Category Archives: International Friendly

Lionel Messi meets Afghan boy with homemade plastic jersey

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Murtaza Ahmadi, an Afghan boy who became an internet sensation after being photographed in a homemade replica of Lionel Messi’s famous football strip, has finally come face-to-face with his idol.

Pictures had emerged on January this year of the then five-year-old wearing a blue-and-white striped plastic bag to emulate the colours of the Argentinian team.

On the back of the bag was scrawled Messi’s name and shirt number.

The pictures went viral and, after “Messi’s biggest fan” was identified and tracked down to Afghanistan’s eastern Ghazni province, efforts were made to bring Murtaza and the Barcelona star together.

A video tweeted by the organisers of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar shows the Argentinian forward scooping up Murtaza, now six, and posing for photographers in a meeting arranged through the UN refugee agency, UNHCR.

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Murtaza Ahmadi meeting his idol, Lionel Messi.

“The image the world wanted to see,” tweeted the Supreme Committee on Tuesday. “The six-year-old boy who dreamed of meeting his hero, #Messi, finally comes true.”

Murtaza and Messi met in Doha and the boy walked out on to the pitch with Messi on Tuesday night when Barcelona play Al-Ahli.

The boy’s unexpected fame has not been entirely welcome. After receiving constant telephone threats, the family was eventually forced to flee to Quetta in neighbouring Pakistan.

Murtaza’s father, Mohammad Arif Ahmadi, said he feared that his son would be kidnapped. The family first travelled to the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, but could not settle there because of the high cost of living. They later moved to Quetta.

“I sold all my belongings and brought my family out of Afghanistan to save my son’s life as well as the lives of the rest of the family,” he said in May.

Despite the upheaval, he added at the time: “Murtaza hopes that one day he would be able to meet his hero, Messi.”

Spain’s late brace earns draw against England

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Spain scored twice in the closing moments to snatch a draw in the Wembley friendly.

England had taken control early through Adam Lallana’s early penalty, awarded when Spain keeper Pepe Reina hauled down Jamie Vardy just after eight minutes.

The Leicester City striker then followed up with a fine diving header from Jordan Henderson’s cross just after the break, giving England a solid lead

However, former Liverpool striker Iago Aspas’ superb curling finish in the 90th minute lit up Spanish hopes – and England allowed them to complete the comeback as Isco smuggled home a far-post finish between England substitute keeper Tom Heaton’s legs in the fifth and final minute of injury time.

Spain’s list of injured included, among others, Diego Costa, Andrés Iniesta, Gerard Piqué and Sergio Ramos. Additionally, their No.1 David de Gea had been given the night off, and despite missing what amounts to the spine of their team Spain somehow made it work.

In fact, La Roja’s comeback was so late large parts of the crowd had already headed into the night, satisfied with what they had seen and unaware of the drama that was to follow.

The match would also end Gareth Southgate’s four-game tenure as England manager on a less than pleasing note. It was not the finish he would have expected – or wanted – after Spain’s late show, even as he asserts that he could handle the “big occasions”.

David Silva brace earns Spain friendly victory over Belgium

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Spain earned their first victory since Euro 2016 after David Silva scored a brace to defeat Belgium by 2-0 in a friendly.

Manchester City’s Silva scored on both halves, with a clinical finish in the first and a penalty in the second.

Julen Lopetegui, who appointed Spain coach in July following Vincente Del Bosque’s departure, begins a new La Roja era with a winning start.

It also meant that Belgium coach Roberto Martinez’s first game ended with defeat against his home nation.

He replaced Marc Wilmots after Belgium’s quarter-final exit at Euro 2016, and his side was jeered on numerous occasions by home fans.

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Schweinsteiger bids farewell to his Germany career with Manuel Neuer and Thomas Muller.

Meanwhile, Bastian Schweinsteiger bids an emotional farewell to his time as a Germany international.

Schweinsteiger, 32, was in tears at a presentation before Germany’s 2-0 friendly win over Finland in Monchengladbach.

He made his Germany debut back in June 2004, and ends his international career with 121 caps, 24 goals and one World Cup (2014).

In the match, he was substituted to a standing ovation after 66 minutes, and retires as Germany’s fourth most capped player.

Sam Allardyce will debut as England coach against Croatia

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Sam “Big Sam” Allardyce is set to make his debut as England manager in a friendly match against Croatia at Wembley Stadium on 1 September.

England’s Football Association (FA) is expected to announce the fixture on Monday, when Allardyce will also hold his first press conference since being officially unveiled as Roy Hodgson’s successor last week.

Allardyce, 61, has signed an initial two-year, heavily incentivised contract potentially worth £3.5m annualy. The agreement also comes with the option to extend the deal until 2020 if the England team under his charge performs well in the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

“I will do everything I can to help England do well and give our nation the success our fans deserve,” said Allardyce. “Above all, we have to make the people and the whole country proud.”

“While my main focus will be on the senior team and getting positive results, I want to add my influence to the great work being done across the development teams at St George’s Park. I know we have talented, committed players and it is time for us to deliver.”

The selection of Allardyce had been a unanimous one made by the FA’s recruitment panel that comprises of Martin Glenn, the chief executive; Dan Ashworth, the technical director; and David Gill, the vice-chairman.

Allardyce had been described by Glenn as the ideal candidate” and an “energising” force. Glenn was impressed by the former Bolton and West Ham manager’s innovative use of psychology and sports science that was combined with a desire to restore England’s missing identity.

“Sam Allardyce is the right man for the England job,” Glenn said. “His excellent managerial credentials, including his ability to realise the potential of players and teams, develop a strong team ethos and embrace modern methods that enhance performance, made him the outstanding choice.”

English players had been supportive of the choice; captain Wayne Rooney has readily accepted the challenge “to deliver”.

“I think it’s a good appointment,” he said. “He will probably bring a different way of playing to England and hopefully it’s a good way and we can be successful under him. I’ll be there.”