Kylian Mbappe should join Real Madrid at some point in his career, says Sergio Ramos, but Paris Saint-Germain's new signing wants the France star to stay put for now.

Ramos joined PSG earlier this month, signing a two-year contract with the Ligue 1 giants after leaving Madrid.

The defender, who missed out on Spain's Euro 2020 squad, failed to agree a new deal with Madrid and called time on a 16-year stint in the Spanish capital.

He joins a PSG team who will bid to reclaim the Ligue 1 title in 2021-22, after Lille's triumph last term, while the Champions League will be another one of head coach Mauricio Pochettino's goals.

However, perhaps the first priority for PSG is securing the future of Mbappe.

Neymar is already tied down to a long-term deal, but Mbappe is yet to sign an extension on the four-year contract he penned in 2018.

Mbappe, who endured a difficult Euro 2020 with France, has been heavily linked with a move to Madrid.

When asked if he would advise the 22-year-old to test himself in the Spanish capital, Ramos told Spanish media in a video call: "Of course. Madrid is one of the best clubs in the world. On a historical level, the best.

"For me, great players have to go through there. But now I want him on my team. I want to win and for that I want the best to be by my side.

"Advice on a personal level I could never give. I could tell him something from experience, but I would do it in private. As a PSG player, I would like him to stay. I like to play with the best and Mbappe is one of them."

 

Asked what he could say to help ensure Mbappe remains at PSG, Ramos said, according to AS.com: "I don't know. When you make the decision to leave or stay, it ends up being very personal.

"In my case, the family, the sports project. I don't know what Mbappe has in mind. I want him to stay here because he is very young and makes a difference.

"Here is a very good team. My winning spirit is what I can contribute to the group and if that can infect a team-mate, the better."

While Mbappe could become one of the most sought-after free agents of 2022, there is currently another superstar without a club.

As it stands, Lionel Messi is yet to agree a new contact with Barcelona, who are struggling financially.

"Leo is one of the best players in the world," said Ramos, who has been a Clasico nemesis of Messi through the years.

"But it is not up to me. I could tell you a thousand things, but they would not be decisive. Each person makes the decisions they have to make. But I like being surrounded by the best and he would always have a place in my team."

Italy and Argentina can prepare for the 2022 World Cup full of confidence after continental triumphs in the European Championship and Copa America.

The Azzurri have recovered in spectacular fashion from failing to qualify for Russia 2018, while Lionel Messi finally has an international honour to shout about.

Those teams were not alone in taking encouragement from this year's major international tournaments, but other potential Qatar contenders were not quite so impressive.

While some sides could reasonably point to mitigating factors – Belgium's injuries, Germany's final campaign under Joachim Low – plenty of big names underwhelmed.

With the World Cup finals, now just 16 months away, the next big target on the horizon, Stats Perform assesses which teams have put themselves in a better or worse position to challenge.

FULL OF HOPE...

Italy

Italy might have missed the previous World Cup after an awful qualifying campaign but, barring another such mishap, will enter the next tournament as defending European champions, and the Azzurri have in the past tended to perform better on the world stage than in the Euros, this their second continental championship to go alongside four global triumphs.

The only question mark against Roberto Mancini's side heading into Euro 2020 on a long unbeaten run was how they might fare against top teams, having largely avoided facing elite opposition since their most recent defeat to Portugal in September 2018. They then eliminated Belgium, Spain and England in succession to take the title and extend their stunning streak to 34 matches without a loss.

 

Only in the centre of defence, with Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci, are Italy really ageing, and even then a swift turnaround could see the pair go again, having trailed for only 109 minutes of their undefeated stretch – 65 of those coming in the final against England.

Argentina

Argentina had been without a major honour since 1993, losing four Copa America finals and one World Cup decider since then. Messi had been involved in four of those five disappointments, but his and his country's fortunes finally changed for the better against Brazil.

The world's finest free agent was the obvious difference-maker, even if he did not score or create a goal in the 2021 final. Messi's goal involvements across the campaign improved from two in 2019 to a leading nine. He also created more chances (3.0, up from 2.0) and attempted more shots (4.0, up from 3.1) per 90 minutes.

But Messi also benefited from Argentina's sturdier foundations. Goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez – a debutant last month – was a breakout star, with the defence in front of him limiting chances as La Albiceleste conceded only three goals, half as many as in more matches in two years earlier.

England

Qatar 2022 will feel a long way away right now for England, who were so close yet so far from glory at Wembley. It ended in disappointment, but just making a first major tournament final in 55 years can only be counted as a success.

And the Three Lions have now proven they can now regularly contend; having reached the semi-finals at the previous World Cup, they have won knockout matches at consecutive tournaments (excluding third-place play-offs) for the first time. This might well be England's best ever team and they still have age on their side heading to Qatar.

Gareth Southgate's side should at least continue to be hard to beat. Since his first game in charge in 2016, England have kept 35 clean sheets – four clear of Italy with the best tally for a European nation.

 

Spain

Two games into Euro 2020, it seemed unlikely Spain would emerge from the tournament in a particularly positive light. They had dominated against Sweden – setting records for possession (85 per cent), passes (917) and successful passes (830) – and Poland, yet drawn both matches.

But the next two outings were rather more uplifting as La Roja scored five times against both Slovakia and Croatia to become the first team in Euros history to do so in consecutive matches. After scraping past Switzerland on penalties, Spain were the better side against Italy in the last four, only to come up just short – this time beaten on spot-kicks.

If Luis Enrique can unearth a reliable forward before next November, having underperformed their expected goals total by an alarming 4.1, Spain will very much be back in business.

DOWNWARD SLOPE...

Netherlands

At the end of the group stage, the Netherlands looked to be on a comparable course to Italy. They had also missed out on the 2018 World Cup – and Euro 2016 – but then reached the final of the inaugural Nations League in 2019 and won their first three matches at Euro 2020.

Led by Memphis Depay, those victories had also extended a run of scoring at least twice to 10 consecutive games in an Oranje record. Only then, though, did their campaign fall apart.

 

Matthijs de Ligt's red card against the Czech Republic in the last 16 led to a shock 2-0 defeat and cost Frank de Boer his job. Rebuilding again, the Netherlands – who were missing Virgil van Dijk due to the injury he sustained in October 2020 – have work to do just to get to Qatar, one of three teams on six points in Group G in qualifying, behind Turkey.

France

France were the favourites for Euro 2020 and may well be the popular pick again next year, but their shock shoot-out exit to Switzerland raised plenty of questions.

Supposed to shine alongside the returning Karim Benzema, superstar forward Kylian Mbappe disappointed for the first time on the big stage, a solitary assist his only goal involvement. Yet even when the big names did combine to devastating effect, as Benzema scored twice within four minutes and three seconds of a Hugo Lloris penalty save against Switzerland, dismal defending cost Les Bleus.

France gave away a tournament-high three spot-kicks, not helped by Didier Deschamps' unsuccessful attempt to switch to a new 3-4-1-2 formation – one that will surely be left in the drawer for the World Cup.

Portugal

Will Cristiano Ronaldo consider this a successful tournament? Portugal lost their crown, but he took home the Golden Boot with five goals and an assist. The Juventus forward's contributions kept Fernando Santos' side in contention as far as the round of 16, although – as at times at club level – there was a suspicion this team might better be able to thrive without their talisman.

 

No other Portugal player tallied more than two goal involvements, with Bruno Fernandes, Joao Felix, Bernardo Silva and Andre Silva each drawing blanks. Indeed, that highly talented quartet only attempted 10 shots – five fewer than Ronaldo alone – and created 13 chances between them.

In Qatar, Ronaldo may be less mobile but will surely remain front and centre, reluctant to step aside for Fernandes and Co as he takes one final shot at World Cup glory.

Brazil

Had a tense home final gone their way, Brazil would have again been big winners coming out of the Copa America. But Argentina's progress and decisive victory has seen the Selecao – for so long on top in South America – knocked off their perch.

After five consecutive successes, it was Brazil's first major tournament final defeat since the 1998 World Cup, while they had not been beaten in a knockout match at the Copa America (excluding penalties) since 2001 against Honduras. However, they did become world champions for a fifth time the following year.

That will be the hope as Tite's men regroup, having lost their scoring touch when it mattered most. Brazil netted only twice in three knockout games.

Talks between Lionel Messi and Barcelona over a new contract are "progressing adequately", according to Joan Laporta.

Six-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi, who has spent his entire senior career at Camp Nou, is now officially a free agent after his Barcelona deal expired at the end of June.

He has been linked with Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain in the past, but the 34-year-old is widely expected to remain with the Blaugrana despite their financial problems.

However, Barca must first reduce their wage bill if they are to comply with LaLiga's financial fair play rules and offer Messi the deal he is holding out for.

Messi's club future is now back in focus after helping Argentina to Copa America success last week and Barca president Laporta remains hopeful terms can be agreed.

"[Messi's renewal] is progressing adequately," he told reporters during the presentation of Mago Pop's show 'Nothing is Impossible'.

"All the Catalans, Barcelona, Catalunya and the entire football world are happy because Leo won the Copa America.

"It is very exciting to see the best player in football history get excited about winning a title like this and he made all of us cry with joy.

"He is very happy, we are all happy. I am happy for Leo who has managed [to win the Copa America], together with his team-mates, and that Argentina are once again in the elite. 

"I am happy for Messi's family, for Argentina, for Barcelona who are recognised, admired and loved for having this bond with Leo."

 

Messi was again hugely influential for Barcelona last season, finishing as LaLiga's top scorer and managing 38 goals and 12 assists across all competitions.

Taking all competitions into account, he created 117 chances for others and netted a goal every 110.32 minutes. 

Full-back Jordi Alba was next on the list of the most chances created for Barca in 2020-21, teeing up 85 goalscoring opportunities.

Despite the speculation surrounding his club future, Messi carried his club form onto the international stage by inspiring Argentina to their first Copa America crown since 1993.

He scored four goals and chipped in with five assists to win his first piece of silverware for his country.

Having been scrapped last year due to the disruption caused by the pandemic, the Ballon d'Or returns in 2021.

With Euro 2020 and the Copa America rescheduled for this year, the stars of Europe and South America had the chance to use those tournaments as a springboard towards claiming the game's top individual prize.

Italy and Argentina lifted the respective trophies at the weekend, with the Azzurri beating England in a penalty shoot-out and La Albiceleste seeing off bitter rivals Brazil at the Maracana to win the Copa for the first time since 1993.

Stats Perform has looked at 13 of the leading candidates to feature at either tournament to determine how their chances look heading into the new season.

Jorginho

Before Euro 2020, N'Golo Kante was the Chelsea midfielder seen to be within the best shot of scooping individual honours at the end of 2021, but a month on it's Jorginho who is the European champion at club and international level.

While he has perhaps been underappreciated or misunderstood at times with Chelsea, perhaps supporters will see him in a new light after playing a vital role in Italy's success as their deep-lying playmaker.

Robert Lewandowski

It's widely accepted that, had the award been handed out last year, it would have gone to Robert Lewandowksi, the man whose 55 goals in 47 games delivered Bayern the treble.

How do you follow that? Well, he scored 41 times in the Bundesliga alone in 2020-21, breaking Gerd Muller's 49-year-old single-season record. Lewandowski's Ballon d'Or hopes arguably aren't any worse now than before the Euros as no one will have expected Paulo Sousa's men to make much of an impact. He got three goals in as many games and was only out-scored by six players, which is a solid achievement.

 

Marco Verratti

Had he not been injured for the first two games of Euro 2020, there's every possibility it would have been Verratti being crowned as player of the tournament, with the Paris Saint-Germain star arguably the player who embodies the qualities of Roberto Mancini's transformed Italy side more than any other.

Not only did he create more chances than anyone else at Euro 2020 (14), but averaged more touches (114.5) than anyone, played the fourth-most passes (87.1) and ranked third for tackles (four) per 90 minutes among all players to have featured for at least 125 minutes. His all-action excellence set the tone for the Azzurri's vibrant and, ultimately, successful football.

 

N'Golo Kante

Kante inspired Chelsea to Champions League glory, named man of the match in both legs of the semi-final versus Real Madrid and the final against Manchester City.

But France's last-16 elimination by Switzerland will have done little to boost his chances, with Paul Pogba rather than Kante the standout figure for Les Bleus. While a nomination is almost a certainty, taking the gong home now looks beyond the all-action midfielder.

Kevin De Bruyne

A second successive PFA Players' Player of the Year award for Kevin De Bruyne came after another standout season for Manchester City in which he won the Premier League and EFL Cup.

His exceptional quality was further underlined by the fact only Verratti created more chances than him over the course of the tournament, an impressive feat given he started the tournament late due to injury and then had to play through another fitness issue in Belgium's final match, but that's unlikely to be enough to earn him the award.

Gianluigi Donnarumma

Generally, the player considered to be the best at a major international competition has a pretty good chance of winning further accolades, so in that case Donnarumma may have a reasonable opportunity after UEFA crowned him Euro 2020's Player of the Tournament.

Statistically there were numerous goalkeepers who were more important than him to their respective teams given he technically didn't prevent any goals according to Opta's xGOT metric – Tomas Vaclik's prevented a tournament-high 2.5. Nevertheless, Donnarumma wasn't guilty of any drops or errors that led to shots, and made crucial saves across two penalty shoot-outs, including a couple in the final.

 

Harry Kane

Another star performer in 2020-21 to end the season empty-handed, Harry Kane finished top for goals (23) and assists (14) in the Premier League despite Tottenham finishing seventh.

A slow start to Euro 2020 followed, although Kane scored four times in the knockout phase as he played a key role in England's journey to the final. But when it mattered most he failed to have a single touch in the Italy penalty area. A talismanic performance in the showpiece may have put him firmly in the running, but it's difficult to see him being a major contender now.

Romelu Lukaku

The best player in Serie A as Inter ended an 11-year wait to win the title, Romelu Lukaku enjoyed the best season of his career, with 41 direct goal involvements in 44 appearances.

He certainly cannot be accused of failing to deliver for Belgium given he scored four times, but they came up short against Italy in the quarter-finals, with a partially injured De Bruyne unable to truly weave his magic. Lukaku's influence upon Inter shouldn't be overlooked, but the achievements of others on the international stage may overshadow his own.

Lionel Messi

The winner of the previous award in 2019 – the sixth of his astonishing career – Lionel Messi amazingly plundered 28 goals and had nine assists for Barcelona from January 1 onwards.

It wasn't enough to win Barca the LaLiga title, but it did put him right in the mix and he followed that up with a starring role in Argentina's Copa triumph, the first senior international trophy of his career. Given his lack of success with La Albiceleste was arguably the final barrier to clear in his career, a Ballon d'Or will surely follow later this year as he led Lionel Scaloni's men with four goals (joint-most) and five assists (the most).

 

Kylian Mbappe

Paris Saint-Germain lost their Ligue 1 title to Lille and could not reach back-to-back Champions League finals, which seems incredible given Kylian Mbappe managed 42 goals and 11 assists in just 47 appearances.

Departing Bayern Munich boss Hansi Flick this year said there was no question Mbappe would win the Ballon d'Or one day, but it probably won't be in 2021. He was one of the biggest disappointments at Euro 2020, failing to score once despite his chances having an accumulative xG value of 2.02 – that under-performance was second-worst to Gerard Moreno (3.32).

Neymar

Even Neymar would admit he only had an outside chance of winning this year's Ballon d'Or ahead of the Copa America, his 17 goals and eight assists in 2020-21 a modest return for the world's most expensive footballer.

While his performances with Brazil would see him included in most people's team of the tournament, he wasn't dependable in front of goal, his one non-penalty strike coming from 5.3 xG, an under-performance unmatched by anyone in the tournament. He'll have to wait a bit longer for the prize he supposedly craves above all others.

 

Cristiano Ronaldo

Juventus may have lost their grip on Serie A, but Cristiano Ronaldo still finished as top goalscorer (with 29), and they won the Supercoppa Italiana and Coppa Italia.

He definitely didn't do his chances any harm as he won the Golden Boot for most goals (five) – beating Patrik Schick by virtue of having more assists – after becoming the Euros' all-time leading scorer (11) and levelling Ali Daei's world-record haul of 109 international goals, but Portugal's failure to get beyond the last 16 won't help.

 

Luis Suarez

Discarded by Barcelona for being past his usefulness, Luis Suarez responded with 21 goals in 32 games to propel Atletico Madrid to a first league title since 2013-14.

But he could only muster one goal at the Copa America as he and Uruguay had a minimal impact, meaning it'll take something special for Suarez to be a major candidate at the end of the year.

Lionel Messi finally secured his holy grail this weekend as Argentina claimed a 1-0 win over bitter rivals Brazil at the Maracana to lift the Copa America.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner has cleaned up time and again with club side Barcelona but major honours at international level had repeatedly proved elusive.

Germany beat the Albiceleste 1-0 after extra time in the 2014 World Cup final, after which Messi was named player of the tournament – a much disputed award given he appeared to be shadow of himself during the closing knockout stages.

The same could not be said when the 34-year-old lifted the individual gong in Rio. Although he was not Argentina's standout performer in the final, Messi was a man on a mission who would not be denied throughout the competition.

Here, we take a game-by-game look at how the great man inspired a long-awaited triumph.

 

Group stage: Argentina 1-1 Chile

Messi got an early shot at the team who inflicted Copa heartache upon Argentina during the 2015 and 2016 final penalty shoot-outs and at times it felt like he was playing them by himself.

He opened the scoring with a stunning free-kick and his seven shots, three on target, two blocked and four chances created were the most of any Argentina player, as were his 66 touches and 10 crosses.

A rash challenge from Nicolas Tagliafico resulted in a Chile penalty before the hour, with Eduardo Vargas converting on the rebound after Emiliano Martinez saved from Arturo Vidal. A timely reminder that Messi would not quite be able to do this all alone.

Group stage: Argentina 1-0 Uruguay

From a short corner, Messi unfurled a trademark slow-slow-quick dribble to engineer space for the cross from which Guido Rodriguez scored the only goal.

Although less immediately visible than in the Chile match, Messi showcased his overall mastery of the game. He completed 40 of 47 passes, with 40 of them coming in the opposition half as he relentlessly poked and prodded at Uruguay.

His 78 touches were the joint-most by an Argentinian alongside Rodrigo de Paul and he contested 24 duels, winning 62.5 per cent. Left-back Marcos Acuna contested the next most duels with 11.

 

Group stage: Argentina 1-0 Paraguay

This was the only game in the build-up to the final where Messi was unable to provide either a goal or an assist amid a cagey affair of few chances.

Angel Di Maria unfurled a dreamy reverse pass for Papu Gomez to dink home a cute early finish – both pieces of skill that would have looked at home emanating from Messi's boots.

The man himself managed three shots with two on target and was fouled five times, more than any of his team-mates. He completed 34 of 41 passes, made 73 touches (second to right-back Nahuel Molina with 75) and won 70.6 per cent of a team-high 17 duels.

Group stage: Bolivia 1-4 Argentina

Bolivia left the competition with four defeats from as many outings and Messi and Argentina went to town on the Group A whipping boys.

The number 10 set up Gomez's opener and scored twice himself, the first from the penalty spot. His five shots and four on target led the way for Argentina.

Messi had 94 touches – fewer than strike partner Lautaro Martinez, German Pazzella and Acuna, by way of underlining how much Lionel Scaloni's men dominated the ball. Of his 75 passes, 62 came in the Bolivia half.

Quarter-final: Argentina 3-0 Ecuador

By the first knockout round, Argentina and Messi had hit their stride. He set up goals for De Paul and Martinez before getting in on the act in injury time.

Overall, Messi had seven shots with four blocked and created five chances.

His number of passes dropped down to 26, with 19 completed. Of those, 22 were in the opposition half, showing Messi zeroing in his efforts in the danger areas near the opposition goal.

 

Semi-final: Argentina 1-1 Colombia (Argentina won 3-2 on penalties)

Repeating a theme from the group stage, Messi got the assist for Martinez's early breakthrough before fading as Luis Diaz equalised after half-time.

Messi converted his spot-kick, as Emiliano Martinez was the hero with three shoot-out saves.

In open play, the superstar forward's three shots, three blocked shots and four key passes were the most of any Argentina player, as were his 68 touches, 26 duels (57.7 per cent success) and five fouls won. Messi attempted eight crosses, with none of his team-mates sending in more than one.

Final: Argentina 1-0 Brazil

After carrying his country on his back for chunks of this tournament and through good times and bad over the past decade, perhaps it was finally Messi's time to be hoisted aloft by those around him.

His two key passes were the most by any Albiceleste player, as were 40 passes made and 33 completed.

But Messi was confined to the margins, with De Paul's stunning long pass and Di Maria's cool lob over Ederson enough for long-desired glory.

Lionel Messi's long wait for major international honours with Argentina is finally over after playing a starring role in their Copa America triumph, winning the Player of the Tournament prize before the final was even played.

In the age-old – and some might say tiresome – 'greatest of all time' debate, the stick usually used to beat Messi with revolved around his lack of titles with Argentina, but that is no longer relevant and he also played a vital role for La Albiceleste.

It was also an important barrier that Argentina broke down as a team, winning their first major international title since 1993.

Messi's performances see him lead Stats Perform's Opta data-driven Team of the Tournament, and he is joined by some familiar names as well as those who enjoyed breakthroughs over the past month.

 

Goalkeeper – Emiliano Martinez (Argentina)

Aston Villa keeper Martinez has enjoyed a remarkable 18 months or so and it's fair to say his form at the Copa America has helped truly cement his place as Argentina's first choice between the posts. His personality proved vital in the penalty shoot-out win over Colombia in the semi-finals as he psyched out Yerry Mina, but he also showed his excellence by finishing with an 85.7 per cent save ratio that was the second best in the tournament, while his four clean sheets was the best tally.

 

Right-back – Juan Cuadrado (Colombia)

Cuadrado can always be relied upon to provide some attacking impetus on the right flank and he certainly didn't disappoint in the Copa, his 18 chances created being the most for Colombia and among the top five of all players. The same could be said of his 22 open-play crosses, while Cuadrado also made 45 recoveries, the second most in Los Cafeteros' squad, highlighting how he was often in the right place to sweep up danger as well.

 

Centre-back – Marquinhos (Brazil)

While Brazil ultimately fell short at the Maracana on Saturday, Marquinhos can leave the tournament with his head held high. His ability to bring the ball out from the back was routinely notable, as highlighted by the fact his 110 carries was bettered by only four players, all of whom are forwards, but he was also a commanding presence at the back, with his 2.8 aerial the most among Brazil players.

Centre-back – Piero Hincapie (Ecuador)

Still only 19, Hincapie showed real promise here. Granted, there were signs that he remains quite raw and naive, as demonstrated by some of his struggles against Argentina in the quarter-finals when he was sent off late on for tugging back Angel Di Maria. Nevertheless, the Lazio-linked talent averaged the most passes per game for Ecuador (52.2) and showed real positivity when in possession, carrying the ball 600.7 metres upfield over the course of the tournament, at least 44m more than any other centre-back.

Left-back – Pervis Estupinan (Ecuador)

Estupinan endured a somewhat underwhelming first season with Villarreal in 2020-21, but in the Copa he showed glimpses of the player that had impressed so regularly with Osasuna the season before. He was consistently a useful outlet on the left and his eagerness to create saw him average more crosses per 90 minutes (9.6) than any other player in the tournament, while his 2.4 key passes each game was the most of all defenders.

Central midfield – Wilmar Barrios (Colombia)

The all-action midfielder performed an important function as Colombia ultimately finished third in the Copa. Barrios was tidy in possession as he looked to keep Reinaldo Rueda's men ticking, completing 88 per cent of his passes, but he was also effective at regaining possession and recovering the ball as he started 76 open play sequences, which only Yoshimar Yotun and Casemiro could better.

Central midfield – Rodrigo De Paul (Argentina)

Get ready to hear a bit more about De Paul over the next few years. While he's by no means an unknown given he's had a strong few years with Udinese, the midfielder is set to join Atletico Madrid and offers the blend of off-the-ball nous and technical ability that should see him thrive under Diego Simeone. His 32 ball recoveries led the way for Argentina while his six key passes was second only to Lionel Messi, with one of those being the glorious long-range pass to release Di Maria for the crucial goal in the final.

Right wing – Lionel Messi (Argentina)

While he may have fluffed his lines at the end of the final, Messi's exploits throughout the tournament previously meant he could be forgiven for that. After all, without his unbeaten four goals and five assists – a high for the tournament – Argentina almost certainly wouldn't have reached the showpiece. He remains one goal behind Pele's record (77) for CONMEBOL nations, but he finally has his first trophy with Argentina, and that's what matters most.

 

Attacking midfield – Neymar (Brazil)

Neymar had a peculiar tournament in some ways. No one would suggest he was poor, because he was routinely the player that provided the spark for Brazil, as evidenced by his tournament-leading 3.5 key passes and 21.6 passes into the final third each game (among players with more than one match played), but he was also wasteful in front of goal, his one non-penalty goal from 5.3 xG giving him the worst xG under-performance (4.3) at the tournament.

 

Left wing – Luis Diaz (Colombia)

Porto's Diaz is an exciting player and showed as much for Colombia as they claimed bronze. He scored more non-penalty goals (four) than any other player and produced some spectacular finishes, such as his remarkable bicycle-kick against Brazil and 30-yard screamer to seal victory in the third-place play-off against Peru. His four goals came from just 10 shots, with that 40 per cent conversion the best among those with three or more goals.

 

Striker – Lautaro Martinez (Argentina)

Despite the presence of Sergio Aguero, Martinez was the man generally chosen to lead the line at the Copa and he did fairly well as he netted three goals, with only Messi and Diaz getting more. While he was guilty of wastefulness at times, his three-goal haul was actually pretty close to his 3.3 xG, showing that for the most part he was dependable. Similarly, only two players averaged more shots on target per 90 minutes (players with more than one match played) than his 1.4. He also improved on his two goals from the 2019 edition, so he's seemingly going in the right direction.

Lionel Messi lifted the Copa America on Saturday in Brazil.

But back in Europe, rumours continue to swirl about his future.

The 34-year-old forward is out of contract though the latest development suggests a resolution is in sight.

 

TOP STORY - NEW BARCELONA DEAL LOOMS FOR MESSI

AS reports that LaLiga have authorized Barcelona to register Lionel Messi despite the club's financial concerns.

Messi became a free agent last week with Barcelona working on a new deal, pending their financial constraints having been impacted heavily by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Paris Saint-Germain had been linked with a swoop for Messi but the approval of the authorities to register Messi is a strong indication he will stay.

 

ROUND-UP

- Highly sought-after Saul Niguez is being considered in a swap deal between Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, which would include Antoine Griezmann, claims Football Espana. Liverpool were linked with Niguez earlier this week.

- Chelsea have joined the race for Rennes teenage talent Eduardo Camavinga, alongside Manchester United, Arsenal and Real Madrid, according to Le Parisien.

- Manchester United are ready to spend £17m to sign Napoli's right-back Giovanni di Lorenzo following the Euro 2020 final, reports Il Napolista.

- Fabrizio Romano reports that veteran Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini will sign a new one-year extension with Juventus after the completion of Euro 2020.

- Newly promoted Watford are keen on Udinese's Danish star Jens Stryger Larsen after he impressed during Euro 2020, reports 90min.

- Newly promoted Brentford are preparing a £10m bid for Liverpool's Harry Wilson claims The Sun.

Lionel Messi has expressed his happiness and relief at finally winning silverware with Argentina after Saturday's Copa America 2021 triumph over Brazil at the Maracana.

Argentina defeated Brazil 1-0 after Angel Di Maria's 22nd-minute strike, earning six-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi his maiden piece of silverware with La Albiceleste.

Messi has finished runner-up in the Copa three times; 2007, 2015 and 2016, as well as runner-up at the 2014 World Cup and revealed his joy after the game.

"I needed to get the thorn out of being able to achieve something with the national team, I had been very close for many years," Messi told reporters.

"I knew that at some point it was going to go right, it was going to happen and I think there is no better moment than this.

"I feel that God was saving this moment for me, against Brazil in the final and in their country."

Along with breaking 34-year-old Messi's international duck, it is also was Argentina's first Copa America since 1993, ending a 28-year wait.

"We still cannot believe that we are champions and what we have achieved," Messi said. "But I think it will be a match that will remain in history, not only because we are champions of South America but also because we beat them Brazil in their country."

Argentina's win marked 20 games unbeaten under head coach Lionel Scaloni and offered optimism for next year's World Cup in Qatar.

Scaloni has changed the Argentine side, with relative newcomers Emiliano Martinez, Rodrigo De Paul and Cristiano Romero impressing.

"Lionel deserves special merit," Messi said. "He always wanted the best for the national team. He knew how to put together a winning team and deserves recognition."

Messi added: "We have to take advantage of this generation, this new crop of players. I told them they were going to be the future of the national team and I was not wrong. They showed it, today we are champions."

Scaloni also heaped praise on Messi who was named Player of the Tournament alongside Brazil's Neymar.

The Argentine finished as the equal top scorer with four goals as well as most assists (five).

“If all Argentines knew about the way he played this Copa America, they would love him more and more," Scaloni said. "I have no doubt.

"I, as a coach, could never do without this player, including playing in inferior conditions than we faced in this final and the semi-final.

"That's the kind of player we have and we have to enjoy, because one day in your career you won't be playing anymore. I have no words for him, he makes things easier on a daily basis."

Like Cristiano Ronaldo five years ago, Lionel Messi has ended his international trophy drought with continental glory.

Ballon d'Ors are one thing, with the pair sharing 11 between them, but achieving success with the national team has been critical to the grander standing and legacy of the two outstanding players of this generation.

There is a school of thought that Messi remains in Diego Maradona's shadow in Argentina.

The late Maradona, of course, took La Albiceleste to World Cup glory in 1986, which has eluded Messi who was a runner-up in 2014.

But Messi had also never won the Copa America. That was until Saturday's 1-0 win over Brazil, at the Maracana, the same venue where he lost the 2014 World Cup final to Germany.

Messi was part of the Argentina sides that lost Copa finals in 2015 and 2016. He briefly retired after missing his penalty in the 2016 final shootout.

This tournament was his sixth shot at lifting the trophy. And it was the 34-year-old's best yet, dominating as joint top scorer with four goals and topping the Copa assists charts with four.

Messi was not the star in the final, with a lively Angel Di Maria scoring the winner with Argentina's first touch inside Brazil's penalty area.

Udinese midfielder Rodrigo De Paul set up the winner and was a key presence at both ends, while goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez was the star in the semi-final shootout and exceptional again in the final.

But Messi was the big story. The Argentina captain and superstar has taken a huge weight off his shoulders with international glory.

Argentina fans will start dreaming about what is possible at next year's World Cup in Qatar.

Lionel Scaloni's La Albiceleste are unbeaten across 20 games and conceded only three goals at the Copa America.

Argentina scored 12 goals across the seven games in the tournament, with Messi directly involved in nine.

The final was billed as Messi versus fellow superstar and former Barcelona team-mate Neymar, who was busy but closely marked throughout by the Argentines in the final.

Neymar, who missed Brazil's 2019 Copa triumph, is another global superstar yet to lift the World Cup or a continental title. Missing out on home soil will be a great disappointment for the Selecao.

The loss was Brazil's first at home in 25 games under Tite (W21 D3 L1). It also ended their 13-game unbeaten run.

The margin between victory and defeat was fine, but the fallout for Messi and Neymar is a stark contrast. Ecstasy and pain.

Argentina have ended their 28-year wait to lift the Copa America after Angel Di Maria's first-half goal clinched a 1-0 victory over Brazil in Saturday's final at Rio de Janeiro's Maracana.

Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Di Maria, who was promoted to the starting line-up for the final, coolly lobbed over Brazil goalkeeper Ederson for the 22nd-minute winner.

Argentina had been Copa runners-up at four of the past seven tournaments, losing to rivals Brazil in 2004 and 2007, but finally claimed the country's 15th continental crown.

The triumph also marks Lionel Messi's maiden piece of major silverware with Argentina, with the six-time Ballon d'Or winner dominant throughout the tournament, finishing with most goals (four) and most assists (five).

In a physical encounter, Brazil superstar Neymar received plenty of attention while Messi was unable to exude his normal influence for La Albiceleste.

Brazil started the better but could only manage scuffed efforts on goal from Everton and Richarlison before Argentina struck against the run of play.

The outstanding Rodrigo De Paul's hopeful ball forward eluded Selecao left-back Renan Lodi, allowing Di Maria in behind and he calmly poked over the onrushing Ederson.

Di Maria was a constant threat in the first half, with a left-foot effort blocked by Marquinhos before Messi flashed wide.

With the half-time injection of Roberto Firmino, Brazil pressed and thought they had equalised in the 52nd minute when Richarlison hit the back of the net but was offside in the lead-up.

The Everton forward tested Argentina keeper Emiliano Martinez at his near post shortly after, with the Aston Villa man saving smartly.

Brazil substitute Gabriel Barbosa had a late volley brilliantly thwarted by Martinez, before an exhausted Messi spurned a golden opportunity to seal the win from De Paul's throughball.

Barcelona have completed the signing of Yusuf Demir on loan from Rapid Vienna with an option to buy.

The 18-year-old winger has earned a fine reputation at home after breaking into the Rapid team so young and has been dubbed the 'Austrian Messi' for his style of play and stature.

He will now hope to link up with Messi himself, providing the Argentina star does sign a new deal at Camp Nou.

Barca have struck a deal to sign Demir on loan for 2021-22 at a cost of €500,000 and they will have the option to sign him permanently for €10million should he impress, the Catalan club said.

Similarly, Demir has also agreed a new contract at Rapid until 2023, meaning they will not lose him on a free transfer next year if Barca opt against making his switch to LaLiga permanent.

Demir's signing falls in line with Barca's recent transfer policy of mostly targeting young players, with Sergino Dest, Francisco Trincao, Eric Garcia, Emerson Royal, Pedri and Frenkie de Jong brought in well before their peak.

The low fees involved and the fact Demir will not demand exorbitant wages are both important factors given Barca's well-publicised financial problems and the fact they are reportedly required to slash their wage expenditure by 40 per cent in line with LaLiga salary cap rules.

Nevertheless, Demir will be seen as a wise yet low-risk move given his burgeoning reputation, which is built around his ability to excite.

 

While he only started in six of his 25 Austrian Bundesliga appearances (825 minutes) last season, he finished the campaign with a highly respectable seven goal involvements, which averages out at one every 117.9 minutes – only 10 players to play at least 825 minutes had a better record.

Despite only getting the one assist, Demir was a regular source of creativity when he did feature, as highlighted by the fact his 2.7 key passes per 90 was the sixth highest among those to play at least 825 minutes.

But arguably his most notable asset, and the one that inspires the comparison with Messi, is his ability on the ball.

A dynamic and exciting player, Demir attempted 6.3 dribbles per 90 minutes on average, a figure matched by no one who featured for more than 108 minutes last term.

Similarly, he was successful with 3.8 dribble attempts per game, which was also a league-high, and it was that kind of flair that has helped him realise a childhood dream.

"For eight years I was able to learn everything and develop myself at Rapid," he told the Austrian club's website. "That's one of the reasons why I extended my contract for another year.

"I am incredibly grateful to every supervisor, every player and everyone else. With the move to FC Barcelona, ​​an incredibly big childhood dream comes true.

"I will be moving to my favourite club and the biggest club in the world. I came to Rapid as a small child with big dreams and am now an incredibly grateful boy."

While the Austria international looks likely to initially feature more for Barcelona B, he will immediately link up with the first-team squad for pre-season training, allowing him to stake his claim.

Lionel Messi will lead out Argentina in Saturday's Copa America final aware it could be the last opportunity he has to win silverware with La Albiceleste – and ending that hoodoo against Brazil would be the sweetest prize of all.

Messi holds the records for most caps and goals for Argentina, and his career at club level with Barcelona has ensured his legacy will be intrinsically linked to the sport for the rest of time.

But there remains a niggling frustration with respect to his time with Argentina, given he is yet to win a major international tournament with them. It is arguably the final piece of the puzzle and the one thing that separates him from the others in the 'greatest of all-time' debate.

Cristiano Ronaldo, Pele, Diego Maradona – they all enjoyed success on the international stage, and while it would be unfair to suggest Messi's legacy will not match up to theirs without honours with Argentina, it is a fact that would be continuously used to downplay his claim regardless of winning everything at Barca.

 

It is not that Messi has not come close – this will be his fifth major senior final with Argentina, and he's lost the previous four, but will Argentina be considered among the favourites at the World Cup next year? Probably not.

It may be now or never, and standing in the way is his former Barca team-mate Neymar, who will be playing his first major final for Brazil.

The Paris Saint-Germain star has been typically enthralling to watch in the tournament, though Brazil will be hoping his form in front of goal improves. It has not done them much damage thus far given they are in the final, but his one non-penalty goal comes from an xG (expected goals) value of 5.1 – it's two from 5.9 with penalties included.

 

No one else in the tournament has been as wasteful as Neymar, whose eight Opta-defined 'big chances' missed is also the most of anyone at Copa America 2021.

But Messi will know more than most that Neymar rises to the biggest occasions, and few are bigger than a Superclasico in a Copa America final.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Brazil – Lucas Paqueta

While Paqueta's club career may not have taken off in Europe as he would have liked following his initial move to Milan, it is fair to say this tournament has represented something of a 'coming of age' tale for him on the international stage. With two goals, he heads into the final tied with Neymar as the Selecao's leading goalscorer, while he's also been a creative threat. Granted, he may not have any assists yet, but his 1.56 xA (expected assists) is bettered only by Messi (2.93) and Neymar (2.34). He has been let down by poor finishing, but at least the chances are flowing.

 

Argentina – Lautaro Martinez

Along with Messi (four, including one penalty), Martinez (three) is the only player to have scored more than twice at this year's tournament. Although he is slightly underperforming his 3.3 xG and has missed five 'big chances', the Inter striker has been consistently dangerous, with his 0.88 xG per 90 minutes second only to Neymar (1.03) among players to have played at least 180 minutes. 

 

KEY OPTA FACTS

- Brazil will be playing their seventh final in the last 11 editions of the Copa America, winning on their most recent five appearances in the showpiece game (1997, 1999, 2004, 2007 and 2019). Their last defeat in a Copa America final was in 1995, losing the title to Uruguay in a penalty shoot-out.

- Brazil have not lost a knockout match at the Copa America (W7 D6) since 2001, when they suffered a 2-0 loss against Honduras. Their eliminations since then came via penalty shoot-outs (2011 and 2015) or in the group stage (2016).

- Brazil have reached the final in all editions of the Copa America played on Brazilian soil (six, including 2021). They won each of the previous five.

- Argentina will be playing their sixth final in the Copa America since 1993. It will be the third time in this period that they have played for the title against Brazil, failing to win against them in the past two deciders between the teams.

- Messi has scored five times against Brazil, making them his joint second-favourite opponent after Ecuador (six goals).

Neymar will be putting his friendship with former Barcelona teammate Lionel Messi aside as he chases his first Copa America title with Brazil in Saturday's final.

Brazil takes on Argentina in the Copa America 2021 decider at the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro, with both players pursuing their first-ever continental crowns.

Messi's Argentina have not won the Copa since 1993, while injury meant Neymar was not part of the Brazil squad which triumphed in 2019.

The pair have a close friendship from Neymar's four years in Barcelona, while they have both dominated this Copa.

Messi leads the Copa with four goals and five assists, while Neymar has contributed two goals and three assists for hosts Brazil.

"Messi is, as I've always said, the best player I've ever seen play and he's a great friend," Neymar said. "But now we're in a final, we're rivals. I want to win and I really want to win this title, which would be my first Copa America.

"Messi has been looking for his first title with the national team for many years, and every time we we [Brazil] are not present at the tournament, I cheered for him.

"That's what I've been cheering for in the 2014 World Cup final, when he faced Germany.

"Now Brazil is in the dispute, so our friendship is on the line [laughs]. The respect between us in still great but only one can win."

He added: "When you're friends with someone, it's hard to forget the friendship you have... but for example when you play video games with a friend, you want to beat him anyway. It'll be the same thing on Saturday."

Neymar also hit out on Instagram about Brazilian fans who have turned on the national team and opted to support rivals Argentina.

"I'm Brazilian with a lot of pride, with a lot of love. My dream was always to be in the Brazilian national team and hear the fans singing," he wrote. "I've never supported or will support against anything Brazil is competing for, whatever the sport or modelling contest."

Brazil is chasing its 10th Copa title, while Argentina is looking to end its 28-year wait to add to its 14 continental crowns.

Argentina have won five games in a row, including their semi-final victory over Colombia, and are unbeaten across their past 19 games.

Brazil are undefeated in their past 13 games and have only conceded two goals at Copa America 2021.

LaLiga president Javier Tebas says Manchester City or Paris Saint-Germain would be committing "financial doping" if they signed Lionel Messi on similar terms to his previous Barcelona deal.

Argentina captain Messi is a free agent after his Barca contract expired at the end of June.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner has been linked with City and PSG previously, though he is expected to remain with the Blaugrana despite their financial problems.

Tebas does not see how any club would be able to offer Messi the sort of terms he had been earning, with his last contract reportedly worth in excess of €500million over four years.

Asked if Messi would have to take a pay cut to extend his stay at Barca, Tebas said: "Exactly. He won't be able to sign on the previous conditions, that's impossible.

"But I don't think any European club would be able to pay that amount."

Tebas added: "City have lost €270m [during the coronavirus pandemic] so obviously they wouldn't even consider signing Messi [on the terms he was previously on].

"PSG have had losses, too, so they can't even consider signing Messi.

"If they do, it will be financial doping. It would be incredible if it happened. We need to establish limits. Financial doping is damaging football.

"It's not real money because it's not generated by the clubs. Money not from football causes bad inflation and ruins football because clubs must put in all this effort [to compete], which takes them above their financial capacity.

"We have to fight against this. This is one of the pending issues in European football. If it's not solved, the game will find itself in a very complicated situation."

Will Kylian Mbappe move to Real Madrid?

Will Lionel Messi leave Barcelona for Paris Saint-Germain?

The star pair are dominating headlines in the transfer market.

 

TOP STORY – MBAPPE TO MADRID?

Real Madrid believe they will be able to prise Kylian Mbappe from Paris Saint-Germain if the Ligue 1 giants sign Lionel Messi, according to the front page of Wednesday's Diario AS.

Mbappe – entering the final year of his contract – has long been tipped to join LaLiga powerhouse Madrid, while Liverpool have also been linked.

Messi is out of contract at Barca and while the Catalan club remain confident of re-signing the superstar captain, PSG and Madrid are hoping to make the most of the situation.

 

ROUND-UP

Arsenal have joined PSG and Atletico Madrid in the chase to sign Lyon star Houssem Aouar, reports Le10 Sport.

- Calciomercato says Serie A champions Inter and Ligue 1 outfit Lyon are both eyeing Ajax goalkeeper Andre Onana.

Milan have increased their contract offer for star midfielder Franck Kessie, per Gazzetta dello Sport. Having already lost Gianluigi Donnarumma and Hakan Calhanoglu, the Rossoneri are keen to re-sign Kessie, who has been linked with PSG, Tottenham, Arsenal and Inter.

Manchester City are interested in Napoli star Piotr Zielinski, according to Tuttosport. Napoli are believed to be willing to listen to offers. Premier League champions City have also been linked with the likes of Tottenham's Harry Kane, Inter forward Romelu Lukaku, Borussia Dortmund forward Erling Haaland and Madrid defender Raphael Varane in the transfer window.

- Rennes sensation Eduardo Camavinga and Varane both moving to Manchester United, while not impossible is "remote in reality", according to Sky Sports.

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