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Kessie’s 92nd goal help Barca go 12 points clear of table



Franck Kessie scored a dramatic late winner as Barcelona beat Real Madrid to move 12 points clear in La Liga.

Real went ahead in El Clasico against the run of play as Vinicius Jr’s cross was headed into his own net by Barcelona defender Ronald Araujo.

Barca equalised just before half-time through Sergi Roberto’s shot after Raphinha’s effort had been blocked.

Marco Asensio saw a late strike for Real ruled out for offside, before Kessie scored the injury-time winner.

Both sides have 12 league matches remaining and Barca are in a dominant position as they look to win the title for the first time since 2018-19.

Roberto said: “You can never say [the title] is over but we have now gone 12 points clear so it’s difficult for them.

“It’s down to us and that’s the most important thing. I’m just glad to have helped the team with a goal. It was epic at the end and I’m pleased for Franck to get the goal.

“The game swung when we thought Asensio had scored, it was ruled offside and we scored. It feels even better when you win with a late goal and it’s fantastic to do so in front of our supporters.”

Reigning champions Real had come into this game having beaten Liverpool 1-0 on Wednesday to complete a 6-2 aggregate victory to move into the Champions League quarter-finals.

Karim Benzema, who scored against the Reds, had the first shot of the match inside the opening minute but saw his effort from outside the penalty area well held by Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

But the visitors were then indebted to goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois as he made excellent saves to keep out Robert Lewandowski’s well-struck 25-yard effort and Raphinha’s header.

Real took a ninth-minute lead, but Barcelona, 26-time Spanish champions, had the better of the first half.

Andreas Christensen was unable to take two opportunities and Raphinha had a shot tipped over by Courtois before Roberto levelled in the 45th minute.

Lewandowski, the top scorer in La Liga with 15 goals, had a shot deflected just wide, before Real substitute Rodrygo fired over at the other end in his first involvement.

Raphinha nearly won it in the 74th minute but was denied by another excellent Courtois save while Lewandowski also shot into the side netting.

Asensio had only been on the pitch for six minutes when he put the ball in the net for Real late on, but the goal was ruled out after a tight video assistant referee offside decision.

Substitute Kessie was then Barcelona’s hero in the 92nd minute, finishing after good work from Alejandro Balde.

Barcelona manager Xavi said: “The league is not decided but it’s a huge win of course.

“I think we deserved the win and we were better than Real Madrid, we created more opportunities.”

Barcelona are next in action on 1 April with an away game at Elche before Real Madrid entertain Real Valladolid the following day.

Source: BBC

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Remarkable Messi records that may never be broken



A phenomenon. A magician. The greatest.

The last one remains a matter of opinion, but there can be no arguing that Lionel Messi is not one of the greatest footballers to play the game.

The forward, 36, won his eighth Ballon d’Or – three more than any other player – on Monday and continues to set records that may never be broken.

Messi guided Argentina to World Cup glory in Qatar in December before ending his 20-year career in European football with Barcelona to join Major League Soccer franchise Inter Miami in America in July.

As he continues to shine – for club and country – we look at some of the milestones and records Messi has set over the years.

Most Ballon d’Or awards – eight

It was no surprise when Messi was announced as the men’s Ballon d’Or winner, the award for the best footballer in the world for the 2022-23 season.

His inspirational role in helping Argentina win the World Cup for the first time since 1986 almost guaranteed he would extend his record of award wins to eight – despite the best efforts of prolific Manchester City striker Erling Haaland.

Cristiano Ronaldo, now plying his trade in Saudi Arabia, is Messi’s closest rival with five, but, aged 38 and not even nominated in the 30-man shortlist, it is hard to see the Portugal forward challenging Messi’s haul.

Such is Messi and Ronaldo’s Ballon d’Or domination, the only other two previous winners still playing are Croatia’s Luka Modric and France’s Karim Benzema. With both well into their 30s, they do not stand a chance of getting near the record.

Haaland, Real Madrid and England midfielder Jude Bellingham, Real and Brazil forward Vinicius Jr and even Bayern Munich and England striker Harry Kane will fancy their chances of being in the mix in future, but it will be a long time before anyone gets near Messi.

Most goals in a La Liga season – 50

It is impossible to say when this impressive scoring feat will be broken, but history suggests it might be some time.

Messi’s 50 goals in 37 appearances for Barcelona in 2011-12 is not only a La Liga record, but it is also the most in a season by any player in one of Europe’s top five leagues since the formation of the Premier League in 1992-93.

Since La Liga’s formation in 1929, only three players have even hit 40 goals. Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo managed it twice and Luis Suarez did so seven years ago – the last time the mark was reached.

Most goals in all competitions in a season – 73

This tally seems insurmountable.

In that record-breaking 2011-12 season Messi scored 73 goals in all competitions for Barcelona and no-one has got close since.

Haaland broke all sorts of records in his debut Premier League campaign last season, but, despite seemingly scoring every week, he finished the season with 52 goals – 21 short of Messi’s phenomenal effort.

Even Everton great Dixie Dean is 10 short, hitting an amazing 63 goals in 1927-28 – an English top-flight record that has stood for 95 years.

Most Champions League goals for one club – 120

Messi looks like falling short of the record as Champions League top scorer. He is in second – 11 goals short of Cristiano Ronaldo’s 140 – with both probably having played their last game in the competition.

But Messi’s 120 goals for Barcelona is the most a player has scored for one club in the competition.

Ronaldo’s 105 for Real Madrid is the next highest, with Karim Benzema’s 78 for Real a distant third.

With players remaining loyal to one club fairly rare in the modern game, it is difficult to see who could match Messi’s feat any time soon.

Most goals for Argentina – 106

Messi is Argentina’s record scorer by a country mile – and he is still going.

In an international career that started in 2005, he has scored 48 more goals than previous record holder Gabriel Batistuta and 63 more than third-placed Sergio Aguero.

With Messi still adding to his tally and his two closest rivals retired, it is going to be a long time – if ever – before anyone gets close to his Argentina record.

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Saudi Arabia to host 2034 World Cup as Australia withdraws bid



Saudi Arabia is set to host the men’s 2034 World Cup following Australia’s decision to withdraw its bid to host the tournament, as confirmed by Football Australia just hours before Fifa’s deadline for declarations of interest on Tuesday.

Saudi Arabia is now the sole nation to place a bid for the event.

In a statement, Football Australia announced, “We have reached the conclusion not to do so for the 2034 competition.” With this announcement, the path has been cleared for Saudi Arabia to take on the role of host.

The 2026 World Cup will be held in a joint effort by the United States, Mexico, and Canada, while the 2030 tournament will be hosted by Morocco, Portugal, and Spain, with matches also taking place in Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay.

Fifa had previously specified that the 2034 World Cup would be held in Asia or Oceania, making an Australian bid the primary potential challenger to Saudi Arabia. Shortly after Fifa’s decision, Saudi Arabia expressed its intention to bid for the prestigious sporting event.

Saudi Arabia has emerged as a host for several major sporting events since 2018, encompassing football, Formula 1, golf, and boxing. Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki bin Faisal, Saudi Arabia’s sports minister, emphasised the significance of this decision, stating, “The World Cup bid constitutes an important and natural step in our journey as a country passionate about football.”

However, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman acknowledged the controversial practice of “sportswashing” in a recent statement, saying, “If sportswashing is going to increase my GDP by 1%, then we’ll continue doing sportswashing.”

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Barcelona midfielder Aitana Bonmati wins Women’s Ballon d’Or



Spain and Barcelona midfielder Aitana Bonmati has won the Women’s Ballon d’Or for the first time.

The 25-year-old enjoyed a hugely successful year as she helped her club triumph in the Spanish top flight and Champions League, and her country win the World Cup in the summer.

She was also crowned Uefa’s player of the year in August.

England goalkeeper Mary Earps achieved a fifth place finish while team-mate Rachel Daly was 10th.

Fellow Lionesses Millie Bright and Georgia Stanway were also among the nominees.

Sam Kerr of Chelsea and Australia finished second, Barcelona and Spain teenager Salma Paralluelo was third, and Fridolina Rolfo of Barcelona and Sweden finished fourth.

“I’m very proud to win the Ballon d’Or,” Bonmati said.

“Football is a collective sport so I’d like to extend this prize to my team-mates and staff.”

She added at the end of her speech in English: “Finally congratulations to the other nominees. They’re great footballers.

“As role models we have a responsibility on and off the pitch. We should be more than athletes and keep leading by example and fighting together for a better, peaceful and equal world.”

Spain’s World Cup win was overshadowed by the fallout from Spanish football federation president Luis Rubiales kissing Jenni Hermoso after the final, which she said was not consensual.

Bonmati scored three goals at the tournament in Australia and New Zealand as Spain went on to beat England in the final.

She has now won four league titles with Barcelona and two Champions Leagues.

This was the fifth edition of the Women’s Ballon d’Or, with Bonmati’s Spain and Barcelona team-mate Alexia Putellas winning the past two.

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