it to Uyo and had auto accident on their way back were not even given a mention by the NFF.

 He had since 1991 established the first of the international cells of the supporters club. They were not mobilised for the game against Benin Republic.

 On players attitude, a member of the NFF confirmed that the Super Eagles camp in Uyo was loose as players went to camp with their girl friends.

 That could also explain their dismal forms in the back-to-back destiny shaping encounters with South Africa and Benin Republic.

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BREAKING! Finidi George formally resigns

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BY KUNLE SOLAJA.

Nigeria Super Eagles’ coach, Finidi George has resigned from his post as Super Eagles’ coach, two days after the Nigeria Football Federation announced it was going to employ a foreign technical adviser.

A source close to Finidi told Sports Village Square that Finidi sent his resignation letter to Ibrahim Gusau “3o minutes ago.”

 Finidi was said to be livid that the NFF leadership met with the sports minister two days ago, but failed to mention that players reported late to the camp and that they didi nothing to mobilise Nigerians in Cote d’Ivoire to come out to support the Super Eagles in last Monday’s match with Benin Republic.

“He complained that the NFF heaped all the blames on him”, said the source.

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  Calls to NFF officials to verify the information were not answered.  

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World Cup

UPDATE: NFF may spare Finidi George

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Under fire Super Eagles’ coach, Finidi George may excape sack afterall. A source close to the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) told Sports Village Square that Finidi may not be sacked.

 He would however work under the foreign technical adviser that the football governing body is planning to hire in the next few weeks.

  The source who was privy to the Wednesday’s ‘hybrid mode’ meeting of the NFF informed that Finidi George will be designated as ‘Chief Coach’ while the expatriate will be the technical adviser.

It is however unclear how the NFF will foot the wage bill of the technical adviser, who may also come with his personal crew as Finidi George  also already have his own foreign assistants.

There is also no word on the loud absence of Daniel Amokachi who was designated as Finidi George’s assistant, but failed to show up at the Super Eagles’ camp leading to the ill-fated World Cup match day 3 and 4 encounters with South Africa and Benin Republic.  

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