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BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – If Lionel Messi has been this good in 2012, imagine how great he could be in 2013.
The Argentine national team is done playing for the year, which means Lionel Messi can’t break Gabriel Batistuta’s La Albiceleste record of 12 goals in a year set in 1998. Messi equaled that mark in 2012, but there was one major difference: Messi played in nine games, while Batistuta had 12.
“Messi is capable of breaking all the records, as incredible as that seems,” La Albiceleste coach Alejandro Sabella told reporters. “For a player like Messi, with his physical talent, football knowledge, technical ability – and his head – everything is possible.”
Messi’s 2012 ended what had been a miserable stretch for the world’s best player, as he failed to score in 16 games for La Albiceleste between March 2009 and October 11 when it played its biggest matches – seven World Cup qualifiers, five 2010 World Cup games and four in the 2011 Copa América, where host Argentina failed to place.
So what changed? For starters, the Argentine Football Association (AFA) replaced coach Sergio Batista with Sabella after the team’s loss in the quarterfinals of Copa América.
Messi’s scoring outburst in a light blue and white uniform has him on the verge of becoming the team’s all-time leading scorer, as his 31 goals trail Diego Maradona by three and Hernán Crespo by 19. Batistuta holds the record with 56.
Sabella has positioned Messi to excel, as he granted his request by teaming him with Sergio Agüero and Gonzalo Higuaín on the front line.
Argentina has taken control of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup, as La Albiceleste is in first place with 20 points, followed by Ecuador (17), Colombia (16), Venezuela (12) and Uruguay (12).
The top four teams automatically qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, with the fifth-place finisher taking on the third-place finisher from the Asian Football Confederation for a berth.
Brazil already has qualified since it’s hosting the 32-team event.
Argentina resumes qualifying on March 22 when it hosts Venezuela before playing at Bolivia on March 26.
Messi’s also having no trouble scoring for his Spanish club team, FC Barcelona, as he’s scored 78 goals during the 2012 calendar year to pull to within seven of German Gerd Müller’s all-time record.
Messi, 25, trails only Müller’s 85 goals for German side Bayern Munich and the West German national team in 1972. Pelé scored 75 goals for Santos and the Brazilian national team in 1958.
Messi, who was named the La Liga Player of the Year earlier this month, scored 73 goals in the 2011-12 season for FC Barcelona, topping the European club record of 67 goals set by Müller in 1972-73. He also set a La Liga record of 50 goals last season, breaking César Rodriguez’s 57-year milestone of 232 goals to become Barcelona’s career scoring leader.
Messi has scored 16 goals for FC Barcelona in La Liga this year and 22 across all competitions.
Mexico’s Carlos Slim saves Spanish soccer team Real Oviedo
Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim, the world’s richest individual, will invest US$2.5 million to save third-tier Spanish club Real Oviedo, which was near bankruptcy before the team’s fans held a massive fundraising campaign to keep the cash-strapped squad temporarily afloat.
Slim agreed to invest in the team after a Twitter campaign led to the team’s getting US$1.9 million in new shares during the past two weeks.
Slim chose to become the franchise’s majority shareholder because of Real Oviedo’s “history in Spanish professional football and above all for the extraordinary support of its fans,” according to the team’s prepared statement.
Slim has a net worth of US$69 billion, with most of his money made in the telecommunications sector, according to Forbes magazine.
“This challenge and ambition is strictly a sports investment and one that looks to benefit the club and its fans,” the team said in a prepared statement. “[The investment] will try to support Oviedo’s players so they can reach their goals and the club can reach the division that corresponds to its history and values.”
Slim will use his role with Real Oviedo, which hasn’t been in Spain’s top league – known as La Liga – in 11 years to “to create synergies and exchanges between Spanish, Mexican and Latin American football,” according to the team.
Slim’s role with Real Oviedo marks yet another venture into soccer, as he purchased 30% stakes in Mexican squads Pachuca and León in September.
Slim likely wouldn’t have invested in Real Oviedo had it not been for the fans’ fundraising, according to Arturo Elias Ayub, the director of strategic alliances of Slim’s Carso and Telmex groups.
“We have been following the movement [to save] Oviedo, which I would say has been global, and we thought it would be interesting to join in,” he told Spanish sports daily AS.
Fans can still purchase shares in Real Oviedo for US$13.74 apiece, well below the cost of US$77 a share 20 years ago.
Uruguay’s Luis Suárez to remain with Liverpool
Luis Suárez isn’t leaving English club Liverpool anytime soon.
Manchester City coach Roberto Mancini denied reports linking his club’s interest in the Uruguayan, who is one of the best forwards on the planet.
“It is not true,” Mancini said. “We have a good team and we don’t need to buy another player in January. We can’t buy Suárez or another player because we have four strikers and Suárez plays for Liverpool."
Suárez, 25, isn’t for sale, Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers reiterated, as Suárez is his team’s best scoring option.
Suárez, native of Salto, Uruguay, almost is single-handedly carrying the Reds this season in the Barclays Premier League.
He scored twice in Saturday’s 3-0 victory over Wigan Athletic, giving him a league-high 10 goals this season. Liverpool moved from 13th to 11th in the league standings as it tries to recover from its worst start in more than 20 years.
Suárez also starts for the Uruguayan national team, which he led to a fourth-place finish at the 2010 World Cup and a Copa América title in 2011.