ARGENTINA: All soccer in Argentina was suspended for nine days Friday ahead of a strict shutdown decree for much of the country amid the coronavirus pandemic. The move comes about three weeks before the June 13 start of Copa America, the continental soccer championship scheduled to be played in Argentina.
The suspension is yet another blow for Copa America organizer CONMEBOL. The South American soccer body decided Thursday to drop Colombia as co-host amid a wave of protests against the country’s president, Iván Duque. Argentine President Alberto Fernández said this week that Argentina could host the entire Copa America if needed, but CONMEBOL has not yet said where the matches initially scheduled for Colombia will be played.
The decision by the Argentine soccer association, known as AFA, to suspend the game in the country does not apply to Copa Libertadores matches scheduled for next week.
“At this moment in which our country must make an effort to control this distressing pandemic that affects us, AFA and all in soccer will once more follow national authorities and suspend the schedule for all matches of local tournaments for nine days,” the soccer body said in a statement.
Argentina has been averaging about 35,000 daily COVID-19 cases and the number of deaths by the virus has risen quickly, totaling nearly 73,000. Fernández issued his shutdown decree for high-risk regions on Thursday. It will begin on Saturday and last until May 31.
MESSI: Lionel Messi might have played his final game for Barcelona. The Argentina star has been given permission to skip the team’s final game of the Spanish league season – at Eibar on Saturday – so he can have extra rest ahead of the Copa América, Barcelona said Friday.
Messi didn’t train on Friday. Barcelona is out of contention for the league title. His contract expires at the end of this season, and he hasn’t given an indication he will sign a new one. The 33-year-old Messi has been with Barcelona for his whole career, but he tried to leave following the 2019-20 season, saying he wasn’t happy with the direction the club was taking.
EUROPA LEAGUE: Manchester United captain Harry Maguire is set to miss the Europa League final against Villarreal on Wednesday. United Manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer downplayed expectations about Maguire returning from an ankle injury in time to play in Gdansk, Poland.
“He’s walking but it’s a long way from walking to running,” Solskjaer said Friday. “So, to be honest, I don’t think we’ll see him in Gdansk, no.”
The England center back damaged ligaments in his ankle in a Premier League match at Aston Villa on May 9 when Villa winger Anwar El Ghazi landed on him.
HALEP OUT OF FRENCH OPEN: Third-ranked Simona Halep withdrew from the French Open on Friday because of a calf injury. The 29-year-old Romanian, who won the title at Roland Garros in 2018, tore a muscle in her left calf at the Italian Open and said it needs more time to heal. The French Open begins May 30.
“Withdrawing from a Grand Slam goes against all my instincts and aspirations as an athlete, but it is the right and only decision to make,” Halep said.
Halep is a three-time finalist at the French Open. She beat Sloane Stephens in the 2018 final in Paris for her first major singles title. Halep is the defending champion at Wimbledon, winning the title in 2019. Last year’s tournament was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
This year’s Wimbledon tournament is scheduled to start on June 28.
WWE PLANS TOUR: World Wrestling Entertainment Inc., which saw the pandemic quash its lucrative touring business last year, is going back on the road. The wrestling league will begin a 25-city tour in July in front of capacity crowds, the company said Friday. The tour begins July 16 in Houston, followed by events on July 18 in Fort Worth, Texas, and July 19 in Dallas. It will last until early September.
Confidence in hosting live events with fans is soaring due to the growing number of vaccinated people in the U.S. and a reduction in virus cases. Concert promoters have announced plans for major festivals and shows throughout the summer and fall, while the basketball playoffs are taking place with a limited number of fans in arenas.
WWE suspended its touring shows in March 2020 and has staged its two weekly events, Raw and SmackDown, without fans for 70 straight weeks. It offered a limited number of tickets for its biggest annual attraction, WrestleMania, which sold out two nights at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, in April.
TOUR d’ITALIA: Riding the Giro d’Italia for the eighth time in his career, Giacomo Nizzolo finally claimed his first stage win in his home Grand Tour on Friday in Verona, Italy, while Egal Bernal’s overall lead remained unchanged. Nizzolo won a mass sprint at the end of the entirely flat 198-kilometer (123-mile) 13th stage from Ravenna to Verona.
Bernal, the 2019 Tour de France champion, remained 45 seconds ahead of Aleksandr Vlasov and 1 minute, 12 seconds ahead of Damiano Caruso. Edoardo Affini surged ahead early in the sprint but Nizzolo rushed past him just before the line. Affini finished second and Peter Sagan came third.
A big challenge awaits on Saturday with a punishing climb to Monte Zoncolan concluding the 14th stage.