The coronavirus pandemic continued to wreak havoc on the sporting calendar on Saturday with more major events and competitions being disrupted.

With the outbreak of COVID-19 rapidly spreading across the globe, it has resulted in the postponement of competitions worldwide as governments attempt to combat the pandemic.

A small number of events still went ahead, but sports stars, teams and indeed supporters were otherwise left to find other means of entertainment.

With the number of confirmed cases worldwide now totalling over 155,000, we round up all the latest news and updates.

 

Germany's prestige friendly with Italy later this month became the latest football fixture to bite the dust, with the majority of upcoming international matches having now been wiped out.

More major organisations have halted all footballing activities until a later date, including Qatar, Morocco and Egypt.

A small number of competitions, most notably the A-League, Russian Premier League and Mexico's Liga MX, did manage to go ahead as planned.

Indeed, NRL games also avoided the cut, as did a handful of Super Rugby matches before an indefinite ban was put in place later in the day.

Another competition to fall was Australia's one-day international series against New Zealand, which was already being played behind closed doors.

With New Zealand's government introducing strict protocols to attempt to slow the spread of the virus, the Black Caps – along with Super Rugby side Highlanders – returned home from Australia and Argentina respectively in order to beat the new restrictions, which will mean any new arrival to the country, even if they are a citizen, has to self-isolate for 14 days.

With the top-four tiers of English football being shelved until at least early April, there was plenty of focus on the National League as six games were given the green light.

There was some controversy in Argentina as River Plate's Copa Superliga clash with Atletico Tucuman was suspended after the home side refused to open their stadium.

Independiente's tie with Velez Sarsfield was played out in full, albeit behind closed doors, with the hosts claiming a 1-0 victory.

In Italy, Napoli urged their supporters to sing from their balconies in unison as Fiorentina's Patrick Cutrone and two more Sampdoria players tested positive for COVID-19.

Manchester City's Benjamin Mendy revealed a negative test result after recently self-isolating, but Carlo Ancelotti and Angelo Ogbonna questioned the Premier League's handling of the outbreak, while Jordan Pickford denied reports he is self-isolating.

West Ham vice-chairman Karren Brady, meanwhile, claimed the competition should be "void" – a suggestion Liverpool legend Jamie Carragher quickly dismissed.

The lack of football did not stop certain clubs from keeping supporters entertained, though, with LaLiga side Leganes posting live updates of a fictitious match against Real Valladolid, which they won 2-1.

Perhaps inspired by their Spanish counterparts, Southampton got Manchester City involved in an online game of noughts and crosses to help fill the void.

The downtime also gave football stars a chance to recuperate, with Sergio Ramos and Alexis Sanchez among those to post images of their extra-curricular activities.

Others, such as Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson and FIFA president Gianni Infantino, opted to use social media to educate their followers on how to properly wash their hands, while Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi used his profile to echo the sentiments of Cristiano Ronaldo in calling for people to follow the guidance of health organisations.

As Ronaldo and Jurgen Klopp were praised by the World Health Organisation for "protecting people from coronavirus", former United States president Barack Obama hailed a host of NBA stars – including Giannis Antetokounmpo and Zion Williamson – for donating large amounts to help support arena staff during the league's hiatus.

UFC superstar Conor McGregor labelled the pandemic "a stupid f****** virus", but later moved to clarify his aunt did not die after contracting the disease after previously suggesting as such.

And in more positive news, Japan's prime minister Shinzo Abe revealed his country still plan for the 2020 Olympic Games to go ahead in Tokyo, starting in late July.

The International Olympic Committee will have the final say, but ABE is confident the Games will be staged "without problem".

Lionel Messi echoed the sentiments of Cristiano Ronaldo in calling for people to follow the guidance of health organisations amid the coronavirus pandemic.

With LaLiga suspended for at least the next two matchdays, Messi and his Barcelona team-mates do not know when their title challenge will resume.

Barcelona are top of the table, two points clear of Real Madrid whose players have been told to self-isolate for 15 days after a member of the club's basketball team tested positive for COVID-19.

After Ronaldo, Jurgen Klopp, Paul Pogba and other leading names from the football world spoke out to encourage the public to take precautions for their health, Messi followed suit with a post on his Instagram account.

He said: "These are complicated days for everyone.

"We live worried about what is happening and we want to help [by] putting ourselves in the place of those who are having the worst of it, either because it directly affected them or their family and friends, or because they are working on the front line to combat it in hospitals and health centres.

"I want to send a lot of strength to all of them."

Messi has scored 19 goals in 22 LaLiga appearances this season, most recently netting the winner in Barcelona's 1-0 victory over Real Sociedad on March 7.

The Blaugrana were scheduled to play Mallorca on Sunday ahead of a midweek clash with Napoli in the Champions League, both of which have been postponed.

Messi added: "Health must always come first. It is an exceptional moment and you must follow the instructions of both health organisations and public authorities.

"Only in this way can we combat it effectively."

Diego Simeone compared Jan Oblak to Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi after the goalkeeper's exploits as Atletico Madrid eliminated Champions League holders Liverpool.

Oblak produced a man-of-the-match display with a number of important saves in Atletico's stunning 3-2 extra-time victory over Liverpool at Anfield on Wednesday.

Liverpool were on top for much of the last-16 second leg but they could not move clear of Atletico or get the better of Oblak as the visitors secured a 4-2 aggregate triumph thanks to Marcos Llorente's brace and Alvaro Morata's late goal.

Regarded as one of the world's best goalkeepers, Oblak earned high praise from Atletico head coach Simeone post-match.

"We have a goalkeeper who is the best in the world, no doubt," Simeone said. "I have been saying that for some time.

"It's like Barcelona who have Messi. He decides games with his attacking play; Oblak resolves them with his saves."

Llorente came off the bench to replace a frustrated Diego Costa and Simeone added: "Llorente revolutionised the team.

"I'm very happy for the team and the club. It was a historic match against an extraordinary opponent with great intensity and a beautiful stadium.

"They pushed and held, without us ever moving away from our plan and with everyone's effort we succeeded.

"It gives me an enormous joy because, although it seems simple, it's not simple to win."

Josip Ilicic smashed a couple of records as Atalanta surged into their first Champions League quarter-final on Tuesday.

Ilicic became the first player to score four goals in a Champions League knockout away game as high-flying Atalanta defeated Valencia 4-3.

The 32-year-old attacker also became the oldest player to score a hat-trick away from home in the Champions League – his stunning haul of five goals across two legs helping Atalanta complete an 8-4 aggregate triumph.

Ilicic – the jewel in Atalanta's crown – continues to take Italy and Europe by storm this season, but how does he stack up against Juventus superstar Cristiano Ronaldo and Barcelona's Lionel Messi domestically and abroad?

We take a look at his 2019-20 Serie A and Champions League numbers using Opta stats.

CHAMPIONS LEAGUE/LEAGUE

Games played
Ilicic: 7/21
Ronaldo: 7/22
Messi: 6/22

Goals
Ilicic: 5/15
Ronaldo: 2/21
Messi: 2/19

Penalties
Ilicic: 2/0
Ronaldo: 0/7
Messi: 0/3

Mins/Goal
Ilicic: 103.2/99.47
Ronaldo: 311/92.62
Messi: 240.5/99.47

Shot Conversion Rate (ex. Blocks)
Ilicic: 45.45/26.79
Ronaldo: 9.09/22.58
Messi: 10.53/23.75

Hat-tricks
Ilicic: 1/1
Ronaldo: 0/1
Messi: 0/3

Four or More Goals (inc. Hat-tricks)
Ilicic: 1/0
Ronaldo: 0/0
Messi: 0/1

Big Chance Conversion percentage
Ilicic: 80/70.59
Ronaldo: 66.67/68.18
Messi: 40/42.86

Assists
Ilicic: 0/5
Ronaldo: 0/3
Messi: 3/12

Dribbles Completed
Ilicic: 21/55
Ronaldo: 14/40
Messi: 47/118

Big Chance Created
Ilicic: 3/13
Ronaldo: 0/6
Messi: 7/22

Barcelona and Argentina superstar Lionel Messi is no longer a phenomenon as Hugo Gatti criticised the six-time Ballon d'Or winner.

Messi scored four goals in a 5-0 LaLiga rout of Eibar last month but the Barca captain has failed to find the back of the net in six of his past seven matches.

The 32-year-old attacker struggled to make an impact in the 2-0 El Clasico defeat to Real Madrid last time out and former Argentina goalkeeper Gatti took aim at Messi.

"I don't care if they criticise me in Argentina," Gatti said on El Chiringuito. "I'm very Argentinian and Messi is a phenomenon, but he's not a phenomenon now.

"They treat him wrong because they big him up and big him up and treat him wrong. He gets used to it and walks more on the pitch. He has to be better.

"Cristiano [Ronaldo] and him are the two best. Messi has to be better, he's got used to playing at a weary rhythm, walking and those that know football think the same.

"Take off, kid. You have to play well. When there's a player like Messi, like it was with Maradona and Pele, and his team-mates always give the ball to him to win the game.

"They spoil the team and they don't put everything they have into it. The team get used to giving him the ball and not anyone else."

Messi has scored 18 LaLiga goals for Barca this season, and 23 across all competitions.

Lionel Messi's lean spell in front of goal is not causing Quique Setien to panic, with the Barcelona coach insisting "it could happen to anyone".

The usually prolific Messi has failed to score in six of his last seven games and was a peripheral figure in Sunday's 2-0 Clasico loss to Real Madrid.

That uncharacteristically unproductive run of form for Messi has coincided with Barca losing top spot in LaLiga, being knocked out of the Copa del Rey and being held to a 1-1 draw in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie with Napoli.

However, speaking ahead of Saturday's home match with Real Sociedad, Setien claimed to be entirely unconcerned by Messi's apparent downturn.

"I don't care that he didn't score recently," said Setien. "If he scored it would be better, but it has never bothered me.

"It could happen to Leo or anyone. He is having chances and that is the important thing, that chances are generated. 

"He has been scoring goals for 14 years, if he now has a period in which he scores less it is not important."

Real Madrid did not deserve their 2-0 El Clasico victory over Barcelona, according to Guillermo Amor.

Madrid leapfrogged Barca atop the LaLiga table thanks to second-half goals from Vinicius Junior and substitute Mariano Diaz on Sunday.

Vinicius opened the scoring in the 71st minute before Mariano sealed the win in the second minute of stoppage time at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Madrid moved a point clear in the league standings but Barca director Amor told Movistar: "They pushed up and they pressed us. Their idea was to stop the game. They pressed and created chances.

"It proved costly for us, but I don't think they deserved the win. We were very dominant, they hit us quickly."

Amor added: "If we consider the first half then I think it was a very good performance. Very good. We had the game under control and had chances, but missed them.

"If you forgive a team like Real Madrid they'll have their chances. Once they scored they saw they could win and were encouraged."

It was a quiet evening for Barca captain and superstar Lionel Messi in the Spanish capital, where the six-time Ballon d'Or winner struggled to make an impact.

"He was good," Amor said. "He was great in the first half. He created, played and played.

"But when you lose, everything seems negative. We weren't bad though. We had a great first half and were the better team. But then things went crazy and we lost control."

Real Madrid went into Sunday's El Clasico fully aware that defeat could have proven ruinous to their season, leaving a five-point gap at the LaLiga summit after they suffered a massive midweek blow in the Champions League.

Zinedine Zidane and Madrid were tactically outclassed in their own stadium on Wednesday, with Manchester City coming away from the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie with a potentially vital 2-1 win.

Pep Guardiola exposed their weaknesses with a switch of formation and system to focus on troubling Madrid behind their attack-minded full-backs – chiefly with Gabriel Jesus on the left. It proved decisive.

Barca coach Quique Setien confirmed in his pre-match news conference that he met with City boss Guardiola after that match, acknowledging there were elements of City's set-up that Barca would look to expose, aware they could "come in handy".

But there's little doubt Zidane learned his lesson, and his tweaks inspired Madrid's 2-0 Clasico win.

ZIZOU GETS IT RIGHT

He set Madrid up proactively with two holding midfielders, and Vinicius Junior and Federico Valverde out wide, the latter two sat deep off the ball to essentially form a flat midfield.

The lung-busting Valverde's presence on the right ensured Jordi Alba had little luck in attack and plenty to think about at the back.

Pragmatic? Perhaps, but Madrid's formation undoubtedly contributed to limiting Barca's supply of chances, with Messi kept uncharacteristically quiet.

Toni Kroos' restoration to the starting XI after missing out against City was arguably the real key for Madrid, though.

KROOS CONTROL

The German's exclusion in midweek came as something of a shock and without him Madrid's overall pass completion was 86.5 per cent, and that increased to 88.2 per cent with him. Although minor in those terms, every little helps in matches of fine margins.

Against City, Madrid rarely looked in control and their move construction from midfield when transitioning was rather scattergun, Kroos' composure and vision obviously missed.

Upon his return, Kroos barely put a foot wrong all match. Suddenly Madrid seemed far more effective at picking their way through a press, as evidenced by the numerous counter-attacks they were able to launch on Sunday.

Kroos was accurate with 99 per cent of his passes and then played the decisive ball for Vinicius to put Madrid ahead, slipping the Brazilian into the left side of the box and he beat Marc-Andre ter Stegen with a little help from a Gerard Pique deflection.

MESSI FAILS TO SLICE THROUGH MADRID

Like Kroos, Messi was also tidy in possession, hitting his mark with 95 per cent of his passes. But he laid on only a single goal-scoring chance, while he was thwarted by Thibaut Courtois for his most presentable opportunity in the first half.

Messi set a new record for Clasico appearances by a Barca player – it was set up for a fittingly devastating performance to put one hand on the title.

But Barca's talisman simply failed to instigate effectively against Madrid's packed midfield, potentially leading to questions about his fitness after he was spotted seemingly limping earlier in the day.

And therein lies Barca's biggest problem: if Messi fails to turn the screw, they have no one else capable to rising to that level.

With Cristiano Ronaldo watching on in the stands, Messi's magic was in disappointingly short supply – but masterful Kroos validated Zidane's decision to recall him by steering Madrid to a potentially season-defining victory as they returned to LaLiga's summit.

Vinicius Junior's strike in Real Madrid's LaLiga showdown with rivals Barcelona saw him replace Lionel Messi as the youngest Clasico goalscorer this century.

At the ripe age of 19 years, 233 days, Vinicius' deflected shot in the 71st minute put Madrid ahead at the Santiago Bernabeu on Sunday.

The diminutive forward eclipsed Barca superstar Messi, who was 26 days older when he scored his maiden Clasico goal in March 2007.

Messi was a peripheral figure as Madrid climbed above reigning champions Barca to the top of the table, with substitute Mariano Diaz completing a 2-0 victory.

Lionel Messi is set to become the player with the most appearances in El Clasico for Barcelona after being named in the starting line-up to take on Real Madrid on Sunday.

The Argentina superstar will edge past Xavi as he racks up his 43rd outing in the biggest domestic fixture in world football at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Messi is the fixture's leading goalscorer, having netted 26 times against Barca's great rivals.

Barca head into the match, Quique Setien's first Clasico at the helm, two points ahead of their rivals at the top of LaLiga.

The visitors boast a seven-match unbeaten run against Madrid in top-flight meetings, with the Camp Nou showdown in December having finished goalless.

While Barcelona's only change from the side that drew 1-1 with Napoli on Tuesday saw Arthur take Ivan Rakitic's place in midfield, Zinedine Zidane made two adjustments to the Madrid team that lost 2-1 to Manchester City in midweek.

Ferland Mendy and Luka Modric dropped to the bench as Marcelo returned at left back and Toni Kroos started in midfield, while Gareth Bale had to settle for a place among the substitutes.

Cristiano Ronaldo insists he has no desire to seek a move away from Juventus despite speculation linking him with a move to David Beckham's MLS franchise Inter Miami.

Miami are set to play their first ever MLS match on Sunday when they go to Los Angeles FC, finally completing a process Beckham and MLS began in 2013.

Beckham bought the club in February the following year and in January 2018 his team was awarded the 25th MLS franchise for the 2020 season.

Having built the squad from scratch, few players can be considered household names, but Beckham has ambitions to bring recognisable "big-name players" from European leagues to Florida.

Beckham even namechecked Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, with both mentioned as possible future targets that could elevate the club's reputation, but the latter is in no rush to leave Juventus while they are successful.

"I'm happy," Ronaldo told Sky Sports News. "I'm in the best club in Italy.

"I'm playing alongside the best players, happy we won trophies last year, and this year I hope to win as well.

"As an individual I am happy. I went to Juventus to score goals and do my best and I am very happy."

The Portugal icon made his 1,000th career appearance last weekend and, although he is 35, he still plans to play another few hundred before calling it quits.

"It's a good achievement," he added. "One thousand games means that dedication, hard work and talent pays off.

"It is not easy to do 1,000 games at 35 years old. I'm so happy. It's nice but I hope to play hundreds of games more."

Ronaldo will not be adding to that figure this weekend, however, as the Derby d'Italia clash with Inter that was scheduled for Sunday has been postponed due to the state of emergency in northern Italian regions relating to the spread of coronavirus.

Former Milan striker and Netherlands head coach Marco van Basten said anyone who believes Cristiano Ronaldo is better than Lionel Messi does not understand anything about football.

Ronaldo and Messi are considered as two of the greatest players of all time, though who exactly stands alone as the best is often debated.

Barcelona captain Messi has won a record six Ballons D'Or, compared to Juventus superstar Ronaldo's five, while the pair have claimed numerous other club and individual honours.

Dutch great Van Basten, however, weighed in on the debate and made it clear who he thinks is the superior footballer.

"Cristiano Ronaldo is a great player, but those who claim that he is better than Messi don't understand anything about football or say it in bad faith," Van Basten told Corriere della Sera.

"Messi is unique, inimitable and unrepeatable.

"Players like him appear every 50 or 100 years.

"As a child he fell into the pot of football genius."

Ronaldo is enjoying another fine season, with the 35-year-old's goal tally already at 25 across all competitions.

The Portugal captain scored 21 Serie A goals in his first campaign in Turin, and he has already matched that figure through 21 matches this term.

Messi, meanwhile, has scored 23 goals in all competitions for LaLiga champions Barcelona in 2019-20.

Ahead of Sunday's Clasico against bitter rivals Real Madrid, Messi has managed 18 league goals in 20 appearances.

Lionel Messi would see out his career at Barcelona if the LaLiga champions build a competitive team, according to team-mate Luis Suarez.

Messi's future has been in the headlines following a public row with Barca sporting director Eric Abidal, while the six-time Ballon d'Or winner was reportedly unhappy with the club's failure to re-sign Neymar at the start of the season.

Amid a tumultuous campaign for Barca – who sacked head coach Ernesto Valverde in January and have been at the centre of social media controversy after allegations the Spanish giants hired a company to damage the image of people associated with the cub, including Messi – Suarez said the Catalans must support the superstar captain.

"[The fears are] understandable because it's what he's said as well, that we're not going to get what we want with what we have now," Suarez told RAC1. "It depends on how the club recruits.

"Messi is very happy here. He's so happy here, it's his home. If the club does what has to be done, building a competitive team, then it's going to be great for him and he'll stay here for his whole life.

"He's said that himself. I think the club understood his message.

"It's normal for them to want the best player in the world, in the history of the club, to continue at this level here at Barcelona. I hope he stays."

Barca have been heavily linked to Inter star Lautaro Martinez, who is reportedly seen as the ideal long-term replacement for veteran forward Suarez.

Messi previously hailed Argentina team-mate Martinez and Suarez – sidelined due to injury along with Ousmane Dembele – took aim at Barca for ignoring his calls for attacking reinforcements.

"Lautaro has a lot of quality because of the level he's now showing with Argentina and Inter," he said. "It's his second season in Italy and he's been on great form.

"But you have to understand that we, the players, don't make the decisions. We don't make the decisions.

"If it'd been down to the players, we would've brought in forwards a long time ago. I've been saying for two years that it would be good to bring in a forward, a young forward so that they can learn for when I leave the club, but they didn't listen to me."

David Beckham said MLS side Inter Miami have a "great opportunity" to sign superstars Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Barcelona captain Messi and Juventus forward Ronaldo have both been linked with moves to the United States – Beckham's expansion franchise Inter looming as a possible destination for the pair.

There is speculation Inter, who will make their MLS debut against Los Angeles FC on Sunday, could lure both players to Miami after Minnesota United head coach Adrian Heath talked up the possibility.

Inter co-owner Beckham addressed the speculation during his appearance on 'The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon' on Wednesday.

"Well you know what, we've got great opportunities down in Miami," former Manchester United, Real Madrid and England star Beckham said with a smile.

"We've been contacted by a lot of different players with possibly coming to join the team. As any owner, you really want the best players and if we have the opportunity to bring in players like Cristiano or Leo, I have such admiration for them as athletes, if we could bring those players in than great.

"But at the moment, we have a great roster. Young players, a couple of experienced players too, but a lot of young players who are just ready to play.

"One of the things I learnt from [former United manager] Alex Ferguson… he turned around to me and said whoever you bring in, they have to be the right fit for the club. It's not about the biggest name or personality, it's about who fits in best with the players.

"That's what we'll do. But like I said, as an owner if you want to bring these players in than we have a great opportunity."

Inter, who have also been linked to Manchester City's David Silva, Paris Saint-Germain forward Edinson Cavani and Real Madrid midfielder Luka Modric, have a Designated Player spot available after signing Rodolfo Pizarro and Matias Pellegrini.

David Villa believes Lionel Messi has so many strengths that it is impossible to pinpoint his best position on the pitch.

The Barcelona forward won a record sixth Ballon d'Or last year and his team remain in contention for LaLiga and Champions League glory ahead of Sunday's Clasico match away to rivals Real Madrid.

Barca lead Madrid by two points at the top of table heading into their trip to Santiago Bernabeu, Messi having scored four times in their most recent league outing, a 5-0 thumping of Eibar at Camp Nou.

Messi's former Barca team-mate Villa was amazed by what he saw from the Argentina forward after joining the club from Valencia in 2010.

"I don't know who said this but they said 'Messi is Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi - and even Sergio Busquets if you want'," Villa told BBC Sport.

"When I heard it, I thought, 'That's my thought as well'. If you ask me what's his best position, I don't know. 

"He's not a number nine but the top scorer. He's not a number 10 but he's the top assist provider. He's not a tall guy but he scores headers - he's good at everything.

"We were thinking sometimes he's not shooting well with the right foot, then he scores amazing goals with the right foot. I think that he played as a keeper one time and he did well.

"That's the reality of Messi. Everyone knows he's a quiet guy. He's very normal in the dressing room and on the field."

A successful three years with Barca saw Villa win eight trophies before he left for Atletico Madrid in 2013.

The team's Champions League win in 2011 was a standout moment, and the final of that year's competition at Wembley also produced what the World Cup winner thought was his best career goal.

"We were playing very well but the reality is we were winning 2-1 and one goal for Manchester United would tie the game," Villa said of his superb curling strike.

"That goal finally gave us the calm of taking the trophy. It was perfect."

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