Lionel Messi's two-match ban is to be appealed by Barcelona, the club confirmed.

Messi was dismissed in the 121st minute of Sunday's Supercopa de Espana defeat to Athletic Bilbao as he took a swing at Asier Villalibre in an off-the-ball incident that was spotted by the VAR.

It was the first time he had been sent off for the club and only the third red in his entire 17-year career for Barca and Argentina.

Barca lost the match 3-2 in Seville and a ruling by the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) competition committee on Tuesday deemed Messi's offence serious enough to warrant a two-match suspension.

That will rule him out of the Copa del Rey match against Cornella on Thursday and Sunday's LaLiga trip to Elche, before returning for another tussle with Villalibre and Athletic on January 31.

But Barca seemingly deemed the punishment too sever and announced plans to appeal soon after the RFEF's initial decision.

Barca's statement read: "Barcelona is to appeal the suspension issued to Leo Messi. The competition committee announced on Tuesday that the Argentinian's red card in the final minutes of the Supercopa de Espana final against Athletic Club shall incur a two-match ban."

Barcelona captain Lionel Messi has been banned for two domestic matches following his red card in the Supercopa de Espana final defeat to Athletic Bilbao.

Messi was dismissed in the 119th minute of Sunday's game as he took a swing at Asier Villalibre in an off-the-ball incident that was spotted by the VAR, and referee Jesus Gil Manzano subsequently showed him the red.

It was the first time he has been sent off for the club and only the third red card in his entire 17-year career for Barca and Argentina.

Reports in Spain had suggested an extended ban could be imposed on Messi, and a statement by the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) confirmed on Tuesday that he will be suspended for Barca's next two games.

Therefore, he will miss the Copa del Rey game against Cornella and the league trip to Elche – he will return in time for another tussle with Villalibre and Athletic on January 31.

 

Lionel Messi's Barcelona career has had just about everything - but until Sunday night the Argentine superstar had not been red-carded for the Camp Nou giants.

That changed when Messi was sent off for the first time in his club career after dramatically losing his cool late on in the 3-2 Supercopa de Espana final loss to Athletic Bilbao.

Messi, who recovered from a minor injury to take a place in Barca's starting line-up, saw red in what was his 753rd appearance for the club.

With 119 minutes of the match played, Messi swung at Asier Villalibre in an off-the-ball incident that was spotted by VAR and referee Jesus Gil Manzano reached into his back pocket.

The 33-year-old is now facing a possible extended ban that will carry over into LaLiga, with the disciplinary committee of the Spanish FA (RFEF) to have the final say on the length of the suspension.

It was the third red card of Messi's 17-year career overall, having also previously been dismissed twice for Argentina.

He was given his marching orders following a clash with Gary Medel in a Copa America third-place play-off in July 2019 and was famously sent off on his international debut against Hungary in 2005.

Messi failed to find the target from any of his three attempts in the loss to Athletic, who twice came from behind to win the competition for just a third time.

Antoine Griezmann scored twice, either side of Oscar De Marcos' equaliser, but Villalibre levelled up in the 90th minute and Inaki Williams scored a sublime winner three minutes into extra time.

Reflecting on the defeat, Barca boss Ronald Koeman - denied a first piece of silverware since succeeding Quique Setien at Camp Nou in August - said: "It was a difficult game. 

"We were really close to the victory. It is always difficult to concede just before half-time, and then again at the end. It's really difficult to handle."

Diego Maradona has been hailed as a "poet and a great champion" by Pope Francis, the head of the Catholic Church.

Maradona passed away at the age of 60 in November having suffered heart failure.

The former Argentina star is considered as one of the world's greatest ever players, having led his country to World Cup glory in 1986 and taken Napoli from Serie A also-rans to one of Italy's dominant forces.

Maradona had his off-field issues, including drug abuse and doping scandals, but Pope Francis, who met Maradona in 2014, praised the impact his compatriot had.

"I met Diego Armando Maradona during a Match for Peace in 2014: I remember with pleasure everything that Diego did for Scholas Occurrentes, the foundation that takes care of the needy all over the world," The Pope told Gazzetta dello Sport.

"On the pitch he was a poet and a great champion who gave joy to millions of people, in Argentina as in Naples. He was also a very fragile man."

Pope Francis also recalled his memories of the 1986 World Cup, with Maradona starring in Mexico, finishing with five goals and assisting Argentina's winner in the final.

"I have a personal memory linked to the 1986 World Cup, the one that Argentina won thanks to Maradona," Pope Francis continued.

"I was in Frankfurt; it was a difficult time for me, I was studying the language and collecting material for my thesis.

"I hadn't been able to see the World Cup final and I only learned the next day of Argentina's victory over Germany, when a Japanese boy wrote 'Viva l'Argentina' on the blackboard during a German lesson.

"I remember it, personally, as the victory of loneliness because I had no one with whom to share the joy of that sporting victory: loneliness makes you feel alone, while what makes joy beautiful is being able to share it.

"When I was told of Maradona's death, I prayed for him and sent the family a rosary with a few personal words of comfort."

Rugby World Cup 2023 hosts France will face New Zealand in the pool phase, while reigning champions South Africa have been paired with Ireland and Scotland. 

France and three-time winners New Zealand are joined in Pool A by Italy, plus qualifiers from the Americas and Africa regions. 

Ireland and Scotland faced each other in the 2019 tournament in Japan and will lock horns again as rivals in Pool B, which also contains the current holders in the Springboks. 

Pool C has a sense of familiarity to it, Wales, Australia and Fiji once again grouped together, as was also the case last year. 

And in Pool D, England coach Eddie Jones will face his former team in Japan plus Argentina, who beat New Zealand for the first time in their history last month.

Twelve teams have so far qualified for the tournament, with eight more to be determined by November 2022.

Tournament organisers will announce fixtures and venues in February 2021.


Pool A: New Zealand, France, Italy, Americas qualifier, Africa qualifier

Pool B: South Africa, Ireland, Scotland, Asia/Pacific qualifier, Europe qualifier

Pool C: Wales, Australia, Fiji, Europe qualifier, final qualifier winner

Pool D: England, Japan, Argentina, Oceania qualifier, Americas qualifier

Lionel Messi thanked the late Alejandro Sabella for helping create some of his greatest memories after the former Argentina coach died on Tuesday.

Sabella, who led Argentina to the 2014 World Cup final that ended in defeat to Germany, passed away in hospital at the age of 66 following a long illness.

Among the former midfielder's top achievements was leading Estudiantes to the 2009 Copa Libertadores title and taking Pep Guardiola's Barcelona to extra time in the Club World Cup final in the same year.

Mauro Boselli put Estudiantes in front before Pedro equalised in the 89th minute and Messi secured a 2-1 winner in the second additional period.

In a tribute posted on Instagram, Messi wrote: "It was a pleasure to share so much with you. Alejandro was a great person, aside from being an impressive professional who shaped my career and I learned a lot from him.

"We experienced some of my best memories in football together during the World Cup qualifying stage and also at the World Cup. My condolences to all his family and friends."

Estudiantes great Juan Sebastian Veron, a Libertadores champion under Sabella in 2009 and now the team's chairman, expressed his emotions at the loss of Sabella, insisting he plans to carry on the former coach's work.

"Words are never enough when what needs to be said overwhelms the soul. We can cry, close our minds, feel the void and turn our backs. Or we can continue to do and convey everything Ale taught us, gave us," Veron wrote.

"Solidarity. Us before the individual. And so many values you always highlighted. We're going to miss you. I'm going to miss you. But it's in us to get on with what you left us."

Former Argentina head coach Alejandro Sabella has died at the age of 66.

Sabella, who led his country to the World Cup final in 2014, had been ill in hospital in his homeland.

The Argentina Football Association (AFA) said in a Twitter statement: "The AFA, via president Claudio Tapia, deeply regrets the death of Alejandro Sabella, former coach of Argentina, and sends its warmest hug to his family and loved ones."

A former international midfielder who played for Sheffield United and Leeds United in England, as well as River Plate and Estudiantes, he was best known for his work as a coach towards the end of his career in football.

Sabella led Estudiantes to Copa Libertadores glory in 2009 and the final of the Club World Cup later that year, where they lost to Pep Guardiola's Barcelona.

Hugely popular in La Plata, Sabella took over as national team boss from Sergio Batista in 2011.

Appointing Lionel Messi as captain, the Albiceleste reached the final of the World Cup six years ago in Brazil, where they lost 1-0 to Germany thanks to Mario Gotze's extra-time goal. Messi was awarded the Golden Ball as the tournament's best player.

Sabella resigned from his position in July 2014, having suggested he no longer had the energy to fulfil the demands of the role.

Estudiantes described Sabella as "the star that we choose and will wear proudly on our chest", adding: "Thank you for so many teachings and for your legacy."

Radamel Falcao, who knew Sabella from his early career with River, wrote on Twitter: "Unfortunate news of the death of Alejandro Sabella. We worked together at River.

"My condolences to his family, friends, and everyone who had the opportunity to know him."

Watching Diego Maradona play was "the best thing in the world" for Cafu, who has described the late Argentina great as a genius.

The sporting world mourned the death of a legendary figure after Maradona died on November 25 at the age of 60.

He won 91 caps for Argentina between 1977 and 1994 - including leading his country to World Cup glory in 1986 - and will forever be an icon at Napoli, having won the Serie A title twice while in Italy.

Cafu may have represented Brazil - Argentina's rivals - but is full of admiration for Maradona, whom he says sits on the same level as Pele when it comes to discussing the greatest of all time.

"He was one of the best ever, without any doubt," Cafu told Stats Perform News courtesy of Nissan.  

"There are only two best ever: Dieguito, as I called him, and Pele.  

"Football lost the magic of touching the ball. Dieguito cared for the football like you care for a child. He really joked with the football and the sport. 

"For us, fans and players, to watch him play was unbelievable, the best thing in the world. I remember a set-piece he took inside the box [against Juventus], he just caressed the ball and laid it in the goal. 

"Now our world is mourning not because we lost a player, but because we lost a football genius."

Pele himself described Maradona as a "true legend" in a heartfelt Instagram post following the news of his friend's passing last month.

"Many people loved to compare us all their lives. You were a genius that enchanted the world. A magician with the ball at his feet. A true legend. But above all that, for me, you will always be a great friend, with an even bigger heart," Pele wrote to accompany a picture of the pair.

"Today, I know that the world would be much better if we could compare each other less and start admiring each other more. So, I want to say that you are incomparable."

Napoli, meanwhile, now play at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona, the name of the ground having been changed in honour of their former player.

Michael Hooper admitted Australia were unhappy with their showing after Saturday's 16-16 draw with Argentina meant the Wallabies finished bottom of the Tri Nations.

The captain rescued the home team from the prospect of defeat when he was carried over for a second-half try, with Reece Hodge making the conversion to tie up the game.

A dramatic contest featuring a red card for Lukhan Salakaia-Loto and three yellows, plus a try for each team, could have had a late twist but Hodge missed a long-range penalty in the 80th minute.

The outcome meant New Zealand were confirmed as champions, which was practically inevitable from the first whistle given it would have taken a landslide victory for either Australia or Argentina to threaten the All Blacks' supremacy.

A frustrated Hooper told Fox Sports: "They're a tough cookie to crack, the Argies. They applied pressure really well and we weren't able to get over the try-line much except for our mauls there.

"It's been a long season, a tough season, and it's been great to salvage some Test matches and get on the field and get some games in front of Aussies crowds.

"We'll build from that, we're not happy with the performance, we're disappointed that we can't get a win there for our last game."

Heavy rain at Bankwest Stadium meant both sides found it difficult to find fluency. It was the second draw between the teams in the Tri Nations, after a 15-15 battle two weeks ago in Newcastle.

"It was hard conditions there," Hooper said.

"I think we were smarter with our kicks and won the territory battle, we were just unable to convert. Disappointed we couldn't play a bit more.

"I think when we did, we showed some nice stuff, but Argentina have been great defensively throughout this competition. It's a tough ask with four back-to-back big Test matches so they did well.

"We've got to be more accurate. We're far too inaccurate around our ball control and playing in the right areas of the field."

Australia and Argentina fought out their second draw in the Tri Nations as the dramatic 16-16 outcome confirmed New Zealand as champions.

Reece Hodge missed a last-minute penalty from long range, in a match that neither side entered with realistic hope of wresting first place away from the All Blacks.

The Wallabies required a bonus-point win with a margin of at least 101 points, while Argentina had to outscore their opponents by 93, so realistically this was a battle to secure second place, which went to the South Americans by virtue of their better points difference.

On a damp night at Bankwest Stadium in Sydney, Australia were trailing when they had Lukhan Salakaia-Loto sent off midway through the second half, but captain Michael Hooper powered over for a game-saving try, with Hodge booting a nerve-testing conversion to level the game.

Argentina had endured a chaotic week, which saw captain Pablo Matera sacked from that job and suspended, along with two team-mates, before the decisions were overturned.

The reinstatements came too late to affect the composition of Saturday's team, with Jeronimo de la Fuente skippering the side, two weeks on from these teams battling out a 15-15 stalemate in Newcastle.

Marcos Kremer was yellow-carded in the 15th minute for cleaning out James O'Connor, using a shoulder. Hodge took the easy three points, but Nicolas Sanchez booted a penalty from halfway for Argentina moments later.

Hooper went to the sin bin for another shoulder-first cleanout, Sanchez the man on the receiving end. With Sanchez off the field for a medical check, replacement Domingo Miotti was charged with kicking duties when Argentina won a penalty, and the Jaguares fly-half made no mistake.

Argentina then snatched a try in the 34th minute as Felipe Ezcurra dashed through midfield before releasing Bautista Delguy to burst through the last lines of Australian defence, celebrating before he dived across the line. Miotti added the extras.

Hodge clipped the Wallabies' deficit to 13-6 at the interval and added a further three points early in the second half, but their momentum was checked when Salakaia-Loto was red-carded for a dangerously high hit on Santiago Grondona.

Miotti booted the ensuing penalty before Lucas Paulos was yellow-carded for collapsing the scrum as Australia pushed close to the Argentina line.

Hooper barged across for his 20th international try and Hodge smacked over the conversion to bring the sides level. But at the death Hodge was off target, Australia denied a win that might have masked some of their shortcomings.

Napoli's stadium has officially been renamed in honour of Diego Maradona, the Municipality of Naples announced on Friday. 

The sporting world was shaken last week when Argentina great Maradona – widely considered to be one of football's greatest ever players – died at the age of 60 after suffering heart failure.

A World Cup winner with Argentina, Maradona enjoyed stunning success in Naples, where he guided Napoli to unprecedented Serie A glory in 1986-87, and then again in 1989-90. The Partenopei are yet to add to their only two Scudetto honours.

Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis said last week it would be "right" to rename Stadio San Paolo after the Argentinian and the Naples city council on Friday unanimously approved a resolution that will change its name to Stadio Diego Armando Maradona.

The change still needs to be authorised by the Prefect of the Province of Naples, but that is expected to be a formality.

"With a resolution approved today, the stadium was named after Diego Armando Maradona," the Municipality said in a statement.

"Shortly before the executive committee meeting, the advisory commission for city toponymy had approved the proposal of the mayor, the councillor for toponymy Alessandra Clemente and the city council, naming the Stadio San Paolo after Diego Armando Maradona with the name Stadio Diego Armando Maradona."

Maradona won 91 caps for Argentina between 1977 and 1994, scoring 34 goals at international level.

He started his career with Argentinos Juniors, before joining Boca Juniors and going on to play for Barcelona, Sevilla and Newell's Old Boys, as well as Napoli, before returning to La Bombonera in 1995.

Maradona also had stints in charge of Textil Mandiyu, Racing Club, Al-Wasl, Fujairah and Dorados de Sinaloa in Mexico before being appointed head coach by Gimnasia y Esgrima La Plata last year.

He remained Gimnasia coach until his death.

Australia or Argentina must do something miraculous on Saturday to rip the Tri Nations title from New Zealand's grasp.

With the All Blacks boasting a points differential of plus 64, the Wallabies need a bonus-point win with a margin of at least 101 points.

The task facing the Pumas, who also need a bonus point, is only slightly less daunting as Mario Ledesma's side must outscore their opponents by 93.

With such lofty targets to hit, this weekend's clash in Sydney is more about signing off from the competition in style than any remote prospect of actually winning it.

Nonetheless, these two sides drew in their meeting on matchday four, making it an intriguing fixture even if silverware is not realistically on the line.

We use Opta data to preview the showdown as the 2020 Tri Nations draws to a close.

FORM

Australia are enduring a tough time, with Dave Rennie's side having won only one of their previous six Tests, although that victory was against New Zealand on matchday two.

The Wallabies' record against the Pumas offers scope for encouragement for the hosts, who have lost just one of the teams' past 10 meetings.

Argentina have proven particularly stubborn in the first half of matches, conceding only one try before the break in their four games so far in the Tri Nations.

On the flip side, Ledesma's charges have allowed six second-half tries.

ONES TO WATCH

Argentina's Nicolas Sanchez has the best goal-kicking accuracy in the competition this year, nailing 85.7 per cent of his attempts. His tally of 40 points is the second best return of any player at the tournament.

Tom Wright has proven a formidable force for Australia, gaining 9.9 metres per carry, putting him top in that category of players who have made at least 10 carries.

Pele believes the death of Diego Maradona should teach the world to "admire each other more" and spread a little more love.

The sporting world was shaken last week when Argentina great Maradona died at the age of 60 after suffering heart failure.

Former Brazil superstar Pele, who is now 80, intimated he was tired of being compared to Maradona, with the South American pair having been widely regarded for many years as the greatest players of all time.

The likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have entered that conversation in recent times, but Pele says looking for winners during such debates can stifle appreciation levels.

In a new tribute to Maradona, Pele wrote: "Many people loved to compare us all their lives. You were a genius that enchanted the world. A magician with the ball at his feet. A true legend. But above all that, for me, you will always be a great friend, with an even bigger heart.

"Today, I know that the world would be much better if we could compare each other less and start admiring each other more. So, I want to say that you are incomparable."

The mercurial Maradona won 91 caps for his country between 1977 and 1994, scoring 34 goals at international level.

Pele was sorry he did not have a chance to say goodbye to Maradona in person, but he said the 1986 World Cup winner had managed to be influential, even in death.

In his message, posted to Instagram, Pele added: "Your trajectory was marked by honesty. And in your unique and particular way, you taught us that we have to love and say 'I love you' a lot more often. Your quick departure didn't let me say it to you, so I will just write: I love you, Diego."

He illustrated their friendship with a series of photographs, dating back decades, beginning with an early encounter when a young Maradona watches Pele play guitar.

"My great friend, thank you very much for our entire journey," Pele wrote. "One day, in heaven, we will play together on the same team. And it will be the first time that I raise my fist in the air in triumph on the pitch without celebrating a goal. It will be because I can finally embrace you again."

Pablo Matera has been reinstated as Argentina captain, just two days after being sacked from the post and suspended.

The 27-year-old Matera and two team-mates have had suspensions lifted after the Argentine Rugby Union (UAR) decided the sanctions imposed for historic "discriminatory" social media posts had been "unnecessary".

It was announced by the UAR on Tuesday that Matera, Guido Petti and Santiago Socino had all been stood down from international duty ahead of Saturday's Tri Nations clash with Australia at Bankwest Stadium.

The trio were found to have posted "discriminatory and xenophobic comments" to their social media channels between 2011 and 2013.

All three were reported to have published apologies on Instagram before setting their profiles to private, while they were summoned to address a disciplinary committee on Wednesday.

Although the UAR says the disciplinary process will continue as it aims to reach a final conclusion, the governing body confirmed Matera has been restored to his previous role and all three players' suspensions have been lifted.

In a statement, the UAR said: "[While addressing the committee] the three players expressed their deep regret, reiterated the apology, ratified that it is not what they think and that it was a reckless act typical of immaturity. However, they take full responsibility and are responsible, for which they made themselves available to the commission to investigate the circumstances and seek to repair the damage caused.

"At the time of preliminary issuance, the disciplinary committee has considered and valued the attitude of the three players during this process, and understands that they have not repeated similar actions during these more than eight years, and that they have shown during this time to be people with firm and upright values, worthy of being part of our team."

It appears the trio will not be involved against Australia, with Argentina coach Mario Ledesma having already named his 23-man squad for the game, leaving out Matera, Petti and Socino.

The UAR statement added: "The disciplinary process continues and the commission will reach a final resolution in the next few days in accordance with the time of the procedure. In this first instance it considers that the maintenance of preventive measures is unnecessary, for which it resolves to lift the suspension of the three players and restore the captaincy of Pablo Matera.

"The Argentine Rugby Union and the squad have different roles and responsibilities but the same objective: to make rugby continue to grow as a sport.

"The path of deep reflection on certain practices associated with our sport, which began at the beginning of the year with the Rugby 2030 programme, we have no doubt that it will take time. And it requires, both on the part of the leadership and the establishment, to give strong signals at the right moment."

James O'Connor has been named to return for the Wallabies against Argentina in the Tri Nations on Saturday.

O'Connor is back from a knee injury, which he suffered in the second Bledisloe Cup Test against New Zealand in October.

He will start at fly-half in Sydney, with Reece Hodge moving to full-back.

O'Connor is one of two changes to the starting side, with Allan Alaalatoa also coming in for Taniela Tupou.

"It's great to have James back in the team this weekend, he brings a lot of experience to a young group and has been working really hard to get his body right to be able to get back on the field," Wallabies head coach Dave Rennie said.

"Reece has done a great job for us at number 10 over the past two games and we're confident he'll put in another good performance for us on Saturday night from full-back.

"The side has worked really hard over the last 10 weeks or so and built a strong connection and I know as a full squad we are really keen to put together a performance that reflects that."

The All Blacks have effectively won the Tri Nations, topping the table by five points ahead of Australia and Argentina ahead of the final game of the tournament.

The Wallabies have lost only one of their past 10 Tests against the Pumas, although they are out to avoid back-to-back winless games against Argentina for the first time since 1987 after the nations drew last month.

A much-changed Pumas outfit are coming off a 38-0 loss to New Zealand and a week of controversy during which captain Pablo Matera was stripped of the captaincy and suspended over "discriminatory and xenophobic" social media posts between 2011 and 2013.

Guido Petti and Santiago Socino were also stood down from international duty.

It was reported on Thursday that Matera would be restored to the captaincy by Argentina.

Australia: Reece Hodge, Tom Wright, Jordan Petaia, Hunter Paisami, Marika Koroibete, James O'Connor, Nic White; Scott Sio, Brandon Paenga-Amosa, Allan Alaalatoa, Rob Simmons, Matt Philip, Ned Hanigan, Michael Hooper, Harry Wilson.
Replacements: Folau Fainga'a, Angus Bell, Taniela Tupou, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Rob Valetini, Jake Gordon, Irae Simone, Tom Banks.

Argentina: Santiago Carreras, Bautista Delguy, Matias Orlando, Jeronimo De la Fuente, Emiliano Boffelli, Nicolas Sanchez, Felipe Ezcurra; Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, Julian Montoya, Francisco Gomez Kodela, Matias Alemanno, Marcos Kremer, Santiago Grondona, Facundo Isa, Rodrigo Bruni.
Replacements: Jose Luis Gonzalez, Mayco Vivas, Juan Pablo Zeiss, Lucas Paulos, Francisco Gorrissen, Gonzalo Bertranou, Domingo Miotti, Santiago Chocobares.

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