World Cup Qualifiers - CONMEBOL

World Cup Qualifiers - CONMEBOL (80)

Lionel Messi will reassess his playing future with the national team after the World Cup in Qatar later this year, with retirement not ruled out.

Messi was among the scorers on Friday as already-qualified Argentina eased past Venezuela in World Cup qualifying at La Bombonera in Buenos Aires.

The 34-year-old guided Argentina to a breakthrough Copa America triumph last year, the nation's first since 1993. Argentina have not the World Cup since Diego Maradona led them to glory in 1986, with Messi getting closest in 2014 when they reached the final in Brazil.

Messi, who joined Paris Saint-Germain from Barcelona last August, admitted that his international playing future beyond Qatar was on his mind.

"I don’t know what I will do after the World Cup. I am thinking about what is coming," Messi told reporters after the Venezuela win. "After Qatar I will have to reassess many things."

He added: "I don’t know [about playing on], the truth is I don’t know. I think about what's coming next, only think about facing Ecuador [on Tuesday]. The preparation matches in June and September.

"Let’s hope these go the best way possible. But for sure after the World Cup many things will change."

Messi added that lifting his first major trophy with Argentina last year at the Copa would not have a bearing on his decision.

"It has been a while that I am happy here, since before winning the Copa," he said. "I am thankful for all this they make me feel every time I come to Argentina."

The PSG star's goal against Venezuela extended Argentina's impressive record of never losing in the past 12 years when Messi has scored.

Messi has represented Argentina 159 times, having debuted in 2005, scoring 81 goals.

Argentina remain undefeated in CONMEBOL World Cup qualification, after they defeated Venezuela 3-0 on Friday.

In the Albiceleste's first game at La Bombonera since the passing of Diego Maradona, it was a particularly emotional atmosphere and the already-qualified home side made it 11 wins from 16 qualifiers.

The raucous home support belied the largely lacklustre performance on the pitch, however, with Nicolas Gonzalez's goal giving them breathing room. Angel Di Maria and Lionel Messi netted in the final quarter of an hour to seal the win.

The match's complexion was dominated by Argentine possession which did not exactly translate to many chances of substance.

In the opening 30 minutes, the Albiceleste managed three shots for a cumulative xG of 0.07 despite 71 per cent possession.

Yet the game soon opened up in transition, and Argentina could finally attack space that otherwise wasn't presented. From the ensuing chaos, Alexis Mac Allister quickly won back possession and played in Rodrigo De Paul, who then provided the assist across goal for Gonzalez.

Venezuela had an opportunity to equalise in the 39th minute through Josef Martinez with Argentina goalkeeper Franco Armani scrambling, but he put his close-range shot off target from Salomon Rondon's ball.

Martinez again had an opportunity to equalise in the 54th minute, with a free header from close range but missed.

Argentina were able to effectively kill the game off late in the second half through substitute Angel Di Maria, chipping Wuilker Farinez after De Paul's ball over the top.

Messi then added a third three minutes later in the 82nd minute with a relative mis-hit from Di Maria's assist.

Brazil head coach Tite was emotional after his side's 4-0 win over Chile in World Cup qualifying on Thursday in what may his final game in charge on home soil.

Tite previously announced he would exit the role after the 2022 World Cup, having taken over in June.

During Tite's tenure Brazil won the 2019 Copa America, but were eliminated from the 2018 World Cup in the quarter-finals.

More recently, Tite guided Brazil to 2022 World Cup qualification in November with several games to spare, with Selecao currently unbeaten in their qualifying campaign with 13 wins and three draws.

Brazil are currently on a 10-game unbeaten run in all competitions, dating back to last year's Copa America final defeat to Argentina.

"It has many meanings, many situations," Tite said after the win over Chile about his final game as head coach on home soil.

"There are many and they are very particular. Many thanks to the fans who attended the Maracana today, thank you very much."

Tite may still lead Selecao in Brazil again with the postponed qualifier against Argentina yet to be re-scheduled although the match would be a dead rubber with both sides comfortably qualified, with appetite low for a re-match.

On the win over the Chileans, who appear destined to miss the 2022 World Cup, Tite praised his side's level of performance, without pinpointing individuals.

"Two aspects have swayed me: the players with the personality and confidence to come to the national team and repeat the performances of their clubs, this is difficult due to the expectation of wearing the national team's shirt," Tite said.

Brazil's next qualifier is away to Bolivia on Tuesday, where they will be without Neymar and Vinicius Junior after they picked up yellow cards against Chile forcing suspension.

Ecuador qualified for the 2022 World Cup on Thursday despite a 3-1 defeat to Paraguay, benefiting from a victory for Uruguay that also sent the two-time champions to Qatar.

La Tri, who failed to make Russia 2018, knew they needed only a point to be sure of a top-four finish with a game to spare.

However, already-eliminated Paraguay were clinical in Ciudad del Este, three up before the hour mark through Robert Morales, a Piero Hincapie own goal and Miguel Almiron.

Ecuador threatened a dramatic fightback as Jordy Caicedo scored a late penalty and Blas Riveros was sent off, but ultimately their fate was decided in Montevideo.

The third-placed side joined Uruguay in advancing with both teams on 25 points, four ahead of fifth-placed Peru, who went down 1-0 to Giorgian De Arrascaeta's goal late in the first half.

Peru are still in control of their play-off fate, although both Colombia and Chile can catch them as Paraguay attempt to again play the role of spoilers in Tuesday's final match in Lima.

A spectacular first-half performance from Brazil's forward trio of Neymar, Vinicius Junior and Antony paved the way for a stylish 3-0 win against Chile.

Neymar scored his 71st international goal in his 117th cap for Brazil, while for Vinicius there was just a second goal in his 13th international appearance as the Selecao claimed a deserved 2-0 half-time lead, controlling 63 per cent of the possession.

To Chile's credit – with their World Cup qualification hopes just about alive – their second half ensured a competitive encounter with chances of their own, but Brazil were comfortable, having already booked their place in Qatar.

A hopeful long ball forward ended up with a second penalty for the hosts, with Philippe Coutinho getting his name on the scoresheet soon after his arrival into the match after Neymar delegated the duties. There was time for Richarlison to add a fourth, too.

Brazil almost made a superb start after Antony sliced his way into the box from the right wing 30 seconds after kick-off, but his shot on goal was tame and easily gathered by Claudio Bravo.

Bravo stood firm amid an early onslaught, crucially taking the ball off Neymar's toes after a sloppy first touch 19 minutes in, but his first half took a turn for the worse.

After Mauricio Isla brought down Neymar in the box for a clear penalty in the 42nd minute, which the felled forward converted, Bravo botched a clearance less than two minutes later to allow Antony to slip in Vinicius for Brazil's second.

Chile's Arturo Vidal thought he had pegged one back four minutes into the second half, but the VAR ruled it out for offside, before Brazil made sure of the points with a penalty scored by substitute Coutinho when Antony beat Bravo to the ball and was wiped out.

Richarlison – also introduced off the bench – put the icing on the cake in stoppage time, cutting in on his left foot and curling a finish across Bravo to make it four.

Lucas Paqueta has defended Neymar against "false" accusations that the Brazil star turned up to Paris Saint-Germain training sessions drunk, describing them as "a lie".

The pair, rivals in Ligue 1 and team-mates with the Selecao, are both in camp ahead of their final Qatar 2022 World Cup qualifiers against Chile and Bolivia.

Neymar has arrived on the back of a rough personal period at Parc des Princes, having been booed alongside Lionel Messi following the club's Champions League exit.

Reports from RMC Sport suggested the forward had breached discipline at the club by showing up to training in a state of inebriation.

But speaking in a pre-match press conference, Lyon attacking midfielder Paqueta has fired back at such claims, hailing his fellow Selecao star as a "great professional".

"It's a total lack of respect, to say or transmit information that is false," he stated. "Obviously, [Neymar] didn't comment on that, I believe it's a lie.

"People talk too much and it ends up affecting us a little in a way, it's difficult to filter all that. You can't believe what people say. I believe Neymar is a great professional.

"Neymar, above all, is a great person, a great professional, who has an incredible talent, without a doubt is our best player in the Brazilian team.

"Having him with us is a privilege, particularly me, when I have Neymar on my side, I feel much stronger, as do all my team-mates. 

"I think he also feels the same, we motivate each other more, hug each other more and that makes us stronger."

Lionel Messi made a getaway from Paris to bolster Argentina ahead of their final World Cup qualifiers on Tuesday.

Rumours surround the future of Messi at club level, with Barcelona appearing to hold the door open in case he fancies a return to Camp Nou, having left in tears last August.

The seven-time Ballon d'Or winner's first season at Paris Saint-Germain is almost certain to end with a Ligue 1 title, but exits from the Champions League and Coupe de France have dampened spirits.

Messi was booed by PSG supporters in the recent 3-0 home win over Bordeaux, with that March 13 game following in the wake of defeat to Real Madrid in Europe.

He has another year left on his PSG contract after this season.

The national team captain was assured of a warm welcome with Argentina, having made the trip out later than planned after missing PSG's 3-0 weekend defeat at Monaco due to what coach Mauricio Pochettino said was a bout of flu.

The 34-year-old travelled by private jet with PSG team-mates Angel Di Maria and Leandro Paredes, ahead of a home game against Venezuela on Friday and a trip to face Ecuador four days later. Local media showed the pair arriving on Tuesday morning.

Argentina began their preparations for the games on Monday, ahead of the trio arriving from France.

Although Argentina have already qualified for the Qatar 2022 finals, Messi's availability comes as a boost to head coach Lionel Scaloni.

A host of injuries means Argentina's squad has been significantly weakened, and Inter striker Lautaro Martinez has pulled out after a positive COVID-19 test.

According to former national team defender Roberto Ayala, who is now Scaloni's assistant, Argentina have no worries about Messi.

Ayala told La Red earlier this month: "We see Messi well. He is a boy who is transformed when he comes to the national team. He is very contained by the group and also wants them to see him as part of the group."

Inter striker Lautaro Martinez will miss international duty with Argentina after testing positive for COVID-19.

Martinez was called up for Lionel Scaloni's squad for the upcoming World Cup qualifying fixtures against Venezuela and Ecuador.

But the 24-year-old will not feature after returning a positive test for coronavirus ahead of travelling to South America on Sunday.

Martinez will now serve a period of self-isolation in Italy and will hope to return to fitness for Inter's crunch trip to Juventus on April 3 in Serie A.

The Nerazzurri attacker has scored 14 times in 27 top-flight appearances this season, leading the club's scoring charts after finding the net once every 123 minutes on average.

Martinez, though, has just three goals in his last 11 league games – all of those coming in a hat-trick against Salernitana on March 3.

Indeed, he has been on somewhat of a barren run since the end of December, but he did end a 490-day wait for a Champions League goal with his sumptuous strike against Liverpool earlier this month.

Martinez will be hoping he can rediscover his form when Inter travel to Juve as Simone Inzaghi's side, who have played a game fewer, look to cut Serie A leaders Milan's six-point advantage over them.

Tite has continued his regeneration of the Brazil national team, with Gabriel Martinelli receiving a first international call-up.

Martinelli and Arsenal team-mate Gabriel Magalhaes are both without a cap but were named in Tite's squad on Friday, with the Selecao facing Chile on March 24 and Bolivia on March 29 in their final 2022 World Cup qualification window.

Along with the Arsenal duo, seven more players in the latest 25-man have won fewer than 10 caps for Brazil, including Bruno Guimaraes, Raphinha and Rodrygo.

Meanwhile, Roberto Firmino and Gabriel Jesus may face further risk of not playing in Qatar, having been left out of the squad.

However, the Selecao have already secured qualification, meaning there is increased scope for experimentation. They are currently four points ahead of second-placed Argentina, with 39 points from 15 games.

Notably, after not playing Brazil’s last three qualifiers, Neymar has returned to the squad.

Brazil squad: Alisson (Liverpool), Ederson (Manchester City), Weverton (Palmeiras); Danilo (Juventus), Dani Alves (Barcelona), Telles (Manchester United), Arana (Atletico Mineiro), Thiago Silva (Chelsea), Militao (Real Madrid), Marquinhos (Paris Saint-Germain), Gabriel Magalhaes (Arsenal); Casemiro (Real Madrid), Fabinho (Liverpool), Fred (Manchester United), Paqueta (Lyon), Arthur (Juventus), Guimaraes (Newcastle United), Coutinho (Aston Villa, on loan from Barcelona); Neymar (Paris Saint-Germain), Richarlison (Everton), Vinicius Junior, Rodrigo (both Real Madrid), Martinelli (Arsenal), Antony (Ajax), Raphinha (Leeds United).

Neymar has criticised the connection between the Brazil national team and their fans as he questioned whether the Selecao are as important now.

Brazil became the first South American team to qualify for the 2022 World Cup, with Neymar set to take part in Qatar in November.

However, the Paris Saint-Germain forward, who missed a penalty in a 3-1 defeat to Nantes in Ligue 1 on Saturday, believes the Selecao's games are not talked about enough and there is no hype around their outings.

"Today the national team has distanced itself from the fans, I don't know why, but I see it through the games," Neymar told Ronaldo Nazario on the Fenomenos podcast.

"There is little comment, few people know when we are going to play. And that's bad, it's sad. In this generation of mine, when the national team plays, it's no longer important.

"When I was a child, the national team match was an event. You put the Brazilian flag in the window. There was a barbecue, there was cake and there was everything at home. It was quite an event. 

"Today it no longer has that importance, I don't know how we got to this stage. I hope that everything will come back, that the fans will once again support the Brazilian team. 

"That we'll be together to go in search of the World Cup, which is what everyone wants."

Neymar has endured a tumultuous relationship with Brazil, revealing last year that he was unsure whether he could manage another World Cup with the national side due to the mental stress it imposes on him.

Brazil remain unbeaten in their 15 CONMEBOL qualifiers for the World Cup, in which they next face Chile on March 24.

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