WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S.A. – Argentina’s fringe roster players have one more chance to represent their country on the soccer field before Copa América in July.
The country’s national soccer association announced it has scheduled overseas friendlies next month against Nigeria in Abuja on June 1 and against Poland in Warsaw on June 5.
The games are expected to serve as the final tune-ups for the Copa América, which Argentina will host, starting on July 1.
The matches against Nigeria and Poland give players a final chance to prove to La Albiceleste coach Sergio Batista they belong on the squad that will compete in Copa América.
Many of Argentina’s top players, including reigning two-time World Player of the Year Lionel Messi, will not play against Nigeria and Poland so the team’s younger players get more time on the field.
“[The tour] will include important players who do not habitually play with the first team so [coach Sergio] Batista has the chance to try out players,” Argentine Football Association spokesman Guillermo Tofoni said at a recent media conference.
Candidates to star on the reserve team include Inter Milan defender Walter Samuel, Manchester City’s Carlos Tevez and Atlético Madrid striker Sergio Agüero.
Argentina is ranked fifth by FIFA, with Nigeria at No. 38 and Poland at No. 71.
Internacional fails in bid to defend Copa Libertadores
It’s been a rough stretch for Brazilian superpower Internacional.
The squad was denied in its bid to win its second straight Copa Libertadores when it was dealt a 2-1 loss to Uruguay’s Peñarol. A few days later, it suffered a 3-2 loss to Porto Alegre-rival Grêmio in the first leg of the Gaúcho state final on May 8.
But while Internacional is reeling, São Paulo-based Santos is thriving.
Santos is the lone Brazilian team to reach the quarterfinals of Copa Libertadores. Santos also posted a scoreless tie against Corinthians in the first leg of the Paulista in São Paulo.
But the tie came with a price: Ganso, one of the country’s top players, suffered a right thigh injury that could keep him off the field for up to six weeks.
“[Ganso] was off balance, with his right knee on the ground, and tried to shoot with his left leg,” said Santos doctor Rodrigo Zogaib, according to Reuters. “At that moment his right thigh muscle suffered a contraction that caused the injury.”
But Santos isn’t ready to make excuses.
“Players should always be fit but with this tough series (of matches you risk) them ending up hurt,” said Santos coach Muricy Ramalho, according to Reuters. “I’m always going to complain but it doesn’t get us anywhere with this sort of bad luck.”
Meantime, Atlético Mineiro won the first leg of the Mineiro State championship with a 2-1 win over Cruzeiro. Flamengo, led by former national team star Ronaldinho, won the Carioca (Rio de Janeiro) title last weekend.
Dos Santos ready to shine for Mexico
Mexican forward Giovani dos Santos said it’s not a given his team and its rival, the United States, will both advance to the CONCACAF Gold Cup final.
“It’s true that there’s a fierce rivalry between both, and obviously this is going to be a new chapter in that, but writing off the rest of the field would be a serious error,” said dos Santos, according to FIFA.com. “It’s going to be an eagerly contested Gold Cup and not just between Mexico and the United States, because there are other tough sides in Central America and they’re preparing well too. Besides which, there’s the prize of a place in the Confederations Cup, which makes this competition that much more enticing. Mexico will be giving it everything they’ve got, that goes without saying.”
Dos Santos is eager to play for the defending Gold Cup champions after rejuvenating his career in Spain. The striker struggled for two seasons with Tottenham Hotspur in the English Premier League before a move late last year to La Liga’s Racing Santander in Spain jump-started his career.
Dos Santos, 21, has five goals in just 14 matches and is hopeful his form will earn him plenty of time for El Tri in the coming months.
Mexico plays in the Gold Cup, which will be played in the United States from June 5 to 25, before participating in South America’s Copa América in July.
“I’m trying to rediscover my best form, and I want to be back at the top of the world game in the not-too-distant future,” said dos Santos, according to FIFA.com. “That’s my goal and I’m very focused on achieving it. This spell at Racing has really helped me regain my confidence and match sharpness, and I think I’m on the up again.”
José Reyes keeping Mets in contention
No player has more hits than José Reyes – and the shortstop plans to just keep swinging away.
Reyes, a native of Villa González in the Dominican Republic, has a major league-leading 49 hits this season and is a major reason why the New York Mets are remaining in contention in the National League East Division. The Mets are 16-20, just 7.5 games behind first-place Philadelphia.
Reyes is batting .318 but, more importantly, has improved in every aspect of his game.
He’s second in the National League with 12 stolen bases to go with 12 runs batted-in. He also has just 16 strikeouts to go against 12 walks in 157 at-bats.
“He seems healthy and all it takes is a little bit for him to get hot,” said Mets third baseman David Wright, according to ESPN.com. “But [when he’s hot] he can create havoc on the base paths. He’s swinging the bat extremely well.”