Copa America

Copa America Slideshow

<p>A couple of days after <a href="https://www.si.com/soccer/2018/02/10/carlos-cordeiro-us-soccer-president-election" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:U.S. Soccer elected its new president" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">U.S. Soccer elected its new president</a>, the U.S. men&#39;s national team has its new marching orders for the 2018 slate of international dates.</p><p>The U.S. men will host Paraguay in North Carolina during the fixture window in late March before heading to Europe for a pair of June friendlies against Ireland and France, U.S. Soccer announced on Monday.</p><p>The first of the matches will take place in Cary&#39;s Sahlen Stadium on March 27, with the Americans only playing one match in the window. The two sides last met in the Copa America Centenario group stage, with the USA winning 1-0 on a Clint Dempsey goal to reach the knockout rounds.</p><p>The U.S. will then play Ireland at Aviva Stadium in Dublin on June 2 before facing France on June 9 at Groupama Stadium in Lyon. Ireland missed out on a World Cup berth after falling in the UEFA qualifying playoffs to Denmark. France, meanwhile, will be one of the favorites in Russia and will be using the match as a tune-up before embarking on group play vs. Australia, Peru and Denmark.</p><p>&quot;Serious about the ambition to field a men’s team considered among the best in the world, U.S. Soccer will continue to seek matches against world-class soccer nations and in world-class venues,&quot; U.S. Soccer wrote in a statement. &quot;More high-profile games are expected to be added for the friendly dates in September, October and November, which will deliver one of the most demanding non-tournament schedules in MNT history.&quot;</p><p>Who will lead the U.S. in those future matches remains to be seen, but it figures to be <a href="https://www.si.com/soccer/2018/01/26/usa-bosnia-herzegovina-friendly-dave-sarachan-usmnt-preview" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:interim manager Dave Sarachan" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">interim manager Dave Sarachan</a> who remains at the helm for the friendly vs. Paraguay at the very least.</p><p>Under new president Carlos Cordeiro, U.S. Soccer is expected to name a general manager/technical director on both the men&#39;s and women&#39;s sides, with personnel decisions expected to fall under that umbrella.</p><p>With Sarachan in charge, the U.S. men are 0-0-2, drawing Portugal 1-1 in November before playing Bosnia-Herzegovina to a 0-0 draw to close last month&#39;s January camp. Unlike for the January match, the U.S. will have the whole player pool at its disposal for these three friendlies given that they are on FIFA dates.</p>
USMNT Sets Upcoming Friendlies vs. Paraguay, Ireland, France

A couple of days after U.S. Soccer elected its new president, the U.S. men's national team has its new marching orders for the 2018 slate of international dates.

The U.S. men will host Paraguay in North Carolina during the fixture window in late March before heading to Europe for a pair of June friendlies against Ireland and France, U.S. Soccer announced on Monday.

The first of the matches will take place in Cary's Sahlen Stadium on March 27, with the Americans only playing one match in the window. The two sides last met in the Copa America Centenario group stage, with the USA winning 1-0 on a Clint Dempsey goal to reach the knockout rounds.

The U.S. will then play Ireland at Aviva Stadium in Dublin on June 2 before facing France on June 9 at Groupama Stadium in Lyon. Ireland missed out on a World Cup berth after falling in the UEFA qualifying playoffs to Denmark. France, meanwhile, will be one of the favorites in Russia and will be using the match as a tune-up before embarking on group play vs. Australia, Peru and Denmark.

"Serious about the ambition to field a men’s team considered among the best in the world, U.S. Soccer will continue to seek matches against world-class soccer nations and in world-class venues," U.S. Soccer wrote in a statement. "More high-profile games are expected to be added for the friendly dates in September, October and November, which will deliver one of the most demanding non-tournament schedules in MNT history."

Who will lead the U.S. in those future matches remains to be seen, but it figures to be interim manager Dave Sarachan who remains at the helm for the friendly vs. Paraguay at the very least.

Under new president Carlos Cordeiro, U.S. Soccer is expected to name a general manager/technical director on both the men's and women's sides, with personnel decisions expected to fall under that umbrella.

With Sarachan in charge, the U.S. men are 0-0-2, drawing Portugal 1-1 in November before playing Bosnia-Herzegovina to a 0-0 draw to close last month's January camp. Unlike for the January match, the U.S. will have the whole player pool at its disposal for these three friendlies given that they are on FIFA dates.

Argentina&#39;s Augusto Fernandez speaks during a press conference on the opening day of the Copa America Centenario football tournament, in Santa Clara, California June 3, 2016 (AFP Photo/MARK RALSTON)
Argentina's Augusto Fernandez speaks during a press conference on the opening day of the Copa America Centenario football tournament, in Santa Clara, California June 3, 2016
Argentina's Augusto Fernandez speaks during a press conference on the opening day of the Copa America Centenario football tournament, in Santa Clara, California June 3, 2016 (AFP Photo/MARK RALSTON)
Argentina&#39;s Augusto Fernandez speaks during a press conference on the opening day of the Copa America Centenario football tournament, in Santa Clara, California June 3, 2016
Argentina's Augusto Fernandez speaks during a press conference on the opening day of the Copa America Centenario football tournament, in Santa Clara, California June 3, 2016
Argentina's Augusto Fernandez speaks during a press conference on the opening day of the Copa America Centenario football tournament, in Santa Clara, California June 3, 2016
<p>PHILADELPHIA — Sunil Gulati decided about six weeks ago not to seek a fourth term as U.S. Soccer Federation president, but the eight-candidate battle royale that’ll determine his replacement next month has, at times, made him feel like he’s still in the thick of the race.</p><p>To one extent or another, all eight are running against Gulati’s record.</p><p>“I fully appreciate than when you’re running for office as a non-incumbent, you’ve got to say, ‘I’m in favor of change,’” he said.</p><p>During a Thursday Q&#38;A at the annual United Soccer Coaches convention, Gulati acknowledged his record was sullied by the USA’s failure to qualify for this summer’s World Cup. But 12 years at the federation’s helm, and his more than three decades in the sport, shouldn’t be evaluated based on one result, he argued. That’s why Gulati said he didn’t resign immediately after the October loss in Trinidad and why he told moderator Alexi Lalas that some of the recent politicking has disappointed him.</p><p>“I have found a lot of the discourse depressing and disgusting, frankly,” Gulati told the gathering at the Philadelphia Convention Center. “I’ve been to the last 34 U.S. Soccer AGMs … and I’ve been to the last 30 out of 31 of these conventions, and at all those AGMs, the mood’s been really good. Finances, teams and everything else … across the board. And then it seems the world fell apart in the last 30 days.”</p><p>He continued, tongue-in-cheek, “There are [complaints] about the [qualifier]. But it’s about everything. It’s about transparency. It’s about on-field performance. It’s about decision making. It’s about the failure of everyone in the room, and I’m at the top of that. Because the sport is completely broken and nothing good is going on. That’s all nonsense.”</p><p>The eight presidential candidates also are at the convention, where more than 12,000 coaches and soccer stakeholders will be meeting through Sunday. They’ll participate in an open forum on Saturday. Among those vying for Gulati’s office are four former players (Paul Caligiuri, Kyle Martino, Hope Solo and Eric Wynalda), two current administrators (Soccer United Marketing president Kathy Carter and USSF VP Carlos Cordeiro) and two independent attorneys (Steve Gans and Michael Winograd).</p><p>Gulati, who attended a dinner last month with Carter, MLS commissioner Don Garber and voters from two state associations, answered, “possibly” when Lalas asked if he was supporting a particular candidate. But he stopped short of naming names.</p><p>“You can support someone without endorsing them. In the last week, I’ve talked to three candidates. Two have asked for advice and one got some advice without asking for it,” he said. “I’ll make a public endorsement when I’m ready to do that.”</p><p>Lalas wondered if Gulati was “impressed” with any of the eight candidates.</p><p>“We certainly have some I think are more qualified than others, and some that are far less qualified than what I think is appropriate for the office,” Gulati said.</p><p>“Can we make improvements in all those areas I just touched on? The answer is, of course we can,” he added.</p><p>But tough decisions, competing constituencies and financial realities make many of the “nonsensical solutions that are being proposed by candidates,” unrealistic for the USSF, Gulati said.</p><p>If there was a primary takeaway from the the Q&#38;A, at least as far as the election is concerned, it’s that Gulati is convinced his successor will find sitting in his seat far more complicated than criticizing his performance.</p><p>Nonsensical solutions?</p><p>“Like what,” Lalas asked.</p><p>“How many of them do you want? We only have an hour,” Gulati shot back.</p><p>He then rattled off three issues that fall into the far-easier-to-identify-than-solve category.</p><h3><b>‘Pay to play’ in youth soccer</b></h3><p>U.S. Soccer currently has a $150 million surplus, Gulati confirmed (a healthy chunk of which—around $60 million—was earned thanks to the Copa América Centenario in 2016). But he claimed the federation would have to “generate $150 million a month, every month,” to end pay-to-play.</p><p>“There’s nowhere in the world that has no play-to-play. What you want to do is make sure that anybody who can’t afford it [has access], but you’ve got millions of kids playing and the thought that we’re going to end pay-to-play is nonsensical,” he said.</p><h3><b>Promotion and relegation</b></h3><p>Gulati insisted he was “agnostic” on the issue of promotion and relegation, while stressing that instituting it “the day after tomorrow” also was an impossibility.</p><p>“There’s a whole bunch of people that came in on one set of rules. And some of them paid $150 million and built a stadium for another $250 million based on a certain set of rules,” Gulati said of MLS owners. “If they sit down and talk with other leagues and decide, ‘We want to do this, promotion and relegation, for all the reasons people think are positive’—fantastic. We, as a federation, aren’t going to be able to legislate it. And anyone who thinks we can without everyone’s agreement is going to end up with nine judges in Washington.”</p><p>Lalas asked if FIFA could force MLS’s collective hand.</p><p>“Then they’re going to end up with nine judges in Washington,” Gulati answered.</p><p>“There are some pros and there are some negatives. And I’ve read and looked at and talked to people about all of those things,” he continued. “In a salary cap world, when you don’t have 60 teams or three divisions and you’re starting from scratch, shouldn’t [pro/rel] be the way to go? There’s no evidence of that. There are some big-time pros … Is that possible? Sure. But my point is that it’s not in the hands of the federation president.”</p><h3><b>The professional calendar</b></h3><p>USSF presidential candidates aren’t the only ones suggesting that MLS (or American pro soccer in general) run a fall-to-spring season like the big European leagues. Long-time FIFA kingpin Sepp Blatter did as well as the USA was bidding to host the 2022 World Cup.</p><p>During that time, Gulati said, MLS “looked it at every which way, upside-down and backwards.”</p><p>Gulati said he told Blatter, “New York and Toronto are not London in January. They are Moscow and Helsinki in January.”</p><p>Blatter then made a curving motion with his hands and said, “You must do this…You must have domed stadiums.”</p><p>Gulati replied, “So now we’re going to build soccer-specific domed stadiums? And seven years ago, MLS wasn’t exactly cash positive. … I’d love to see the season a little bit longer, in terms of player development. And all the technical guys agree with me on that. But the thought that we can have a month break in December and January, what do you do? We’re going to play on March 4 in New York at Red Bull [Arena] with the women’s team. This isn’t worrying about the temperature being 12 degrees or 28 degrees. We could have two feet of snow on the ground.”</p><p>Ideally, MLS wouldn&#39;t play during FIFA international windows. The league feels the same way, Gulati said. But weather, TV considerations, stadium availability, the school year and a host of other factors compete for schedulers’ attention.</p><p>“My point about the nonsensical solutions—some of them may be solutions—but it’s not as if no one knows about it, or no one hasn’t thought about them,” he said. “It’s not of lack of knowledge of the issues. You just can’t do everything you want as quickly as you [want].”</p><p>Gulati said there were things he was proud of during his 12-year tenure, things he wish had gone better, criticism that was baseless and criticism that was fair. And he took “full blame” for the World Cup qualification failure. But his successor undoubtedly will leave with a nuanced legacy as well, and it didn’t sound like Gulati felt the candidates fully appreciate the complexity of his position. There, the questions are almost as convoluted as the answers.</p><p>“People are saying a lot of things they can’t possibly live up to,” Gulati said.</p><p>Why not invest a healthy chunk of that $150 million surplus in the U.S. Open Cup, an audience member wondered.</p><p>“So, the next question—and it’s not just for me, it’s for the board and four our membership—where do you want to spend [it],&quot; Gulati said. &quot;The ‘Why not spend it on the Open Cup,’ I can follow with the following questions: Why not spend it on more money for the NWSL? Why not spend it on more reductions or subsidizing coaching schools and coaching programs? Why not spend more on compensation for the women’s national team? Why not spend it more on entry-level refers programs, and 10 other things?</p><p>“The people who are elected to leadership positions have to make those decisions.”</p>
Gulati Put Off By U.S. Soccer Election Discourse, Questions Candidates' Promises

PHILADELPHIA — Sunil Gulati decided about six weeks ago not to seek a fourth term as U.S. Soccer Federation president, but the eight-candidate battle royale that’ll determine his replacement next month has, at times, made him feel like he’s still in the thick of the race.

To one extent or another, all eight are running against Gulati’s record.

“I fully appreciate than when you’re running for office as a non-incumbent, you’ve got to say, ‘I’m in favor of change,’” he said.

During a Thursday Q&A at the annual United Soccer Coaches convention, Gulati acknowledged his record was sullied by the USA’s failure to qualify for this summer’s World Cup. But 12 years at the federation’s helm, and his more than three decades in the sport, shouldn’t be evaluated based on one result, he argued. That’s why Gulati said he didn’t resign immediately after the October loss in Trinidad and why he told moderator Alexi Lalas that some of the recent politicking has disappointed him.

“I have found a lot of the discourse depressing and disgusting, frankly,” Gulati told the gathering at the Philadelphia Convention Center. “I’ve been to the last 34 U.S. Soccer AGMs … and I’ve been to the last 30 out of 31 of these conventions, and at all those AGMs, the mood’s been really good. Finances, teams and everything else … across the board. And then it seems the world fell apart in the last 30 days.”

He continued, tongue-in-cheek, “There are [complaints] about the [qualifier]. But it’s about everything. It’s about transparency. It’s about on-field performance. It’s about decision making. It’s about the failure of everyone in the room, and I’m at the top of that. Because the sport is completely broken and nothing good is going on. That’s all nonsense.”

The eight presidential candidates also are at the convention, where more than 12,000 coaches and soccer stakeholders will be meeting through Sunday. They’ll participate in an open forum on Saturday. Among those vying for Gulati’s office are four former players (Paul Caligiuri, Kyle Martino, Hope Solo and Eric Wynalda), two current administrators (Soccer United Marketing president Kathy Carter and USSF VP Carlos Cordeiro) and two independent attorneys (Steve Gans and Michael Winograd).

Gulati, who attended a dinner last month with Carter, MLS commissioner Don Garber and voters from two state associations, answered, “possibly” when Lalas asked if he was supporting a particular candidate. But he stopped short of naming names.

“You can support someone without endorsing them. In the last week, I’ve talked to three candidates. Two have asked for advice and one got some advice without asking for it,” he said. “I’ll make a public endorsement when I’m ready to do that.”

Lalas wondered if Gulati was “impressed” with any of the eight candidates.

“We certainly have some I think are more qualified than others, and some that are far less qualified than what I think is appropriate for the office,” Gulati said.

“Can we make improvements in all those areas I just touched on? The answer is, of course we can,” he added.

But tough decisions, competing constituencies and financial realities make many of the “nonsensical solutions that are being proposed by candidates,” unrealistic for the USSF, Gulati said.

If there was a primary takeaway from the the Q&A, at least as far as the election is concerned, it’s that Gulati is convinced his successor will find sitting in his seat far more complicated than criticizing his performance.

Nonsensical solutions?

“Like what,” Lalas asked.

“How many of them do you want? We only have an hour,” Gulati shot back.

He then rattled off three issues that fall into the far-easier-to-identify-than-solve category.

‘Pay to play’ in youth soccer

U.S. Soccer currently has a $150 million surplus, Gulati confirmed (a healthy chunk of which—around $60 million—was earned thanks to the Copa América Centenario in 2016). But he claimed the federation would have to “generate $150 million a month, every month,” to end pay-to-play.

“There’s nowhere in the world that has no play-to-play. What you want to do is make sure that anybody who can’t afford it [has access], but you’ve got millions of kids playing and the thought that we’re going to end pay-to-play is nonsensical,” he said.

Promotion and relegation

Gulati insisted he was “agnostic” on the issue of promotion and relegation, while stressing that instituting it “the day after tomorrow” also was an impossibility.

“There’s a whole bunch of people that came in on one set of rules. And some of them paid $150 million and built a stadium for another $250 million based on a certain set of rules,” Gulati said of MLS owners. “If they sit down and talk with other leagues and decide, ‘We want to do this, promotion and relegation, for all the reasons people think are positive’—fantastic. We, as a federation, aren’t going to be able to legislate it. And anyone who thinks we can without everyone’s agreement is going to end up with nine judges in Washington.”

Lalas asked if FIFA could force MLS’s collective hand.

“Then they’re going to end up with nine judges in Washington,” Gulati answered.

“There are some pros and there are some negatives. And I’ve read and looked at and talked to people about all of those things,” he continued. “In a salary cap world, when you don’t have 60 teams or three divisions and you’re starting from scratch, shouldn’t [pro/rel] be the way to go? There’s no evidence of that. There are some big-time pros … Is that possible? Sure. But my point is that it’s not in the hands of the federation president.”

The professional calendar

USSF presidential candidates aren’t the only ones suggesting that MLS (or American pro soccer in general) run a fall-to-spring season like the big European leagues. Long-time FIFA kingpin Sepp Blatter did as well as the USA was bidding to host the 2022 World Cup.

During that time, Gulati said, MLS “looked it at every which way, upside-down and backwards.”

Gulati said he told Blatter, “New York and Toronto are not London in January. They are Moscow and Helsinki in January.”

Blatter then made a curving motion with his hands and said, “You must do this…You must have domed stadiums.”

Gulati replied, “So now we’re going to build soccer-specific domed stadiums? And seven years ago, MLS wasn’t exactly cash positive. … I’d love to see the season a little bit longer, in terms of player development. And all the technical guys agree with me on that. But the thought that we can have a month break in December and January, what do you do? We’re going to play on March 4 in New York at Red Bull [Arena] with the women’s team. This isn’t worrying about the temperature being 12 degrees or 28 degrees. We could have two feet of snow on the ground.”

Ideally, MLS wouldn't play during FIFA international windows. The league feels the same way, Gulati said. But weather, TV considerations, stadium availability, the school year and a host of other factors compete for schedulers’ attention.

“My point about the nonsensical solutions—some of them may be solutions—but it’s not as if no one knows about it, or no one hasn’t thought about them,” he said. “It’s not of lack of knowledge of the issues. You just can’t do everything you want as quickly as you [want].”

Gulati said there were things he was proud of during his 12-year tenure, things he wish had gone better, criticism that was baseless and criticism that was fair. And he took “full blame” for the World Cup qualification failure. But his successor undoubtedly will leave with a nuanced legacy as well, and it didn’t sound like Gulati felt the candidates fully appreciate the complexity of his position. There, the questions are almost as convoluted as the answers.

“People are saying a lot of things they can’t possibly live up to,” Gulati said.

Why not invest a healthy chunk of that $150 million surplus in the U.S. Open Cup, an audience member wondered.

“So, the next question—and it’s not just for me, it’s for the board and four our membership—where do you want to spend [it]," Gulati said. "The ‘Why not spend it on the Open Cup,’ I can follow with the following questions: Why not spend it on more money for the NWSL? Why not spend it on more reductions or subsidizing coaching schools and coaching programs? Why not spend more on compensation for the women’s national team? Why not spend it more on entry-level refers programs, and 10 other things?

“The people who are elected to leadership positions have to make those decisions.”

Manchester City are working on a deal to sign Fred, the Brazil midfielder, from Shakhtar Donetsk. The Premier League leaders have identified the 24-year-old as a primary defensive midfield target as they seek quality long-term cover for Fernandinho and with Yaya Toure expected to be released when his contract expires at the end of the season. City have not prioritised the recruitment of a defensive midfielder in this month’s transfer window but they do want a player who can fill the “No. 6” position that Fernandinho, another Brazilian, occupies in place for the start of the summer, ideally before the World Cup commences in mid-June. Yet City are conscious that the price for Fred has increased significantly since they first entered into informal discussions with Shakhtar last year and hope to secure a breakthrough before the costs continue to escalate amid reported interest from Manchester United, Arsenal and others. Sergei Palkin, the Shakhtar chief executive, is thought to have travelled to Manchester in the wake of the clubs’ Champions League match in Ukraine on Dec. 6 as talks over a potential deal continued. City and Shakhtar, who sold Fernandinho to the Manchester club for £30 million in 2013, have a good working relationship but hopes of signing Fred for a similar fee have faded and the price is now thought to have risen to in excess of £40 million. Fernandinho was signed from Shakhtar in 2013 Credit: REUTERS Shakhtar, who face Roma in the last 16 of the Champions League, are reluctant to lose Fred in mid-season and City, conscious the player would be ineligible to play for them in the competition this term, would be happy for him to see out the campaign in Ukraine with a view to joining in the summer. Fred’s career has not been without controversy. He tested positive for the banned diuretic hydrochlorothiazide while representing Brazil at the Copa America in June 2015. In December of that year, he was initially banned by the South American Football Federation from playing in any CONMEBOL sanctioned competitions for one year, with the suspension backdated to June 2015. However, in February 2016, the ban was extended by Fifa to include all football worldwide. Fernandinho is on the verge of signing a new contract with City but he will be 33 in May and Guardiola is concerned they are overly reliant on him in that position. The situation will become more pressing with Toure – 35 in May - likely to depart at the end of his eighth season with the club. Yaya Toure&#39;s time at Man City will be coming to an end soon Credit: REUTERS Fred impressed Guardiola in both Champions League group stage matches against City, who won the home game 2-0 but lost the away fixture 2-1, and the player has admitted he would like to play under the Catalan. “A friend gave me the news saying that City and Guardiola were interested in me,” he reportedly told Gazetta dello Sport. “At the exit of the locker room, he [Guardiola] stopped me and said we had a good game. But he did not ask me to play with him. &quot;However, I confess, I wait impatiently for his call to arrive now. I think I would grow a lot with him. England is the best league in the world and I’ve always dreamed of playing there.” Having been the firm favourites to sign Alexis Sanchez, City pulled out of the running for the Arsenal striker this week after balking at the cost of the deal. However, they remain keen to sign a centre half before the window shuts on Jan. 31 and have held talks with West Bromwich Albion over £20 million rated Northern Ireland defender Jonny Evans.
Manchester City chase Fred, Shakhtar Donetsk's Brazilian midfielder
Manchester City are working on a deal to sign Fred, the Brazil midfielder, from Shakhtar Donetsk. The Premier League leaders have identified the 24-year-old as a primary defensive midfield target as they seek quality long-term cover for Fernandinho and with Yaya Toure expected to be released when his contract expires at the end of the season. City have not prioritised the recruitment of a defensive midfielder in this month’s transfer window but they do want a player who can fill the “No. 6” position that Fernandinho, another Brazilian, occupies in place for the start of the summer, ideally before the World Cup commences in mid-June. Yet City are conscious that the price for Fred has increased significantly since they first entered into informal discussions with Shakhtar last year and hope to secure a breakthrough before the costs continue to escalate amid reported interest from Manchester United, Arsenal and others. Sergei Palkin, the Shakhtar chief executive, is thought to have travelled to Manchester in the wake of the clubs’ Champions League match in Ukraine on Dec. 6 as talks over a potential deal continued. City and Shakhtar, who sold Fernandinho to the Manchester club for £30 million in 2013, have a good working relationship but hopes of signing Fred for a similar fee have faded and the price is now thought to have risen to in excess of £40 million. Fernandinho was signed from Shakhtar in 2013 Credit: REUTERS Shakhtar, who face Roma in the last 16 of the Champions League, are reluctant to lose Fred in mid-season and City, conscious the player would be ineligible to play for them in the competition this term, would be happy for him to see out the campaign in Ukraine with a view to joining in the summer. Fred’s career has not been without controversy. He tested positive for the banned diuretic hydrochlorothiazide while representing Brazil at the Copa America in June 2015. In December of that year, he was initially banned by the South American Football Federation from playing in any CONMEBOL sanctioned competitions for one year, with the suspension backdated to June 2015. However, in February 2016, the ban was extended by Fifa to include all football worldwide. Fernandinho is on the verge of signing a new contract with City but he will be 33 in May and Guardiola is concerned they are overly reliant on him in that position. The situation will become more pressing with Toure – 35 in May - likely to depart at the end of his eighth season with the club. Yaya Toure's time at Man City will be coming to an end soon Credit: REUTERS Fred impressed Guardiola in both Champions League group stage matches against City, who won the home game 2-0 but lost the away fixture 2-1, and the player has admitted he would like to play under the Catalan. “A friend gave me the news saying that City and Guardiola were interested in me,” he reportedly told Gazetta dello Sport. “At the exit of the locker room, he [Guardiola] stopped me and said we had a good game. But he did not ask me to play with him. "However, I confess, I wait impatiently for his call to arrive now. I think I would grow a lot with him. England is the best league in the world and I’ve always dreamed of playing there.” Having been the firm favourites to sign Alexis Sanchez, City pulled out of the running for the Arsenal striker this week after balking at the cost of the deal. However, they remain keen to sign a centre half before the window shuts on Jan. 31 and have held talks with West Bromwich Albion over £20 million rated Northern Ireland defender Jonny Evans.
Manchester City are working on a deal to sign Fred, the Brazil midfielder, from Shakhtar Donetsk. The Premier League leaders have identified the 24-year-old as a primary defensive midfield target as they seek quality long-term cover for Fernandinho and with Yaya Toure expected to be released when his contract expires at the end of the season. City have not prioritised the recruitment of a defensive midfielder in this month’s transfer window but they do want a player who can fill the “No. 6” position that Fernandinho, another Brazilian, occupies in place for the start of the summer, ideally before the World Cup commences in mid-June. Yet City are conscious that the price for Fred has increased significantly since they first entered into informal discussions with Shakhtar last year and hope to secure a breakthrough before the costs continue to escalate amid reported interest from Manchester United, Arsenal and others. Sergei Palkin, the Shakhtar chief executive, is thought to have travelled to Manchester in the wake of the clubs’ Champions League match in Ukraine on Dec. 6 as talks over a potential deal continued. City and Shakhtar, who sold Fernandinho to the Manchester club for £30 million in 2013, have a good working relationship but hopes of signing Fred for a similar fee have faded and the price is now thought to have risen to in excess of £40 million. Fernandinho was signed from Shakhtar in 2013 Credit: REUTERS Shakhtar, who face Roma in the last 16 of the Champions League, are reluctant to lose Fred in mid-season and City, conscious the player would be ineligible to play for them in the competition this term, would be happy for him to see out the campaign in Ukraine with a view to joining in the summer. Fred’s career has not been without controversy. He tested positive for the banned diuretic hydrochlorothiazide while representing Brazil at the Copa America in June 2015. In December of that year, he was initially banned by the South American Football Federation from playing in any CONMEBOL sanctioned competitions for one year, with the suspension backdated to June 2015. However, in February 2016, the ban was extended by Fifa to include all football worldwide. Fernandinho is on the verge of signing a new contract with City but he will be 33 in May and Guardiola is concerned they are overly reliant on him in that position. The situation will become more pressing with Toure – 35 in May - likely to depart at the end of his eighth season with the club. Yaya Toure&#39;s time at Man City will be coming to an end soon Credit: REUTERS Fred impressed Guardiola in both Champions League group stage matches against City, who won the home game 2-0 but lost the away fixture 2-1, and the player has admitted he would like to play under the Catalan. “A friend gave me the news saying that City and Guardiola were interested in me,” he reportedly told Gazetta dello Sport. “At the exit of the locker room, he [Guardiola] stopped me and said we had a good game. But he did not ask me to play with him. &quot;However, I confess, I wait impatiently for his call to arrive now. I think I would grow a lot with him. England is the best league in the world and I’ve always dreamed of playing there.” Having been the firm favourites to sign Alexis Sanchez, City pulled out of the running for the Arsenal striker this week after balking at the cost of the deal. However, they remain keen to sign a centre half before the window shuts on Jan. 31 and have held talks with West Bromwich Albion over £20 million rated Northern Ireland defender Jonny Evans.
Manchester City chase Fred, Shakhtar Donetsk's Brazilian midfielder
Manchester City are working on a deal to sign Fred, the Brazil midfielder, from Shakhtar Donetsk. The Premier League leaders have identified the 24-year-old as a primary defensive midfield target as they seek quality long-term cover for Fernandinho and with Yaya Toure expected to be released when his contract expires at the end of the season. City have not prioritised the recruitment of a defensive midfielder in this month’s transfer window but they do want a player who can fill the “No. 6” position that Fernandinho, another Brazilian, occupies in place for the start of the summer, ideally before the World Cup commences in mid-June. Yet City are conscious that the price for Fred has increased significantly since they first entered into informal discussions with Shakhtar last year and hope to secure a breakthrough before the costs continue to escalate amid reported interest from Manchester United, Arsenal and others. Sergei Palkin, the Shakhtar chief executive, is thought to have travelled to Manchester in the wake of the clubs’ Champions League match in Ukraine on Dec. 6 as talks over a potential deal continued. City and Shakhtar, who sold Fernandinho to the Manchester club for £30 million in 2013, have a good working relationship but hopes of signing Fred for a similar fee have faded and the price is now thought to have risen to in excess of £40 million. Fernandinho was signed from Shakhtar in 2013 Credit: REUTERS Shakhtar, who face Roma in the last 16 of the Champions League, are reluctant to lose Fred in mid-season and City, conscious the player would be ineligible to play for them in the competition this term, would be happy for him to see out the campaign in Ukraine with a view to joining in the summer. Fred’s career has not been without controversy. He tested positive for the banned diuretic hydrochlorothiazide while representing Brazil at the Copa America in June 2015. In December of that year, he was initially banned by the South American Football Federation from playing in any CONMEBOL sanctioned competitions for one year, with the suspension backdated to June 2015. However, in February 2016, the ban was extended by Fifa to include all football worldwide. Fernandinho is on the verge of signing a new contract with City but he will be 33 in May and Guardiola is concerned they are overly reliant on him in that position. The situation will become more pressing with Toure – 35 in May - likely to depart at the end of his eighth season with the club. Yaya Toure's time at Man City will be coming to an end soon Credit: REUTERS Fred impressed Guardiola in both Champions League group stage matches against City, who won the home game 2-0 but lost the away fixture 2-1, and the player has admitted he would like to play under the Catalan. “A friend gave me the news saying that City and Guardiola were interested in me,” he reportedly told Gazetta dello Sport. “At the exit of the locker room, he [Guardiola] stopped me and said we had a good game. But he did not ask me to play with him. "However, I confess, I wait impatiently for his call to arrive now. I think I would grow a lot with him. England is the best league in the world and I’ve always dreamed of playing there.” Having been the firm favourites to sign Alexis Sanchez, City pulled out of the running for the Arsenal striker this week after balking at the cost of the deal. However, they remain keen to sign a centre half before the window shuts on Jan. 31 and have held talks with West Bromwich Albion over £20 million rated Northern Ireland defender Jonny Evans.
Manchester City are working on a deal to sign Fred, the Brazil midfielder, from Shakhtar Donetsk. The Premier League leaders have identified the 24-year-old as a primary defensive midfield target as they seek quality long-term cover for Fernandinho and with Yaya Toure expected to be released when his contract expires at the end of the season. City have not prioritised the recruitment of a defensive midfielder in this month’s transfer window but they do want a player who can fill the “No. 6” position that Fernandinho, another Brazilian, occupies in place for the start of the summer, ideally before the World Cup commences in mid-June. Yet City are conscious that the price for Fred has increased significantly since they first entered into informal discussions with Shakhtar last year and hope to secure a breakthrough before the costs continue to escalate amid reported interest from Manchester United, Arsenal and others. Sergei Palkin, the Shakhtar chief executive, is thought to have travelled to Manchester in the wake of the clubs’ Champions League match in Ukraine on Dec. 6 as talks over a potential deal continued. City and Shakhtar, who sold Fernandinho to the Manchester club for £30 million in 2013, have a good working relationship but hopes of signing Fred for a similar fee have faded and the price is now thought to have risen to in excess of £40 million. Fernandinho was signed from Shakhtar in 2013 Credit: REUTERS Shakhtar, who face Roma in the last 16 of the Champions League, are reluctant to lose Fred in mid-season and City, conscious the player would be ineligible to play for them in the competition this term, would be happy for him to see out the campaign in Ukraine with a view to joining in the summer. Fred’s career has not been without controversy. He tested positive for the banned diuretic hydrochlorothiazide while representing Brazil at the Copa America in June 2015. In December of that year, he was initially banned by the South American Football Federation from playing in any CONMEBOL sanctioned competitions for one year, with the suspension backdated to June 2015. However, in February 2016, the ban was extended by Fifa to include all football worldwide. Fernandinho is on the verge of signing a new contract with City but he will be 33 in May and Guardiola is concerned they are overly reliant on him in that position. The situation will become more pressing with Toure – 35 in May - likely to depart at the end of his eighth season with the club. Yaya Toure&#39;s time at Man City will be coming to an end soon Credit: REUTERS Fred impressed Guardiola in both Champions League group stage matches against City, who won the home game 2-0 but lost the away fixture 2-1, and the player has admitted he would like to play under the Catalan. “A friend gave me the news saying that City and Guardiola were interested in me,” he reportedly told Gazetta dello Sport. “At the exit of the locker room, he [Guardiola] stopped me and said we had a good game. But he did not ask me to play with him. &quot;However, I confess, I wait impatiently for his call to arrive now. I think I would grow a lot with him. England is the best league in the world and I’ve always dreamed of playing there.” Having been the firm favourites to sign Alexis Sanchez, City pulled out of the running for the Arsenal striker this week after balking at the cost of the deal. However, they remain keen to sign a centre half before the window shuts on Jan. 31 and have held talks with West Bromwich Albion over £20 million rated Northern Ireland defender Jonny Evans.
Manchester City chase Fred, Shakhtar Donetsk's Brazilian midfielder
Manchester City are working on a deal to sign Fred, the Brazil midfielder, from Shakhtar Donetsk. The Premier League leaders have identified the 24-year-old as a primary defensive midfield target as they seek quality long-term cover for Fernandinho and with Yaya Toure expected to be released when his contract expires at the end of the season. City have not prioritised the recruitment of a defensive midfielder in this month’s transfer window but they do want a player who can fill the “No. 6” position that Fernandinho, another Brazilian, occupies in place for the start of the summer, ideally before the World Cup commences in mid-June. Yet City are conscious that the price for Fred has increased significantly since they first entered into informal discussions with Shakhtar last year and hope to secure a breakthrough before the costs continue to escalate amid reported interest from Manchester United, Arsenal and others. Sergei Palkin, the Shakhtar chief executive, is thought to have travelled to Manchester in the wake of the clubs’ Champions League match in Ukraine on Dec. 6 as talks over a potential deal continued. City and Shakhtar, who sold Fernandinho to the Manchester club for £30 million in 2013, have a good working relationship but hopes of signing Fred for a similar fee have faded and the price is now thought to have risen to in excess of £40 million. Fernandinho was signed from Shakhtar in 2013 Credit: REUTERS Shakhtar, who face Roma in the last 16 of the Champions League, are reluctant to lose Fred in mid-season and City, conscious the player would be ineligible to play for them in the competition this term, would be happy for him to see out the campaign in Ukraine with a view to joining in the summer. Fred’s career has not been without controversy. He tested positive for the banned diuretic hydrochlorothiazide while representing Brazil at the Copa America in June 2015. In December of that year, he was initially banned by the South American Football Federation from playing in any CONMEBOL sanctioned competitions for one year, with the suspension backdated to June 2015. However, in February 2016, the ban was extended by Fifa to include all football worldwide. Fernandinho is on the verge of signing a new contract with City but he will be 33 in May and Guardiola is concerned they are overly reliant on him in that position. The situation will become more pressing with Toure – 35 in May - likely to depart at the end of his eighth season with the club. Yaya Toure's time at Man City will be coming to an end soon Credit: REUTERS Fred impressed Guardiola in both Champions League group stage matches against City, who won the home game 2-0 but lost the away fixture 2-1, and the player has admitted he would like to play under the Catalan. “A friend gave me the news saying that City and Guardiola were interested in me,” he reportedly told Gazetta dello Sport. “At the exit of the locker room, he [Guardiola] stopped me and said we had a good game. But he did not ask me to play with him. "However, I confess, I wait impatiently for his call to arrive now. I think I would grow a lot with him. England is the best league in the world and I’ve always dreamed of playing there.” Having been the firm favourites to sign Alexis Sanchez, City pulled out of the running for the Arsenal striker this week after balking at the cost of the deal. However, they remain keen to sign a centre half before the window shuts on Jan. 31 and have held talks with West Bromwich Albion over £20 million rated Northern Ireland defender Jonny Evans.
<p>As NYCFC bowed out of the 2017 MLS playoffs at the hands of the Columbus Crew, it was more than just a farewell to the team&#39;s season. It also wound up being Andrea Pirlo’s last match ever, as after a storied 22-year career, Il Maestro exited the stage that made him a legend. </p><p>From a nostalgic perspective, it was quite a moment as it brought down the curtain on a player who gave so much artistry to the beautiful game, albeit most notably in his time with Juventus and AC Milan. But in terms of NYCFC’s future, his retirement immediately opened an opportunity for Claudio Reyna, the club’s sporting director, and the rest of the technical team to find a new Designated Player to fill the void. Pirlo’s departure was a chance for Reyna &#38; Co. to go back to the drawing board and determine what they want from their star signings: Experience and an aging reputation or towering potential?</p><p>Enter Jesus Medina, the 20-year-old attacking midfielder from Asuncion, Paraguay.</p><p>“Jesus is a talented attacking player who can play as a winger or No. 10 and will fit really well into our system and style of play. He is a left-footed technical player with a quick turn of pace, who can score and create goals for his teammates,” said Reyna during the announcement of his signing, which was consequently done when the clock struck midnight on Jan. 1 in the time zone of Samoa and Christmas Island/Kiribati, in order to make Medina’s signing the first of any player around the world in 2018. Make that what you will.</p><p>“I’m so happy to be here in New York City. Living here is going to be a unique experience for me,” said Medina, speaking to SI. “And the fact that I am able to live in New York <em>and</em> play football? That’s an incredible privilege.”</p><p>From a big-picture standpoint, Medina’s arrival is another example on how NYCFC–and the rest the league–is rethinking the strategy when it comes Designated Players and international talent. The focus, it seems, is not just on well-known names and well-worn players like Pirlo, but also about trusting promising, albeit younger, players, especially from South and Central America. Incoming expansion club LAFC, for example, announced the acquisition of <a href="https://www.si.com/soccer/2017/12/14/lafc-diego-rossi-designated-player-mls-penarol" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:19-year-old Uruguayan rising star Diego Rossi" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">19-year-old Uruguayan rising star Diego Rossi</a> last month, and last year, Atlanta United scored 70 goals in its inaugural regular season (only Toronto FC scored more) largely thanks to its three DPs: Argentina&#39;s Hector Villalba (23 years old), Venezuela&#39;s Josef Martinez (24) and Medina’s compatriot, Miguel Almiron (23), MLS’s top newcomer in 2017. Both Almiron and Martinez were also among the top seven in MVP voting.</p><p>“Miguel’s performance with Atlanta United is a main reason why I started paying more attention to the league. But also other stars such as David Villa, Pirlo caught my attention,” said Medina, when asked about his knowledge of his new league. “MLS has gotten better with level and talent.”</p><p>Medina is also aware that he will be working under Patrick Vieira, and like any player who joins the club, his manager’s reputation does not go unnoticed.</p><p>“It’s a real honor to play under a great ex-player and now manager as Patrick Vieira,&quot; Medina said. &quot;Personally, this is a great chance for me to learn from him and grow as a player.”</p><p>As for his new captain, David Villa? Medina has a conflicted memory of his new teammate for obvious reasons.</p><p>“I have such a particular memory watching David Villa growing up, especially his 83rd-minute goal against Paraguay at the 2010 World Cup <em>(laughing)</em>, but I don’t hold any grudges, and honestly it’s going be an honor to train with him.”</p><p>At just 20, Medina has quite the résumé.</p><p>After making his first team debut for Paraguayan club Libertad at the tender age of 15, Medina wound up with 74 appearances, including 14 in South American club competition. Last year, he helped Libertad reach the semifinals of the Copa Sudamericana.</p><p>Medina won the Paraguayan league five times, the most recent being the 2017 Apertura, so his winning mentality will be a positive addition to NYCFC, a team that, despite having so much talent, still searches for that winning disposition that conference foe Toronto FC possesses.</p><p>For his country, Medina has featured in the U-17 and U-20 squads, and he was named in Paraguay’s provisional squad for Copa America Centenario, only to miss out. Medina eventually made his senior team debut last summer against Mexico when he came on as a substitute in the 85th minute. </p><p>On the pitch, Medina is extremely versatile, able to play as a false nine, central attacking midfielder and on either wing. Seeing as Maxi Moralez controls the support striker role for David Villa and Jack Harrison mainly works down the right flank, it will be interesting to see where Vieira places the young Paraguayan.</p><p><a href="https://www.nycfc.com/post/2018/01/01/welcomejesus-tim-vickery-medina" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:As journalist Tim Vickery noted" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">As journalist Tim Vickery noted</a>, some of his best football occurs on the opposite flank, when he cuts inside from the right wing (take his exquisite goal against Brazil, for example) so Vieira has some tinkering to do if he agrees with this analysis.</p><p>Medina is also a free-kick specialist and corner-kick taker, another useful factor for a team that often seemed limited in dead-ball situations.</p><p>As far as MLS has come, it would be naïve to think that Medina’s ultimate goal is to stay in this league for the rest of his career. NYCFC, after all, is owned by City Football Group and <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/football/2017/dec/20/manchester-city-jesus-medina-libertad-paraguay" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:earlier reports suggested Manchester City purchased him with the intention of an immediate loan move to New York" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">earlier reports suggested Manchester City purchased him with the intention of an immediate loan move to New York</a>, so it is safe to suggest his career path, if all goes as planned, will eventually lead to Europe. Medina, naturally, agrees. </p><p>“Of course, someday I envision my future in Europe and play for big teams such as Manchester City or others in the Premier League,” he says. “But I am 100% focused on my career with NYCFC and my life in MLS.”</p><p>Time will tell if Medina can adjust to his new club, especially Yankee Stadium’s narrow pitch, which can often be an obstacle for players who love to have the ball at their feet. One thing is for sure about Medina: His arrival should excite not just NYCFC fans, but those who champion the development of South American talent throughout MLS.</p>
NYCFC's Jesus Medina Follows in Mold of MLS's New Target Signings

As NYCFC bowed out of the 2017 MLS playoffs at the hands of the Columbus Crew, it was more than just a farewell to the team's season. It also wound up being Andrea Pirlo’s last match ever, as after a storied 22-year career, Il Maestro exited the stage that made him a legend.

From a nostalgic perspective, it was quite a moment as it brought down the curtain on a player who gave so much artistry to the beautiful game, albeit most notably in his time with Juventus and AC Milan. But in terms of NYCFC’s future, his retirement immediately opened an opportunity for Claudio Reyna, the club’s sporting director, and the rest of the technical team to find a new Designated Player to fill the void. Pirlo’s departure was a chance for Reyna & Co. to go back to the drawing board and determine what they want from their star signings: Experience and an aging reputation or towering potential?

Enter Jesus Medina, the 20-year-old attacking midfielder from Asuncion, Paraguay.

“Jesus is a talented attacking player who can play as a winger or No. 10 and will fit really well into our system and style of play. He is a left-footed technical player with a quick turn of pace, who can score and create goals for his teammates,” said Reyna during the announcement of his signing, which was consequently done when the clock struck midnight on Jan. 1 in the time zone of Samoa and Christmas Island/Kiribati, in order to make Medina’s signing the first of any player around the world in 2018. Make that what you will.

“I’m so happy to be here in New York City. Living here is going to be a unique experience for me,” said Medina, speaking to SI. “And the fact that I am able to live in New York and play football? That’s an incredible privilege.”

From a big-picture standpoint, Medina’s arrival is another example on how NYCFC–and the rest the league–is rethinking the strategy when it comes Designated Players and international talent. The focus, it seems, is not just on well-known names and well-worn players like Pirlo, but also about trusting promising, albeit younger, players, especially from South and Central America. Incoming expansion club LAFC, for example, announced the acquisition of 19-year-old Uruguayan rising star Diego Rossi last month, and last year, Atlanta United scored 70 goals in its inaugural regular season (only Toronto FC scored more) largely thanks to its three DPs: Argentina's Hector Villalba (23 years old), Venezuela's Josef Martinez (24) and Medina’s compatriot, Miguel Almiron (23), MLS’s top newcomer in 2017. Both Almiron and Martinez were also among the top seven in MVP voting.

“Miguel’s performance with Atlanta United is a main reason why I started paying more attention to the league. But also other stars such as David Villa, Pirlo caught my attention,” said Medina, when asked about his knowledge of his new league. “MLS has gotten better with level and talent.”

Medina is also aware that he will be working under Patrick Vieira, and like any player who joins the club, his manager’s reputation does not go unnoticed.

“It’s a real honor to play under a great ex-player and now manager as Patrick Vieira," Medina said. "Personally, this is a great chance for me to learn from him and grow as a player.”

As for his new captain, David Villa? Medina has a conflicted memory of his new teammate for obvious reasons.

“I have such a particular memory watching David Villa growing up, especially his 83rd-minute goal against Paraguay at the 2010 World Cup (laughing), but I don’t hold any grudges, and honestly it’s going be an honor to train with him.”

At just 20, Medina has quite the résumé.

After making his first team debut for Paraguayan club Libertad at the tender age of 15, Medina wound up with 74 appearances, including 14 in South American club competition. Last year, he helped Libertad reach the semifinals of the Copa Sudamericana.

Medina won the Paraguayan league five times, the most recent being the 2017 Apertura, so his winning mentality will be a positive addition to NYCFC, a team that, despite having so much talent, still searches for that winning disposition that conference foe Toronto FC possesses.

For his country, Medina has featured in the U-17 and U-20 squads, and he was named in Paraguay’s provisional squad for Copa America Centenario, only to miss out. Medina eventually made his senior team debut last summer against Mexico when he came on as a substitute in the 85th minute.

On the pitch, Medina is extremely versatile, able to play as a false nine, central attacking midfielder and on either wing. Seeing as Maxi Moralez controls the support striker role for David Villa and Jack Harrison mainly works down the right flank, it will be interesting to see where Vieira places the young Paraguayan.

As journalist Tim Vickery noted, some of his best football occurs on the opposite flank, when he cuts inside from the right wing (take his exquisite goal against Brazil, for example) so Vieira has some tinkering to do if he agrees with this analysis.

Medina is also a free-kick specialist and corner-kick taker, another useful factor for a team that often seemed limited in dead-ball situations.

As far as MLS has come, it would be naïve to think that Medina’s ultimate goal is to stay in this league for the rest of his career. NYCFC, after all, is owned by City Football Group and earlier reports suggested Manchester City purchased him with the intention of an immediate loan move to New York, so it is safe to suggest his career path, if all goes as planned, will eventually lead to Europe. Medina, naturally, agrees.

“Of course, someday I envision my future in Europe and play for big teams such as Manchester City or others in the Premier League,” he says. “But I am 100% focused on my career with NYCFC and my life in MLS.”

Time will tell if Medina can adjust to his new club, especially Yankee Stadium’s narrow pitch, which can often be an obstacle for players who love to have the ball at their feet. One thing is for sure about Medina: His arrival should excite not just NYCFC fans, but those who champion the development of South American talent throughout MLS.

<p>As NYCFC bowed out of the 2017 MLS playoffs at the hands of the Columbus Crew, it was more than just a farewell to the team&#39;s season. It also wound up being Andrea Pirlo’s last match ever, as after a storied 22-year career, Il Maestro exited the stage that made him a legend. </p><p>From a nostalgic perspective, it was quite a moment as it brought down the curtain on a player who gave so much artistry to the beautiful game, albeit most notably in his time with Juventus and AC Milan. But in terms of NYCFC’s future, his retirement immediately opened an opportunity for Claudio Reyna, the club’s sporting director, and the rest of the technical team to find a new Designated Player to fill the void. Pirlo’s departure was a chance for Reyna &#38; Co. to go back to the drawing board and determine what they want from their star signings: Experience and an aging reputation or towering potential?</p><p>Enter Jesus Medina, the 20-year-old attacking midfielder from Asuncion, Paraguay.</p><p>“Jesus is a talented attacking player who can play as a winger or No. 10 and will fit really well into our system and style of play. He is a left-footed technical player with a quick turn of pace, who can score and create goals for his teammates,” said Reyna during the announcement of his signing, which was consequently done when the clock struck midnight on Jan. 1 in the time zone of Samoa and Christmas Island/Kiribati, in order to make Medina’s signing the first of any player around the world in 2018. Make that what you will.</p><p>“I’m so happy to be here in New York City. Living here is going to be a unique experience for me,” said Medina, speaking to SI. “And the fact that I am able to live in New York <em>and</em> play football? That’s an incredible privilege.”</p><p>From a big-picture standpoint, Medina’s arrival is another example on how NYCFC–and the rest the league–is rethinking the strategy when it comes Designated Players and international talent. The focus, it seems, is not just on well-known names and well-worn players like Pirlo, but also about trusting promising, albeit younger, players, especially from South and Central America. Incoming expansion club LAFC, for example, announced the acquisition of <a href="https://www.si.com/soccer/2017/12/14/lafc-diego-rossi-designated-player-mls-penarol" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:19-year-old Uruguayan rising star Diego Rossi" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">19-year-old Uruguayan rising star Diego Rossi</a> last month, and last year, Atlanta United scored 70 goals in its inaugural regular season (only Toronto FC scored more) largely thanks to its three DPs: Argentina&#39;s Hector Villalba (23 years old), Venezuela&#39;s Josef Martinez (24) and Medina’s compatriot, Miguel Almiron (23), MLS’s top newcomer in 2017. Both Almiron and Martinez were also among the top seven in MVP voting.</p><p>“Miguel’s performance with Atlanta United is a main reason why I started paying more attention to the league. But also other stars such as David Villa, Pirlo caught my attention,” said Medina, when asked about his knowledge of his new league. “MLS has gotten better with level and talent.”</p><p>Medina is also aware that he will be working under Patrick Vieira, and like any player who joins the club, his manager’s reputation does not go unnoticed.</p><p>“It’s a real honor to play under a great ex-player and now manager as Patrick Vieira,&quot; Medina said. &quot;Personally, this is a great chance for me to learn from him and grow as a player.”</p><p>As for his new captain, David Villa? Medina has a conflicted memory of his new teammate for obvious reasons.</p><p>“I have such a particular memory watching David Villa growing up, especially his 83rd-minute goal against Paraguay at the 2010 World Cup <em>(laughing)</em>, but I don’t hold any grudges, and honestly it’s going be an honor to train with him.”</p><p>At just 20, Medina has quite the résumé.</p><p>After making his first team debut for Paraguayan club Libertad at the tender age of 15, Medina wound up with 74 appearances, including 14 in South American club competition. Last year, he helped Libertad reach the semifinals of the Copa Sudamericana.</p><p>Medina won the Paraguayan league five times, the most recent being the 2017 Apertura, so his winning mentality will be a positive addition to NYCFC, a team that, despite having so much talent, still searches for that winning disposition that conference foe Toronto FC possesses.</p><p>For his country, Medina has featured in the U-17 and U-20 squads, and he was named in Paraguay’s provisional squad for Copa America Centenario, only to miss out. Medina eventually made his senior team debut last summer against Mexico when he came on as a substitute in the 85th minute. </p><p>On the pitch, Medina is extremely versatile, able to play as a false nine, central attacking midfielder and on either wing. Seeing as Maxi Moralez controls the support striker role for David Villa and Jack Harrison mainly works down the right flank, it will be interesting to see where Vieira places the young Paraguayan.</p><p><a href="https://www.nycfc.com/post/2018/01/01/welcomejesus-tim-vickery-medina" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:As journalist Tim Vickery noted" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">As journalist Tim Vickery noted</a>, some of his best football occurs on the opposite flank, when he cuts inside from the right wing (take his exquisite goal against Brazil, for example) so Vieira has some tinkering to do if he agrees with this analysis.</p><p>Medina is also a free-kick specialist and corner-kick taker, another useful factor for a team that often seemed limited in dead-ball situations.</p><p>As far as MLS has come, it would be naïve to think that Medina’s ultimate goal is to stay in this league for the rest of his career. NYCFC, after all, is owned by City Football Group and <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/football/2017/dec/20/manchester-city-jesus-medina-libertad-paraguay" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:earlier reports suggested Manchester City purchased him with the intention of an immediate loan move to New York" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">earlier reports suggested Manchester City purchased him with the intention of an immediate loan move to New York</a>, so it is safe to suggest his career path, if all goes as planned, will eventually lead to Europe. Medina, naturally, agrees. </p><p>“Of course, someday I envision my future in Europe and play for big teams such as Manchester City or others in the Premier League,” he says. “But I am 100% focused on my career with NYCFC and my life in MLS.”</p><p>Time will tell if Medina can adjust to his new club, especially Yankee Stadium’s narrow pitch, which can often be an obstacle for players who love to have the ball at their feet. One thing is for sure about Medina: His arrival should excite not just NYCFC fans, but those who champion the development of South American talent throughout MLS.</p>
NYCFC's Jesus Medina Follows in Mold of MLS's New Target Signings

As NYCFC bowed out of the 2017 MLS playoffs at the hands of the Columbus Crew, it was more than just a farewell to the team's season. It also wound up being Andrea Pirlo’s last match ever, as after a storied 22-year career, Il Maestro exited the stage that made him a legend.

From a nostalgic perspective, it was quite a moment as it brought down the curtain on a player who gave so much artistry to the beautiful game, albeit most notably in his time with Juventus and AC Milan. But in terms of NYCFC’s future, his retirement immediately opened an opportunity for Claudio Reyna, the club’s sporting director, and the rest of the technical team to find a new Designated Player to fill the void. Pirlo’s departure was a chance for Reyna & Co. to go back to the drawing board and determine what they want from their star signings: Experience and an aging reputation or towering potential?

Enter Jesus Medina, the 20-year-old attacking midfielder from Asuncion, Paraguay.

“Jesus is a talented attacking player who can play as a winger or No. 10 and will fit really well into our system and style of play. He is a left-footed technical player with a quick turn of pace, who can score and create goals for his teammates,” said Reyna during the announcement of his signing, which was consequently done when the clock struck midnight on Jan. 1 in the time zone of Samoa and Christmas Island/Kiribati, in order to make Medina’s signing the first of any player around the world in 2018. Make that what you will.

“I’m so happy to be here in New York City. Living here is going to be a unique experience for me,” said Medina, speaking to SI. “And the fact that I am able to live in New York and play football? That’s an incredible privilege.”

From a big-picture standpoint, Medina’s arrival is another example on how NYCFC–and the rest the league–is rethinking the strategy when it comes Designated Players and international talent. The focus, it seems, is not just on well-known names and well-worn players like Pirlo, but also about trusting promising, albeit younger, players, especially from South and Central America. Incoming expansion club LAFC, for example, announced the acquisition of 19-year-old Uruguayan rising star Diego Rossi last month, and last year, Atlanta United scored 70 goals in its inaugural regular season (only Toronto FC scored more) largely thanks to its three DPs: Argentina's Hector Villalba (23 years old), Venezuela's Josef Martinez (24) and Medina’s compatriot, Miguel Almiron (23), MLS’s top newcomer in 2017. Both Almiron and Martinez were also among the top seven in MVP voting.

“Miguel’s performance with Atlanta United is a main reason why I started paying more attention to the league. But also other stars such as David Villa, Pirlo caught my attention,” said Medina, when asked about his knowledge of his new league. “MLS has gotten better with level and talent.”

Medina is also aware that he will be working under Patrick Vieira, and like any player who joins the club, his manager’s reputation does not go unnoticed.

“It’s a real honor to play under a great ex-player and now manager as Patrick Vieira," Medina said. "Personally, this is a great chance for me to learn from him and grow as a player.”

As for his new captain, David Villa? Medina has a conflicted memory of his new teammate for obvious reasons.

“I have such a particular memory watching David Villa growing up, especially his 83rd-minute goal against Paraguay at the 2010 World Cup (laughing), but I don’t hold any grudges, and honestly it’s going be an honor to train with him.”

At just 20, Medina has quite the résumé.

After making his first team debut for Paraguayan club Libertad at the tender age of 15, Medina wound up with 74 appearances, including 14 in South American club competition. Last year, he helped Libertad reach the semifinals of the Copa Sudamericana.

Medina won the Paraguayan league five times, the most recent being the 2017 Apertura, so his winning mentality will be a positive addition to NYCFC, a team that, despite having so much talent, still searches for that winning disposition that conference foe Toronto FC possesses.

For his country, Medina has featured in the U-17 and U-20 squads, and he was named in Paraguay’s provisional squad for Copa America Centenario, only to miss out. Medina eventually made his senior team debut last summer against Mexico when he came on as a substitute in the 85th minute.

On the pitch, Medina is extremely versatile, able to play as a false nine, central attacking midfielder and on either wing. Seeing as Maxi Moralez controls the support striker role for David Villa and Jack Harrison mainly works down the right flank, it will be interesting to see where Vieira places the young Paraguayan.

As journalist Tim Vickery noted, some of his best football occurs on the opposite flank, when he cuts inside from the right wing (take his exquisite goal against Brazil, for example) so Vieira has some tinkering to do if he agrees with this analysis.

Medina is also a free-kick specialist and corner-kick taker, another useful factor for a team that often seemed limited in dead-ball situations.

As far as MLS has come, it would be naïve to think that Medina’s ultimate goal is to stay in this league for the rest of his career. NYCFC, after all, is owned by City Football Group and earlier reports suggested Manchester City purchased him with the intention of an immediate loan move to New York, so it is safe to suggest his career path, if all goes as planned, will eventually lead to Europe. Medina, naturally, agrees.

“Of course, someday I envision my future in Europe and play for big teams such as Manchester City or others in the Premier League,” he says. “But I am 100% focused on my career with NYCFC and my life in MLS.”

Time will tell if Medina can adjust to his new club, especially Yankee Stadium’s narrow pitch, which can often be an obstacle for players who love to have the ball at their feet. One thing is for sure about Medina: His arrival should excite not just NYCFC fans, but those who champion the development of South American talent throughout MLS.

A New York jury has found two former South American football officials guilty of taking bribes in exchange for media rights to international matches. The trial is the first in a series of verdicts in a US probe into FIFA, the football world governing body. The two men convicted are Juan Angel Napout from Paraguay, the former head of South American governing body CONMEBOL, and Jose Maria Marin, former Brazilian soccer chief. Marin was found guilty of six counts, including racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracy. The jury cleared him on the one count of money laundering conspiracy. Napout was found guilty on three counts, including racketeering conspiracy and wire fraud conspiracy. He was cleared on two counts of money laundering conspiracy. A third man, former President of the Peruvian soccer federation Manuel Burga has not yet been convicted. He also stands accused of taking bribes. The judge said the jury will return on Thursday to deliberate. Napout&#39;s lawyer, Silvia Pinera-Vazquez, said he was disappointed with the verdict reached by the court. Prosecutors have charged 42 people and entities in the case, at least 24 of whom have pleaded guilty. A number of these gave evidence in the trial of Napout, Marin and Burga. There were suggestions made that corruption within the organisation went far beyond the three men on trial. Alejandro Burzaco, the former head of Argentine sports marketing company Torneos y Competencias, told jurors that he paid bribes to all three defendants to secure rights to matches including the Copa America and Copa Libertadores. Burzaco had previously pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. The prosecutions are the first in a series of charges being brought against FIFA by US Prosecutors. Allegations of corruption within the organisation have been rife. They include suggestions that Qatar bribed officials so they could host the 2020 World Cup. FIFA has repeatedly denied these allegations.
FIFA officials convicted of corruption
A New York jury has found two former South American football officials guilty of taking bribes in exchange for media rights to international matches. The trial is the first in a series of verdicts in a US probe into FIFA, the football world governing body. The two men convicted are Juan Angel Napout from Paraguay, the former head of South American governing body CONMEBOL, and Jose Maria Marin, former Brazilian soccer chief. Marin was found guilty of six counts, including racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracy. The jury cleared him on the one count of money laundering conspiracy. Napout was found guilty on three counts, including racketeering conspiracy and wire fraud conspiracy. He was cleared on two counts of money laundering conspiracy. A third man, former President of the Peruvian soccer federation Manuel Burga has not yet been convicted. He also stands accused of taking bribes. The judge said the jury will return on Thursday to deliberate. Napout's lawyer, Silvia Pinera-Vazquez, said he was disappointed with the verdict reached by the court. Prosecutors have charged 42 people and entities in the case, at least 24 of whom have pleaded guilty. A number of these gave evidence in the trial of Napout, Marin and Burga. There were suggestions made that corruption within the organisation went far beyond the three men on trial. Alejandro Burzaco, the former head of Argentine sports marketing company Torneos y Competencias, told jurors that he paid bribes to all three defendants to secure rights to matches including the Copa America and Copa Libertadores. Burzaco had previously pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. The prosecutions are the first in a series of charges being brought against FIFA by US Prosecutors. Allegations of corruption within the organisation have been rife. They include suggestions that Qatar bribed officials so they could host the 2020 World Cup. FIFA has repeatedly denied these allegations.
A New York jury has found two former South American football officials guilty of taking bribes in exchange for media rights to international matches. The trial is the first in a series of verdicts in a US probe into FIFA, the football world governing body. The two men convicted are Juan Angel Napout from Paraguay, the former head of South American governing body CONMEBOL, and Jose Maria Marin, former Brazilian soccer chief. Marin was found guilty of six counts, including racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracy. The jury cleared him on the one count of money laundering conspiracy. Napout was found guilty on three counts, including racketeering conspiracy and wire fraud conspiracy. He was cleared on two counts of money laundering conspiracy. A third man, former President of the Peruvian soccer federation Manuel Burga has not yet been convicted. He also stands accused of taking bribes. The judge said the jury will return on Thursday to deliberate. Napout's lawyer, Silvia Pinera-Vazquez, said he was disappointed with the verdict reached by the court. Prosecutors have charged 42 people and entities in the case, at least 24 of whom have pleaded guilty. A number of these gave evidence in the trial of Napout, Marin and Burga. There were suggestions made that corruption within the organisation went far beyond the three men on trial. Alejandro Burzaco, the former head of Argentine sports marketing company Torneos y Competencias, told jurors that he paid bribes to all three defendants to secure rights to matches including the Copa America and Copa Libertadores. Burzaco had previously pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. The prosecutions are the first in a series of charges being brought against FIFA by US Prosecutors. Allegations of corruption within the organisation have been rife. They include suggestions that Qatar bribed officials so they could host the 2020 World Cup. FIFA has repeatedly denied these allegations.
FIFA officials convicted of corruption
A New York jury has found two former South American football officials guilty of taking bribes in exchange for media rights to international matches. The trial is the first in a series of verdicts in a US probe into FIFA, the football world governing body. The two men convicted are Juan Angel Napout from Paraguay, the former head of South American governing body CONMEBOL, and Jose Maria Marin, former Brazilian soccer chief. Marin was found guilty of six counts, including racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracy. The jury cleared him on the one count of money laundering conspiracy. Napout was found guilty on three counts, including racketeering conspiracy and wire fraud conspiracy. He was cleared on two counts of money laundering conspiracy. A third man, former President of the Peruvian soccer federation Manuel Burga has not yet been convicted. He also stands accused of taking bribes. The judge said the jury will return on Thursday to deliberate. Napout's lawyer, Silvia Pinera-Vazquez, said he was disappointed with the verdict reached by the court. Prosecutors have charged 42 people and entities in the case, at least 24 of whom have pleaded guilty. A number of these gave evidence in the trial of Napout, Marin and Burga. There were suggestions made that corruption within the organisation went far beyond the three men on trial. Alejandro Burzaco, the former head of Argentine sports marketing company Torneos y Competencias, told jurors that he paid bribes to all three defendants to secure rights to matches including the Copa America and Copa Libertadores. Burzaco had previously pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. The prosecutions are the first in a series of charges being brought against FIFA by US Prosecutors. Allegations of corruption within the organisation have been rife. They include suggestions that Qatar bribed officials so they could host the 2020 World Cup. FIFA has repeatedly denied these allegations.
A New York jury has found two former South American football officials guilty of taking bribes in exchange for media rights to international matches. The trial is the first in a series of verdicts in a US probe into FIFA, the football world governing body. The two men convicted are Juan Angel Napout from Paraguay, the former head of South American governing body CONMEBOL, and Jose Maria Marin, former Brazilian soccer chief. Marin was found guilty of six counts, including racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracy. The jury cleared him on the one count of money laundering conspiracy. Napout was found guilty on three counts, including racketeering conspiracy and wire fraud conspiracy. He was cleared on two counts of money laundering conspiracy. A third man, former President of the Peruvian soccer federation Manuel Burga has not yet been convicted. He also stands accused of taking bribes. The judge said the jury will return on Thursday to deliberate. Napout&#39;s lawyer, Silvia Pinera-Vazquez, said he was disappointed with the verdict reached by the court. Prosecutors have charged 42 people and entities in the case, at least 24 of whom have pleaded guilty. A number of these gave evidence in the trial of Napout, Marin and Burga. There were suggestions made that corruption within the organisation went far beyond the three men on trial. Alejandro Burzaco, the former head of Argentine sports marketing company Torneos y Competencias, told jurors that he paid bribes to all three defendants to secure rights to matches including the Copa America and Copa Libertadores. Burzaco had previously pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. The prosecutions are the first in a series of charges being brought against FIFA by US Prosecutors. Allegations of corruption within the organisation have been rife. They include suggestions that Qatar bribed officials so they could host the 2020 World Cup. FIFA has repeatedly denied these allegations.
FIFA officials convicted of corruption
A New York jury has found two former South American football officials guilty of taking bribes in exchange for media rights to international matches. The trial is the first in a series of verdicts in a US probe into FIFA, the football world governing body. The two men convicted are Juan Angel Napout from Paraguay, the former head of South American governing body CONMEBOL, and Jose Maria Marin, former Brazilian soccer chief. Marin was found guilty of six counts, including racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracy. The jury cleared him on the one count of money laundering conspiracy. Napout was found guilty on three counts, including racketeering conspiracy and wire fraud conspiracy. He was cleared on two counts of money laundering conspiracy. A third man, former President of the Peruvian soccer federation Manuel Burga has not yet been convicted. He also stands accused of taking bribes. The judge said the jury will return on Thursday to deliberate. Napout's lawyer, Silvia Pinera-Vazquez, said he was disappointed with the verdict reached by the court. Prosecutors have charged 42 people and entities in the case, at least 24 of whom have pleaded guilty. A number of these gave evidence in the trial of Napout, Marin and Burga. There were suggestions made that corruption within the organisation went far beyond the three men on trial. Alejandro Burzaco, the former head of Argentine sports marketing company Torneos y Competencias, told jurors that he paid bribes to all three defendants to secure rights to matches including the Copa America and Copa Libertadores. Burzaco had previously pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. The prosecutions are the first in a series of charges being brought against FIFA by US Prosecutors. Allegations of corruption within the organisation have been rife. They include suggestions that Qatar bribed officials so they could host the 2020 World Cup. FIFA has repeatedly denied these allegations.
A New York jury has found two former South American football officials guilty of taking bribes in exchange for media rights to international matches. The trial is the first in a series of verdicts in a US probe into FIFA, the football world governing body. The two men convicted are Juan Angel Napout from Paraguay, the former head of South American governing body CONMEBOL, and Jose Maria Marin, former Brazilian soccer chief. Marin was found guilty of six counts, including racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracy. The jury cleared him on the one count of money laundering conspiracy. Napout was found guilty on three counts, including racketeering conspiracy and wire fraud conspiracy. He was cleared on two counts of money laundering conspiracy. A third man, former President of the Peruvian soccer federation Manuel Burga has not yet been convicted. He also stands accused of taking bribes. The judge said the jury will return on Thursday to deliberate. Napout&#39;s lawyer, Silvia Pinera-Vazquez, said he was disappointed with the verdict reached by the court. Prosecutors have charged 42 people and entities in the case, at least 24 of whom have pleaded guilty. A number of these gave evidence in the trial of Napout, Marin and Burga. There were suggestions made that corruption within the organisation went far beyond the three men on trial. Alejandro Burzaco, the former head of Argentine sports marketing company Torneos y Competencias, told jurors that he paid bribes to all three defendants to secure rights to matches including the Copa America and Copa Libertadores. Burzaco had previously pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. The prosecutions are the first in a series of charges being brought against FIFA by US Prosecutors. Allegations of corruption within the organisation have been rife. They include suggestions that Qatar bribed officials so they could host the 2020 World Cup. FIFA has repeatedly denied these allegations.
FIFA officials convicted of corruption
A New York jury has found two former South American football officials guilty of taking bribes in exchange for media rights to international matches. The trial is the first in a series of verdicts in a US probe into FIFA, the football world governing body. The two men convicted are Juan Angel Napout from Paraguay, the former head of South American governing body CONMEBOL, and Jose Maria Marin, former Brazilian soccer chief. Marin was found guilty of six counts, including racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracy. The jury cleared him on the one count of money laundering conspiracy. Napout was found guilty on three counts, including racketeering conspiracy and wire fraud conspiracy. He was cleared on two counts of money laundering conspiracy. A third man, former President of the Peruvian soccer federation Manuel Burga has not yet been convicted. He also stands accused of taking bribes. The judge said the jury will return on Thursday to deliberate. Napout's lawyer, Silvia Pinera-Vazquez, said he was disappointed with the verdict reached by the court. Prosecutors have charged 42 people and entities in the case, at least 24 of whom have pleaded guilty. A number of these gave evidence in the trial of Napout, Marin and Burga. There were suggestions made that corruption within the organisation went far beyond the three men on trial. Alejandro Burzaco, the former head of Argentine sports marketing company Torneos y Competencias, told jurors that he paid bribes to all three defendants to secure rights to matches including the Copa America and Copa Libertadores. Burzaco had previously pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. The prosecutions are the first in a series of charges being brought against FIFA by US Prosecutors. Allegations of corruption within the organisation have been rife. They include suggestions that Qatar bribed officials so they could host the 2020 World Cup. FIFA has repeatedly denied these allegations.
On December 25, 1925, these two footballing giants went head-to-head for the Copa America title - and all hell broke loose!
When Brazil and Argentina went to war on Christmas Day
On December 25, 1925, these two footballing giants went head-to-head for the Copa America title - and all hell broke loose!
On December 25, 1925, these two footballing giants went head-to-head for the Copa America title - and all hell broke loose!
When Brazil and Argentina went to war on Christmas Day
On December 25, 1925, these two footballing giants went head-to-head for the Copa America title - and all hell broke loose!
On December 25, 1925, these two footballing giants went head-to-head for the Copa America title - and all hell broke loose!
When Brazil and Argentina went to war on Christmas Day
On December 25, 1925, these two footballing giants went head-to-head for the Copa America title - and all hell broke loose!
On December 25, 1925, these two footballing giants went head-to-head for the Copa America title - and all hell broke loose!
When Brazil and Argentina went to war on Christmas Day
On December 25, 1925, these two footballing giants went head-to-head for the Copa America title - and all hell broke loose!
On December 25, 1925, these two footballing giants went head-to-head for the Copa America title - and all hell broke loose!
When Brazil and Argentina went to war on Christmas Day
On December 25, 1925, these two footballing giants went head-to-head for the Copa America title - and all hell broke loose!
On December 25, 1925, these two footballing giants went head-to-head for the Copa America title - and all hell broke loose!
When Brazil and Argentina went to war on Christmas Day
On December 25, 1925, these two footballing giants went head-to-head for the Copa America title - and all hell broke loose!
On December 25, 1925, these two footballing giants went head-to-head for the Copa America title - and all hell broke loose!
When Brazil and Argentina went to war on Christmas Day
On December 25, 1925, these two footballing giants went head-to-head for the Copa America title - and all hell broke loose!
On December 25, 1925, these two footballing giants went head-to-head for the Copa America title - and all hell broke loose!
When Brazil and Argentina went to war on Christmas Day
On December 25, 1925, these two footballing giants went head-to-head for the Copa America title - and all hell broke loose!
<p>In a decisive victory for the U.S. Department of Justice’s multiyear and multinational case against FIFA corruption, a New York jury on Friday returned convictions against the former presidents of Brazil and Paraguay’s soccer federations.</p><p>Jose Maria Marin, 85, and Juan Ángel Napout, 59, faced charges for racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering in connection to several major soccer tournaments, including the Copa Libertadores tournament and the Copa América tournament. The jury convicted them on nine of the 12 counts they collectively faced. The jury has not yet reached a verdict on a third defendant, former Peru soccer federation president Manuel Burga. Jurors will continue to deliberate next week on the 60-year-old Burga. None of the three defendants chose to testify in the trial, which began five weeks ago in the Brooklyn courtroom of U.S. District Judge Pamela Chen.</p><h3><strong>Understanding the core criminal acts and resulting harm</strong></h3><p>The government’s case against Marin and Napout was relatively straightforward: they were accused of receiving bribes and kickbacks worth millions of dollars to sway which entities acquired media rights associated with major FIFA tournaments.</p><p>The two men were also accused of soliciting and receiving unlawful payments as part of a broader conspiracy to influence which countries and cities would be awarded the opportunity to host the World Cup and other lucrative tournaments. Marin and Napout, prosecutors charged, routinely partook in “the solicitation, offer, acceptance, payment, and receipt of undisclosed and illegal payments, bribes, and kickbacks.” Through such bribes, the U.S. government estimates, Marin received about $6.5 million while Napout took in about $10.5 million.</p><p>For many years, Marin and Napout wielded sizable influence in FIFA and in other corners of the soccer world. Marin, for instance, served on various FIFA standing committees that impacted which entities received benefits worth millions of dollars. Jurors believed the men took bribes as part of their official capacities. The core element of such a bribe is quid pro quo, which is Latin for “something for something.” Marin and Napout were found to have solicited money for their own personal interests. In return, they steered official FIFA actions to favor those who had paid them. Taking these bribes, therefore, caused Marin and Napout to breach their fiduciary duties to FIFA and to the other soccer organizations they represented in official capacities.</p><p>Both Marin and Napout had direct ties to the U.S. at the time they were indicted in 2015. Marin owned a home in New York while Napout had one in Florida. Nonetheless, much of their fraud occurred while outside of the U.S. Still, Marin and Napout became vulnerable to U.S. prosecution by the manner in which money associated to them changed hands. U.S. banks and related financial institutions facilitated “under the table” transactions tied to the two men (and to many other FIFA defendants). Once a person’s money flows through the U.S. banking system, that person has availed himself or herself of U.S. banking protections. Concurrently, that person becomes susceptible to U.S. criminal charges if U.S. banks are used to advance a criminal plot.</p><p>To that end, the prosecution’s case rested on convincing jurors that Marin and Napout were part of a so-called “conspiracy.” In criminal law, a conspiracy refers to an agreement or partnership between two or more persons to accomplish some unlawful purpose. Marin and Napout were accused of conspiring to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), a federal law most famously used to prosecute members of the mafia. Marin and Napout colluded to take bribes and kickbacks not through a mafia family but through their lofty positions with, and influence over, FIFA and its constituent continental confederations. Affiliated regional federations, national member associations and sports marketing companies were also impacted—in some cases favorably and in other cases unfavorably—by the conspiracy.</p><p>By scheming to enrich themselves, Marin and Napout deprived national teams, youth leagues and other soccer organizations that rely heavily on FIFA money. Further, like other FIFA officials charged with U.S. crimes, Marin and Napout’s misconduct badly damaged FIFA’s reputation. To wit: when soccer fans discuss which city will be awarded the World Cup, there is now instant skepticism as to the legitimacy of the process used to select a city.</p><h3><strong>Critical role played by witnesses in the trial and an unconvincing defense</strong></h3><p>To help convince jurors of Marin and Napout’s guilt, prosecutors relied on 28 witnesses. Alejandro Burzaco may have been most critical among them. The former CEO of the Argentinian sports marketing company Torneos y Competencias S.A., Burzaco was one of the original 14 defendants charged in 2014 for various roles in a 24-year FIFA conspiracy that led to over $150 million in bribes. Years ago, Burzaco had arranged for bribes so that his company and other companies would receive media rights for soccer tournaments. He also facilitated a bribe that allegedly helped Qatar win the right to host the 2022 World Cup. Last year, Burzaco—like a number of FIFA defendants—pleaded guilty to crimes. He is now cooperating with the Justice Department in hopes that he will receive a lighter punishment. As part of the cooperation, Burzaco must testify against persons with whom he once worked. Two of those persons are Marin and Napout.</p><p>As evidenced by the verdict, jurors were not persuaded by defenses offered by attorneys for Marin and Napout. The defense highlighted the lack of paper trail connecting Marin and Napout to dubious financial transactions. The defense also observed that cooperating witnesses are not always believable. This is a common strategy in cases involving cooperating witnesses. Indeed, defense attorneys frequently contend that cooperating witnesses are inclined to make themselves seem as useful as possible to prosecutors in hopes that the more they say to convict others, the greater reward. This incentive can sometimes lead cooperating witnesses to exaggerate or outright lie. Yet if jurors find cooperating witnesses believable, they can prove extremely influential: they often have first-hand knowledge of unlawful conduct. It appears that Burzaco was sufficiently believable to the jurors.</p><h3><strong>Next steps</strong></h3><p>Moving forward, Marin and Napout can appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, but an appeal would take many months, if not longer. Long before then, Marin and Napout will face a sentencing hearing where Judge Chen could sentence them to decades of prison time. This is because they have been convicted of crimes that in some cases carry maximum 20-year prison sentences. While Judge Chen is extremely unlikely to impose the maximum sentences and might impose relatively light sentences given the defendants’ lack of criminal records and advanced ages, they are still likely to face some time in prison. They will also sit in jail cells as they await the sentencing hearing since Judge Chen has denied them bail on grounds that they could be flight risks. </p><p>Also, as a much less significant worry for Marin and Napout compared to the prospect of living in a federal prison, FIFA on Friday signaled that it intends to seek restitution from both men. Such a worry might prove more meaningful to the defendants’ families, whose wealth could be impacted by whether Marian and Napout must reimburse FIFA for the consequences of their fraudulent acts.</p><p>All told, the legal fallout from the FIFA corruption scandal will take years to play out. This is especially true since the extradition process for the U.S. to prosecute certain defendants in federal court could take a while and, in some cases, might ultimately prove unsuccessful. Yet for now, at least, the Justice Department seems to be winning. Between Friday’s convictions and the fact that other FIFA defendants have pleaded guilty, those in soccer who commit illegal acts have good reason to be afraid of the United States Justice Department.</p><p><a href="https://law.unh.edu/faculty/mccann" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Michael McCann" class="link rapid-noclick-resp"><em>Michael McCann</em></a><em> is SI’s legal analyst. He is also an attorney and the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at the University of New Hampshire School of Law, and co-author with Ed O&#39;Bannon of the forthcoming book </em>Court Justice: The Inside Story of My Battle Against the NCAA<em>.</em></p>
Breaking Down the Guilty Verdicts in FIFA Corruption Trial

In a decisive victory for the U.S. Department of Justice’s multiyear and multinational case against FIFA corruption, a New York jury on Friday returned convictions against the former presidents of Brazil and Paraguay’s soccer federations.

Jose Maria Marin, 85, and Juan Ángel Napout, 59, faced charges for racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering in connection to several major soccer tournaments, including the Copa Libertadores tournament and the Copa América tournament. The jury convicted them on nine of the 12 counts they collectively faced. The jury has not yet reached a verdict on a third defendant, former Peru soccer federation president Manuel Burga. Jurors will continue to deliberate next week on the 60-year-old Burga. None of the three defendants chose to testify in the trial, which began five weeks ago in the Brooklyn courtroom of U.S. District Judge Pamela Chen.

Understanding the core criminal acts and resulting harm

The government’s case against Marin and Napout was relatively straightforward: they were accused of receiving bribes and kickbacks worth millions of dollars to sway which entities acquired media rights associated with major FIFA tournaments.

The two men were also accused of soliciting and receiving unlawful payments as part of a broader conspiracy to influence which countries and cities would be awarded the opportunity to host the World Cup and other lucrative tournaments. Marin and Napout, prosecutors charged, routinely partook in “the solicitation, offer, acceptance, payment, and receipt of undisclosed and illegal payments, bribes, and kickbacks.” Through such bribes, the U.S. government estimates, Marin received about $6.5 million while Napout took in about $10.5 million.

For many years, Marin and Napout wielded sizable influence in FIFA and in other corners of the soccer world. Marin, for instance, served on various FIFA standing committees that impacted which entities received benefits worth millions of dollars. Jurors believed the men took bribes as part of their official capacities. The core element of such a bribe is quid pro quo, which is Latin for “something for something.” Marin and Napout were found to have solicited money for their own personal interests. In return, they steered official FIFA actions to favor those who had paid them. Taking these bribes, therefore, caused Marin and Napout to breach their fiduciary duties to FIFA and to the other soccer organizations they represented in official capacities.

Both Marin and Napout had direct ties to the U.S. at the time they were indicted in 2015. Marin owned a home in New York while Napout had one in Florida. Nonetheless, much of their fraud occurred while outside of the U.S. Still, Marin and Napout became vulnerable to U.S. prosecution by the manner in which money associated to them changed hands. U.S. banks and related financial institutions facilitated “under the table” transactions tied to the two men (and to many other FIFA defendants). Once a person’s money flows through the U.S. banking system, that person has availed himself or herself of U.S. banking protections. Concurrently, that person becomes susceptible to U.S. criminal charges if U.S. banks are used to advance a criminal plot.

To that end, the prosecution’s case rested on convincing jurors that Marin and Napout were part of a so-called “conspiracy.” In criminal law, a conspiracy refers to an agreement or partnership between two or more persons to accomplish some unlawful purpose. Marin and Napout were accused of conspiring to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), a federal law most famously used to prosecute members of the mafia. Marin and Napout colluded to take bribes and kickbacks not through a mafia family but through their lofty positions with, and influence over, FIFA and its constituent continental confederations. Affiliated regional federations, national member associations and sports marketing companies were also impacted—in some cases favorably and in other cases unfavorably—by the conspiracy.

By scheming to enrich themselves, Marin and Napout deprived national teams, youth leagues and other soccer organizations that rely heavily on FIFA money. Further, like other FIFA officials charged with U.S. crimes, Marin and Napout’s misconduct badly damaged FIFA’s reputation. To wit: when soccer fans discuss which city will be awarded the World Cup, there is now instant skepticism as to the legitimacy of the process used to select a city.

Critical role played by witnesses in the trial and an unconvincing defense

To help convince jurors of Marin and Napout’s guilt, prosecutors relied on 28 witnesses. Alejandro Burzaco may have been most critical among them. The former CEO of the Argentinian sports marketing company Torneos y Competencias S.A., Burzaco was one of the original 14 defendants charged in 2014 for various roles in a 24-year FIFA conspiracy that led to over $150 million in bribes. Years ago, Burzaco had arranged for bribes so that his company and other companies would receive media rights for soccer tournaments. He also facilitated a bribe that allegedly helped Qatar win the right to host the 2022 World Cup. Last year, Burzaco—like a number of FIFA defendants—pleaded guilty to crimes. He is now cooperating with the Justice Department in hopes that he will receive a lighter punishment. As part of the cooperation, Burzaco must testify against persons with whom he once worked. Two of those persons are Marin and Napout.

As evidenced by the verdict, jurors were not persuaded by defenses offered by attorneys for Marin and Napout. The defense highlighted the lack of paper trail connecting Marin and Napout to dubious financial transactions. The defense also observed that cooperating witnesses are not always believable. This is a common strategy in cases involving cooperating witnesses. Indeed, defense attorneys frequently contend that cooperating witnesses are inclined to make themselves seem as useful as possible to prosecutors in hopes that the more they say to convict others, the greater reward. This incentive can sometimes lead cooperating witnesses to exaggerate or outright lie. Yet if jurors find cooperating witnesses believable, they can prove extremely influential: they often have first-hand knowledge of unlawful conduct. It appears that Burzaco was sufficiently believable to the jurors.

Next steps

Moving forward, Marin and Napout can appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, but an appeal would take many months, if not longer. Long before then, Marin and Napout will face a sentencing hearing where Judge Chen could sentence them to decades of prison time. This is because they have been convicted of crimes that in some cases carry maximum 20-year prison sentences. While Judge Chen is extremely unlikely to impose the maximum sentences and might impose relatively light sentences given the defendants’ lack of criminal records and advanced ages, they are still likely to face some time in prison. They will also sit in jail cells as they await the sentencing hearing since Judge Chen has denied them bail on grounds that they could be flight risks.

Also, as a much less significant worry for Marin and Napout compared to the prospect of living in a federal prison, FIFA on Friday signaled that it intends to seek restitution from both men. Such a worry might prove more meaningful to the defendants’ families, whose wealth could be impacted by whether Marian and Napout must reimburse FIFA for the consequences of their fraudulent acts.

All told, the legal fallout from the FIFA corruption scandal will take years to play out. This is especially true since the extradition process for the U.S. to prosecute certain defendants in federal court could take a while and, in some cases, might ultimately prove unsuccessful. Yet for now, at least, the Justice Department seems to be winning. Between Friday’s convictions and the fact that other FIFA defendants have pleaded guilty, those in soccer who commit illegal acts have good reason to be afraid of the United States Justice Department.

Michael McCann is SI’s legal analyst. He is also an attorney and the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at the University of New Hampshire School of Law, and co-author with Ed O'Bannon of the forthcoming book Court Justice: The Inside Story of My Battle Against the NCAA.

FILE PHOTO Peru&#39;s Paolo Guerrero celebrates after scoring against Paraguay during their Copa America 2015 third-place soccer match at Estadio Municipal Alcaldesa Ester Roa Rebolledo in Concepcion, Chile, July 3, 2015. REUTERS/Andres Stapff/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: Football Soccer - Copa America 2015 Peru v Paraguay
FILE PHOTO Peru's Paolo Guerrero celebrates after scoring against Paraguay during their Copa America 2015 third-place soccer match at Estadio Municipal Alcaldesa Ester Roa Rebolledo in Concepcion, Chile, July 3, 2015. REUTERS/Andres Stapff/File Photo
FILE PHOTO Peru&#39;s Paolo Guerrero celebrates after scoring against Paraguay during their Copa America 2015 third-place soccer match at Estadio Municipal Alcaldesa Ester Roa Rebolledo in Concepcion, Chile, July 3, 2015. REUTERS/Andres Stapff/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: Football Soccer - Copa America 2015 Peru v Paraguay
FILE PHOTO Peru's Paolo Guerrero celebrates after scoring against Paraguay during their Copa America 2015 third-place soccer match at Estadio Municipal Alcaldesa Ester Roa Rebolledo in Concepcion, Chile, July 3, 2015. REUTERS/Andres Stapff/File Photo
FILE PHOTO Peru&#39;s Paolo Guerrero celebrates after scoring against Paraguay during their Copa America 2015 third-place soccer match at Estadio Municipal Alcaldesa Ester Roa Rebolledo in Concepcion, Chile, July 3, 2015. REUTERS/Andres Stapff/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: Football Soccer - Copa America 2015 Peru v Paraguay
FILE PHOTO Peru's Paolo Guerrero celebrates after scoring against Paraguay during their Copa America 2015 third-place soccer match at Estadio Municipal Alcaldesa Ester Roa Rebolledo in Concepcion, Chile, July 3, 2015. REUTERS/Andres Stapff/File Photo
Chilean players celebrate after defeating Argentina and winning the Copa America Centenario final in East Rutherford, New Jersey, United States, on June 26, 2016. / AFP / NELSON ALMEIDA (Photo credit should read NELSON ALMEIDA/AFP/Getty Images)
Soccer Bribery Trial Nears End With Bid to Toss Case, No Defense
Chilean players celebrate after defeating Argentina and winning the Copa America Centenario final in East Rutherford, New Jersey, United States, on June 26, 2016. / AFP / NELSON ALMEIDA (Photo credit should read NELSON ALMEIDA/AFP/Getty Images)
A man dressed as the mascot of the Copa America Chile 2015 walks around the field before the friendly match between Chile and Uruguay in Santiago, on November 18, 2014 . AFP PHOTO/MARTIN BERNETTI (Photo credit should read MARTIN BERNETTI/AFP/Getty Images)
Soccer Bosses' High-Flying Lives on Display at Corruption Trial
A man dressed as the mascot of the Copa America Chile 2015 walks around the field before the friendly match between Chile and Uruguay in Santiago, on November 18, 2014 . AFP PHOTO/MARTIN BERNETTI (Photo credit should read MARTIN BERNETTI/AFP/Getty Images)
Peru&#39;s Paolo Guerrero and Paraguay&#39;s Paulo Da Silva (L) chase after the ball during their Copa America 2015 third-place soccer match at Estadio Municipal Alcaldesa Ester Roa Rebolledo in Concepcion, Chile, July 3, 2015. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo
Peru's Guerrero and Paraguay's Da Silva chase after the ball during their Copa America 2015 third-place soccer match at Estadio Municipal Alcaldesa Ester Roa Rebolledo in Concepcion
Peru's Paolo Guerrero and Paraguay's Paulo Da Silva (L) chase after the ball during their Copa America 2015 third-place soccer match at Estadio Municipal Alcaldesa Ester Roa Rebolledo in Concepcion, Chile, July 3, 2015. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo
<p>Twenty years ago, Lionel Messi, then a 10-year-old playing for a youth team at Newell’s Old Boys, headed into rural Santa Fe for a game against Pujato. These were always difficult, physical matches, and Messi took a kicking. Pujato scored twice early on and, as Newell’s defender Gerardo Grighini recalls, Newell’s was still 2-0 down when, with “eight or nine minutes to go” Messi “got the face on,” It was as though Messi had said to himself, “F*** it, I’ll sort it!” and he scored three goals in those closing minutes to win the game.<br>Messi has been getting the face on a lot recently. With Neymar gone, Ousmane Dembele injured and general chaos at the Camp Nou, it feels as though Barcelona’s perfect start to the season has been the result of him, fired by the “<em>bronca</em>” that used to motivate Diego Maradona, dragging Barcelona forward almost single-handed. And then, in Quito on Tuesday night, with Argentina 1-0 down after some 40 seconds and facing the possibility of missing a World Cup for the first time since 1970, <a href="https://www.si.com/soccer/2017/10/10/south-america-world-cup-qualifying-messi-argentina-peru-uruguay-colombia-chile" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:he scored a hat trick" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">he scored a hat trick</a>.<br><em>“F*** it, I’ll sort it!”</em><br>“<em>Bronca</em>” is a favorite world of Maradona. It’s a term from lunfardo, the street slang of Buenos Aires that inverts the syllables of words. In this case, “<em>cabron</em>”–bastard–becomes a noun meaning the energy derived from anger or when provoked. Listen to Maradona and it comes to seem that every act of greatness he ever performed on a pitch was motivated by <em>bronca</em>–but then Maradona, a far more volatile, less consistent genius than Messi, was forever making points with his brilliance, as though no transcendent act could ever be wasted on something as straightforward as just winning a game or professionalism.<br>Messi’s excellence is relentless, so much so that there is a danger we have become inured to it and take it for granted. Then comes something like Tuesday, when he not merely wins a game, not merely scored three high-caliber goals, but needled by the inadequacy of those around him–players, coaches, directors or administrators–he grabs the mood of a game and forces it to go the way he wants it to.<br>Argentina had only ever won once in Quito. It had scored only twice in its previous five qualifiers: a penalty and an own-goal. In this most chaotic of qualifying campaigns, it had gone through 43 players, three managers and three federation presidents, including a FIFA normalization committee. Messi had retired, been injured and banned. There was a genuine possibility that Tuesday night might have been his last game for the national side, certainly his last World Cup-related game as the player he is now before age saps at his acceleration.<br><br>There was moaning and grumbling; without a World Cup title, it was said, he could never match Maradona’s legacy. Perhaps he can’t. In his turbulent personal life, in his look and manner, in his emergence from a villa miseria on the banks of the Riachuelo, Maradona was always something more than a footballer; he was the incarnation of the pibe ideal, almost as though his coming had been foretold.<br>Messi is just a brilliant footballer. His father was a factory manager and the fact that he grew up under the protection of Barcelona in a sense makes his story less dramatic, less operatic. In terms of trophies won, in terms of the number of staggering performances, he already far outstrips Maradona, whose career was always fragmented by injuries and indiscipline. It’s true his success has always been at a superclub, but that is the nature modern football and what, anyway, is he supposed to do? Should he leave Barcelona to join a smaller side just to make a point? Maradona also had his opportunity at Barcelona; the difference is he failed–admittedly when the club was run far worse than it is even today. Messi has already played in more international finals than Maradona, who rarely bothered with the Copa America; that he has won none of them says more about the finishing under pressure of Gonzalo Higuain than his own abilities.<br>That’s not to say that Messi is better than Maradona; it’s to point out that the arguments used in support of Maradona tend to be flawed. Comparisons across generations are nearly impossible. The game has changed and memories blur events. International football, with a limited number of fixtures, often hinges on the slightest events. Argentina’s qualification for the 1986 World Cup, Maradona and all, was secured only by an 81st-minute goal in their final qualifier from <a href="https://www.si.com/soccer/2017/09/06/peru-world-cup-qualifying-conmebol-south-america-ricardo-gareca" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Ricardo Gareca, the present Peru manager." class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Ricardo Gareca, the present Peru manager.</a> Had that not gone in, Argentina would have been forced into a four-team playoff for a single additional slot.<br>Plenty of champions have qualified poorly. The truest test of a champion, perhaps, is to do it when it really matters, to have that force of will to harness circumstance. A great player can, as Paulo Dybala acknowledged last week, be a problem, inhibiting others from playing their natural game–look at how Brazil has improved since it stopped being all about Neymar; look how Sweden has improved since Zlatan Ibrahimovic retired–but they also offer possibilities way beyond what can normally be conceived.<br>Narratives can make heroes and heroes can make narratives. For the true great, events often seem to fall into place. Argentina can now believe that Russia will be the fulfillment of Messi’s destiny, and that everything that has gone before was mere buildup. Without adversity, there can be no savior, and if Messi does go on to win the World Cup next summer, how much sweeter will it be if it is his last attempt? If he did, before Tuesday’s hat trick, teeter on the brink of failure before getting the face on and sorting it? </p>
Argentina Savior Messi Enforces His Brilliance When His Nation Needs Him Most

Twenty years ago, Lionel Messi, then a 10-year-old playing for a youth team at Newell’s Old Boys, headed into rural Santa Fe for a game against Pujato. These were always difficult, physical matches, and Messi took a kicking. Pujato scored twice early on and, as Newell’s defender Gerardo Grighini recalls, Newell’s was still 2-0 down when, with “eight or nine minutes to go” Messi “got the face on,” It was as though Messi had said to himself, “F*** it, I’ll sort it!” and he scored three goals in those closing minutes to win the game.
Messi has been getting the face on a lot recently. With Neymar gone, Ousmane Dembele injured and general chaos at the Camp Nou, it feels as though Barcelona’s perfect start to the season has been the result of him, fired by the “bronca” that used to motivate Diego Maradona, dragging Barcelona forward almost single-handed. And then, in Quito on Tuesday night, with Argentina 1-0 down after some 40 seconds and facing the possibility of missing a World Cup for the first time since 1970, he scored a hat trick.
“F*** it, I’ll sort it!”
Bronca” is a favorite world of Maradona. It’s a term from lunfardo, the street slang of Buenos Aires that inverts the syllables of words. In this case, “cabron”–bastard–becomes a noun meaning the energy derived from anger or when provoked. Listen to Maradona and it comes to seem that every act of greatness he ever performed on a pitch was motivated by bronca–but then Maradona, a far more volatile, less consistent genius than Messi, was forever making points with his brilliance, as though no transcendent act could ever be wasted on something as straightforward as just winning a game or professionalism.
Messi’s excellence is relentless, so much so that there is a danger we have become inured to it and take it for granted. Then comes something like Tuesday, when he not merely wins a game, not merely scored three high-caliber goals, but needled by the inadequacy of those around him–players, coaches, directors or administrators–he grabs the mood of a game and forces it to go the way he wants it to.
Argentina had only ever won once in Quito. It had scored only twice in its previous five qualifiers: a penalty and an own-goal. In this most chaotic of qualifying campaigns, it had gone through 43 players, three managers and three federation presidents, including a FIFA normalization committee. Messi had retired, been injured and banned. There was a genuine possibility that Tuesday night might have been his last game for the national side, certainly his last World Cup-related game as the player he is now before age saps at his acceleration.

There was moaning and grumbling; without a World Cup title, it was said, he could never match Maradona’s legacy. Perhaps he can’t. In his turbulent personal life, in his look and manner, in his emergence from a villa miseria on the banks of the Riachuelo, Maradona was always something more than a footballer; he was the incarnation of the pibe ideal, almost as though his coming had been foretold.
Messi is just a brilliant footballer. His father was a factory manager and the fact that he grew up under the protection of Barcelona in a sense makes his story less dramatic, less operatic. In terms of trophies won, in terms of the number of staggering performances, he already far outstrips Maradona, whose career was always fragmented by injuries and indiscipline. It’s true his success has always been at a superclub, but that is the nature modern football and what, anyway, is he supposed to do? Should he leave Barcelona to join a smaller side just to make a point? Maradona also had his opportunity at Barcelona; the difference is he failed–admittedly when the club was run far worse than it is even today. Messi has already played in more international finals than Maradona, who rarely bothered with the Copa America; that he has won none of them says more about the finishing under pressure of Gonzalo Higuain than his own abilities.
That’s not to say that Messi is better than Maradona; it’s to point out that the arguments used in support of Maradona tend to be flawed. Comparisons across generations are nearly impossible. The game has changed and memories blur events. International football, with a limited number of fixtures, often hinges on the slightest events. Argentina’s qualification for the 1986 World Cup, Maradona and all, was secured only by an 81st-minute goal in their final qualifier from Ricardo Gareca, the present Peru manager. Had that not gone in, Argentina would have been forced into a four-team playoff for a single additional slot.
Plenty of champions have qualified poorly. The truest test of a champion, perhaps, is to do it when it really matters, to have that force of will to harness circumstance. A great player can, as Paulo Dybala acknowledged last week, be a problem, inhibiting others from playing their natural game–look at how Brazil has improved since it stopped being all about Neymar; look how Sweden has improved since Zlatan Ibrahimovic retired–but they also offer possibilities way beyond what can normally be conceived.
Narratives can make heroes and heroes can make narratives. For the true great, events often seem to fall into place. Argentina can now believe that Russia will be the fulfillment of Messi’s destiny, and that everything that has gone before was mere buildup. Without adversity, there can be no savior, and if Messi does go on to win the World Cup next summer, how much sweeter will it be if it is his last attempt? If he did, before Tuesday’s hat trick, teeter on the brink of failure before getting the face on and sorting it?

Jun 18, 2016; Foxborough, MA, USA; Argentina midfielder Lionel Messi (10) congratulates forward Gonzalo Higuain (9) after he scored his second goal of the game against the Venezuela during the first half of quarter-final play in the 2016 Copa America Centenario soccer tournament at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports / Reuters.
Soccer: 2016 Copa America Centenario-Argentina at Venezuela
Jun 18, 2016; Foxborough, MA, USA; Argentina midfielder Lionel Messi (10) congratulates forward Gonzalo Higuain (9) after he scored his second goal of the game against the Venezuela during the first half of quarter-final play in the 2016 Copa America Centenario soccer tournament at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports / Reuters.
Jun 21, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Argentina forward Gonzalo Higuain (left) celebrates with midfielder Lionel Messi (10) after scoring a goal during the second half against the United States in the semifinals of the 2016 Copa America Centenario soccer tournament at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Soccer: 2016 Copa America Centenario-Argentina at USA
Jun 21, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Argentina forward Gonzalo Higuain (left) celebrates with midfielder Lionel Messi (10) after scoring a goal during the second half against the United States in the semifinals of the 2016 Copa America Centenario soccer tournament at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 4, 2016; Pasadena, CA, USA; Brazil manager Dunga looks on before a game against Ecuador during the group play stage of the 2016 Copa America Centenario at Rose Bowl Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports
Soccer: 2016 Copa America Centenario-Ecuador at Brazil
Jun 4, 2016; Pasadena, CA, USA; Brazil manager Dunga looks on before a game against Ecuador during the group play stage of the 2016 Copa America Centenario at Rose Bowl Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports
Colombia&#39;s national soccer team coach Hernan Dario &quot;El, Bolillo&quot; Gomez attends a training session in Jujuy July 3, 2011. Colombia will play Argentina in their Copa America Group A soccer match on Wednesday. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
Colombia's national soccer team coach Hernan Dario "El, Bolillo" Gomez attends a training session in Jujuy
Colombia's national soccer team coach Hernan Dario "El, Bolillo" Gomez attends a training session in Jujuy July 3, 2011. Colombia will play Argentina in their Copa America Group A soccer match on Wednesday. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
FILE PHOTO: Uruguay&#39;s Maximiliano Pereira (L) talks to head coach Oscar Tabarez at a training session at Sport Center Los Llanos in La Serena, June 19, 2015. Uruguay will play against Paraguay on June 20 during their Group B soccer match at the Copa America soccer tournament in Chile. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: Uruguay's Maximiliano Pereira talks to head coach Oscar Tabarez at a training session at Sport Center Los Llanos in La Serena
FILE PHOTO: Uruguay's Maximiliano Pereira (L) talks to head coach Oscar Tabarez at a training session at Sport Center Los Llanos in La Serena, June 19, 2015. Uruguay will play against Paraguay on June 20 during their Group B soccer match at the Copa America soccer tournament in Chile. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo/File Photo
​Former Real Madrid star Roberto Carlos has broken many people&#39;s hearts by admitting that his world-renowned free-kick against France in 1997 was wind-assisted and branded the goal a &#39;miracle&#39;. The Brazilian enjoyed a fantastic career at both club and international level. During his time at Real Madrid he won four La Liga titles and three Champions League trophies. He was also extremely successful with Brazil as they won two Copa America titles and the World Cup in 2002. But what will perhaps...
Brazil Legend Roberto Carlos Reveals Lucky Element That Aided His Iconic Free-Kick Against France
​Former Real Madrid star Roberto Carlos has broken many people's hearts by admitting that his world-renowned free-kick against France in 1997 was wind-assisted and branded the goal a 'miracle'. The Brazilian enjoyed a fantastic career at both club and international level. During his time at Real Madrid he won four La Liga titles and three Champions League trophies. He was also extremely successful with Brazil as they won two Copa America titles and the World Cup in 2002. But what will perhaps...
​Former Real Madrid star Roberto Carlos has broken many people&#39;s hearts by admitting that his world-renowned free-kick against France in 1997 was wind-assisted and branded the goal a &#39;miracle&#39;. The Brazilian enjoyed a fantastic career at both club and international level. During his time at Real Madrid he won four La Liga titles and three Champions League trophies. He was also extremely successful with Brazil as they won two Copa America titles and the World Cup in 2002. But what will perhaps...
Brazil Legend Roberto Carlos Reveals Lucky Element That Aided His Iconic Free-Kick Against France
​Former Real Madrid star Roberto Carlos has broken many people's hearts by admitting that his world-renowned free-kick against France in 1997 was wind-assisted and branded the goal a 'miracle'. The Brazilian enjoyed a fantastic career at both club and international level. During his time at Real Madrid he won four La Liga titles and three Champions League trophies. He was also extremely successful with Brazil as they won two Copa America titles and the World Cup in 2002. But what will perhaps...
​Former Real Madrid star Roberto Carlos has broken many people&#39;s hearts by admitting that his world-renowned free-kick against France in 1997 was wind-assisted and branded the goal a &#39;miracle&#39;. The Brazilian enjoyed a fantastic career at both club and international level. During his time at Real Madrid he won four La Liga titles and three Champions League trophies. He was also extremely successful with Brazil as they won two Copa America titles and the World Cup in 2002. But what will perhaps...
Brazil Legend Roberto Carlos Reveals Lucky Element That Aided His Iconic Free-Kick Against France
​Former Real Madrid star Roberto Carlos has broken many people's hearts by admitting that his world-renowned free-kick against France in 1997 was wind-assisted and branded the goal a 'miracle'. The Brazilian enjoyed a fantastic career at both club and international level. During his time at Real Madrid he won four La Liga titles and three Champions League trophies. He was also extremely successful with Brazil as they won two Copa America titles and the World Cup in 2002. But what will perhaps...
​Former Real Madrid star Roberto Carlos has broken many people&#39;s hearts by admitting that his world-renowned free-kick against France in 1997 was wind-assisted and branded the goal a &#39;miracle&#39;. The Brazilian enjoyed a fantastic career at both club and international level. During his time at Real Madrid he won four La Liga titles and three Champions League trophies. He was also extremely successful with Brazil as they won two Copa America titles and the World Cup in 2002. But what will perhaps...
Brazil Legend Roberto Carlos Reveals Lucky Element That Aided His Iconic Free-Kick Against France
​Former Real Madrid star Roberto Carlos has broken many people's hearts by admitting that his world-renowned free-kick against France in 1997 was wind-assisted and branded the goal a 'miracle'. The Brazilian enjoyed a fantastic career at both club and international level. During his time at Real Madrid he won four La Liga titles and three Champions League trophies. He was also extremely successful with Brazil as they won two Copa America titles and the World Cup in 2002. But what will perhaps...
<p>NEW YORK (AP) – Payments to the head of Peruvian soccer were masked under the name &#39;&#39;Fiat.&#39;&#39; Money for Paraguay&#39;s boss was listed as &#39;&#39;Honda.&#39;&#39;</p><p>Excel spreadsheets detailed the cloak-and-dagger recording system of money given to &#39;&#39;Benz,&#39;&#39; &#39;&#39;VW,&#39;&#39; &#39;&#39;Toyota,&#39;&#39; &#39;&#39;Kia,&#39;&#39; and &#39;&#39;Peugeot,&#39;&#39; among others, including a pair of payments labeled &#39;&#39;Q2022&#39;&#39; that appeared to be related to the FIFA executive committee&#39;s 2010 vote giving Qatar rights to host the 2022 World Cup.</p><p>&#39;&#39;We basically decided to make up fantasy names for each of the people involved,&#39;&#39; sports marketing executive Santiago Pena testified Monday as the trial of three high-ranking soccer executives entered its second week at federal court in Brooklyn.</p><p>Pena worked for Full Play Group, a company based in Argentina that won marketing rights to South American World Cup qualifiers and the Copa America and Copa Libertatores tournaments.</p><p>Hugo and Mariano Jinkis, a father and son who are Full Play&#39;s controlling principals, were indicted along with many top soccer executives in 2015 by U.S. prosecutors. The father and son have not been extradited thus far.</p><p>Pena testified that he took the ledger from Full Play&#39;s office on a thumb drive along with a stack of documents shortly after the first indictments were unsealed in May 2015 and kept the evidence at his home for two years before turning it over the American prosecutors.</p><p>Juan Angel Napout, the ex-president of Paraguay&#39;s soccer federation; Jose Maria Marin, the former president of Brazil&#39;s soccer federation; and Manuel Burga, the ex-head of Peru&#39;s soccer federation; are on trial for racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy.</p><p>Rafael Esquivel, the former president of Venezuelan soccer, was nicknamed &#39;&#39;Benz&#39;&#39; and his ledger listed a $750,000 payment owed for &#39;&#39;Q2022.&#39;&#39; He pleaded guilty in November 2016 to racketeering conspiracy, three counts of wire fraud conspiracy and three counts of money laundering conspiracy.</p><p>Luis Chiriboga, the former president of Ecuadorean soccer, was nicknamed &#39;&#39;Toyota&#39;&#39; and his ledger listed a $500,000 payment owed for &#39;&#39;Q2022.&#39;&#39; He was convicted in his own country in November 2016 of money laundering.</p><p>Neither Esquivel nor Chiriboga was on the FIFA executive committee that made Qatar the 2022 World Cup host. M. Kristen Mace, the assistant U.S. attorney questioning Pena, did not ask whether the payments were to be redirected to others.</p><p>Other nicknames included &#39;&#39;VW&#39;&#39; for Carlos Chavez of Bolivia, &#39;&#39;Honda&#39;&#39; for Napout, &#39;&#39;Fiat&#39;&#39; for Burga, &#39;&#39;Flemic,&#39;&#39; for Luis Bedoya of Colombia, &#39;&#39;Kia&#39;&#39; for Sergio Jadue of Chile and &#39;&#39;Peugeot&#39;&#39; for Jose Meiszner, the former general secretary of the South American governing body CONMEBOL.</p><p>Pena said that as part of the contracts for the Copa America covering 2015, 2019 and 2023, plus the 2016 Centennial Copa America, payments were made to soccer federation presidents and the CONMEBOL general secretary, listing amount for various events plus for signing contracts. He said the money was not recorded on Full Play&#39;s regular accounts.</p><p>&#39;&#39;They were secret payments,&#39;&#39; he said.</p><p><em>Introducing SPORTS ILLUSTRATED TV, your new home for classic sports movies, award-winning documentaries and original sports programming such as <a href="https://www.si.com/planetfutbolTV" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Planet Futbol TV, SI TV’s weekly soccer show" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Planet Futbol TV, SI TV’s weekly soccer show</a>. Start your <a href="https://www.si.com/planetfutbolTV" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:seven-day free trial now" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">seven-day free trial now</a> on Amazon Channels.</em></p><p>Among the payments were some for the Copa Libertadores, even though Full Play did not hold rights. Pena said his bosses described them as loyalty payments.</p><p>Pena also testified about corporate sponsorship deals for the 2015 Copa: $9 million each for MasterCard and Banco Santander; $8 million for Kia Motors; $3.2 million for Coca-Cola and DHL; $3 million for Kellogg; and $1.5 million for LATAM Airlines.</p><p>He said that payments were made from Full Play directly to Venezuela&#39;s players and coaches at the request of the nation&#39;s federation to get around currency restrictions in that nation.</p><p>Pena also detailed $2 million in payments Full Play made to Soccer United Marketing, a marketing company of the U.S. Soccer Federation and Major League Soccer, for a pair of exhibition games involving Mexico in March 2015, against Ecuador and Paraguay. He said Full Play sold U.S. rights to World Cup qualifiers to BeIN Sports through a London-based company.</p><p>Before testimony, U.S. District Judge Pamela K. Chen said she denied the government&#39;s request to remand Burga into custody but tightened restrictions on his cellphone use. Prosecutors said he made a slashing motion with a finger across his throat in a threatening gesture during the testimony of Alejandro Burzaco, another marketing executive. Burga&#39;s lawyer said he was scratching because of a skin condition.</p>
FIFA Trial Witness Says Officials Used Car Names to Disguise Secret Payments

NEW YORK (AP) – Payments to the head of Peruvian soccer were masked under the name ''Fiat.'' Money for Paraguay's boss was listed as ''Honda.''

Excel spreadsheets detailed the cloak-and-dagger recording system of money given to ''Benz,'' ''VW,'' ''Toyota,'' ''Kia,'' and ''Peugeot,'' among others, including a pair of payments labeled ''Q2022'' that appeared to be related to the FIFA executive committee's 2010 vote giving Qatar rights to host the 2022 World Cup.

''We basically decided to make up fantasy names for each of the people involved,'' sports marketing executive Santiago Pena testified Monday as the trial of three high-ranking soccer executives entered its second week at federal court in Brooklyn.

Pena worked for Full Play Group, a company based in Argentina that won marketing rights to South American World Cup qualifiers and the Copa America and Copa Libertatores tournaments.

Hugo and Mariano Jinkis, a father and son who are Full Play's controlling principals, were indicted along with many top soccer executives in 2015 by U.S. prosecutors. The father and son have not been extradited thus far.

Pena testified that he took the ledger from Full Play's office on a thumb drive along with a stack of documents shortly after the first indictments were unsealed in May 2015 and kept the evidence at his home for two years before turning it over the American prosecutors.

Juan Angel Napout, the ex-president of Paraguay's soccer federation; Jose Maria Marin, the former president of Brazil's soccer federation; and Manuel Burga, the ex-head of Peru's soccer federation; are on trial for racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy.

Rafael Esquivel, the former president of Venezuelan soccer, was nicknamed ''Benz'' and his ledger listed a $750,000 payment owed for ''Q2022.'' He pleaded guilty in November 2016 to racketeering conspiracy, three counts of wire fraud conspiracy and three counts of money laundering conspiracy.

Luis Chiriboga, the former president of Ecuadorean soccer, was nicknamed ''Toyota'' and his ledger listed a $500,000 payment owed for ''Q2022.'' He was convicted in his own country in November 2016 of money laundering.

Neither Esquivel nor Chiriboga was on the FIFA executive committee that made Qatar the 2022 World Cup host. M. Kristen Mace, the assistant U.S. attorney questioning Pena, did not ask whether the payments were to be redirected to others.

Other nicknames included ''VW'' for Carlos Chavez of Bolivia, ''Honda'' for Napout, ''Fiat'' for Burga, ''Flemic,'' for Luis Bedoya of Colombia, ''Kia'' for Sergio Jadue of Chile and ''Peugeot'' for Jose Meiszner, the former general secretary of the South American governing body CONMEBOL.

Pena said that as part of the contracts for the Copa America covering 2015, 2019 and 2023, plus the 2016 Centennial Copa America, payments were made to soccer federation presidents and the CONMEBOL general secretary, listing amount for various events plus for signing contracts. He said the money was not recorded on Full Play's regular accounts.

''They were secret payments,'' he said.

Introducing SPORTS ILLUSTRATED TV, your new home for classic sports movies, award-winning documentaries and original sports programming such as Planet Futbol TV, SI TV’s weekly soccer show. Start your seven-day free trial now on Amazon Channels.

Among the payments were some for the Copa Libertadores, even though Full Play did not hold rights. Pena said his bosses described them as loyalty payments.

Pena also testified about corporate sponsorship deals for the 2015 Copa: $9 million each for MasterCard and Banco Santander; $8 million for Kia Motors; $3.2 million for Coca-Cola and DHL; $3 million for Kellogg; and $1.5 million for LATAM Airlines.

He said that payments were made from Full Play directly to Venezuela's players and coaches at the request of the nation's federation to get around currency restrictions in that nation.

Pena also detailed $2 million in payments Full Play made to Soccer United Marketing, a marketing company of the U.S. Soccer Federation and Major League Soccer, for a pair of exhibition games involving Mexico in March 2015, against Ecuador and Paraguay. He said Full Play sold U.S. rights to World Cup qualifiers to BeIN Sports through a London-based company.

Before testimony, U.S. District Judge Pamela K. Chen said she denied the government's request to remand Burga into custody but tightened restrictions on his cellphone use. Prosecutors said he made a slashing motion with a finger across his throat in a threatening gesture during the testimony of Alejandro Burzaco, another marketing executive. Burga's lawyer said he was scratching because of a skin condition.

<p>Much has been made about the nations who <em>didn&#39;t</em> qualify for the 2018 World Cup, and for good reason. The list is loaded with international powers and World Cup regulars, and four reigning regional champions–Chile, USA, New Zealand and Cameroon–won&#39;t be making the trip to Russia.</p><p><a href="https://www.si.com/soccer/photo/2017/11/15/2018-world-cup-teams-russia-32-countries" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:The field in Russia boasts plenty of intrigue and star power" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">The field in Russia boasts plenty of intrigue and star power</a>, and those competing on the grand stage will command the spotlight for the next eight months on the journey to the top prize in the international game. Before that, though, there&#39;s still reason to look back at the series of stars who won&#39;t be competing at the World Cup due to their nations&#39; inability to get there. There are so many, in fact, that carving out a legitimate, World Cup-like, 23-man roster isn&#39;t all that difficult of a task. </p><p>Sticking with players who won&#39;t be at the World Cup because of a failure to qualify and not because of a current standing with their national team that <em>did</em> qualify and a traditional roster construction, here&#39;s a team of star players that you won&#39;t be seeing next summer under the bright lights in Russia.</p><h3><strong>GOALKEEPERS</strong></h3><p><strong>Gianluigi Buffon (Italy), Jan Oblak (Slovenia), Jasper Cillessen (Netherlands)</strong></p><p>It&#39;s an <a href="https://www.si.com/soccer/2017/11/15/fanview-italys-tragedy-san-siro-unfitting-end-gianluigi-buffons-glittering-career" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:absolute shame that Buffon won&#39;t be able to exit on his own terms" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">absolute shame that Buffon won&#39;t be able to exit on his own terms</a> in the World Cup. The 2006 winner is universally adored and revered and was one of the last active holdovers from that Italian title team. It feels like the soccer universe has been cheated some with the last international image of Buffon being him crying tears of sorrow, but storybook endings don&#39;t happen for everyone. Presuming this is Buffon&#39;s last season as a player, he&#39;ll still hope to go out with more silverware at Juventus.</p><p>A pair of La Liga netminders round out the group, with Atletico Madrid&#39;s Oblak, who supplanted Inter&#39;s talented Samir Handanovic as Slovenia&#39;s No. 1, and Barcelona backup Cillessen, who, at 28, will be fighting for his place in qualifying for Qatar 2022. </p><h3><strong>DEFENDERS</strong></h3><p><strong>David Alaba (Austria); Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini (Italy); Faouzi Ghoulam (Algeria); Antonio Valencia (Ecuador); Virgil Van Dijk (Netherlands)</strong></p><p>Just like Buffon, the entire B-B-C back line of Italy that has been so resolute for so long won&#39;t be making the journey to Russia, and a true changing of the guard is in store for the Azzurri defense. It&#39;s a true end of an era.</p><p>With this group, you&#39;ve got a blend of that experience and players hitting their prime in Alaba and Ghoulam, plus clout in the center and fullbacks who can bomb forward.</p><h3><strong>MIDFIELDERS</strong></h3><p><strong>Marek Hamsik (Slovakia), Naby Keita (Guinea), Henrikh Mkhitaryan (Armenia), Miralem Pjanic (Bosnia &#38; Herzegovina), Christian Pulisic (USA), Thomas Partey (Ghana), Arturo Vidal (Chile), Wilfried Zaha (Ivory Coast)</strong></p><p>Pulisic won&#39;t get to experience a breakout on the biggest stage possible thanks to the USA&#39;s failure, but the 19-year-old is hardly to blame given he carried the Americans at times and provided hope in the fateful finale vs. Trinidad &#38; Tobago. Pulisic will have to wait until 2022 for his first potential taste of a senior World Cup.</p><p>This group is a balanced one, blessed with wing play in Pulisic and Zaha, central creators like Hamsik and Mkhitaryan and central muscle in Vidal and Partey. For Keita, at least he did not need the World Cup as a springboard to bigger things, as he&#39;s already headed to Liverpool next summer from RB Leipzig.</p><h3><strong>FORWARDS</strong></h3><p><strong>Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Gabon), Gareth Bale (Wales), Arjen Robben (Netherlands), Edin Dzeko (Bosnia &#38; Herzegovina), Alexis Sanchez (Chile)</strong></p><p>Robben <a href="https://www.si.com/soccer/2017/10/10/arjen-robben-netherlands-sweden-goal-retirement-video" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:went out with a golazo" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">went out with a golazo</a> in his final appearance with the Dutch, and his unstoppable cut-in-from-the-right, shoot-with-the-left move will be missed on the grand stage.</p><p>After Wales&#39; run to the Euro 2016 semifinals, a World Cup bid was surely expected to follow, but the Dragons had to cope without Bale in their final qualifiers, and they couldn&#39;t quite make it to the playoff stage, falling to Ireland at the last hurdle. That&#39;s a killer for the 28-year-old Bale, who could well go his entire international career without playing in a World Cup depending on how the next five years play out.</p><p>Elsewhere, <a href="https://www.si.com/soccer/2017/10/09/bvb-star-aubameyang-blames-cursed-orange-juice-gabons-world-cup-qualification-failure" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Aubameyang and Gabon attributed their failure to some dodgy orange juice" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Aubameyang and Gabon attributed their failure to some dodgy orange juice</a>, while Bosnia &#38; Herzegovina underachieved considering its wealth of talent, which includes the prolific Dzeko. As for Alexis Sanchez, who has given his all for his country and helped guide it to the last two Copa America titles, not even reaching the World Cup stage is a shocking blow.</p><p><em>On the provisional 40-man roster but not quite making the cut:</em> Gianluigi Donnarumma (Italy), Stefan de Vrij (Netherlands), Daley Blind (Netherlands), Eric Bailly (Ivory Coast), Sokratis Papastathopoulos (Greece), Serge Aurier (Ivory Coast), Marco Verratti (Italy), Gary Medel (Chile), Charles Aranguiz (Chile), Hakan Calhanoglu (Turkey), Aaron Ramsey (Wales), Riyad Mahrez (Algeria), Cenk Tosun (Turkey), Vincent Aboubakar (Cameroon), Andriy Yarmolenko (Ukraine), Stevan Jovetic (Montenegro), Andrea Belotti (Italy).</p>
The Best Players Who Missed the World Cup: A Full 23-Man Squad

Much has been made about the nations who didn't qualify for the 2018 World Cup, and for good reason. The list is loaded with international powers and World Cup regulars, and four reigning regional champions–Chile, USA, New Zealand and Cameroon–won't be making the trip to Russia.

The field in Russia boasts plenty of intrigue and star power, and those competing on the grand stage will command the spotlight for the next eight months on the journey to the top prize in the international game. Before that, though, there's still reason to look back at the series of stars who won't be competing at the World Cup due to their nations' inability to get there. There are so many, in fact, that carving out a legitimate, World Cup-like, 23-man roster isn't all that difficult of a task.

Sticking with players who won't be at the World Cup because of a failure to qualify and not because of a current standing with their national team that did qualify and a traditional roster construction, here's a team of star players that you won't be seeing next summer under the bright lights in Russia.

GOALKEEPERS

Gianluigi Buffon (Italy), Jan Oblak (Slovenia), Jasper Cillessen (Netherlands)

It's an absolute shame that Buffon won't be able to exit on his own terms in the World Cup. The 2006 winner is universally adored and revered and was one of the last active holdovers from that Italian title team. It feels like the soccer universe has been cheated some with the last international image of Buffon being him crying tears of sorrow, but storybook endings don't happen for everyone. Presuming this is Buffon's last season as a player, he'll still hope to go out with more silverware at Juventus.

A pair of La Liga netminders round out the group, with Atletico Madrid's Oblak, who supplanted Inter's talented Samir Handanovic as Slovenia's No. 1, and Barcelona backup Cillessen, who, at 28, will be fighting for his place in qualifying for Qatar 2022.

DEFENDERS

David Alaba (Austria); Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini (Italy); Faouzi Ghoulam (Algeria); Antonio Valencia (Ecuador); Virgil Van Dijk (Netherlands)

Just like Buffon, the entire B-B-C back line of Italy that has been so resolute for so long won't be making the journey to Russia, and a true changing of the guard is in store for the Azzurri defense. It's a true end of an era.

With this group, you've got a blend of that experience and players hitting their prime in Alaba and Ghoulam, plus clout in the center and fullbacks who can bomb forward.

MIDFIELDERS

Marek Hamsik (Slovakia), Naby Keita (Guinea), Henrikh Mkhitaryan (Armenia), Miralem Pjanic (Bosnia & Herzegovina), Christian Pulisic (USA), Thomas Partey (Ghana), Arturo Vidal (Chile), Wilfried Zaha (Ivory Coast)

Pulisic won't get to experience a breakout on the biggest stage possible thanks to the USA's failure, but the 19-year-old is hardly to blame given he carried the Americans at times and provided hope in the fateful finale vs. Trinidad & Tobago. Pulisic will have to wait until 2022 for his first potential taste of a senior World Cup.

This group is a balanced one, blessed with wing play in Pulisic and Zaha, central creators like Hamsik and Mkhitaryan and central muscle in Vidal and Partey. For Keita, at least he did not need the World Cup as a springboard to bigger things, as he's already headed to Liverpool next summer from RB Leipzig.

FORWARDS

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Gabon), Gareth Bale (Wales), Arjen Robben (Netherlands), Edin Dzeko (Bosnia & Herzegovina), Alexis Sanchez (Chile)

Robben went out with a golazo in his final appearance with the Dutch, and his unstoppable cut-in-from-the-right, shoot-with-the-left move will be missed on the grand stage.

After Wales' run to the Euro 2016 semifinals, a World Cup bid was surely expected to follow, but the Dragons had to cope without Bale in their final qualifiers, and they couldn't quite make it to the playoff stage, falling to Ireland at the last hurdle. That's a killer for the 28-year-old Bale, who could well go his entire international career without playing in a World Cup depending on how the next five years play out.

Elsewhere, Aubameyang and Gabon attributed their failure to some dodgy orange juice, while Bosnia & Herzegovina underachieved considering its wealth of talent, which includes the prolific Dzeko. As for Alexis Sanchez, who has given his all for his country and helped guide it to the last two Copa America titles, not even reaching the World Cup stage is a shocking blow.

On the provisional 40-man roster but not quite making the cut: Gianluigi Donnarumma (Italy), Stefan de Vrij (Netherlands), Daley Blind (Netherlands), Eric Bailly (Ivory Coast), Sokratis Papastathopoulos (Greece), Serge Aurier (Ivory Coast), Marco Verratti (Italy), Gary Medel (Chile), Charles Aranguiz (Chile), Hakan Calhanoglu (Turkey), Aaron Ramsey (Wales), Riyad Mahrez (Algeria), Cenk Tosun (Turkey), Vincent Aboubakar (Cameroon), Andriy Yarmolenko (Ukraine), Stevan Jovetic (Montenegro), Andrea Belotti (Italy).

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