Lionel Messi became a free agent on Thursday, but Xavi believes it is a matter of time before the captain and record goalscorer re-commits to Barcelona.

While away with Argentina at the Copa America, Messi has been focusing on that tournament, and as July arrived there was no word of a new contract at Camp Nou.

That meant his previous deal expired, making Messi potentially available to suitors that may wish to sign him.

Interest from Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain has appeared to go quiet amid an assumption that Messi will stay with Barcelona.

Former team-mate Xavi feels Messi is moving closer to signing again with the Catalans and would put money on the 34-year-old doing so, even if small doubts linger.

"These are market circumstances, we have to wait," Xavi said. "I imagine he is talking to the club and the president.

"I wish Leo the best, as a friend of his and as a cule [a Barcelona fan], I wish him to continue at Barca. Hopefully, it can be announced as soon as possible."

Speaking to Mundo Deportivo, Xavi, who is coach of Al Sadd, added: "If I had to bet, I would say that he will continue at the club, although many things have been said in football, but I would say that he will continue.

"Leo needs Barca and Barca need Leo. He is happy in Barcelona; he has spent his life there. I would bet on him renewing."

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

He created 117 chances for others and netted a goal every 110.32 minutes, when taking all competitions into account.

Jordi Alba was next on the list of the most chances created, teeing up 85 goalscoring opportunities, while of players with more than five goals, Antoine Griezmann had the next-best minutes-per-goal ratio, with one every 195.2 minutes.

 

In terms of the most games played, top-flight rookie Pedri finished top of the pile with 52 games, and he has since gone on to play for Spain at Euro 2020.

Pedri will then go on to the Olympic Games and will have had barely any break by the time LaLiga gets under way in 2021-22.

Barcelona are reportedly unhappy at the demands placed on the shoulders of the 18-year-old midfielder, but Xavi thinks such experiences are priceless.

He said: "If I were Pedri, I would go to the Games. I had the opportunity at the time, and they are opportunities that do not return.

"He is 18 years old and footballers want to play. It's a unique opportunity to go to the Games. If you ask Pedri, he will tell you that he is excited."

Lionel Messi received a cheeky approach from Newell's Old Boys as the superstar's boyhood club suggested he join them after his Barcelona contract expired.

Messi became a free agent when his Camp Nou deal ran out at the end of Wednesday, and it was shortly after midnight in Argentina when Newell's made their play for the 34-year-old forward.

"Hi Leo, are you there? In Argentina it is just now July 1 ... [Nothing ventured nothing gained]" Newell's tweeted.

They issued that thinly veiled invitation for Messi to join them at 24 minutes past midnight in Argentina, including a photograph of Messi in a Newell's shirt.

It was a picture taken when Messi paid an emotional tribute to Diego Maradona, who briefly played for the Argentine club in the 1993-94 season.

Messi idolised Maradona and he wore the 1993-94 Newell's top, bearing his hero's number 10, underneath his Barcelona kit for a game against Osasuna in the wake of Maradona's death last November. It was revealed when Messi scored a stunning goal in a 4-0 victory.

 

Messi spent time in the Newell's youth system before moving to Barcelona in 2001, yet the prospect of an imminent return to club football in Argentina looks slim for the six-time Ballon d'Or winner.

A new deal at Barcelona has been long in the works and, barring any late hitches, is expected to see Messi commit to the club where he has played all his senior club football.

Reports in Spain have pointed to various hurdles that Barcelona must overcome before announcing any new deal for their captain and all-time record scorer, with staying within the club's spending limits being of paramount importance.

It seems more than likely, though, that Messi, who was wanted by Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain when he attempted to leave Barcelona last year, has been persuaded his future should remain in Spain.

Six-time Ballon d'Or winner Lionel Messi is officially a free agent with his Barcelona contract expiring but the Catalans insist they are in the process of confirming a new deal.

The 34-year-old Argentina international's Barcelona contract expired on June 30, amid speculation of a move away from Camp Nou which he has called home since 2000.

Barcelona president Joan Laporta conceded the situation was not ideal but said negotiations were ongoing.

"We are doing well but you have to fit a deal into the financial fair play," Laporta told reporters on Wednesday.

"We want him to stay and we are excited for him to stay. I wish I could tell you that Leo is staying but I can't say yet. We are in the process of finding the solution."

Messi expressed a desire to leave Barcelona last off-season, with a growing dissatisfaction with the direction of the club on and off the field.

The Argentine remained with Barcelona bound by a clause in his contract, referred to by former president Josep Maria Bartomeu who has since been replaced by Laporta.

Messi, who is currently in Brazil with Argentina competing at Copa America 2021, is widely expected to stay at Barca.

Barcelona have spent the past 18 months attempting to trim their wage bill, having been significantly impacted financially by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Messi's previous contract, signed in 2017, was worth approximately €500m over four years.

The Argentine has won 10 LaLiga and four Champions League titles during his time at Barcelona although they have not won the domestic league since 2019 and the continental crown since 2015.

Barcelona know their opponents for the 2020-21 LaLiga season but remain unsure whether Lionel Messi will be around for their opener against Real Sociedad at Camp Nou.

Messi, who is currently in action for Argentina at the Copa America, will see his Barca contract expire at midnight CET on Wednesday, with no news of any agreement on an extension at this stage.

Ronald Koeman will still be in situ as head coach and must tackle back-to-back Basque encounters, with a trip to Athletic Bilbao the first match of the campaign on the road for new additions Sergio Aguero, Memphis Depay, Emerson and Eric Garcia.

Sevilla away marks the Blaugrana's first September fixture as they continue a tricky start, while a daunting October schedule features Atletico Madrid at the Wanda Metropolitano on October 3, three weeks before the first Clasico of the season at Camp Nou.

The return against Madrid comes on March 20, with champions Atletico in Catalonia on February 6. Last season, Barcelona took a solitary point from four matches against their fellow heavyweights.

They will need to improve upon that return if they are to make the most of a May run-in of Real Mallorca, Real Betis, Celta Vigo, Getafe and Villarreal.

Barcelona's 2021-22 LaLiga fixtures in full:

15/08/2021 – Real Sociedad (h)
22/08/2021 – Athletic Bilbao (a)
29/08/2021 – Getafe (h)
12/09/2021 – Sevilla (a)
19/09/2021 – Granada (h)
22/09/2021 – Cadiz (a)
26/09/2021 – Levante (h)
03/10/2021 – Atletico Madrid (a)
17/10/2021 – Valencia (h)
24/10/2021 – Real Madrid (h)
27/10/2021 – Rayo Vallecano (a)
31/10/2021 – Deportivo Alaves (h)
07/11/2021 – Celta Vigo (a)
21/11/2021 – Espanyol (h)
28/11/2021 – Villarreal (a)
05/12/2021 – Real Betis (h)
12/12/2021 – Osasuna (a)
19/12/2021 – Elche (h)
02/01/2022 – Real Mallorca (a)
09/01/2022 – Granada (a)
19/01/2022 – Rayo Vallecano (h)
23/01/2022 – Deportivo Alaves (a)
06/02/2022 – Atletico Madrid (h)
13/02/2022 – Espanyol (a)
20/02/2022 – Valencia (a)
27/02/2022 – Athletic Club (h)
06/03/2022 – Elche (a)
13/03/2022 – Osasuna (h)
20/03/2022 – Real Madrid (a)
03/04/2022 – Sevilla (h)
10/04/2022 – Levante (a)
17/04/2022 – Cadiz (h)
20/04/2022 – Real Sociedad (a)
01/05/2022 – Real Mallorca (h)
08/05/2022 – Real Betis (a)
11/05/2022 – Celta Vigo (h)
15/05/2022 – Getafe (a)
22/05/2022 – Villarreal (h)

Barcelona will get to host the first Clasico clash against Real Madrid after the full fixture list for the 2021-22 LaLiga season was revealed on Wednesday.

The opening fixture in the rivalry will take place at Camp Nou on October 24, 10 games into the new campaign, with the returning meeting to be held at the Santiago Bernabeu on March 20 next year.

It remains to be seen whether Barca, who will start their season at home to Real Sociedad on the weekend of August 14-15, will still be able to call on Lionel Messi, whose contract with the Catalan club runs out at the end of June.

The 34-year-old is yet to commit to a new deal, though Barca president Joan Laporta has stressed his confidence an agreement will be reached.

Madrid, meanwhile, kick off their season on the road against Deportivo Alaves. Los Blancos requested an away fixture to start 2021-22 as redevelopment work continues at their Bernabeu home, meaning Carlo Ancelotti will have to wait a little longer for his first home match since returning to the Spanish club.

Meanwhile, reigning champions Atletico Madrid will start their title defence away at Celta Vigo.

The first Madrid derby, to be hosted by Los Blancos, will take place in December, with the second fixture – a potential title decider – scheduled for May 8.

Barca will close out their season at home to Villarreal, with Madrid hosting Real Betis and Atleti travelling to Real Sociedad.

Wednesday also saw confirmation of the date for the Copa del Rey final, which will take place at Estadio de la Cartuja in Seville on April 23 next year.

Barring the last two matchdays, the entirety of the 2020-21 season had to be played behind closed doors due to the ongoing impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Spanish health minister Carolina Darias confirmed earlier this month that fans would be allowed to return for games in the new campaign, though the emergence of the Delta variant across Europe may put those plans on hold.

LaLiga president Javier Tebas, however, insisted last week that he hopes stadiums will be back at full capacity by November.

Speaking on June 23, Tebas said: "I believe we can start the season with 60 per cent capacity. Some areas of Spain will have more, some less. But by November or December we should be at 100 per cent."

LaLiga 2021-22 opening day fixtures:

Barcelona v Real Sociedad
Cadiz v Levante
Celta Vigo v Atletico Madrid
Deportivo Alaves v Real Madrid
Elche v Athletic Bilbao
Osasuna v Espanyol
Real Mallorca v Real Betis
Sevilla v Rayo Vallecano
Valencia v Getafe
Villarreal v Granada

Lionel Messi will have the option to bring his long-standing association with Barcelona to an end in a matter of hours.

The 34-year-old's Camp Nou contract is set to expire on July 1, leaving him free to move on from the club where he has spent the entirety of his 17-year professional career thus far.

Fortunately for Barca, that outcome looks unlikely, with recent reports suggesting that the Argentina great is on the verge of agreeing fresh terms.

Should Messi put pen to paper on that extension, it will increase the possibility of him joining the ranks of players who spent their whole careers at just one club. 

Here, we take a look at five of football's most celebrated one-club men.


Paolo Maldini (AC Milan)

Indisputably one of the greatest defenders of all-time, Maldini made his Milan debut as a 16-year-old in 1985 and spent the next quarter of a century at San Siro, winning seven Serie A titles and five Champions Leagues.

Ryan Giggs (Manchester United)

Like Maldini, Giggs progressed from prodigious young talent to distinguished elder statesman as he represented United from 1990 to 2014. Two Champions Leagues and 13 Premier League titles sit among an astonishing 34 honours amassed by Giggs across 963 senior United appearances.

Francesco Totti (Roma)

Totti bid an emotional farewell to Roma at the end of the 2016-17 campaign after 786 competitive appearances and 307 goals – matching Maldini's record of appearing in 25 Serie A seasons.

Carles Puyol (Barcelona)

A long-time team-mate of Messi's and the captain of Pep Guardiola's mesmeric treble winners of 2008-09, Puyol won six LaLiga titles and three Champions Leagues. With 593 appearances for Barcelona to his name, the defender sits fifth on the club's all-time list behind Sergio Busquets, Andres Iniesta, Xavi, and the outright leader Messi on 778.

Matthew Le Tissier (Southampton)

A mercurial forward with a knack for scoring improbably audacious goals, Le Tissier was regularly linked with the leading lights of English football during his 1990s heyday. He remained loyal to boyhood club Southampton to cement icon status on the south coast, although a mere eight appearances for England provides a talking point about what might have been possible had he not resisted offers from bigger clubs. 

What does the future hold for Kylian Mbappe?

The Paris Saint-Germain star is wanted in France and Spain.

France striker Mbappe is reportedly facing a decision over his future.

 

TOP STORY – MBAPPE HAS DECISION TO MAKE

Kylian Mbappe has a decision to make over his future as he enters the final year of his Paris Saint-Germain contract, according to the front pages of Wednesday's Marca and Diario AS.

Mbappe will become a free agent at the end of the 2021-22 season and the PSG star continues to be heavily linked with LaLiga giants Real Madrid.

L'Equipe, however, claims PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi has taken over from sporting director Leonardo in contract negotiations and Mbappe is reportedly pleased with the club's early transfer business as Gianluigi Donnarumma prepares to join Georginio Wijnaldum in Paris.

 

ROUND-UP

- Fabrizio Romano reports Cristiano Ronaldo's future at Juventus is uncertain. The five-time Ballon d'Or winner has been linked with PSG, Madrid and Manchester United. Contracted to Juve until 2022, Romano says Ronaldo is not negotiating a new deal as the Serie A giants wait for the superstar to decide whether he stays or leaves.

- Aston Villa are hopeful of keeping star captain Jack Grealish amid interest from Premier League champions Manchester City, per The Telegraph.

- Bild reports RB Leipzig are set to sign Eintracht Frankfurt forward Andre Silva. The Portugal international starred in 2020-21 and has been linked with Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Madrid, United and City.

- United are eyeing Bayern midfielder Leon Goretzka as a possible replacement for Paul Pogba, according to Sport Bild. Bayern and Goretzka have been discussing a new deal. It comes as Bayern also try to re-sign Kingsley Coman and Joshua Kimmich. Coman has been linked with United and Liverpool.

Atalanta are in advanced talks to sign Udinese goalkeeper Juan Musso, claims Sky Sport Italia. Musso has previously been linked with Serie A champions Inter, who are reportedly eyeing Ajax's Andre Onana.

- Le10 Sport claims negotiations between PSG and former Madrid captain Sergio Ramos have hit a snag due to the club's unwillingness to offer a two-year deal. Ramos has also been linked with United, City, Chelsea and Juventus on a free transfer.

- A resolution for Lionel Messi's contract renewal at Barcelona does not seem to be close as he is set to officially become a free agent at midnight on Wednesday, claims Marca. Barca are pushing to complete the new deal.

Lautaro Martinez insists he was not feeling the pressure despite a goal drought that ended with his strike in Argentina's 4-1 Copa America win over Bolivia on Monday.

The win extended Lionel Scaloni's side's unbeaten run to 17 matches – the joint-third longest undefeated sequence in the country's history – yet Argentina came into the game having only scored three goals from as many Copa games.

Inter forward Martinez had drawn a blank in his past five games for Argentina, dating back to November's 2-0 World Cup qualifying win in Peru.

Martinez was back on the scoresheet against the bottom side in Group A, coming off the bench to strike in the 65th minute in a resounding win.

"I'm calm because the coaching staff and my team-mates trust me," Martinez told TyC Sports.

"The ball sometimes goes in and sometimes it doesn't. Strikers live by goals, but I stayed calm."

Argentina's victory sealed top spot in Group B, locking in a quarter-final date with Ecuador in Goiania on Saturday.

"We will face what comes next in the Copa in the best way; a tough opponent that we already know," Martinez said.

Lionel Messi produced a masterclass with two goals and an assist, making history as Argentina's most capped player in style as he surpassed former team-mate Javier Mascherano's tally with his 148th international cap.

It was Messi's first brace for Argentina in 18 games, dating back to August 2019. The 34-year-old also recorded his second two-goal outing in a Copa fixture.

Martinez added: "I am happy with the team's work, we are growing. Bolivia was already eliminated and we took the game on seriously and responsibly. Every time you play with Argentina you have to go in with everything to win."

Argentina head coach Scaloni said he has the "utmost respect" for Ecuador and would not be drawn on his likely line-up for the game.

"I would be lying if I said who is going to play on Saturday against Ecuador," he said.

Scaloni did clarify defender Cristian Romero was left out against Bolivia as he manages his squad ahead of the Ecuador game, not due to a fresh injury.

"There is no need to worry about Cristian," he said. "He was left off the bench because very difficult games are coming and the idea is that everyone needs minutes."

He added: "We have the utmost respect for Ecuador. They have shown that they are a good team, young, dynamic, with good players and are going to fight."

When it comes to Lionel Messi, there are not enough superlatives to describe his brilliance.

That was the case following Messi's magical performance in his record-breaking appearance for Argentina.

Two goals and one unbelievable assist to guide Argentina to a 4-1 rout of Bolivia at the Copa America on Monday.

Three goal involvements all in 45-minutes work for Messi, who shattered another record with his 148th international cap, surpassing former team-mate Javier Mascherano.

Already La Albiceleste's all-time leading scorer, it was Messi's first brace for Argentina in 18 games, dating back to August 2019. The 34-year-old also recorded his second two-goal outing in a Copa fixture.

Messi improved his international tally to 75, while netting his 11th and 12th career Copa goals – the fourth-highest scorer for Argentina at the showpiece CONMEBOL tournament.

 

At this stage of his remarkable career, no one should be surprised by the six-time Ballon d'Or winner.

However, Messi was simply incredible from the outset in a merciless display in the final Group A fixture in Cuiaba.

Messi – who has not missed a minute of Argentina's four Copa games in 2021 so far – broke the internet in the sixth minute.

Angel Correa's turn outside the penalty area sparked the move as the ball found the feet of Messi.

Messi's back was towards goal, while the superstar captain was surrounded by at least three Bolivia defenders. But, we know how this movie ends.

He somehow scooped the ball to Alejandro Gomez and the evergreen veteran finished on the volley to cap an irresistible passage of play.

A Messi penalty followed just past the half-hour mark – the 34-year-old converting the spot-kick to get in on the action.

What happened next was even better.

Close friend Sergio Aguero, who will unite with Messi at Barcelona in 2021-22, was the architect. Manchester City's all-time leading goalscorer playing a throughball approaching half-time.

Messi beat the offside trap and beat Bolivia goalkeeper Carlos Lampe with a superb lob in the 42nd minute.

If not for Lampe's heroics, Messi – who completed a game-high 63 passes in the opponent's half while attempting four shots on target (a Copa record) – would have finished the match with more than a hat-trick.

Regardless, it was a special display as Argentina extended their unbeaten streak to 17 matches (W10 D7) under Lionel Scaloni – the joint-third longest undefeated sequence of a coach in the country's history, alongside Guillermo Stabile.

While Messi still covets an elusive international crown with Argentina, the famous number 10 celebrated his latest milestone only he knows how.

Lionel Messi produced a masterclass with two goals and an assist as he made history in Argentina's 4-1 victory over Bolivia at the Copa America.

Messi became Argentina's all-time record appearances holder after surpassing former team-mate Javier Mascherano with his 148th international cap in Cuiaba on Monday.

On the field, Messi was in magical form as he scored twice to take his internationally tally to 75, while creating the opener in a devastating first-half display in Argentina's final Group A fixture.

Messi somehow scooped the ball to Alejandro Gomez, who finished on the volley in the sixth minute, before the six-time Ballon d'Or winner stepped up to covert a 33rd-minute penalty and then beat Carlos Lampe with a superb lob nine minutes later.

Erwin Saavedra pulled a goal back for Bolivia in the 60th minute but Lautaro Martinez came off the bench and restored the three-goal advantage minutes later as Argentina sealed top spot to set up a quarter-final showdown against Ecuador.

Argentina were in control against a Bolivia team already eliminated, forcing a superb double-save from goalkeeper Lampe, who showed amazing agility to thwart Sergio Aguero and Angel Correa in the third minute.

Messi took centre stage as Argentina broke the deadlock – the superstar captain providing a highlight moment with a memorable assist as he had his back towards goal while teeing up in-form team-mate Gomez.

Bolivia's Diego Bejarano was penalised for a foul on Gomez inside the box after the half-hour mark and Messi made no mistake with the spot-kick.

After Franco Armani was called into action following a long-range effort from Jeyson Chura, Messi put Argentina 3-0 ahead courtesy of a perfectly chipped shot over Lampe prior to the interval, having been played through by Aguero.

Some complacency crept into Argentina's game in the second half and it was punished by Bolivia on the hour mark after Saavedra finished clinically into the roof of the net following Leonel Justiniano's driving run to the byline.

Martinez was only on the pitch for two minutes when he netted Argentina's fourth goal in the 65th minute and the merciless South American powerhouse should have had more, if not for the efforts of Lampe during the closing stages.

Lionel Messi has made history with Argentina, becoming the country's all-time record appearances holder in the Copa America clash against Bolivia.

Messi was named in the starting line-up for Argentina's final Group A fixture on Monday, surpassing former team-mate Javier Mascherano with his 148th international cap.

Argentina captain Messi is still chasing an elusive major honour in international colours, a fact somewhat at odds with his gloriously decorated career at LaLiga powerhouse Barcelona.

Nevertheless, as he represents La Albiceleste for the 148th time, the 34-year-old should also reflect upon a brilliant body of work, where he has typically set new standards – most notably standing as Argentina's all-time record goalscorer with 73.

Here, Stats Perform takes a look at Messi's Argentina career in numbers.

 

CONMEBOL'S SCHOOL OF HARD KNOCKS

In the eternal argument between fans of Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, the Portugal superstar's international record is sometimes held up as a point of difference.

Ronaldo pulled level with Ali Daei's all-time record of 109 goals for his country during the reigning European champions' 2-2 draw with France at Euro 2020 last week.

But there are a collection of "gimme" opponents afforded to Ronaldo within the European qualifiers that Messi simply does not enjoy.

The arduous CONMEBOL World Cup qualification marathon means plenty of his Argentina caps have arrived against high-quality opposition.

The highest proportion of his caps have come in South American World Cup qualifiers, where he has featured 50 times. This is set against 30 Copa outings, 19 appearances at the World Cup and 47 caps in international friendlies.

 

HIGH FIVES, BRILLIANT TREBLES

Argentina's bitter rivals Brazil, Paraguay and their 2015 and 2016 Copa America final tormentors Chile have faced up to Messi more than any other nation.

He has played them all 11 times, scoring five goals versus each. Against Bolivia, he will be aiming to improve upon a record of three goals from nine outings, with La Paz's sapping altitude pleasingly not a factor for Messi on this occasion.

Three of those strikes versus Brazil came in one sparkling 4-3 friendly win at New Jersey's MetLife Stadium in 2012.

Overall, he has six international hat-tricks and none more telling than the sensational salvo to secure a 3-1 win away to Ecuador that virtually single-handedly dragged Argentina to Russia 2018.

 

NIGHTMARE START AND OTHER MILESTONES

Messi's extended run at the summit of world football was not so easy to predict when he marked his Argentina debut from the bench against Hungary in Budapest in 2005 with a red card almost immediately after coming on.

His first goal came against Croatia in Basel on cap number six, while the otherwise forgettable 2010 World Cup quarter-final defeat to Germany in Cape Town was Messi's 50th cap.

Cap 100 came against guest participants Jamaica in the 2015 Copa America, a campaign that ended in now familiar disappointment.

Lionel Messi is set to become Argentina's all-time record appearances holder when his country take on Bolivia in the Copa America.

Messi is still chasing an elusive major honour in international colours, a fact somewhat at odds with his gloriously decorated career at Barcelona.

Nevertheless, as he prepares to represent La Albiceleste for the 148th time, the 34-year-old should also reflect upon a brilliant body of work, where he has typically set new standards – most notably standing as Argentina's all-time record goalscorer with 73.

Here, Stats Perform takes a look at Messi's Argentina career in numbers as prepares to go past Javier Mascherano's appearance landmark.

 

CONMEBOL'S SCHOOL OF HARD KNOCKS

In the eternal argument between fans of Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, the Portugal superstar's international record is sometimes held up as a point of difference.

Ronaldo pulled level with Ali Daei's all-time record of 109 goals for his country during the reigning European champions' 2-2 draw with France at Euro 2020 last week.

But there are a collection of "gimme" opponents afforded to Ronaldo within the European qualifiers that Messi simply does not enjoy.

The arduous CONMEBOL World Cup qualification marathon means plenty of his Argentina caps have arrived against high-quality opposition.

The highest proportion of his caps have come in South American World Cup qualifiers, where he has featured 50 times. This is set against 30 Copa outings, 19 appearances at the World Cup and 47 caps in international friendlies.

 

HIGH FIVES, BRILLIANT TREBLES

Argentina's bitter rivals Brazil, Paraguay and their 2015 and 2016 Copa America final tormentors Chile have faced up to Messi more than any other nation.

He has played them all 11 times, scoring five goals versus each. Against Bolivia, he will be aiming to improve upon a record of three goals from nine outings, with La Paz's sapping altitude pleasingly not a factor for Messi on this occasion.

Three of those strikes versus Brazil came in one sparkling 4-3 friendly win at New Jersey's MetLife Stadium in 2012.

Overall, he has six international hat-tricks and none more telling than the sensational salvo to secure a 3-1 win away to Ecuador that virtually single-handedly dragged Argentina to Russia 2018.

 

NIGHTMARE START AND OTHER MILESTONES

Messi's extended run at the summit of world football was not so easy to predict when he marked his Argentina debut from the bench against Hungary in Budapest in 2005 with a red card almost immediately after coming on.

His first goal came against Croatia in Basel on cap number six, while the otherwise forgettable 2010 World Cup quarter-final defeat to Germany in Cape Town was Messi's 50th cap.

Cap 100 came against guest participants Jamaica in the 2015 Copa America, a campaign that ended in now familiar disappointment.

Whether it's 147 caps or 73 goals, it is the number one – that much desired maiden senior trophy with Argentina – that continues to drive Messi. Bolivia are the next team in his way.

Is Lionel Messi's future on the verge of being resolved at Camp Nou?

Messi's contract with LaLiga powerhouse Barcelona expires this week and the six-time Ballon d'Or winner has been linked with a move.

But, if reports are to be believed, the superstar is poised to extend his long stay at Barca.

 

TOP STORY – BARCA READYING MESSI ANNOUNCEMENT

Barcelona are preparing to officially announce an agreement has been reached with Messi, according to Football Espana and Fabrizio Romano.

The superstar captain has been linked with Premier League champions Manchester City and Ligue 1 giants Paris Saint-Germain.

But Messi is now set to renew for a further two years at Barca, where the 34-year-old has spent his entire senior career.

 

ROUND-UP

City will renew their attempts to sign Harry Kane from Tottenham after Euro 2020, claims Romano. City are among a host of clubs interested in Kane, who is also reportedly wanted by Manchester United, Chelsea, Barca, Real Madrid and PSG. Spurs, however, are unwilling to sell the England star. City have also been linked with Inter's Romelu Lukaku and Borussia Dortmund sensation Erling Haaland.

Brahim Diaz will join Milan from Madrid on loan with an option to buy, reports Sky Sport. The Spaniard spent the 2020-21 season on loan at San Siro. Milan are also interested in Alvaro Odriozola if they are unable to bring Diogo Dalot back from United.

- Gianluca Di Marzio says Arsenal are trying to sign Benfica full-back Nuno Tavares, who has also been linked with Napoli and Lazio.

- Serie A champions Inter are eyeing Franck Kessie amid his contract stalemate with neighbours Milan, according to Tuttosport.

- Tuttosport reports Arsenal are pressing to bring Italy forward Andrea Belotti to London from Torino. Roma have long been linked with Belotti, as well as Milan.

Juventus are ready to make a bid for Lille and Portugal star Renato Sanches, per Calciomercato. Milan are also interested as Juve look to prise Manuel Locatelli from Sassuolo.

- Mundo Deportivo says Atletico Madrid are interested in former Barca midfielder Paulinho. The Brazilian is a free agent after leaving Chinese outfit Guangzhou FC.

- There are two clubs trying to sign Luka Jovic from Madrid, claims Diario AS. Jovic, who returned to former club Eintracht Frankfurt on loan in 2020-21, has been linked with Milan.

- Gazzetta dello Sport reports Achraf Hakimi will complete his move to PSG from Inter, who are eyeing Arsenal's Hector Bellerin as a replacement.

Argentina can clinch top spot in Group A as they aim to maintain their unbeaten run under Lionel Scaloni against a Bolivia side already certain of an early Copa America exit.

The format of the 2021 tournament means just one team from each section misses out on the last eight, though the final matches are still pivotal as nations jostle for positions in the final standings.

Bolivia's exit was confirmed with a 2-0 reverse against Uruguay last time out, another blank in front of goal meaning Cesar Farias' side have managed to score just once in three outings so far.

Argentina have also found it tough going in attack, despite the presence of the talismanic Lionel Messi. Following a 1-1 draw with Chile in their opener, they have recorded back-to-back 1-0 triumphs over Uruguay and Paraguay.

Those results mean head coach Scaloni has not seen his team lose in his previous 16 games. His last defeat in the job came in the previous edition of the Copa America, as they were knocked out by rivals Brazil in the 2019 semi-finals.

A potential rematch appears unlikely until the final this time around, with Brazil winning Group B. Argentina know a victory in Cuiaba will be enough for them to do the same ahead of the quarter-finals.

Scaloni has a decision to make over whether to rest Messi, who has played every minute in the competition so far.

While the Barcelona superstar just recently turned 34, he may want to be involved from the start as he looks to win his 148th international cap, which would move him out of a tie with Javier Mascherano to sit alone at the top of the list for Argentina appearances.

Those in danger of receiving a suspension with another yellow card on Monday are likely to be left out, among them Lautaro Martinez, Leandro Paredes and Giovanni Lo Celso.

 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Argentina - Alejandro Gomez

'Papu' Gomez arrived late to international football but helped make up for lost time in his previous outing with his first goal in a competitive fixture for Argentina. He struck in the 10th minute against Paraguay, while he also completed 88.2 per cent of his attempted passes in the opposition half before being substituted. Did he do enough to keep his place, though?

Bolivia - Carlos Lampe

Goalkeeper Lampe has been a rare positive for his team at the Copa America, making the most saves per game (eight) among those to have played in two or more fixtures. Even with Argentina potentially resting players, Bolivia's last line of defence may well be busy again as they prepare to say farewell to this year's Copa.

KEY OPTA FACTS

- This will be the 10th meeting in the Copa America at a neutral venue, with Argentina never previously losing in such contests (W9 D1). However, Bolivia have won twice when serving as competition hosts, in 1963 and 1979.

- Scaloni is unbeaten in his last 16 managerial games in all competitions, his best run since taking charge of Argentina (W9 D7).

- After five unbeaten games in the Copa America with Venezuela, Cesar Farias has lost the last four; one for Venezuela (semi-final in 2011) and three for Bolivia (all this year).

- Argentina are the team with the most goals scored in the first 15 minutes of their games (two), with all of their goals scored in the first half of games (three, same as Ecuador).

Austria star Marko Arnautovic said Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are not from this world and are on this planet to "take all the trophies with them".

Ronaldo and Messi are regarded as two of the greatest footballers of all-time following their exploits for club and country.

Portugal and Juventus superstar Ronaldo – a five-time Ballon d'Or winner with 32 major trophies – matched Ali Daei's international men's record for most goals (109) following his two-goal haul in the 2-2 draw with France at Euro 2020.

Record six-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi has won a club-record 34 trophies at Barcelona, while he equalled Javier Mascherano for the most Argentina appearances in their 1-0 Copa America victory over Paraguay.

As Austria prepare for Saturday's Euro 2020 last-16 showdown against Italy, Arnautovic hailed Ronaldo and Messi.

"When you mention [Cristiano Ronaldo's] name, we aren't talking about a human being," Arnautovic said. "That’s it. What am I supposed to say about it?

"There are two players who are not from this world. They are from far away and just came here for a while to succeed in every league and take all the trophies with them. And then they are leaving again.

"Those are Ronaldo and [Lionel] Messi."

This will be Austria's first ever appearance in the knockout stages of the European Championship, and their first in the knockout stage of any major tournament since the 1954 World Cup, when they reached the semi-final.

Austria have lost four of their six games in London in all competitions (W1 D1), with this their first visit to the English capital since a 7-0 friendly defeat in September 1973 (against England).

The nation's only previous game in London which was not against England came in the 1948 Olympic games, a 3-0 loss to Sweden.

David Alaba created nine chances in the group stages, at least four more than any other Austria player. Four of these came in Austria's 1-0 win against Ukraine last time out.

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