Lionel Messi expressed the importance of victory and not the performance after Argentina kicked off their World Cup qualifying campaign with a 1-0 win over Ecuador.

Messi was the hero again for Argentina in Buenos Aires on Thursday, converting a 13th-minute penalty in the country's first match since November last year.

Argentina were scheduled to begin their CONMEBOL qualifying campaign for Qatar 2022 in March, but the coronavirus pandemic scuppered those plans.

The South American giants finally returned to action in a lacklustre display and extended their unbeaten streak to eight games, dating back to the 2019 Copa America in July, thanks to superstar captain and six-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi.

"We knew it was going to be complicated. but the most important thing is that we won and now we have to work to keep growing," Messi said post-match.

"It was important to start off with a win because we know how difficult the world cup qualifiers are.

"The matches are always tough. We hoped the level of play would be different but it's been almost a year since we played together, this was our first game back and the nervousness makes it complicated."

Messi and Argentina played at an empty La Bombonera – the iconic home of Argentine powerhouse Boca Juniors – amid the COVID-19 crisis.

There have been more than 856,000 confirmed cases and over 22,700 deaths from coronavirus in Argentina.

"It was a complicated year for what we are living through," added Barcelona's Messi, whose Argentina meet Bolivia on Tuesday.

"Being able to go back and play with the Argentina national team and give happiness to people with the win, beyond the game, serves to decompress. Much strength to all Argentines."

Lionel Messi was the hero as Argentina opened their CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying campaign with a 1-0 win over Ecuador.

Argentina were scheduled to start their road to Qatar 2022 in March, but the qualifiers were postponed amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Messi and Argentina finally took to the pitch at the iconic La Bombonera on Thursday, and the superstar captain's 13th-minute penalty settled the contest in Buenos Aires.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner took his international tally to 71 goals as Argentina extended their unbeaten streak to eight matches, dating back to the country's third-place play-off victory over Chile at the 2019 Copa America.

Argentina were playing for the first time since their 2-2 friendly draw with South American rivals Uruguay in November last year, and it was the same situation for Ecuador.

Messi, Lautaro Martinez and Rodrigo De Paul were in the starting XI for Argentina, while star Paulo Dybala was a late withdrawal due to a stomach problem.

Argentina were gifted the chance to open the scoring just 13 minutes in when a wild challenge from Ecuador defender Pervis Estupinan chopped down Lucas Ocampos inside the penalty area, and Messi made no mistake from the spot.

Lionel Scaloni's Argentina dictated proceedings but both teams struggled for fluidity in their first international matches in almost a year.

Ecuador had a chance to equalise in the second minute of first-half stoppage time as Erick Ferigra found himself unmarked at the back post following a teasing set-piece, but it would not have counted anyway after the flag was raised for offside.

Ocampos thought he had made it 2-0 for Argentina just three minutes into the second half – a lovely cushioned header from Martinez teeing up the Sevilla star – however Ecuador goalkeeper Alexander Dominguez produced a stunning one-handed star to tip the ball around the post.

The second half was a largely dull affair as Argentina held on for maximum points in their first appearance of 2020.

 

What does it mean? Argentina building under Scaloni

After a turbulent 2018 World Cup campaign, Argentina's progress with Scaloni at the helm is evident. La Albiceleste have not lost since going down to Brazil at the Copa America in July last year. During that period, Argentina have beaten Chile, Mexico and Brazil, while also drawing with Germany.

Messi does his thing

Scaloni was asked about Messi's mindset following a difficult off-season, which saw the Barcelona superstar request a transfer from Camp Nou. A move away did not materialise and while he was far from his majestic best, the 33-year-old produced when it mattered most.

Toothless Ecuador

Gustavo Alfaro's men, led by Enner Valencia, did not offer much in the attacking third. While they were not outplayed, Argentina were rarely tested as Ecuador – routed 6-1 in the previous meeting – crashed to back-to-back losses after falling to Colombia in November.

What's next?

Argentina travel to face Bolivia on Tuesday, while Ecuador host Uruguay on the same day.

New Zealand will not have to quarantine over Christmas after their second Rugby Championship meeting with Australia was brought forward.

The All Blacks were scheduled to face the Wallabies in Sydney to close out the six-week tournament, which was pushed back due to the coronavirus pandemic, on December 12, meaning that after returning to New Zealand they would still be in a 14-day period of self-isolation on Christmas Day.

However, SANZAAR and tournament hosts Rugby Australia have rescheduled the Bledisloe Cup Test, which will now open the tournament in Sydney on October 31.

South Africa's second Test against Argentina will still be played on December 12 but has been moved from ANZ Stadium to Newcastle's McDonald Jones Stadium.

"This year has been a year of continued adjustment where the SANZAAR partners have had to compromise on a number of levels," said SANZAAR CEO Andy Marinos.

"It is important to further acknowledge the sacrifice of a number of the players and team management that will have been away from home for close to six months by the time the Rugby Championship has concluded. This is again a testament to the strong values that encompass our game.

"The 12-match Rugby Championship is now all set for kick-off. The Argentina Pumas have already arrived in Australia and we all look forward to an exciting and vibrant tournament that will undoubtedly showcase the best of southern hemisphere rugby."

Rugby Australia's interim chief executive Rob Clarke added: "I'm pleased this draw is now resolved and that the SANZAAR joint venture has reached a suitable compromise.

"Each party has had to sacrifice something, and I think that is a true indication of the strength of the SANZAAR alliance."

Argentina head coach Lionel Scaloni insisted superstar captain Lionel Messi is happy ahead of the country's World Cup qualifier against Ecuador.

Messi's Argentina will begin their World Cup qualifying campaign on Thursday, after the coronavirus pandemic forced the road to Qatar 2022 to be postponed in March.

Six-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi is in the squad following a turbulent off-season, having handed in a transfer request at embattled LaLiga giants Barcelona.

Asked about Messi on the eve of the qualifier in Buenos Aires, Scaloni told reporters: "I spoke with Leo when his conflict with Barcelona was resolved and I noticed him calm and serene.

"Now we have had a fairly long talk and he told me that he is happy to be here and that he is better at his club.

"From a distance, we only wanted him to resolve the situation so that he could start playing and get in shape. For me it is positive that he has stayed because he has started to play and knows the environment.

"As for personal decisions, we do not get in or invade the players' spaces."

Scaloni, whose Argentina have not played since November, added: "Leo will always be a forward no matter how much he sometimes stands at nine and sometimes as second forward. What we try is to always have three options up and tomorrow's game will be the same.

"I don't think Leo has changed so much his way of playing or his position on the court, in the end he is a forward and is always in those positions."

Lionel Messi's influence on the Argentina squad is so strong that his international team-mate Rodrigo De Paul says he would "go to war" for the Barcelona star if he asked him to.

Messi, 33, has been Argentina captain since 2011 and helped them to three successive finals in that time, but each one – two in the Copa America and one in the World Cup – ended in defeat.

He retired from international football after the 2016 Copa America only to make a U-turn, while he then took a prolonged break from Argentina duty in the wake of disappointment at the 2018 World Cup.

Messi returned again in May last year, however, and appears set to remain in the fold until at least the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

De Paul has become a regular in the selection since Russia 2018 under new coach Lionel Scaloni and has witnessed Messi's influence in close quarters.

While the six-time Ballon d'Or winner has been criticised at times in his career for a quiet and reserved nature, traits not generally associated with captaincy, De Paul is adamant the effect he has on people is significant.

Speaking to FIFA, Udinese star De Paul said: "You look up to him, obviously.

"But when you start sharing things with him, he is so transparent that, instead of telling him what you think of him, you feel more like asking him about his little kids or of reminding him of the time he took you out with his studs up in a Valencia-Barcelona game!

"When he becomes your captain, you'd go to war for him if he asked you to.

"The only untouchable one is Leo. The rest of us contribute by doing whatever is asked of us."

Both Messi and De Paul have been included in the preliminary Argentina squad to face Ecuador and Bolivia in World Cup qualifiers on October 8 and 13.

 

Michael Cheika will attempt to plot Australia's downfall during the Rugby Championship after taking up a role with Argentina. 

Cheika, who stepped down as Wallabies head coach following the Rugby World Cup last October, has agreed to work as an external advisor for Pumas boss Mario Ledesma, who served as his assistant during his Australia tenure. 

Ledesma believes Cheika can have a significant influence during the six-week tournament in Australia, which starts on November 7. 

"With Michael, we started talking at the beginning of the year," Ledesma said. 

"I proposed to him the idea of working together again and he was immediately interested. We agreed from the first moment. I noticed [he was] very excited. He always liked Argentine rugby a lot. 

"He is a person who can bring us a lot of experience both to the group of players and to the staff. As was the incorporation of 'Tano' [Marcelo Loffreda], in the first days of August. 

"Undoubtedly, it is an excellent opportunity to continue learning because he is a person who thinks a lot about things outside the box who has an innovative and super creative vision, different from that of many coaches that I could cross. 

"In addition, when the Championship was confirmed in Australia, we were able to dialogue and listen to their recommendations about places to train, schedules and even issues related to the weather. 

"For his part, we have already been conducting several talks with him and the entire staff, about issues of the game, defence, attack, types of exercises, individual techniques and others. So that exchange was spectacular."

Rugby Australia has vowed to do "everything in its power" to find a "reasonable resolution" after New Zealand Rugby (NZR) refused to rule out boycotting the Rugby Championship.

NZR on Thursday stated it had not agreed to a schedule that is due to see the All Blacks play their last match of a six-week tournament on December 12, which would leave the players in quarantine for Christmas.

Mark Robinson, the NZR chief executive, said the fixture list broke a commitment from Rugby Australia and governing body SANZAAR for the All Blacks to play their final game of the competition on December 5 - enabling them to spend the festive period with their families.

Rugby Australia interim chief executive Rob Clarke says there is ample time to reach an agreement over the scheduling and is confident the four-team competition will be a success.

Clarke said: "For absolute clarity - on two formal occasions - Rugby Australia was supportive of altering the draw so that the Rugby Championship could be played over five weeks.

"On both occasions, that proposal was rejected which means there was never an agreement to finish the tournament on Saturday 5 December 2020.

"That being said, no one wants players and team management to be away from their families and in quarantine over Christmas."

Clarke added: "Rugby Australia will do everything in its power to help assist New Zealand Rugby and the team in finding a reasonable resolution, and in urging them to exhaust every possible alternative.

"There are still more than two months to go before December 12 so we have plenty of time to find a solution.

"We will continue to work with New Zealand Rugby and support them however we can, just like we are doing with the Springboks and Argentina in assisting with their travel plans, as well as making their stay in Australia as safe and as comfortable as possible during the tournament.

"There have been a number of sacrifices made by each of the SANZAAR joint venture partners to get this far and I want to thank all of them for their flexibility and adaptability.

"There is obviously a lot to achieve in the coming months but I'm confident that under the leadership of each of the joint venture partners, that the 2020 Rugby Championship in Australia will be a great success."

Andrea Pirlo was untouchable at the height of his playing career, a footballer whose grace and prowling presence drew widespread admiration and struck fear into rival teams.

As a coach, we can surmise but really it is a guessing game as to what we will be getting from Pirlo as the dugout rookie leads Juventus into the 2020-21 season.

On Sunday evening in Italy, the man who was a World Cup winner in 2006 takes charge of his first Serie A game with Juve, who play Sampdoria in Turin.

Maurizio Sarri's Juve reign lasted just one season, albeit another Scudetto-yielding campaign for the most successful club in the league's history. Pirlo will be expected to deliver at least that level of success, and encourage a swagger too.

He joins a host of significant former players plucked for leadership roles at an elite level, typically on a hunch rooted in familiarity, the chosen ones often still fresh from their playing days and with scant experience to call on. Top marks in coaching exams provide no guarantee that success will follow.

Many times, the gamble on a colt coach has paid off, with presidents and owners rightly sensing the novice harbours the innate expertise to lead and to inspire, and crucially to bring results. On other occasions, it has ended in frustration and tears, and in some instances the jury remains out.

Here is a look at just some of those cases, illustrating how there are no guarantees attached to such appointments.

PEP GUARDIOLA

The go-to example for any club that wishes to justify appointing a club legend to sudden seniority on the coaching side, former midfield general Guardiola was just 37 when he took charge at Barcelona in 2008, after a year coaching the B team. He departed four years and 14 trophies later, including three LaLiga titles and two Champions League triumphs, and was vaunted as the world's best coach.

Further successes have come with Bayern Munich and Manchester City. Plainly, Pep was born to lead and Barcelona were wise to the fact.

ZINEDINE ZIDANE

How would Zidane, the mercurial playmaker – the only rival to Brazil striker Ronaldo when assessing the greatest player of their generation – take to coaching? Could the erstwhile Galactico tease out the best from those who can but dream of matching the twinkling feet and god-gifted balance with which he was blessed? Could the former Real Madrid maestro really be a suitable fit for the Bernabeu job that has swallowed up many an experienced coach?

Three Champions Leagues and two LaLiga titles later, we probably have a decent idea of the answer to those questions. There have still been ups and downs, and a brief split along the way, but 18 months in charge of Madrid's B team – Castilla – hardened Zidane for the obstacles he would face in the top job. His Madrid sides have at times lacked the verve that was his signature as a player, but they have delivered results and abundant trophies, and ultimately that is what counts.

MICHEL PLATINI

Before there was Zidane, France had Platini. A wonder of an attacking midfielder with Nancy, Saint-Etienne and Juventus, Platini was also a goalscoring titan of the France team that won Euro 84 and reached semi-finals at the 1982 and 1986 World Cups. It followed, to those that knew him, that Platini would go on to become a great national-team coach too, and at the age of 33 he was appointed to lead France, having retired as a player a year earlier. Platini took over with France already at a low ebb and defeats under his charge against Yugoslavia and Scotland meant they missed out on reaching the 1990 World Cup.

Could Platini bounce back? It seemed he might when France reached Euro 92 in style, with eight wins from eight qualifiers, Platini nurturing the likes of Didier Deschamps and Laurent Blanc, but Les Bleus flopped at the tournament itself as they and England bowed out of a group from which Sweden and Denmark advanced. Platini resigned not long afterwards, began to forge a solid reputation in football administration, and by the late 1990s had built a strong, ultimately fateful, alliance with the then FIFA secretary general Sepp Blatter. He would never coach again.

DIEGO MARADONA

If there were ever a case of being blinded by celebrity, then some of the presidents who have given Diego Armando Maradona coaching work surely have fallen victim. The biggest star of his generation, Maradona retired from playing in 1997 and, with barely a sniff of coaching experience and just about as much baggage as an airport carousel, was named boss of his native Argentina in 2008, tasked with taking the Albicelestes to the World Cup two years later. Argentina scraped their way into the finals and were thumped 4-0 by Germany in the quarter-finals. Maradona's contract was not renewed.

He has continued to pick up coaching work, one curious-looking appointment after another, most recently with Gimnasia in the Argentinian top flight. Maradona the coach has been no match for Maradona the player, and it was naive surely for anyone to think that was ever remotely possible.

FRANK LAMPARD

Pirlo was an artist of the 21st century game, and he is considered a deep thinker, while the common theory is that English midfield counterpart Lampard achieved much of his success through hard graft and maximising his rather more rudimentary talent. Whether either categorisation fits the bill is a moot point, but Lampard has a wiser head on his shoulders than many footballers, was top of the class in his school days, and his IQ is reputed to be through the roof.

Derby County gave him a first break in coaching but it took Chelsea just a year to pounce and parachute Lampard into his first Premier League manager's job. A Stamford Bridge great as a player, Lampard had an acceptable first season as Blues boss but the acid test comes in this new term after a spree of big-money signings. A high-stakes London gamble will play out in the coming months.

ALAN SHEARER

As Pirlo takes charge of those in the Bianconeri stripes he once wore – Cristiano Ronaldo and all – it bears remembering that returning black and white messiahs can fail. Former Newcastle United striker Shearer returned to St James' Park in April 2009, the club's record goalscorer aiming to rescue the team from the threat of relegation, but a dismal return of five points from eight games saw them sink out of the Premier League.

Shearer left and has not coached since, happily staying in his niche as a television pundit. There are pressures but also a certain comfort to that studio role. Two months at Newcastle was the sum of Shearer's coaching career: as Pirlo may yet find out, that can be all it takes to destroy the notion of it being a natural next step.

Lionel Messi headlines Argentina's preliminary 30-man squad for next month's CONMEBOL World Cup qualifiers against Ecuador and Bolivia.

World Cup qualifying for the 2022 showpiece in Qatar was due to begin in March, but the coronavirus pandemic forced a delay until October.

Now, Lionel Scaloni's Argentina – who have not played since November – will kick-off their campaign against Ecuador in Buenos Aires on October 8 before travelling to Bolivia five days later.

Argentina and Barcelona captain Messi is joined in the preliminary squad by Juventus star Paulo Dybala and Inter forward Lautaro Martinez.

Uncapped duo Facundo Medina and Nehuen Perez have also been included, while former Arsenal goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez could make his debut after completing a move to Aston Villa.

 

Argentina squad: Agustin Marchesin (Porto), Emiliano Martinez (Aston Villa), Juan Musso (Udinese); Marcos Acuna (Sevilla), Leonardo Balerdi (Marseille), Juan Foyth (Tottenham), Walter Kannemann (Gremio), Facundo Medina (Lens), Nicolas Otamendi (Manchester City), Nehuen Perez (Atletico Madrid), German Pezzella (Fiorentina), Renzo Saravia (Internacional), Nicolas Tagliafico (Ajax); Joaquin Correa (Lazio), Rodrigo De Paul (Udinese), Nicolas Dominguez (Stuttgart), Alejandro Gomez (Atalanta), Giovani Lo Celso (Tottenham), Alexis Mac Allister (Brighton and Hove Albion), Lucas Ocampos (Sevilla), Exequiel Palacios (Bayer Leverkusen), Leandro Paredes (Paris Saint-Germain), Guido Rodriguez (Real Betis); Lucas Alario (Bayer Leverkusen), Paulo Dybala (Juventus), Lautaro Martinez (Inter), Lionel Messi (Barcelona), Cristian Pavon (LA Galaxy), Giovanni Simeone (Cagliari).

New Zealand hosting the Rugby Championship this year is close to getting the green light, according to SANZAAR CEO Andy Marinos.

The annual competition was initially due to get under way on August 8 and see the six rounds of home and away fixtures contested over the space of eight weeks, but the coronavirus pandemic caused it to be pushed back.

November 7 has now been slated as the start date for a six-week Rugby Championship hosted entirely in New Zealand, which Marinos revealed is near to being confirmed.

"I feel as if we're close. If numbers and infections [in New Zealand] remain at this level or start improving, then we're very optimistic," Marinos told Stuff.

"But one can't ignore the fact of what we saw in New Zealand a few weeks ago, when there was an outbreak out of nowhere and swift reaction that was taken in order to contain it.

"There is always that element of unpredictability, but my philosophy throughout this whole pandemic is you've got to control the controllables, and make sure we're doing everything we can so that when the green light is given we can turn things on.”

He added: "We certainly remain very optimistic and positive to get the Rugby Championship underway.

"We're doing everything we can within our confines, and certainly working in a very cooperative way with the New Zealand government.

"NZ Rugby have been leading a lot of those discussions. We keep plugging away."

It has been reported that reigning champions and World Cup winners South Africa, Australia and Argentina could be based together in Queenstown in the South Island, with the All Blacks travelling around the country as normal.

Marinos was unwilling to confirm whether the Rugby Championship would follow the examples in other sports by creating a bio-secure bubble for teams.

"We have explored the possibility of centralising the other teams and just bringing them in and out for the various games. But again, that is very fluid. It's just a concept that we have considered," he said.

"The biggest challenge has always been that the players are going to be in a safe environment, and there is no doubt that New Zealand and Australia are probably safer than most major centres from an outbreak perspective.

"The other thing goes to player welfare. The quarantine can be managed if there is mobility and movement, and they can prepare.

"Given the stop-start nature of the seasons so far, it is imperative that players get as much physical activity as often as possible in order for them to stand up to the rigours of six Test matches in six weeks."

Lionel Messi is a "competitive beast" who will definitely play at the 2022 World Cup according to Xavi, who has reiterated his desire to one day coach his beloved Barcelona. 

Argentina great Messi will be 35 by the time the next international global showpiece is held in Qatar across November and December. 

Messi has suffered more than his fair share of heartbreak with La Albiceleste, losing three Copa America finals and the 2014 World Cup final to Germany. 

Despite turning 33 last month, Messi's numbers continue to be phenomenal and he topped LaLiga's goalscoring and assists charts with 25 and 21 respectively this term. 

Xavi, who played alongside Messi in Barca's first team from 2004 until his Camp Nou departure in 2015, is coaching Qatari side Al Sadd and fully expects to see his former team-mate involved at the next World Cup. 

"I see Leo playing until he wants to. On a physical level, he is fast, strong, he is a competitive beast, physically an animal," Xavi told Marca.  

"I have no doubt that he will play in Qatar 2022."

Xavi won eight league titles and the Champions League four times during a glittering Barca career. His name was heavily linked with the coaching vacancy at Camp Nou when Ernesto Valverde was sacked and while Quique Setien got the job, there is now speculation over his future too. 

Xavi has made no secret of his desire to one day return to Barca but says respect must be shown to Setien, who he feels has done some good work despite missing out on the league title to rivals Real Madrid.  

"I do not hide, and I have always said, that my main goal, when it occurs, is Barca. It is my home and it would be a dream," he said. 

"But now I am focused on Al Sadd, looking forward to the new season. When Barca has to come, in the short or long term, it will come. Above all, Quique Setien must be respected and I wish the team all the best. 

"Sometimes Barca plays very well, others well, and others not so well. But I like the idea of Setien, now and with his previous teams - dominate and make an attractive game.  

"Sometimes it is not possible, it is true, but the rival makes it difficult for you. We have seen very nice and very good games of Barca with Setien. Definitely."

It was revealed over the weekend that Xavi had returned a positive test for coronavirus, which meant he was not on the bench for Al Sadd's 2-1 victory over Al Khor. 

The World Cup winner says he is doing well but expects the transfer market to suffer as a result of the global health pandemic. 

"I am fine, although logically isolated, and wanting to train soon," he said. 

"It [coronavirus] will lower the level [of the market], like everything after this pandemic. It will be very damaged. There will be a reorganisation of everything, of clubs and players. It is a shame, but it will be so." 

Xavi has been in charge at Al Sadd for a little over a year, during which time they have won the Qatari Super Cup and Qatar Cup, while they also reached the AFC Champions League semi-finals last term. 

He spoke of the difficulty of trying to compete against other wealthy teams in Qatar and welcomed the arrival of former international team-mate Santi Cazorla to Al Sadd. 

"When you are in a winning club, like this one, the goal is to win everything, although you have to be aware of our rivals," he added.  

"In Qatar, we have ahead of us Al Duhail, who has twice the budget of us and Al Rayyan, who has made a great financial effort.  

"With them it is difficult to compete. At the Asian level, we want the Champions League. We have reached the semis two years in a row [as player and coach].  

"In 2020, I have the hope of reaching the final. For that we have signed Cazorla, to make a good team." 

World Rugby has proposed the introduction of a temporary international window before the end of 2020, a move that would allow this year's Six Nations to be completed.

The governing body's executive committee is keen for international fixtures to be staged again to aid the sport as it tries to deal with the off-field impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Having held discussions with all international and club competitions, as well as players and national unions, World Rugby wants a window that will start in late October and run into December.

The revised calendar would allow for the 2020 Six Nations tournament - suspended due to the COVID-19 outbreak in March - to stage the final four fixtures still outstanding, followed by Test matches in Europe organised by the individual unions.

As for the Rugby Championship, the 2020 edition would take place in one country over a six-week period spanning November 7 to December 12.

"Recognising the importance of a balanced and shared compromise among all stakeholders, a temporary international window between October 24 and December 5 has been recommended," said a statement from World Rugby.

"In the north, this window will accommodate the postponed men's and women's Six Nations matches at the end of October, a rest weekend on November 7 and a programme of international matches involving the Six Nations and invited teams hosted in Europe from November 14 through to December 5."

With the Rugby Championship, "special" measures would be put in place to cope with travel restrictions, while the changes to the schedule allows leading players to be available for their clubs.

"With COVID-19 restrictions continuing to impact international travel and borders across southern hemisphere unions, on an exceptional basis the Rugby Championship 2020 will be hosted in full in a single country over a reduced six-week period between November 7 and December 12," the statement continued.

"Special measures will be implemented to deal with any government-required quarantine period prior to the start of the competition.

"The rescheduling of the domestic, European and international calendars will accommodate the ability for the professional clubs to have access to their star southern hemisphere international players for the completion of the postponed and rescheduled 2019-20 seasons at a time in which they would have ordinarily been on international duty in August and September."

The recommendations will need to receive approval at next week's meeting of the World Rugby Council.

Another week, another Lionel Messi milestone.

The Barcelona forward has scored his 700th career goal just a little over two years since reaching 600 for club and country.

It's another remarkable feat for a footballer who continues to break new ground after turning 33.

Here, we look at the details behind the incredible numbers to see when, where and how he tends to find the net, who likes to set him up, and who is sick of the sight of him...

 

FOR BARCELONA:

- Messi has scored 630 goals in 724 appearances for Barca in all competitions - that's 0.87 per game on average. 

- His first goal came on May 1, 2005 against Albacete in LaLiga. Since then, he has reached 441 goals in 480 matches in Spain's top flight, at least 130 more than any other player in history.

- He has scored 114 goals in the Champions League, 53 in the Copa del Rey, 14 in the Supercopa de Espana, three in the UEFA Super Cup, and five in the Club World Cup.

 

FOR ARGENTINA:

- Messi has scored 70 senior international goals. His first came on March 1, 2006 in a friendly against Croatia, and his most recent was in a friendly last November against Uruguay.

- He has scored 34 goals in international friendlies, 21 in World Cup qualifiers, nine at the Copa America, and six at the World Cup.

 

PER YEAR:

- In each of the past 11 calendar years, Messi has scored at least 40 goals for club and country. In nine of the last 10, he has reached at least 50.

- His best record in a single year came in 2012, when he scored 91, breaking the previous record of 85 held by Germany great Gerd Muller. He already has 12 in 2020, despite the COVID-19 disruption.

 

HIS FAVOURITE OPPONENT:

- Messi has scored 37 goals in 39 games against Sevilla in all competitions. Next up are Atletico Madrid (32 in 41 games).

- He has managed 26 in 43 games against Real Madrid, making him the all-time top goalscorer in Clasico history.

- Messi has faced 40 different LaLiga teams and scored at least once against 37 of them. Last November, he became the first player to score against 34 different Champions League opponents, surpassing Cristiano Ronaldo and Raul on 33.

 

HIS LEAST FAVOURITE OPPONENT:

- Only three LaLiga teams have ever avoided conceding a goal to Messi: Xerez, Real Murcia and Cadiz.

- Xerez are the only team Messi has faced more than once without scoring. He has played against them twice.

 

WHEN AND HOW HE SCORES:

- Messi has scored 43.32 per cent of his goals in the last 15 minutes of the first half or last 15 minutes of the second.

- He has scored 142 times from set-pieces: 90 penalties and 52 free-kicks.

- Only 24 of his career goals are headers. The most recent was back in March 2017 against Sporting Gijon. 

- Messi has scored 83.1 per cent of his goals (582) with his left foot, and 82.8 per cent (580) from inside the box.

- He has scored 36 LaLiga hat-tricks, which is a record. He has scored three or more times in 54 different matches, the most being five against Bayer Leverkusen in March 2012.

- His tally of 50 for the 2011-12 LaLiga season is a record.

 

WHO SETS HIM UP:

- Luis Suarez has assisted more Messi goals than any other player: 47 in six seasons with Barcelona. Messi has returned the favour 36 times. (CHECK WHO SETS UP ATHLETIC GOAL)

- The other players with the most assists for Messi are Dani Alves (42), Andres Iniesta (37), Xavi (31), Pedro (25), Neymar (22) and Jordi Alba (20).

- Messi has 247 assists for Barca. Since his first goal for the club, he has been involved in 879 of their 2,183 goals in all competitions, or 40.2 per cent.

Lionel Messi scored the 700th goal of his remarkable career in Barcelona's LaLiga clash against Atletico Madrid on Tuesday.

The Argentina great reached 699 with a penalty against Leganes on June 16 but failed to find the net in subsequent games against Sevilla, Athletic Bilbao and Celta Vigo.

However, he finally ended his wait to reach the landmark with another spot-kick to make it 2-1 over Atletico in Camp Nou, his delicate 'Panenka' effort leaving Jan Oblak no chance.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner is the all-time record scorer for Barcelona and in LaLiga due to a stunning career at Camp Nou, which began with his first-team debut in 2004.

His goals have helped Barca to 10 LaLiga titles, six Copas del Rey and four Champions Leagues, with Messi winning 34 major honours with the Blaugrana.

Silverware has frustratingly eluded Messi on the international stage with Argentina, but his return of 70 goals is the most by any player in the history of his national team.

Lionel Messi's cheeky, chipped penalty against Atletico Madrid on Tuesday took him to 700 career goals for club and country.

The Barcelona and Argentina star has been the scourge of defenders in Spain and across the globe since making his debut professional debut at 17 and his career has now yielded another incredible landmark.

In the process, the forward has collected 34 club trophies and a record six Ballons d'Or, but international honours have eluded him since he won gold at the 2008 Olympics.

To celebrate Messi's latest century, we take a look at 10 of his very best and most important goals.

 

Albacete (H): May 1, 2005

Even at 17, Messi had the confidence of a veteran. Having already had one goal wrongly ruled out for offside - an audacious chip from the edge of the box - Messi's confidence was far from knocked and just a minute later he latched onto Ronaldinho's pass before lobbing the ball over Albacete stopper Raul Valbuena from 16 yards. Some way to open your account for a club.

 

Getafe (H): April 18, 2007

In the 12 years since he first got on the scoresheet, only one of Messi's strikes was ever going to top this list: his Diego Maradona-esque solo goal against Getafe. Messi picked up the ball in his own half and danced around two players before turning on the pace, beating two more defenders and going around the goalkeeper, capping it with a right-footed finish.

Real Zaragoza (A): March 21, 2010

Described by some as 'a defining goal' in his career, Messi's strike against Real Zaragoza seemed to take him from very good into another class entirely. Messi displayed all he had to offer in this goal, which began when he won the ball from a tackle on halfway. From there, he shrugged off one challenge, raced towards the box and turned a defender inside out before drilling the ball into the far corner - leaving Pep Guardiola speechless.

 

Real Madrid (A): April 27, 2011

This was the height of one of the fiercest Clasico rivalries in decades, as Jose Mourinho's Real Madrid waged war on Guardiola's Barca. They met four times in three competitions in less than a month, including in the Champions League semi-finals, when Messi faced pretty brutal treatment as Madrid tried to shackle him. He scored twice in a 2-0 first-leg win at the Santiago Bernabeu but it is the first goal people remember: the tension of the match, the bitterness of the rivalry, the ducking, weaving slalom through the defence and the composed finish past Casillas, all from the most nonchalant Sergio Busquets assist you will ever see.

 

Iran (N): June 21, 2014

Prior to the 2014 World Cup, Messi had only scored one goal in eight appearances. Seemingly determined to step up for Argentina, he netted in his side's opening match before going on to score one of the goals of the tournament in the second against Iran. With the score at 0-0 heading into stoppage time, Messi took control of the ball and bent a powerful strike past the despairing arms of Alireza Haghighi to break Iranian hearts.

Bayern Munich (H): May 6, 2015

Having already opened the scoring three minutes earlier to give Barca a 1-0 advantage over Bayern Munich in the Champions League semi-final, Messi doubled his tally with a sumptuous effort. Ivan Rakitic's pass sent Messi on his way, before the little maestro's trickery put Jerome Boateng on his backside and allowed the Argentine to casually lift the ball over the onrushing Manuel Neuer.

 

Athletic Bilbao (N): May 30, 2015

The second part of a treble-winning season for Barca came in the form of the Copa Del Rey against Athletic Bilbao. With 20 minutes gone and the score deadlocked, Messi set off on a marauding run down the right wing and soon found himself trapped amongst three defenders. Naturally, Messi was able to float past the trio as if they weren't there, before cutting into the box and beating Iago Herrerin at his near post.

Real Madrid (A): April 23, 2017

El Clasico rarely disappoints for football fans around the globe, and this edition was no different. Anything but a win would essentially hand Real Madrid the title, and it looked to be headed for a 2-2 draw until Sergi Roberto's swashbuckling run in the 92nd minute gave Jordi Alba the chance to square it to Messi, who finished with aplomb from the edge of the area for his 500th Barcelona goal.

 

Ecuador (A): October 11, 2017

Romario Ibarra's first-minute goal in the last match of CONMEBOL qualification left football fans across the globe staring at the prospect of the unthinkable – a World Cup without Messi. Enter the man himself, who dragged Argentina out of a bumbling stupor to single-handedly tear Ecuador apart with a sensational hat-trick. The shift of pace and stunning, dipping finish into the top corner to claim the matchball was the best of the bunch and a grateful bench spilled on to the field to mob their hero.

 

Real Betis (A): March 17, 2019

Messi has never won the FIFA Puskas Award for the best goal of the year, although he has twice come second, most recently for this effort against Real Betis in a 4-1 win last season. He sent the ball left to Ivan Rakitic and hurried to the edge of the box for the return ball, then - having shaped for a powerful strike towards the near post - chipped a sublime effort into the far corner beyond the despairing Pau Lopez. The goal completed his hat-trick and earned an ovation from the home fans but was not enough to beat Debrecen's Daniel Zsori to the Puskas prize.

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