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Steely Juventus shut down Barca to kill off comeback hopes

April 20, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Barcelona’s hopes of staging another sensational Champions League comeback fell flat against a hardened Juventus side who held the Catalans to a 0-0 draw on Wednesday at the Nou Camp to reach the semi-finals 3-0 on aggregate.

TOPSHOT-FBL-EUR-C1-BARCELONA-JUVENTUS

The Italian champions barely gave Barca a glimmer of hope of repeating their historic turnaround against Paris St Germain in the last 16 and protected their healthy advantage from the first leg by starving the hosts of space and clear sights of goal.

Lionel Messi came closest to giving Barca a route back into the contest with four strikes at goal but failed to hit the target with any of them and frequently came up short against Juve’s intimidating centre-back pairing of Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci.

Twice European champions Juve lacked the spark and power of their thrilling first-leg victory in Turin, but there was rarely any doubt they would exact revenge for their defeat to Barca in the 2015 Champions League final by reaching the semis for a 12th time.

Barca coach Luis Enrique had said before the game that if Barca managed to strike early then the noise of the Nou Camp would suck the other goals in.

Juventus, however, showed in the opening stages that they are made of sterner stuff than PSG, who gave up a 4-0 first-leg advantage Massimiliano Allegris side pressed Barca in their own half and limited the supply to the front three.

Messi almost managed to pick out Jordi Alba with a hooked pass and later played a one-two with the Spaniard before dragging narrowly wide of the far post.

Ivan Rakitic and Neymar also missed the target with hopeful efforts but Juventus’ aggressive gameplan limited how much attacking Barca could do without leaving themselves exposed.

Gonzalo Higuain cracked a shot over the bar before the break while the probing Juan Cuadrado almost picked out the Argentine striker in the middle, but was thwarted by a brilliant block from Gerard Pique.

Barca increased their grip on possession after the break and spent most of the remainder of the game in their opponents’ half trying to carve out chances, but Juve were always ready for them.

Messi whipped a free kick onto the roof of the net and slammed another shot wide before spurning his best chance, a volley which fizzed over the bar.

Barca right back Sergi Roberto attempted a repeat of his heroic strike against PSG, but also missed the target, unable to prevent his side’s second successive elimination at the quarter-final stage, which will provoke much soul-searching at the five-times European champions.

Ronaldo hat-trick fires Real into semis

April 19, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Cristiano Ronaldo scored a controversial hat-trick to become the first man to reach 100 Champions League goals as Real Madrid overcame 10-man Bayern Munich 4-2 after extra time in Tuesday’s thrilling quarter-final second leg.

Ronaldo

The holders surged through 6-3 on aggregate at an exhilarated Santiago Bernabeu to take their place in Friday’s semi-final draw for a record seventh consecutive year.

But Real were pushed all the way by Bayern, who battled back from a 2-1 first-leg deficit to send the tie into extra time thanks to Robert Lewandowski’s penalty and an own goal from Sergio Ramos.

However, after Arturo Vidal was sent off, Ronaldo hit the century mark in Europe’s top club competition on 104 minutes and completed his hat-trick five minutes later.

Bayern were left incensed, though, as Ronaldo’s second and third goals were clearly offside.

“To score six goals against a team like Bayern Munich isn’t easy so we deserved to go through,” the Portuguese striker told Spanish TV station Antena 3.

“Real Madrid is Real Madrid, we are used to suffering and we are happy to be in the semis once again.”

Marco Asensio gave a night of high-class action the finale it deserved with a sensational solo goal to rub salt in Bayern wounds.

“The (red) card for Arturo wasn’t a card and then the two goals from Cristiano are offside so clearly we are not happy,” said Bayern coach Carlo Ancelotti.

“In a quarter-final you have to put a better referee, or it is the moment to introduce video refereeing, which is what UEFA are trying because there are too many errors.”

The German champions had been beaten on their previous four trips to Spain without even scoring a goal.

However, knowing they needed at least two to progress, Ancelotti’s men started on the front foot and were left to rue a huge opportunity just eight minutes in.

Marcelo made a miraculous block to deny Thiago Alcantara before former Real winger Arjen Robben scuffed into the side-netting on his trusted left foot.

Much like the first leg, Madrid weathered the early storm and had plenty of chances to go in front before half time.

Jerome Boateng bailed out a rare mistake from goalkeeper Manuel Neuer as he cleared off the line from Ramos after Neuer fumbled a simple cross.

The half-time whistle brought some respite to proceedings on the field, although the Bayern fans were involved in a minor clash with police at the break.

The disturbances quickly died down and Bayern soon gave the travelling 4,000 from Germany something to cheer when play resumed.

Another goal-line clearance by Marcelo from Robben’s dinked effort temporarily saved Madrid.

But the hosts didn’t escape moments later when referee Viktor Kassai pointed to the spot as Robben went down under a challenge from Casemiro.

Lewandowski stayed cool under the pressure and converted from the spot for his 39th goal of the season.

Ronaldo looked to have eased Madrid’s nerves when he steered Casemiro’s cross into the far corner 14 minutes from time.

However, Real’s celebrations were very short-lived as just a minute later the ball ricocheted around their box and Ramos turned into his own net.

The balance of a topsy-turvy tie turned Madrid’s way again with five minutes remaining as just as in the first leg, Bayern were reduced to 10 men when Vidal saw a second yellow card for chopping down Asensio.

The extra man proved decisive as Madrid settled the tie with a three-goal burst either side of half time in extra time.

Ronaldo took advantage at not being flagged for offside as he controlled and fired low past Neuer to become the first man to reach a Champions League century.

Four minutes into the second period of extra time he had Marcelo to thank for a brilliant run and unselfish pass that allowed the Portuguese the simplest of finishes to complete his hat-trick despite again being in an offside position.

And Asensio sealed victory in sensational style with a stunning solo run and low right-footed finish as many Bayern players sank to their knees knowing Champions League glory had passed them by for another year.

Vardy in vain as Atletico end Leicester fairytale

April 19, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Jamie Vardy scored in vain as Leicester City’s Champions League fairytale came to a valiant end following a 1-1 quarter-final draw at home to Atletico Madrid on Tuesday.

Atletico

Seeking to overturn a 1-0 first-leg deficit, Leicester fell further behind to Saul Niguez’s first-half header, before Vardy’s 61st-minute strike gave them hope.

But despite heavy Leicester pressure and furious noise inside the King Power Stadium, Atletico completed a 2-1 aggregate win to reach the semi-finals for the third time in four seasons.

“We had them rattled with the effort and commitment we showed. It’s no discredit to lose to a team of that calibre,” Leicester manager Craig Shakespeare told BT Sport.

“The whole club, from the supporters to the players to the owners can be immensely proud, but I’ve just said to the players that they should want more of this and they’ve agreed that that’s what they want.”

Leicester had hoped to become the competition’s first debutant semi-finalists since Villarreal in 2006, but they were unable to engineer a repeat of their last-16 triumph against Sevilla.

Their exit brings to an end a golden adventure sparked by last season’s stunning Premier League title win.

Having successfully staved off the threat of relegation under new manager Shakespeare, the rest of their season now holds nothing more than a return to pre-title normality.

It is the third time Atletico have eliminated Leicester from continental competition, after previous triumphs in the 1961-62 European Cup Winners’ Cup and the 1997-98 UEFA Cup.

Beaten by city foes Real Madrid in the 2014 and 2016 finals, Diego Simeone’s side can continue to dream that this will be the year they finally end their wait for European football’s biggest prize.

“I’m full of emotion and pride at the performance of my team,” said Simeone.

“I also have to say, what a great performance from our opponents. It was almost a pleasure to compete against them.”

Leicester’s desire to make the most of the occasion was clear from the start, pyrotechnics greeting the players as they came out while fans twirled blue, white and gold foil flags distributed by the club.

But whereas Leicester had quickly taken charge of their second-leg match against Sevilla in the previous round, Atletico made it clear they would not be pushed around.

They defended with their customary tenacity, while two dangerous crosses from Yannick Carrasco — preferred up front to the fit-again Kevin Gameiro — demonstrated their threat on the counter.

It was just as Leicester were threatening to make inroads, Shinji Okazaki stabbing wide at the near post from Vardy’s cross, that the visitors tightened their grip on the tie.

Filipe Luis was given space to shape a cross into the box from the left and the unmarked Saul expertly guided a header past Kasper Schmeichel’s outstretched right hand.

Riyad Mahrez volleyed straight at Jan Oblak at the other end after Marc Albrighton’s cross was headed away, but it was the voices of the away fans that rang loudest as the half-time whistle sounded.

The second half brought with it drastic changes for the hosts, with Ben Chilwell and Leonardo Ulloa replacing Yohan Benalouane and Okazaki as Shakespeare switched to a bold 3-4-3 system.

Antoine Griezmann gave them a scare with an early dart into the box, but Atletico soon found themselves on the back foot.

After left wing-back Chilwell thrashed over, Leicester levelled, Vardy slamming in from inside the six-yard box after Chilwell’s shot had been charged down by Stefan Savic.

The final half-hour was virtually one-way traffic, but Atletico repelled everything Leicester threw at them.

Ulloa and Vardy both had shots blocked, while Vardy’s flick was caught by Oblak and Mahrez whipped a free-kick narrowly over the bar.

Leicester captain Wes Morgan, passed fit to play after six games out with a back problem, succumbed to injury late on, symbolically hobbling off as Leicester’s European dream faded away.

Barca need five to beat Juve – Luis Enrique

April 18, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Barcelona will need to hit at least five goals past Juventus to produce another miracle Champions League comeback, but have nothing to lose according to outgoing coach Luis Enrique.

Barcelona news conference - UEFA Champions League Quarterfinal

The Catalans made Champions League history by overcoming a 4-0 first leg deficit to beat Paris Saint-Germain 6-1 in the last round, but have another mountain to climb at the Camp Nou on Wednesday as they trail their quarter-final tie 3-0.

“We need to score fewer goals,” said an upbeat Enrique facing what could be his last European game in charge. “But bearing in mind the opponent could have chances and the goal can come at any moment, our objective is to score five.”

Enrique foresaw Barca’s recovery in the last 16, claiming an attack laced with the potential of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar was capable of scoring six against the French champions.

And he called for an expected near 100,000 crowd to play their part as they did against PSG.

“We don’t have anything to lose. We are free from pressure. Juventus have the semi-finals in their pocket and will have to decide whether to sit back or attack,” he added.

“We only have one option which is to attack, attack and attack again.

“I am sure that if we score the first goal, the Camp Nou will score the second and the third will come of its own accord.”

Barca captain Andres Iniesta was more cautious in his optimism, recognising the first leg in Turin had been “a terrible result.”

However, he believes Barca have the potential to at least create some doubt in Juventus minds.

“Nowadays teams respect us a lot. I am convinced they know we can cause them problems,” said Iniesta.

“We have the potential, the players and reason to believe we can turn this tie around or at least get close to it.

“We need to create doubts so at some point they see the tie is in danger.

“Everything depends on playing a perfect game in every sense.”

Barca scored three times in the final two minutes plus stoppage time as PSG froze in a grandstand finish six weeks ago.

And Enrique insisted Barca can’t lose belief even if the goals don’t come early against a Juventus defence that has conceded just two in nine Champions League games this season.

“Don’t leave in the 80th minute,” he said in a message to the fans.

“We are going to try until the end. Those of us who experienced the game against PSG have another chance to experience a historic night.

“We have seen that Barca can score three goals in three minutes so we will stay together until the 95th minute.”

Juventus defender Giorgio Chiellini won his latest battle with Luis Suarez in the first leg after the Uruguayan famously bit the Italian at the 2014 World Cup.

Chiellini scored his side’s third goal a week ago after Paulo Dybala’s early double and insists Juventus will need all their experience to stand up to Barca’s “sharks”.

“We will have to play without fear because they are like sharks – they smell blood and they finish you off,” he told Sky Sports Italia.

The visitors were handed a big injury boost as Dybala has been passed fit to play despite picking up an ankle injury in Saturday’s 2-0 win at Pescara.

Barca will welcome back Iniesta and Neymar from the side that beat Real Sociedad 3-2 at the weekend with Messi’s double in that match taking him within two of 500 goals for the club.

Barca complete incredible comeback to sink PSG

March 9, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Barcelona became the first team in Champions League history to overturn a four-goal deficit in a knockout tie as a stoppage-time goal by Sergio Roberto completed an extraordinary 6-1 victory over Paris St Germain on Wednesday.

Barcelona's Sergi Roberto celebrates scoring their sixth goal with team mates and fans

Edinson Cavani looked to have wrecked Barcelona’s dreams by volleying in an away goal to make the score 3-1 but two late strikes from Neymar set up a thrilling finale before Roberto scored to seal a 6-5 aggregate win for the Spanish side.

Barcelona began to believe in the impossible dream of clawing back their shock 4-0 loss from the first leg when Luis Suarez headed over the line in the third minute and a Layvin Kurzawa own goal gave them further hope before the break.

Lionel Messi’s penalty five minutes into the second period had the Nou Camp on its feet but Cavani’s strike in the 62nd was a sucker punch to Barca’s ambitions from which Luis Enrique’s side took a while to recover.

A curled free kick from Neymar in the 88th minute gave them hope and the Brazilian converted a penalty before substitute Roberto slid in to knock the ball beyond Kevin Trapp from a chipped free kick and send Barca through to the last eight.

An electric atmosphere gripped the Nou Camp before kick-off after Suarez and Luis Enrique had said they truly believed a comeback was on and the players caught the wave of optimism by swarming all over PSG from the first whistle.

Trapp struggled to cope with the early pressure and flapped at a high ball, allowing Suarez to jump ahead of him and force the ball over the line.

PSG had a penalty appeal turned down when Julian Draxler’s low cross struck Javier Mascherano’s arm but it was one of few forays forward from PSG in the first half as Barca did all the attacking.

The Catalans owed their second to another piece of slack defending, however, as Iniesta nudged his way past Marquinhos in the area to knock the ball back into the danger zone and it bounced off the swinging leg of Kurzawa and into the far corner.

PSG riled Barca supporters by coming back on to the pitch after the break a few minutes late but the Nou Camp was soon celebrating a third as Messi powered a penalty past Trapp after Neymar had been tripped by Thomas Meunier.

Cavani hit the post but made amends by smashing a loose ball home, although he should have added another but was denied by the feet of Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

At the time it did not look to be a crucial miss but Barca had other ideas, scoring three times in six minutes to complete an incredible comeback.

Rested Real Madrid wait on Gareth Bale return

February 10, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane hopes to have Gareth Bale back before the second leg of his side’s Champions League last 16 clash with Napoli.

Bale

The postponement of Madrid’s visit to Celta Vigo last weekend due to storm damage caused to Celta’s Balaidos stadium has allowed Zidane to recover a fully-fit squad bar Bale, who is still working his way back from ankle ligament damage.

The Welshman hasn’t featured since late November and whilst Wednesday’s first leg against the Italians is likely to come too early, Zidane is confident of having Bale back well before the return in Naples on March 7.

“The return isn’t till March 7 so hopefully he is with us before then,” Zidane said on Friday.

“He is back on the field and the only step he has left is to train with the rest of the team.

“He is working very hard and I can see the desire he has.”

The suspended Toni Kroos is Madrid’s only other absentee for Saturday’s visit to rock bottom Osasuna.

Marcelo, Luka Modric and Dani Carvajal are among those to return from injury

However, Madrid have only won one of their past six league meetings away at Osasuna and Zidane is not expecting an easy ride despite the fact the Navarrans are yet to win at home in La Liga this season.

“We have had time to work, physically we are good and ready to play,” added Zidane.

“It is a very difficult place to go and we know that it is top against bottom, which I don’t like at all.

“It has always been difficult for us at El Sadar and that isn’t going to change.”

Hazard sparkles, Chelsea dazzle, rivals are frazzled

February 5, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Eden Hazard’s brilliant goal in Chelsea’s 3-1 victory over Arsenal further buried the title hopes of their Premier League rivals with even angry Arsene Wenger admitting that his London foes are a class act.

Hazard

Antonio Conte’s side shattered Arsenal’s hopes while Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool hit a new low in a 2-0 defeat at Hull in Saturday’s games.

Belgian winger Hazard picked up the ball in his own half and waltzed past four opposing players to shoot home at Stamford Bridge after Marcos Alonso opened the scoring with a contentious effort, clattering into Arsenal’s Hector Bellerin before heading home.

Cesc Fabregas rubbed salt into Arsenal’s wounds in the 85th minute when the former Gunners midfielder chipped into the empty net after a woeful miskick from ex-Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech.

Olivier Giroud got a consolation but third placed Arsenal trail Chelsea by 12 points with 14 games remaining.

Chelsea have 16 wins in their last 18 league games, prompting Conte to hail the triumph as a significant moment in the title race.

“I consider Arsenal one of the six teams that can fight for the title. To put them 12 points behind is very important for us,” Conte said.

Wenger fumed over Alonso’s opener, saying: “It was 100 percent a foul. It was even dangerous play.”

But he joined Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola in saying Chelsea should have the title wrapped up.

“They look at the moment in full confidence, powerful, strong. They don’t concede goals. It’s for them to lose it.”

Second placed Tottenham are Chelsea’s closest challengers and their 1-0 victory against Middlesbrough meant they are still nine points behind.

When Son Heung-Min was fouled by Bernardo in the 58th minute at White Hart Lane, Tottenham striker Harry Kane stepped up to convert the penalty for his 16th goal of the season.

It was a first win in three league games for Mauricio Pochettino’s team, who are unbeaten in their last nine.

“When you don’t kill the game you leave it open. In the last second you can concede, that’s the Premier League. Thankfully it didn’t and we’re happy,” Pochettino said.

At the KCOM Stadium, Liverpool fell behind in the 44th minute when Alfred N’Diaye took advantage of goalkeeper Simon Mignolet’s poor handling to bag a debut goal.

Klopp’s side were finished off in the 84th minute when on-loan Everton striker Oumar Niasse raced clear to boost third bottom Hull’s survival bid.

“Obviously that was not good enough. We gave both goals away easily and the overall performance was not like it should be,” Klopp said.

“It makes no sense for us to play like this. We need to wake up, that was not acceptable.”

Liverpool have won only once in their last 10 games in all competitions and will be knocked out of the top four if Manchester City avoid defeat against Swansea on Sunday.

Sunderland stunned former boss Sam Allardyce with an first half goal rush to demolish fellow strugglers Crystal Palace 4-0 at Selhurst Park.

Lamine Kone, signed by Palace chief Allardyce when he was in charge at Sunderland, swept home after Palace goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey dropped a 10th minute free-kick.

The Black Cats were two up in the 43rd minute through Didier Ndong’s first goal for the club.

Jermain Defoe put the result beyond doubt with two goals in first half stoppage-time. One furious Palace fan ran onto the pitch to confront defender Damien Delaney.

Sunderland remain bottom of the table but they are level on points with Palace, who dropped to 19th place.

Romelu Lukaku scored four times in Everton’s 6-3 victory against Bournemouth at Goodison Park.

Ronald Koeman’s side were ahead after just 31 seconds as Belgian forward Lukaku started his goal spree.

Everton doubled their advantage through James McCarthy in the 23rd minute and Lukaku notched his second six minutes later.

Bournemouth’s Josh King set up a tense finale as he netted in the 59th and 70th minutes.

Lukaku struck again in the 83rd and 84th minutes to cap his memorable afternoon before Harry Arter’s 90th minute reply and Ross Barkley’s sixth for Everton.

West Ham bounced back from their mauling by Manchester City with a 3-1 win at Southampton thanks to goals from Andy Carroll, Pedro Obiang and Mark Noble.

Watford consigned 10-man Burnley to a seventh successive away league defeat with a 2-1 success at Vicarage Road.

West Bromwich Albion beat Stoke 1-0 thanks to James Morrison’s sixth minute goal.

English FA faces ‘no confidence’ vote

February 3, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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British lawmakers will next week debate introducing legislation to force England’s Football Association to reform its governance structures, a parliamentary committee announced on Friday.

 

It comes four months after sports minister Tracey Crouch gave English football’s governing body six months to overhaul its board and council or risk losing funding.

The Culture, Media and Sport (CMS) committee said the debate would take place at the House of Commons on February 9 with a motion of “no confidence” in the FA’s ability to reform itself.

“We do not believe the FA will comply voluntarily,” CMS chairman Damian Collins said in a statement.

“It can survive easily without the Government’s contribution of money to grassroots sport and there are powerful vested interests that refuse to accept the right of all those involved in football to play a role in the governance of the sport.

“We are therefore preparing a draft bill to bring the structure of the FA, especially its board and council, more into line with modern company practice and the Government’s guidelines for sports bodies.”

An FA spokesperson said: “We are aware of the discussions next week around governance.

“The Government announced a code for governance for sports governing bodies last year and we are working to their timeline for implementation later in the year.

“Football, like all sports, is following due process and we remain committed to working with the Government towards compliance with the code.”

The FA, the world’s oldest football federation, risks losing around 30 million ($37.5 million, 34.8 million euros) from funding body Sport England.

Five former senior FA executives have criticised the organisation for failing to “self-reform”.

David Bernstein, David Davies, Greg Dyke, Alex Horne and David Triesman said the FA was outdated, held back by “elderly white men” and unable to counter the power of the Premier League.

The intervention of the British parliament is likely to attract the attention of world governing body FIFA, which forbids national governments from interfering with the governance of the game.

Mourinho vexed by Man United scoring problems

February 3, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Manchester United’s players must give Zlatan Ibrahimovic more support if they are to make a serious challenge for Champions League qualification, manager Jose Mourinho said on Friday.

Mourinho

Ibrahimovic has scored 14 of United’s 33 Premier League goals this season and many of them have been decisive, earning United no fewer than 15 points.

No other player has scored more than four league goals and they were all off-target on Wednesday as relegation-threatened Hull City secured a 0-0 draw at Old Trafford.

“In almost every team the striker is the top scorer,” Mourinho told a press conference at United’s training base west of Manchester prior to Sunday’s trip to Leicester City.

“Unless you have another player with a special feeling to score goals coming from another position, or you have another player scoring six, seven or eight goals from penalties. That is normal to happen.

“But I understand what you are saying. We attack so much and with so many players and so many players have the freedom in our dynamic to reach scoring positions.

“I have to agree with you that we don’t score enough goals and some of our players from these attacking, creative positions, they could — they should — score more goals.

“When you see the number of goals we score, there is not a true relation between our attacking production and the number of players we put in attacking positions and the number of goals we score.”

United are unbeaten in 14 league games as they prepare for the trip to the King Power Stadium, but have drawn seven of those, including each of the last three.

They have not shifted from sixth place since the start of November and currently lie four points off the Champions League qualification spots.

Meanwhile, Mourinho has dismissed the idea of chasing what he calls “impossible” signings during the close season.

Reports in France claim United have agreed terms with Atletico Madrid striker Antoine Griezmann, having brought his France team-mate Paul Pogba to Old Trafford last year.

But Mourinho said: “I think to be speaking about the transfer window when it’s February 3 makes no sense at all.

“The transfer window opens in the summer and until the summer, I think I have nothing to tell you.

“Of course, I know what I want. I’ve worked with my players for seven months or so. I know them better now than six or seven months ago.

“I think what we need I am very realistic (about). I know what the impossible targets are.

“I don’t like my club to participate in impossible deals. It is a waste of time. It is a gift to these impossible players and to their agents to have a club like Manchester United interested in them.

“It just helps them to improve their situation, but it does not help us at all so I am very realistic. I am very objective.

“My board knows what I think our needs are and from now until the summer, I just focus on my players, our competitions, my club, our fans and try to get the (best) possible results.”

Centre-back Phil Jones is likely to miss the trip to Leicester with a bruised foot, but Eric Bailly is available after returning from Africa Cup of Nations duty with the Ivory Coast.

United have recalled back-up goalkeeper Dean Henderson from a loan spell at Grimsby Town to provide cover after Joel Pereira, the club’s third-choice keeper, picked up a knee injury.

Ronaldo will always be criticised – Zidane

January 20, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane dismissed criticism of his side’s talisman Cristiano Ronaldo on Friday following a dip in form that has coincided with Real losing two consecutive games after setting a Spanish record unbeaten run of 40 games.

Zidane

 

Ronaldo struggled to influence Real’s 2-1 home defeat at by Celta Vigo in the King’s Cup on Wednesday and the 2-1 reverse to Sevilla last Sunday that cut their lead at the top of La Liga to a point, although he did convert a penalty.

The forward recently won the 2016 Ballon d’Or and FIFA’s The Best accolade for leading Real to last season’s Champions League and captaining Portugal to glory at Euro 2016. He has 12 goals in La Liga this season, two behind top scorers Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi.

The Portuguese, however, has attracted renewed criticism in the Spanish media for his lack of impact in big games, failing to find the net against Barcelona, Villarreal and Athletic Bilbao, although he did net a hat-trick against local rivals Atletico Madrid.

“Cristiano is always going to be criticised, when he doesn’t score or when he plays in a different position, but he’s used to that, he’s focused like everyone else on the next game,” former Real midfielder Zidane told a news conference on Friday ahead of the game against Malaga.

“He’s always going to be the player that makes the difference for this team. Sometimes he might play badly, that used to happen to me sometimes, but so what? The important thing is that he keeps working hard.”

Although Zidane was critical of his side following the loss to Celta, lamenting their lack of intensity and concentration, he said he was relaxed about the team’s form despite suffering two successive defeats for the first time as Real coach.

“This is football, you can’t win all the time, just like in life. My mind is only focused on work and thinking how we can improve. There was room for improvement before we had lost. We have to focus more, but I’m not worried,” he added.

“There’s no rule saying you can never slip up again. I’m always under pressure, I knew that when I signed my contract, I will always feel it until the day I leave but it makes me grow stronger every day.”

Real will be without Colombia midfielder James Rodriguez due to a calf injury against Malaga and Dani Carvajal, who has been ruled out for a month with a hamstring problem. Gareth Bale and Pepe are still sidelined.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s hat trick answered Real Madrid’s biggest question

November 20, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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On Saturday, Cristiano Ronaldo silenced his critics yet again, as the 31-year-old Portuguese superstar netted a hat trick to lead Real Madrid to a 3-0 victory over rival Atletico Madrid and give Real a clear line of sight to its first La Liga title in half a decade.

Ronaldo

Ronaldo’s performance, however, meant far more than the three goals and the three points that put Real Madrid in the driver’s seat for the La Liga crown. Following a salary bump and a hefty contract extension worth a reported $187 million that keeps the forward at the Santiago Bernabeu until 2021, questions have come up over how Ronaldo will fit into the squad going forward considering his decreasing ability to take players one-on-one.

Against Atletico, Real and Ronaldo answered those questions.

Ronaldo started ahead of Karim Benzema at striker and made the most of his chances as the tip of Real’s spear. Similar to the role he played for Portugal in the 2016 European Championships, which Portugal won, Ronaldo continued the transformation from a free-roaming No. 7 darting on the wings and cheating on the inside to a constrained No. 9 causing havoc inside the box and putting pressure on opposing center backs.

For Ronaldo to remain relevant at Real Madrid for five more years, this positional shift became necessary. The former Manchester United and Sporting Lisbon winger could not continue to be an asset out wide as he dove deeper into his 30s. In front of goal, Ronaldo is one of the greatest finishers of all time and a credible threat to score at all times. After all, he is already the top scorer in Real Madrid history, and his scoring rate is higher than the greats that came before him (i.e. Raul Gonzalez, Alfredo Di Stefano and Ferenc Puskas).

Of course, questions over how Benzema and Alvaro Morata fit into Real Madrid’s setup if Ronaldo is now a full-time forward will come fast and hard. But one has a tough time arguing against three goals that pushed Madrid nine points clear of Atletico Madrid and four points clear of Barcelona at the top of La Liga. Hence, Benzema and Morata will need to adapt to Ronaldo more than the Portuguese will need to adapt to them. Ronaldo remains the biggest star at the club, on the pitch and off it.

With Pepe, Sergio Ramos, Casemiro, Morata and Toni Kroos among the first-team regulars not available for Real Madrid on Saturday, Ronaldo displayed that special winning quality that makes him the first name on the team sheet in the Spanish capital. Though Isco may have deserved Man of the Match honors for his inspired midfield play, Ronaldo secured all three goals.

He has a habit of doing that. It’s football, not rocket science, and Ronaldo knows how to find the back of the net with greater frequency than, arguably, any other human being that has ever lived. And yes, that includes Lionel Messi.

Unlike Messi, who has transitioned deeper into the midfield as he has grown older, Ronaldo has moved further forward with every passing year. It only makes sense that to get the most out of an aging attacker, the emphasis would be to put him in positions where he can apply that expensive final touch, rather than ask him to create chances. Also, Ronaldo’s superior height and heading ability make for a far more natural transition to out-and-out striker than Messi’s passing and vision make sense to move the Argentine deeper into midfield.

Also assisting Ronaldo’s transition is the emergence, arrival and settling of Gareth Bale with Los Blancos. In the past couple seasons, the Welshman has assumed a great deal of Ronaldo’s responsibility on the wings and in the midfield and, frankly, covered for his diminishing ability to run at opponents.

Half century for Neymar as Brazil crush Argentina

November 11, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Neymar scored his 50th international goal as Brazil thrashed arch-rivals Argentina 3-0 in their 2018 World Cup qualifying duel here Thursday.

Neymar

Barcelona superstar Neymar took his tally to 50 goals in 74 games as Brazil recorded their fifth consecutive victory under new coach Tite to remain on top of South America’s qualification table.

Philippe Coutinho and Paulinho also scored as the Brazilians made a triumphant return to the Estadio Mineiro, scene of their 7-1 2014 World Cup semi-final humiliation against Germany.

Brazil now head the 10-team round-robin competition with 24 points from 11 games.

But the defeat deepens the sense of crisis enveloping Argentina, who have taken just two points from their last four games and now languish in sixth place overall, one spot outside the qualifying positions for the finals in Russia.

Brazil powered into a 2-0 lead in the first half after two wonderfully worked goals from Coutinho and Neymar.

Argentina had started brightly, with Lionel Messi drawing a foul from Fernandinho in the opening minutes which earned the Manchester City midfielder a yellow card from Chilean referee Julio Bascunan.

The Argentines created the first chance of the evening when Lucas Biglia’s venomous shot from outside the area was well saved by Brazil goalkeeper Alisson on 23 minutes.

But after weathering the early pressure Brazil began to probe more effectively and on 25 minutes took the lead through Coutinho.

The Liverpool playmaker gathered the ball wide out on the left flank and accelerated purposefully towards the Argentina area.

The attacking midfielder’s pace took him past Nicolas Otamendi with ease before he unleashed a thunderous strike that crashed into the top corner.

It got better on the stroke of half-time when Neymar completed his half-century of international goals.

Another clinical Brazil attack culminated with teenage star Gabriel Jesus splitting the Argentine defence with an exquisite pass that sent Neymar through on goal.

The Barcelona striker coolly rolled his finish past the advancing Sergio Romero and Brazil were in complete control.

Neymar — still only 24 — is now closing in on Romario’s mark of 55 goals and is firmly on track to surpass Pele’s record haul of 77 goals in 91 games.

Brazil were quick to get into their stride in the second half, and Paulinho nearly made it 3-0 only to be denied by a Pablo Zabaleta goal-line clearance on 55 minutes.

Paulinho made no mistake four minutes later though, tucking away a close range finish after a low cross from Renato Augusto.

Sri Lanka knocked out  

November 7, 2016 by · 1 Comment 

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Sri Lanka were knocked out from the AFC Solidarity Cup Football Tournament following a 0-2 defeat at the hands of Mongolia in their group fixture played at the Negeri Stadium in Malaysia yesterday.
Mongolia are currently placed 202nd in the FIFA Ranking while Sri Lanka are placed 193rd.  
Skipper Toshiaki Imai and M. Davaajav scored a goal each for the winners. Earlier, Sri Lanka lost their opening match of the tournament against Laos.
Sri Lanka’s third match of the tournament will be against Macau on Wednesday (9). SP

Sri Lanka lose opening game    

November 3, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Sri Lanka were beaten 1-2 by Laos in their inaugural AFC Solidarity Cup Football Tournament Group ‘B’ fixture worked off in Malaysia on Thursday.

After a scoreless first half Moukada Souksavath broke the deadlock in the 58th minute for Laos while Khamphanh Sonthanelay increased the lead to 2-0 in the 66th minute.

R. M. Alawdeen netted a consolation goal for Sri Lanka during injury time.

- SP

Zahira, St. Patrick’s in final

November 3, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Zahira College Colombo defeated the defending champions St. Henry’s College Jaffna 4-1 on penalties in their Kotmale Trophy Inter-Schools Under-19 Football Tournament semi-final match played at the Duraiappah Stadium in Jaffna on Thursday.

The match ended in a 2-2 draw at the completion of normal time.

In the other semi-final, St. Patrick’s College Jaffna edged-out St. Joseph Vaz College Wennappuwa 6-5 on penalties after match ended in a 0-0 draw after normal time.

The final between Zahira and St. Patrick’s will be played on Saturday (5) at the same venue commencing at 7. p.m.

- (SP)

Gateway Colombo wins title

November 2, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Gateway College Colombo won the G. T. Bandara Trophy when they defeated Gateway College Kandy 3-1 in the Inter-International Schools Under-19 Football Tournament final played at the Police Park on Monday.

Gateway

Afham Ajmal broke the drought in the 35th minute when he fired the ball past the Colombo custodian to put Gateway, Kandy in front.

However, centre forward Mark Atton who has been in tremendous form throughout the tournament broke loose and managed to produce the equalizer (1-1) few minutes later.

Six minutes later, Areeb Niyas, put Gateway Colombo in front (2-1).

Two minutes later, Shafni Shuhaibdeen brought his boot into play to give Gateway Colombo a 3-1 win and the G.T. Bandara Trophy.

Mark Atton of Gateway, Colombo was awarded the Golden Boot. The Best Player Areeb Niyas also from Gateway Colombo won the award for the Best Player and Sihsith Priyawasana of Gateway, Kandy was the Best Goal-keeper.

Meanwhile Lyceum, International Nugegoda defeated the British School by two goals to nil to win the consolation final. At half time neither side had opened their account.

After the change of ends, in the second minute Binuk Thambawita put Lyceum one-up and two minutes later he repeated the performance to give his side a 2-0 win.

-B.M.

World Cup winner Klose starts Germany traineeship

November 1, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Germany’s record goalscorer Miroslav Klose is starting a traineeship with the national team as the retired striker looks to kick off his coaching career, the German Football Association said on Tuesday.

Klose

Klose, who helped his country win the 2014 World Cup and became the all-time top scorer at the tournament with 16 goals, ended his playing career last season at Lazio.

“He will undergoing an individual training and trainee programme with the clear aim of starting a coaching career,” the FA said in a statement.

The 38-year-old, who also played for Kaiserslautern, Bayern Munich and Werder Bremen, is Germany’s leading scorer with 71 goals in 137 matches.

“In the past months the thought has matured in me to remain on the pitch with the perspective of the coach,” Klose said. “I would like to thank (Germany coach) Joachim Loew and (sports director) Hansi Flick for the chance to sharpen my perspective in a practical environment.”

He will be part of Germany’s coaching team for their World Cup qualifier in San Marino and a friendly against Italy this month.

Real Madrid the perfect club for me, says Bale

November 1, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Moving to Real Madrid has made Gareth Bale a better person and lived up to all his expectations, the Welsh winger said on Monday.

Football Soccer - Real Madrid v Manchester City - UEFA Champions League Semi Final Second Leg - Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid, Spain - 4/5/16 Gareth Bale celebrates scoring the first goal for Real Madrid Action Images via Reuters / Carl Recine

The 27-year-old was speaking for the first time since he extended his contract with the Spanish La Liga club until June 2022.

“Real Madrid is the biggest club in the world,” Bale told a news conference.

“I definitely made the right decision. Real matches all my ambitions. It’s been three great seasons. I hope there are six more years like this. I feel very happy and loved here.”

Bale joined Real for a then world-record fee of 100 million euros ($110 million) in 2013 from Tottenham Hotspur and has since won the Champions League twice and the King’s Cup once.

“When I first arrived, I wanted to win trophies and succeed,” Bale said. “I wanted to improve my football and my game. It has changed me as a person.

“I’ve experienced great moments. Winning the Champions League for this club is the pinnacle.” After his first season in Madrid, Bale was reported to be unsettled at the club and he was linked with a return to the Premier League.

“It has been a difficult journey,” Bale said. “It’s difficult for British players to play in European clubs.

“It has been a learning curve but I’ve enjoyed every experience.

“It takes more character to stay, to fight and find a way to make things work than to leave.” Bale has made 135 appearances in all competitions for Real, scoring 62 goals.

He netted 19 goals and set up 10 more in 30 appearances last season before helping Wales reach the Euro 2016 semi-finals and he is among 30 players in the running to be named FIFA’s player of the year.

“It’s never been a personal goal to win it,” Bale said.

“I’m not striving for it. But if you play well for your club and country and win trophies, things will happen naturally,” he added.

“Last season was my best. It’s all about giving 100 per cent and each year you have to improve and work hard. As long as you do that you cannot have any regrets.”

City players do not “deserve” winless run, says Guardiola

October 28, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Manchester City’s players “do not deserve” their bad run of form, manager Pep Guardiola said on Friday as the Premier League leaders seek to turn around a six-game winless streak at West Bromwich Albion on Saturday.

Guardiola

After a blistering start to the campaign, winning their first 10 games in all competitions, City’s form has stalled with Wednesday’s 1-0 League Cup loss to Manchester United handing Guardiola his worst run of results since entering management.

The run has seen City’s lead in the Premier League evaporate, with Arsenal and Liverpool trailing Guardiola’s side only on goal difference.

“For the players, they don’t deserve this. We are in this period like it is but it will make us stronger in the future, I am sure about that,” the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss said.

“There are many things that have changed. I need time to learn, to improve. I’m still in that process.

“We have to learn as quickly as possible. We go game by game. We’ll prepare for West Brom then on Sunday we’ll talk about Barcelona,” he referring to the Champions League match at home next week.

“Looking at our own game I don’t think we are too far from where we want to be, despite our run of results. We are creating enough chances to win games but we need to make better decisions in and around the box.”

Guardiola also said he expects West Brom to offer a tough physical challenge at the Hawthorns on Saturday.

“It will be tough. They will be high pressing. After that, they recover the ball. They defend low. They are very compact, with very good movement,” he said.

“They are very strong on set-pieces. They use this style marvellously, perfectly. We have to adapt in that way. When we have the ball, they are going to adapt to us.”

Influential playmaker Kevin De Bruyne and defender Pablo Zabaleta missed Wednesday’s derby at United through injury, but Guardiola remained tight-lipped about their progress.

“The injuries are getting better. They are getting better – but I cannot answer if they will play at West Brom,” Guardiola added.

“Vincent (Kompany) didn’t play the second half against United because he was tired. We want to keep him safe and for him to have the same options as his team mates.”

Liverpool boss Klopp hits out at January fixture schedule

October 15, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has hit out at the congested Christmas and New Year fixture schedule which he believes will hamper the Merseyside club.

Klopp

The Reds match against Manchester City has been moved back to a 5:30pm (1730 GMT) kick-off on New Year’s Eve, leaving Liverpool with less than 48 hours before their next match away to Sunderland at 3:00pm (1500 GMT) on January 2.

“Now I have seen the fixtures and I am not too happy,” said Klopp on Friday. “We have less than 48 hours between our game against Man City on December 31 and in Sunderland on the 2nd.

“Forty-eight hours is an interesting idea but less than 48 hours I cannot believe.”

The German boss added: “I learn more and more about this league and maybe I have to ask someone if we can ask if there will be another time for us at Sunderland.

“Our job is to do everything we can to win games. I understand tradition — I would never say Boxing Day is not a good idea as I love it and I have absolutely no problem (playing then).

“But now having a match day with two days between, there should be another possibility.

“I don’t know why we play Monday. Is January 2 a special day in England?”

English football’s traditionally busy Christmas and New Year fixture schedule has long been a source of bewilderment to outsiders, with many arguing that the lack of a winter break common to many European leagues, including Germany’s Bundesliga, helps explain why England have not won a major tournament since the 1966 World Cup.

Klopp, speaking ahead of Liverpool’s match against arch-rivals Manchester United on Monday, added: “Forty-eight hours between two games — how does this work?” he added.

“How do you prepare a team for this. Do you say ‘only 50 percent against City because we have Sunderland on Monday’.

“It doesn’t sound like it is right. Everyone is asking ‘Why England is not too successful in big tournaments?’

“Ask what other big countries are doing at this time – they have their legs on the sofa and are watching English football.”

Monday’s match at Anfield will be the first time that Jose Mourinho has faced Liverpool as the manager of Manchester United.

Klopp said he understood the importance of any clash between English football’s two most successful clubs.

“My first Premier League game against United was a good game from my side, we could have won this game but we didn’t because Wayne Rooney scored,” he added.

“Then we had a nice opportunity to play them for the first time in this unbelievably long history between the clubs in Europe (Europa League) and that was a nice challenge.

“The more you play for in these games and the more interest there is, the more difficult they are but the more excited people are.

“It will never, for as long as I live, just be a normal game,” he insisted.

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