Lionel Messi admits he's not hitting his best level but says Argentina can beat anyone ahead of Brazil clash

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Argentina superstar Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi said Argentina would take on hosts Brazil on an equal footing in the Copa America semi-finals after beating Venezuela 2-0 on Friday.

Lautaro Martinez and Giovani Lo Celso scored the goals that gave improving Argentina a quarter-final success at Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana stadium.

It was the Argentines’ best performance yet in a tournament they began with 2-0 defeat to Colombia followed by a 1-1 draw with Paraguay.

“It’s difficult to give a favorite between Argentina and Brazil, even more so in this Copa America where anyone can beat anyone,” said the 32-year-old Barcelona star ahead of Tuesday’s semi-final in Belo Horizonte.

“We respect them, we know what Brazil represent,” he added.

The hosts struggled to make the semi-finals, toiling for more than 40 minutes against 10 men before beating Paraguay on penalties following a 0-0 draw in Porto Alegre on Thursday night.

“We’re in good form to take on Brazil, but we’ll have to be very focused,” said five-time Ballon d’Or winner Messi, who admitted he’s not at his best.

“I’m not having my best Copa America,” he said.

But as a team, Messi said their performance against Venezuela was “complete.”

“Defensively we didn’t have any problems and the team was very solid at all times.

“We didn’t leave them any spaces when they went looking for them. We were very united and waited for the opportunities to counter quickly.”

Having already been scathing about the Gremio Arena pitch in Porto Alegre – as was Brazil coach Tite following their quarter-final there – Messi hit out at the general state of the surfaces in Brazil.

“Honestly, the pitches are really difficult, they don’t favor good football. The ball bounces in every direction, but it’s the same for everyone,” he said.

Venezuela’s coach Rafael Dudamel said the team’s Copa campaign would stand them in good stead in qualifying for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, noting that his team was “getting stronger, more mature.”

“What will come will be more demanding and we’ve created in this Copa America a very competitive team, that’s how we must continue,” he added.

“This leaves us bitter, unsatisfied, but it’s part of the journey we must embark on to forge the team’s character.”

Lautaro Martinez

Captain Tomas Rincon regretted Venezuela’s slow start that saw them overrun by an effervescent Argentina that took the lead after just 10 minutes.

“We didn’t start well in the first half and maybe that cost us the qualification because we lacked a bit of the character to get through those first few minutes,” said Rincon.

“But we had a great Copa America, we’re improving, next up is (World Cup) qualifying and we’ll give it everything.

“We showed we can compete with anyone, in the second half we pushed Argentina back, but through luck and individual incidents they won the match.”

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UEFA and Sport Integrity Global Alliance (SIGA) sign agreement aimed at safeguarding football's integrity

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UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin meets Emanuel Macedo de Medeiros, CEO of SIGA at UEFA headquarters.

UEFA has signed a co-operation agreement with the Sport Integrity Global Alliance (SIGA) to encourage dialogue aimed at safeguarding the long-term integrity of the game in Europe.

The agreement aims to use the organisations’ strengths to foster the development and implementation of the highest standards across sport in general and football in particular in the areas of good governance, integrity, ethics and the protection of vulnerable participants throughout Europe.

Speaking at the signing of the accord, UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin said: “The challenges facing sport and society cannot be resolved by individual action.

“Knowledge-sharing and constructive dialogue are essential to make sure that organisations are in the best position to tackle those issues.  This agreement with SIGA is therefore an important step in this direction”.

SIGA CEO Emanuel Macedo de Medeiros has been the driving force behind this accord and has a strong vision for what needs to change to ‘clean up’ football globally.

He wants other federations and leagues across Asia and the Middle East – like the AFC – to follow UEFA’s lead by accepting independent integrity oversight.

“This landmark Cooperation Agreement ushers in a new era for sport integrity,” said De Medeiros.

“Founded on a strong reformist spirit, this agreement will give rise to an integrity programme of global standing and embed the highest standards of ethics and governance in the game across the European continent.

“UEFA and its president Aleksander Ceferin continue to blaze a trail for integrity in football. This is a shared pledge and sends a powerful signal to all organisations who care about integrity in sport.

“Now is the time to join with SIGA and UEFA, and support our proposals to deliver ‘clean sport’ at all levels.”

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WATCH: Wayne Rooney scores 80-yard screamer for DC United

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Wayne Rooney’s superb strike from his own half proved to be the difference as DC United returned to winning ways against Orlando City.

The former England captain scored the only goal after 10 minutes to earn his side their first victory in six MLS matches, doing so in stunning fashion.

United cleared the ball after an Orlando attack and, after a mix-up between Robin Jansson and Sacha Kljestan, it fell into Rooney’s path some 70 yards from the visitors’ goal.

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