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Player ratings as Lionel Messi inspires Albiceleste to victory

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Second-half goals from Lionel Messi and Enzo Fernandez helped Argentina limp towards a 2-0 victory against Mexico on Saturday night.

The Lusail Iconic Stadium will be the venue for the World Cup final but it served as the setting for what Lautaro Martinez described as the first of “two finals” for Argentina after the shock defeat to Saudi Arabia in their opener.

Very much like a final, it was a desperately cagey contest pockmarked by niggling fouls, spiky challenges and few chances.

Argentina began the game hampered by the pressure of the circumstances and – more pertinently – Mexico’s energetic start, forcing the Copa America champions into aimless punts clear.

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Lionel Scaloni gave his team a lofty buildup ahead of the contest, pledging: “We will give everything, every last bead of sweat, to turn this around.” Martinez went one step further: “We will break our backs for Argentina.” Yet, the opening hour was painfully listless as Argentina seemed to fret over the possibility of losing rather than the necessity to win.

Messi had been well-muzzled by Mexico’s hoard of dogged midfielders, forcing Argentina’s skipper to drop deep into his own half in search of a whisper of space for most of the match. ‘Most’ being the operative word.

As his former manager at international and club level, Mexico boss Gerardo Martino was well aware of Messi’s propensity to flicker into life. “Sometimes even without being on top of your game for 90 minutes, in five minutes everything can happen,” he prophetically warned.

Hector Herrera was caught on his heels as Angel Di Maria fired the ball across the edge of the box. Taming a fiercely struck pass with one touch, Messi swatted a low, fizzing effort into the bottom corner with his second, nestling it in the ratonera – the mouse nest, as they say in Argentina.

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What they will be saying back in Buenos Aires and beyond will invariably be some form of thanks to their skipper. Fernandez sealed three points which keeps Argentina’s future in their own hands in the 87th minute, bending a sumptuous effort into the top corner as Mexico completely switched off from a short corner. But this was Messi’s night. Victory ensures there may be more of those to come this winter. Argentina will certainly hope so.

GK: Emi Martinez – 6/10 – Impressively held onto a swirling free kick rather than beating it away.

RB: Gonzalo Montiel – 5/10 – Chugged up and down the wing with more function than flair.

CB: Nicolas Otamendi – 5/10 – At home in this scrappy contest but too often belted the ball away when put under pressure.

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CB: Lisandro Martinez – 4/10 – Stepping forward with the ball but scarcely incisive from that position.

LB: Marcos Acuna – 3/10 – Got away with a sneaky set of studs sunk into Kevin Alvarez’s calf in the first half.

RM: Angel Di Maria – 6/10 – Wandered around even more nomadically than Messi, flittering in and out of the game.

CM: Rodrigo De Paul – 3/10 – The lofty stakes of the setting seemed to be most prevalent in the mind of De Paul, who stormed around with a manic urgency which didn’t help anyone.

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CM: Guido Rodriguez – 5/10 – Dropping right between the centre-backs, creating a back-three when Argentina have the ball to release the fullbacks.

LM: Alexis Mac Allister – 5/10 – Floating infield when Argentina are on the ball, Mac Allister kept his passing safe.

ST: Lionel Messi – 7/10 – Whenever he wriggled past one green shirt there seemed to be another eagerly waiting his turn to snap at his heels. Given a pocket of space, Messi hauled Argentina to victory.

ST: Lautaro Martinez – 4/10 – The one fixed point in Argentina’s attack, Lautaro was limited to snatched flickers of goal.

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SUB: Enzo Fernandez (57′ for Rodriguez) – 7/10 – Provided the second moment of quality in the match.

SUB: Julian Alvarez (63′ for Martinez) – 5/10

SUB: Nahuel Molina (63′ for Montiel) – 5/10

SUB: Cristian Romero (70′ for Di Maria) – N/A

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SUB: Exequiel Palacios (70′ for Mac Allister) – N/A

Manager: Lionel Scaloni – 4/10 – This was not a victory of tactical wizardry. Argentina looked lost until Messi fired them ahead. Could take a morsel of credit by introducing a substitute who scored but that would be a stretch.

Hirivng Lorzano

GK: Guillermo Ochoa – 5/10 – A little shaky when coming for high balls but not overly troubled.

CB: Nestor Araujo – 6/10 – Guilty of some full-blooded tackles which may have actually drawn blood as he took a forceful approach.

CB: Cesar Montes – 7/10 – Sweeping up any scraps as the deepest of Mexico’s back three.

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CB: Hector Moreno – 6/10 – Carried out his defensive duties without much fuss.

RWB: Kevin Alvarez – 5/10 – Skirted around the fringes of a scratchy contest.

CM: Hector Herrera – 7/10 – Not overly decisive in possession but a constant spoke in Argentina’s wheel.

CM: Luis Chavez – 7/10 – Scurrying and scuttling with enduring diligence.

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CM: Andres Guardado – N/A – Ratting around midfield venomously before injury forced him off in the first half.

LWB: Jesus Gallardo – 5/10 – Struggled to pin down Di Maria when lured into a one-on-one.

ST: Hirving Lozano – 5/10 – Diligent out of possession but didn’t prove to be the same nuisance when he had the ball.

ST: Alexis Vega – 6/10 – Selflessly haranguing Argentina’s backline off the ball.

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SUB: Erick Gutierrez (42′ for Guardado) – 6/10 – Quickly caught up to the speed of the contest, matching the velocity demanded to close down the man in possession.

SUB: Raul Jimenez (66′ for Vega) – 5/10

SUB: Uriel Antuna (66′ for Alvarez) – 5/10

SUB: Robert Alvarado (73′ for Lozano) – N/A

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Manager: Gerardo Martino – 5/10 – The Argentinian manager of Mexico set up his side to frustrate his home nation well for an hour but offered almost no threat going forward themselves.

Player of the Match – Lionel Messi (Argentina)

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EPL

Nottingham Forest announce signing of Andre Ayew

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Nottingham Forest have confirmed the signing of free agent Andre Ayew despite interest from Everton.

The forward has been heavily linked with a move to the Toffees in recent days, but Forest have swooped in to sign the Ghanian.

Speaking to the club’s official website after finalising the move, the forward said:  “It’s a great feeling to sign for Nottingham Forest.

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“I know how big the club is and I know how much the club means to the city and the fanbase. It’s always been difficult whenever I’ve played against Forest and at The City Ground and I love the stadium.

“Steve Cooper is someone who knows me very well and knows how to work with me both on and off the pitch. We have a strong relationship, he’s a special coach and a special human being and someone who I really look up to.”

“I know what I can bring to the team, I’m ready to give my all and make sure that we are able to stay in the Premier League.”



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Wolves vs Liverpool – Premier League: TV channel, team news, lineups & prediction

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Liverpool will be looking to make a statement with a Premier League trip to Wolves this weekend, having been dumped out of the FA Cup by Brighton last Sunday.

Jurgen Klopp’s side are without a league win in their last three attempts and have slipped as low as ninth in the table. Depending on what Chelsea do against Fulham on Friday night, the Reds could be 10th by the time they kick-off at Wolves.

Wolves are still yet to really find their groove under Julen Lopetegui, although at least remain out of the relegation zone on goal difference for the time being.

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Wolves team news

Wolves have no new injury concerns ahead of this one, with Pedro Neto, Boubacar Traore, Sasa Kalajdzic and Chiquinho all still sidelined.

Wolves predicted lineup (4-2-3-1): Sa; Semedo, Collins, Kilman, Bueno; Neves, Nunes; Traore, Sarabia, Hwang; Jimenez.

Liverpool team news

Centre-back Ibrahima Konate is the latest Liverpool player to join the injury list, ruled out until at least mid-February with a hamstring problem.

Virgil van Dijk is also still out, as are Roberto Firmino, Luis Diaz and Diogo Jota. Arthur Melo is making progress but is a couple of weeks away from resuming training.

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Liverpool predicted lineup (4-3-3): Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Matip, Gomez, Robertson; Henderson, Fabinho, Thiago; Salah, Nunez, Gakpo.

It’s certainly feasible that Wolves could continue to pile the misery on Liverpool.

The Reds had beaten Wolves in seven consecutive meetings until a recent FA Cup tie ended in 2-2 draw at Anfield. It was then only a single goal that decided the replay in the Merseysiders’ favour.

Prediction: Wolves 1-1 Liverpool

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Mason Greenwood releases statement after Greater Manchester Police drop all charges

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Mason Greenwood has released a short statement stating that he is ‘relieved’ after the Greater Manchester Police dropped all charges against the Man Utd forward.

Greenwood was charged with attempted rape, engaging in controlling and coercive behaviour and assault, allegations relating to the same woman last year and, following an investigation, GMP have confirmed that all charges have been dropped.

The GMP confirmed the news in a statement earlier on Thursday: “Given the significant media coverage of this case, it is only fair that we share the news that the 21-year-old man, who had been arrested and charged in connection with an investigation opened in January 2022, no longer faces criminal proceedings in relation to this.

“The investigation team has remained in regular contact with the legal team, providing any updates of note, and so understand the rationale for the discontinuation of proceedings at this stage, and that this decision has not been taken lightly.

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“Despite the media and public’s interest in this case, we have decided not to comment on it in any further detail.

“I would, however, like to use this opportunity to reiterate GMP’s commitment to investigating allegations of violence against women and girls and supporting those affected, regardless of their circumstances, throughout what can be a hard and upsetting time for them. An ever increasing number of officers are receiving specialist training and the force is more consistently utilising tools, available via the criminal justice system, to keep people safe and care for victims.”

Greenwood has now responded with a statement of his own, writing: “I am relieved that this matter is now over and I would like to thank my family, loved ones and friends for their support. There will be no further comment at this time.”

Manchester United are due to conducted their own internal investigation on the matter.

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