___For more AP college basketball coverage: https://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and http://twitter.com/AP_Top25___This was generated by Automated Insights, http://www.automatedinsights.com/ap, using data from STATS LLC, https://www.stats.com Associated Press WKU looks to extend streak vs N. Texas VETERAN PRESENCE: Both of these teams have depended heavily on their seniors this year. Javion Hamlet, Umoja Gibson, Zachary Simmons and Deng Geu have combined to account for 64 percent of all North Texas scoring this season. For Western Kentucky, Carson Williams, Jared Savage and Camron Justice have collectively scored 45 percent of the team’s points this season, including 62 percent of all Hilltoppers points over their last five.FACILITATING THE OFFENSE: Hamlet has had his hand in 48 percent of all North Texas field goals over the last three games. The senior guard has 21 field goals and 15 assists in those games.UNDEFEATED WHEN: North Texas is a perfect 9-0 when the team records eight or more steals. The Mean Green are 10-10 when they steal the ball fewer than eight times.PASSING FOR POINTS: The Mean Green have recently gotten baskets via assists more often than the Hilltoppers. North Texas has an assist on 40 of 75 field goals (53.3 percent) over its past three matchups while Western Kentucky has assists on 31 of 72 field goals (43.1 percent) during its past three games.DID YOU KNOW: The steady North Texas defense has held opponents to 63.2 points per game, the 29th-lowest mark in Division I. Western Kentucky has allowed an average of 71.3 points through 28 games (ranking the Hilltoppers 206th). February 28, 2020 Share This StoryFacebookTwitteremailPrintLinkedinRedditWestern Kentucky (19-9, 12-4) vs. North Texas (19-10, 13-3)The Super Pit, Denton, Texas; Sunday, 2 p.m. ESTBOTTOM LINE: Western Kentucky looks for its 12th straight win in the head-to-head series over North Texas. Western Kentucky has won by an average of 8 points in its last 11 wins over the Mean Green. North Texas’ last win in the series came on March 7, 2011, an 81-62 win.
WITH over 30 registered participants so far, the Rotary Club of Demerara’s Inaugural Off-Road Rally is set to take place next weekend on the Linden/Soesdyke highway.According to the president, Hansraj Singh, there are over 30 confirmed participants (offroad vehicles and bikes) that will traverse four terrains over the space of the October 5 event, which will begin at 08:00hts and conclude at 15:00hrs.Singh disclosed at the event’s launch on Friday in Georgetown that committee members brought up the idea as part of a venture to raise funds. “There is a lot of interest right now in Guyana with all these people having Off-Road vehicles, bikes and ATVs and not having a coordinated activity to participate in other than visiting those hinterland communities and (participating in) the safari,” he added, explaining the birth of the idea. The event will encompass trails in the Kuru Kururu, Marudi and the Soesdyke/Linden Highway areas.Beharry Automotive Limited has entered two fully off-road vehicles for the event.Rotarian Lancelot Khan outlined the four routes, saying “They will take you towards the South Dakota Circuit, Linden Town then aback of Dora, slightly close to the Pakuri trail that leads to the Pakuri Village. Each one of these routes is accessible just off the Soesdyke/ Linden Highway.”Khan explained that the winners would be judged on how quickly they traverse the routes, adding that of the four trails, they have devised four ranges of tests with a section ranging from those that can see car competition, to those that are only traversable with fully off-road vehicles.The team reminded that strict adherence will be paid to speed limits for those trails that encompass road passages.The other Rotarian at the head table during the launch, Bhageshwar Murli, contended that there will be a full medical team at the start line should any mishaps occur.He stated that there are also live monitoring of all competitors and of course roving response vehicles that will rescue any teams that may have issues during the rally.Murli reminded that, “The event is one where we want you to bring out your family and have a great day.” Persons desirous of registering can do so via the Rotary Club of Demerara or the Guyana Motor Racing and Sports Club’s office.
AROUBA, Trinidad, (CMC) – Lacklustre batting coupled with rain dealt reigning champions Barbados Tridents their first defeat of the Caribbean Premier League, as they went down to St Lucia Zouks by seven wickets under Duckworth-Lewis-Stern here Thursday.The rains arrived following the first ball of the penultimate over with Tridents struggling on 131 for seven after opting to bat first at the Brian Lara Stadium, and kept players off the field for the next two hours.When the skies finally cleared, Zouks were left with a revised target of 47 of five overs and they outplayed Tridents to get home with five balls remaining.The affair remained an open one with Zouks on 24 for two in the third over but Andre Fletcher (16 not out) and Mohammad Nabi (15) struck some lusty blows to erase any doubt over the result.For the Zouks, the victory was their first following Wednesday’s defeat to Jamaica Tallawahs, and it left Tridents once again pondering a shambolic batting approach that also nearly failed them in Tuesday’s opening day victory over St Kitts and Nevis Patriots.Choosing to bat first, Tridents got 35 off 19 deliveries from opener Johnson Charles and a cameo 12-ball 27 from captain Jason Holder but again lost wickets in clusters with happy-go-lucky batting.Charles blasted three fours and two sixes as he scored all 35 runs in an opening stand with Shai Hope whose 19 came from 16 deliveries and included three fours.After already having belted seamer Scott Kuggeleijn over long on for six off the first ball of the fourth over, Charles then failed to clear mid-off with the third ball and found captain Darren Sammy’s safe hands at head height.Tridents quickly slipped to 64 for three in the ninth over as New Zealander Corey Anderson (2) drove a high full toss from Kuggeleijn to Roston Chase at cover in the sixth over and Hope picked out deep square with Afghanistan off-spinner Mohammad Nabi.Holder then counter-attacked in a 34-run, fourth wicket stand with Kyle Mayers (16), striking two effortless fours and sixes, to push the scoring along.He had blasted seamer Kesrick Williams to the cover boundary off the previous delivery when he tried to clear the ropes at long on off the next ball – the last of the 12th over – but succeeded only in holing out to Sammy.Holder’s dismissal triggered the slide as four wickets perished for 11 runs in the space of 16 deliveries.Jonathan Carter holed out in the deep off Chase’s off-spin for five, Mayers found Kuggeleijn’s lap at square leg off the next ball before Raymon Reifer (1) feathered a slash at off-spinner Mark Deyal’s third ball of his only over.Needing to score at just over nine to win, Zouks got the start they needed when Rahkeem Cornwall (14) whacked three consecutive boundaries in the first over from pacer Holder.And even though he, along with Najibullah Zadran (5) fell in quick succession, Nabi and Fletcher easily put the finishing touches on the short run chase.
Sports Illustrated got it all wrong. I love Dwyane Wade as much as the next guy, but he is not the Sportsman of the Year.Wade’s an amazing player and the Heat wouldn’t have won the NBA championship without him, but how can he be named the one, the only, the best athlete of the year?What’s that? Who should it be, you ask?There are so many more deserving individuals than Wade, but the beauty of sports is that many different people can steal the spotlight over the course of a year. That’s what makes it so tough for SI to annually pick just one Sportsman.So, I’ll help break it down. Let’s start by naming the twelve runners-up, who each receive individual honors for Sportsman of the Month, starting with last January and going into December.January: Vince YoungLeading off this list is the guy who orchestrated one of the most entertaining football games of all-time: Vince Young.The 2006 Rose Bowl featured two heavyweights in USC and Texas, but while golden boys Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush continually snatched up the headlines, Young stole the show by totaling 467 yards (267 pass, 200 rush) and rushing for one of the most memorable touchdowns ever as the Longhorns put an end to USC’s reign, 41-38.February: Ben RoethlisbergerMotorcycle accidents, an appendectomy and a disappointing regular season this fall can’t mar the fact that Big Ben became the youngest quarterback in the history of the NFL to sport a Super Bowl ring.No matter how bad this current season has been, one thing that can’t be taken away is Roethlisberger leading the AFC’s sixth seed to the Promised Land in the early part of this calendar year.March: George Mason basketball teamMichigan State, North Carolina, Wichita State, Connecticut: Those four teams have combined for eight NCAA championships and dozens of Final Four appearances.Someone forgot to tell the George Mason Patriots, who defeated those squads en route to a dream tournament that culminated in the Final Four. The little mid-major team that could ended up losing to eventual national champ Florida and offered the world more than a fantastic thrill ride all the way to Indianapolis.April: Dan HawkinsWith a few other worthy picks, I choose to offer April’s distinction to Hawkins who (snicker) gave up the head coaching job at BCS-bound Boise State (ha!) to go coach (chuckle) the much-maligned University of (cue the laugh track) Colorado Buffaloes football team (you idiot).Uh, Hawk, what the Buff were you thinking? Well, you’ll get the consolation prize from me, April’s selection for Sportsman of the Year (and by consolation, I mean the plastic ring at Chuck ‘E Cheese worth four tickets). This is mainly because you had the cojones and the courage to try to resurrect a seemingly finished football program.May: Rick ReillyReilly receives the nod this month for writing a column pleading for donations to a great cause in Africa.According to Reilly’s May column, 3,000 African kids die every day from malaria, and the problem could be drastically reduced with the mass purchase of mosquito nets to protect families in their homes.Well, Reilly just gave us all an update in the last edition of SI. More than 17,000 people donated in excess of $1.2 million, which allowed for these mosquito nets to pretty much cover the entire country of Nigeria. Definitely one of the better stories of the year.June: Cam WardThis was a tough two-horse race and France loses out barely despite its World Cup triumph. Hopefully, this snub doesn’t feel quite as painful as a Zinedine Zidane headbutt.Cam Ward was a backup goaltender rotting on the bench, winning just 14 games in the 2005-06 regular season. But the 22-year-old rookie (22 years old!) finished the playoffs with an impressive 2.14 GAA and 15 wins en route to claiming the Conn Smythe Award and leading the Carolina Hurricanes to their first Stanley Cup championship.July: Tiger WoodsAfter missing the cut at the U.S. Open, and less than three months removed from the devastating loss of his father and mentor, Earl, Tiger pulled off the most emotional accomplishment of his career — winning the British Open.Tiger dedicated his 11th major title to his father, and whether you were a Tiger lover or a Tiger hater, you couldn’t help but root for Woods in this emotional tale.August: Ryan HowardLet me roll some numbers for you. On Aug. 1, the Philadelphia Phillies were 50-55, and 4.5 games back of the wild-card lead with six teams in front. On Sept. 1, the Phils were 67-66 and a mere half-game back of the Padres for the wild-card.How did this happen? All Ryan Howard did was hit .348 and smash 14 HR, the final push he needed to claim the NL MVP award. The plump Philadelphia first baseman nudged out superstud Albert Pujols in the voting last November, and deservedly so for being a one-man show in Philly.September: Drew Brees/Reggie BushI’ll admit I’m sick of hearing about Hurricane Katrina, but the best sports story of the year was Brees and Bush so adamantly wanting to help a city in need, and they have done so on and off the field in rejuvenated New Orleans.Their charming personalities and gracious off-field contributions speak for themselves. But the Saints are about to go marching in to the NFC playoffs, a feat thought impossible just a few short months ago.October: Jim Leyland and the Detroit TigersThe Tigers’ postseason jubilation after knocking off the heavily favored New York Yankees in the ALDS says all you need to know. The players ran back out on to the field with their champagne and ecstatically celebrated with their die-hard (and, uh, bandwagon) fans.Among the best moments: Kenny Rogers pouring a bottle of bubbly on a stadium security officer, and Jim Leyland being a good sport, kissing that wild fan who wanted a smooch on the cheek just after Leyland had embraced the win with his family.November: Tony RomoThe preseason darlings of the NFC, the Dallas Cowboys, were middling Oct. 29 at 3-3, coming off a tough home loss to the hated New York Giants. America’s team was on national television Sunday night, on the road against the dangerous Carolina Panthers, and was down 14-0 after 15 minutes.Then Tony Romo happened.In his first career start, Romo threw for 270 yards and led Dallas past the Panthers to a 35-14 win. The ‘Boys haven’t looked back since, as they now sit at 8-4 and look to be a favorite to represent the NFC in the Big Dance come February.November was a great month for Romo, who went 3-1 helped by the official dethroning of the mighty Colts.December: Vince YoungYes, it’s his second selection of the calendar year. December is still Young, so it’s only fitting that Vince gets the nod here, mainly for his heroics in taking down those mighty Colts. Who-da-thunk it, the two QBs to defeat Peyton Manning this year are Tony Romo and Vince Young, of all people.With back-to-back stunning wins over a couple of Manning brothers, Young has already capped a magical year. By the way, I think it’s time both Manning, Leinart and members of the Houston Texans organization get together and have a beer, drink their troubles away … maybe throw a game of darts, with a picture of In-Vince-ible’s face as the dartboard.My 2006 Sportsman of the Year: Roger FedererFederer is arguably the most dominating athlete on the planet (and by arguably, I mean Tiger is the only foe who comes close). My colleagues at the Herald and I have had a few heated debates over who’s the greatest of them all, Roger or Tiger.However, there are a few reasons why Federer is clearly superior. For one, Tiger’s won Sportsman of the Year twice, in 1996 and 2000. It’s time to give Roger his due.Second, Tiger’s had a few lapses in brilliance (re: missing the cut at the U.S. Open, albeit in mourning), while Federer barely broke a sweat to the tune of a 92-5 record and three more Grand Slam titles to his repertoire. This hasn’t just been 2006: In the last three years, Federer has gone 247-15 (an unbelievable 94.3 percent success rate).Lastly, I won’t ignore Tiger’s humble personality, as he is truly a role model for us all with his clean record and astonishingly genuine aura. But Federer has accomplished so much without saying or doing one wrong thing. How a man can achieve so much without ever losing his temper, his passion for the game or his unending respect for everyone around him, is beyond me.Tiger may exude greatness and brilliance. But Roger Federer represents perfection.So, who’s your pick for Sportsman of the Year? Aaron is a sophomore majoring in journalism who doesn’t think Federer can be matched by anyone … ANYONE. But, let’s hear your nominations at email@example.com.
Published on September 24, 2014 at 2:26 pm Contact Phil: firstname.lastname@example.org | @PhilDAbb Facebook Twitter Google+ In addition to the by-committee approach Syracuse is taking with its wide receivers in Ashton Broyld’s absence, the Orange is open to using its running backs, head coach Scott Shafer said on the Atlantic Coast Conference coaches’ teleconference Wednesday.“I think everybody’s on board, from the receiving crew and the running back crew, anybody who gives us a chance to do those things is always equally accessible. So that’s how we’re looking at it,” Shafer said, when asked if SU (2-1) is considering using tailbacks like senior Prince-Tyson Gulley and freshman Ervin Philips in the slot.Broyld, the Orange’s top H-back on the depth chart and leader in receptions through three games, is out for the foreseeable future with an injury to his right leg, suffered during SU’s home loss to Maryland on Saturday. How Syracuse accounts for his touches won’t be apparent until the Orange faces No. 8 Notre Dame (3-0) at MetLife Stadium at 8 p.m. on Saturday, but Shafer has dropped hints throughout the week.To this point in the season, Gulley is the only Syracuse running back with more than one catch and has 41 yards on seven receptions. Philips, who has also contributed in the kickoff return game, had a 1-yard catch against Central Michigan and junior Devante McFarlane had in a 9-yard reception in the same game.Still, Shafer didn’t rule out the possibility of adding the halfbacks to the mix in the slot while Syracuse tests out different formations with various wide receivers.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textSaid Shafer: “I think there’s a number of things not just Erv, but other guys can do in those positions.” Comments
Published on February 21, 2016 at 2:05 pm Contact Sam: email@example.com | @Sam4TR Facebook Twitter Google+ With her back to the net, Riley Donahue popped the ball out of her stick and faked a pass to a cutting teammate. Her right shoulder dipped toward the middle, the defender fell for it and Donahue spun toward the inside, suddenly alone with Wagner goalkeeper Kelsey Fee.Donahue faked right and Fee paid for biting. Fifty-six seconds in, Syracuse held a 1-0 advantage. Donahue threw her stick to the ground. It was a gauntlet Wagner never picked up.Katie Rowan, Wagner’s first-year coach, is Syracuse’s all-time leading scorer, but her return to the Carrier Dome Sunday found no such success. In the two teams first-ever meeting, the Orange (3-0) proved to have simply too much firepower for the Seahawks (0-2) to handle. Senior Tewaaraton award finalist Kayla Treanor paced the Orange offense with seven points while Donahue and Halle Majorana contributed hat tricks. The 16-5 win continued SU’s roll from its opening weekend, when it posted 26 goals in wins over then-No. 13 Loyola and Binghamton.“This is a really talented team,” Rowan said. “… This could be the year they go all the way.”In the first 16 minutes, Syracuse had scored nine goals and the team had abandoned its initial offensive set that included working the ball around the goal from 8 meters.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textInstead, the offense ran mainly through pick-and-rolls and flashes to the middle near the 8-meter line.By the time Taylor Gait’s roll to the middle put SU up 8-0 with 15:32 to go, Rowan had seen enough, calling timeout. Her head down, Rowan put her left hand to her forehead and gathered her team.The Seahawks ended the last 14:45 of the first half on a 2-1 run, one of which was scored by Kimmy Tumolo, the sister of SU assistant coach Michelle. Wagner’s defense settled in and denied passes to cutters in the middle. That, combined the Orange’s backups larger role, led to Syracuse struggles to finish as consistently in the final latter half of the first period.“(I said), we needed to stay more composed,” Rowan said. “We know they’re looking for back-checks, so just keep your feet moving … and we’ll work through it.”The glimmer of hope didn’t last. Eight seconds into the second half, Majorana received a long pass down the middle of field. She feinted right and flicked the ball behind her left shoulder into the net.When Majorana scored again three minutes later, the 10-goal lead switched on the mercy-rule running clock. Starting goalkeeper Allie Murray was replaced by backup Bri Stahrr. Three minutes later, Treanor scored again and SU head coach Gary Gait turned to assistant coach Regy Thorpe and gave a thumbs up.Four backups sprinted onto the field and, in much the same fashion they had the weekend before, closed the game as caretakers for a second-half Orange lead. Comments
The No. 2 Trojans (19-1) handled the visiting San Jose State Spartans (7-18) with a 19-1 victory at the Uytengsu Aquatics Center on Sunday afternoon.Sunday’s win marks the 11th-straight victory for the Trojans, who entered the game with an unblemished 6-0 record at home.Matt Karatsu | Daily TrojanMaking waves · Junior goalie McQuin Baron and the Trojans won their 10th straight game with a 19-1 win over San Jose State. on Sunday. Baron was helped by a defense that came up with 12 steals.The Trojans started off the game in dominating fashion thanks to expert defense and precise shooting. Fouls from several Spartan defenders early on opened up USC’s forwards to net four goals in the first period.An exclusion penalty against the Trojans gave the Spartans a man-advantage that culminated in a right-side goal from Weber to give San Jose hope.“Those are the things we need to work on going forward,” freshman driver Marin Dasic said. “Defense is the number one priority for us, and we can’t let those things happen. You can’t play a perfect game, obviously, but we need to get better.”With a 4-0 lead at the end of the first, the second period was more of the same for the Men of Troy as USC scored four more goals in a period dominated by a Trojan offense.And while San Jose’s starting goalie Conrad Gordon was valiant in the second period with multiple saves, the Spartans’ inability to keep USC out of their defensive zone permitted the Trojans to get off multiple close-range shots.At the end of the first half, USC led 8-1, with five different Trojans scoring goals.Already with a seven-goal lead, the Trojans started off the second half slower than expected due to replacement goalie TJ Palmer’s numerous saves.A multitude of USC turnovers gave SJSU adequate opportunities to score. However, the Spartans offense could not capitalize.Eventually, the Men of Troy would break through the Spartans defense with a third-period scoring spree that included six goals. Freshman driver Thomas Dunstan started off the USC attack with a right-side ripper.Junior driver Matteo Morelli earned yet another hat trick halfway through the third off a close-range penalty shot goal.For San Jose State, its lack of bench depth appeared to be an issue as the game dragged on, considering the Spartans’ six available players paled in comparison to USC’s 16.With a 14-1 lead going into the final frame, USC kept the scoring going with five more from the likes of Dasic, sophomore driver Zach D’Sa, freshman two-meter Matt Maier, junior utility James Walters and redshirt sophomore driver Brock Hudnut.In the end, Morelli joined Dasic and Walters as the only three Trojans to score three goals a piece.Now at 19-1, the Trojans go into the final week of the regular season with an excitement toward their final game against rival and the No. 1 team in the country in UCLA.Walters, who scored his three of his 13 goals on Sunday, emphasized the importance of playing a team like San Jose State.“You treat every opponent with respect, and you have to have that discipline to play your own game. I thought everything went well today,” Walters said. “As far as the team’s confidence against UCLA, we want to win. As long as we stick to our gameplan, we should do that.”
Former FIFA Vice-President Jack Warner will know his fate on July 31 Embattled former Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association (CONCACAF) and FIFA vice president, Austin ‘Jack’ Warner has launched a US$40 million counter lawsuit against the regional football governing body and United States Soccer Federation (USSF) president Sunil Gulati.Warner’s counter comes just days after CONCACAF had announced that legal action, in the form of a US$20m lawsuit, was filed against Warner and former CONCACAF general secretary Chuck Blazer.In a statement released on Tuesday Warner, accused the body of persistent defamation and vowed to get justice.“I have left the CONCACAF since 2011. Why the CONCACAF will not leave my family and me alone is simply mind-boggling. CONCACAF football is at its lowest today and the current threat to sue Warner and Blazer for 20 million US is nothing more than a distraction to shift its pathetic current state away from the management of this Confederation,” the release stated.Warner is also the target of an extradition request by the United States to answer charges of corruption and money laundering He has accused CONCACAF of “vindictiveness” and claims the actions against him stem in part from the inability of the USA to acquire the hosting rights for the 2022 World Cup. He is currently fighting extradition.“All these false allegations filed in an American court simply because the USA did not obtain the votes to host a FIFA World Cup will fall to nought,” Warner said.“I have my name to protect and my family to defend and that I will do to the very end.I have been slaughtered for the past six years and have remained silent ignoring my legal options to respond to the atrocities that have been perpetrated against me by men of the lower ilk. And so the time has come for me to respond.”CONCACAF, has claimed it was victimized by Chuck Blazer, and Warner.Both men were charged in a FIFA bribery scandal.In papers filed earlier this week in federal court in Brooklyn, CONCACAF accuses Warner and Blazer of making a fortune through embezzlement — allegations that mirror those in a sprawling U.S. criminal investigation that has resulted in charges against several top soccer officials.The suit accuses the pair of negotiating bribes and kickbacks in connection with lucrative broadcasting rights for tournaments including CONCACAF’s Gold Cup championship.“There can be no doubt that Warner and Blazer victimized CONCACAF, stealing and defrauding it out of tens of millions of dollars in brazen acts of corruption for their own personal benefit at the expense of the entire CONCACAF region,” the suit says.Blazer has pleaded guilty and cooperated in the criminal probe.
Ex-Hearts defender Dan Quaye has started training with Heart of Lions with a view of securing a deal.The 32-year-old is without a club after leaving Chinese side Beijing Baxy.He returned to his former Hearts club Hearts but was refused a deal.The veteran defender has now trying out with Lions with a hope of securing a long-term deal.Quaye was key member of the famous Hearts squad that conquered Africa in 2000.
Alejandro Sabella’s side has, as yet, failed to ignite the World Cup finals and like the Argentina side of 1986 are likely to be propelled forward by their mercurial No 10.Such is the influence of the indecently talented genius from Rosario that this looks like it could be Lionel Messi’s, rather than Argentina’s,World Cup.Messi’s brilliance could mask the mediocrities and often defensive ineptitude of an average side that is gradually improving, but not really producing great football.I was speaking recently to a member of the Argentine staff at the 1986 World Cup – forever labelled the Maradona World Cup – who told me that if you watched the tournament you would see that Maradona had perhaps about 10 to 15 minutes throughout the whole tournament and that is what is remembered.Everything else he said was based around a solid Argentina side and the fact that they conceded just five goals throughout the tournament – including two in the final.While the world drooled at Messi’s stellar display against Nigeria, the sight of Musa ambling through the middle of the Argentine defence to hit his side’s equaliser, is more than worrying for a side that has already conceded the same amount of goals it had when it reached the final in 1986. Individually the back four is not a bad team. Pablo Zabaleta you all know, Ezequiel Garay has just been sold to Zenit St Petersburg for £12 million and had other leading teams after him, Marcos Rojo, linked to Barcelona, has had a very good season at Sporting and Fede Fernández has played 18 times this season for Napoli, third this season in Serie A with the third best defence.Their problem when they play for their national team is that they know that Argentina forwards do not defend and often their midfield find it an inferior activity. They know they will have to deal with three or four one v ones against the rival forwards and if they do not stop them, they will have to bear the cross.They are not comfortable players when they go on the pitch.Argentina’s gradual improvement is due in no small part to player-power and in particular what occurred at half time in the opening match against Bosnia-Herzegovina.Alejandro Sabella’s decision to play a five-man defence, something he had experimented with in pre-tournament friendlies, went down badly with the players. But while the younger, less assertive, Messi might have accepted the situation and carried on, the older, more assertive one, did not. This is Messi’s time, his tournament, the one he’s been waiting for, and if it is going to be lost, it will be lost playing his way, not somebody else’s. Messi and the other leaders of the changing room (Javier Mascherano, Zabaleta) got their way.Fernando Gago was needed to give more shape to a midfield that looked slow and predictable and two attackers were required because it is when playing behind two front men that Messi is at his most lethal as more spaces are created. Gonzalo Higuaín also came on at half time. In 2010 Maradona, the then Argentina manager asked Messi what system he wanted to play to, and Leo, although firstly reticent, told him precisely that, adding that he would also want a wing back tracking up the flanks. Maradona tried it for the next game and then dropped it, forcing Leo to drop deeper to start the moves, link up and finish … with a resultant loss of energy and creativity for Messi, and all in all a shapeless team.An older, wiser Messi now knows that, if the team does not open up the pitch and create spaces for him to use, the solution for him is to wait for his moment, because he knows he will always have at least one – like the set-piece against Nigeria, or in a run on goal against Iran to make the most of it.Against Nigeria Argentina’s distribution was quicker, there was more movement off the ball from the forwards, especially after the introduction of Ezequiel Lavezzi who is a winger used to work harder defensively than the three forwards, all No 9s, that were used against Iran.So by accident, the injury of Sergio Agüero, Argentina seem to have found a balance and a better way to find spaces. With more spaces, a more dynamic and active Messi. It is that simple, really. The defensively minded Sabella whose tactics had brought him within minutes of winning the Fifa Club World Cup final with Estudiantes against Barcelona and also masterminded the clubs Copa Libertadores win in Cruzeiro’s backyard, has been forced into another plan.The die is cast, and Sabella who admits to having sleepless nights because he can’t stop thinking about the World Cup, knows there is no turning back now.But his first instinct was correct, because, as Nigeria, and also Iran and Bosnia-Herzegovina occasionally showed, this is more than a poor defence – this is a weak unbalanced team that does not know how to defend as an unit.His idea was initially to protect his side, and then little by little become more adventurous. He can forget that notion, strap on his seat belt and along with the rest of us try to enjoy what will almost certainly end up being a roller coaster of a ride at both ends of the pitch.June 24 saw Messi celebrate his 27th birthday, coincidentally at the same time as one of the cooks with the Argentine squad. Two cakes were provided and at Leo’s insistence the entire squad sang ‘Happy Birthday’ and presented them both with a cake. “First the chef”, Leo said. He has now become a leader and with it has come a new maturity. Cards have taken the place of the constantly switched on PlayStation as a main form of relaxation and there’s now a mellowness that now accompanies the mercurial brilliance he displays on the pitch.“We’re getting better,” he says, before adding perhaps with a look at the work without the ball, ”we can’t make mistakes, because, now, after just one game you can be out.”“But we certainly want more.”