Friday, 24 September 2021



Sports (319)

KALININGRAD, Russia — As sports crises go, it doesn’t get much bigger than losing a coach 24 hours before the start of the World Cup. And yet, after three games here, Spain — thanks to a mix of resilience and good fortune — emerged from the chaos as the top team in Group B, setting up a meeting with Russia in the round of 16.

That chaos extended into stoppage time of Spain’s final group-stage match on Monday against Morocco, which had already been eliminated but somehow led by 2-1 as the clock ticked past 90 minutes in Kaliningrad. With Portugal leading Iran late in their Group B game, Spain was poised to limp through in second place.

Then everything turned, thanks to the World Cup’s contentious new innovation: the video assistant referee, or V.A.R.

First, a goal by Spain’s Iago Aspas in the 91st minute was initially disallowed by an offside call. But after a protracted V.A.R. review, it was ruled to be a goal after all, spurring frenzied celebrations on the Spanish bench. It got wilder still, as the V.A.R. delivered a penalty kick for Iran after a review in the 93rd minute against Portugal over in Saransk. Iran converted, securing a draw and lifting Spain to the top spot in the group and sending Portugal to a meeting with Uruguay in the next round.

Emerging from that maelstrom, as well as the bewildering turn that suddenly made him the coach of the Spanish national team, was Fernando Hierro.

“The mini-goal was to emerge on top of the group and that’s where we are now — mission accomplished,” Hierro said after the game. He had arrived in Russia fully expecting to fulfill his role as the team’s director of football, overseeing the work of Coach Julen Lopetegui, not doing it in his place. But then Lopetegui was fired by the Spanish federation after it had emerged that he had negotiated a deal to become Real Madrid’s new coach without telling his bosses.

“I came here in a suit and I will leave in a tracksuit,” Hierro had said about his sudden appointment.

The surreal chain of events before the tournament led many to demote Spain overnight from one of the tournament’s favorites to a possible group-stage casualty. Hierro has tried to play down the effect of losing Lopetegui so close to the tournament, insisting he is in full control of the team.

“Please don’t think whenever I have to make a decision I call Lopetegui to ask his opinion,” Hierro said. Still, he’s aware that there is room for improvement, particularly when it comes to Spain’s defense.

It gave up three goals to Portugal in the opening game, a pulsating 3-3 tie in which Cristiano Ronaldo accounted for all the scoring for the Portuguese. Morocco has nowhere near the talent of Portugal, and has no one like Ronaldo. Yet it managed to expose defensive deficiencies on Monday that Hierro said he knows he’ll need to address if his team is to go any further.

“We can improve things,” Hierro said, adding, “Five goals in three matches isn’t the way forward.”

Morocco took advantage of Spain’s high defensive line and seized the lead after just 14 minutes following a mix-up between two of the most experienced players on Spain’s roster. When Andrés Iniesta — the veteran midfielder who scored the World Cup-winning goal in 2010 — and the captain Sergio Ramos got in each other’s way near the halfway line, Khalid Boutaib pinched the ball away from them and raced down the field for an easy finish.

Iniesta got some redemption, providing the assist for Isco five minutes later. But Morocco, backed by thousands of traveling supporters, refused to fade away in what was guaranteed to be its final match at this tournament. Boutaib made another run on goal following a simple throw down field early in the second half. Spain’s goalkeeper, David de Gea, blocked Boutaib’s shot but could only watch as Noureddine Amrabat’s thunderbolt of a rebound bounced back off the woodwork.

Then, with just nine minutes left in regulation time, the substitute Youssef En-Nesyri rose above the Spanish defense on a corner kick and headed home a goal to make it 2-1.

Spain looked to have blown the game, and their chance at winning the group, until Aspas got a flick on to Dani Carvajal’s cross in stoppage time. As he turned to celebrate, though, he could see the linesman’s flag raised, calling offside. The referee stepped in, making the signal for a video review, a new and unlikely emblem for the 2018 World Cup. Amid jeers and whistles, Spain had been saved.

As they trooped off the field, relieved to still be in the tournament, the Spanish players received another bit of good news. Iran’s V.A.R.-assisted penalty had saved Spain from the prospect of a meeting with Uruguay, the tiny South American nation that revels in its nickname of “aguafiestas”, or party poopers, for the number of times it has sent bigger nations crashing out of the World Cup. Instead, Spain faces Russia, which had been overrun by Uruguay earlier in the day.

“Luck of the champion? We will have to see what happens on July 1 at 5 p.m.,” Hierro said, looking forward to the next challenge in his unlikely World Cup coaching career.Spain 2

Posted On Tuesday, 26 June 2018 03:12 Written by

*Luis Suarez (10')

*Edinson Cavani (90')

*Denis Cheryshev (23' OG)

Luis Suarez opened the scoring for Uruguay in the 10th minute when he sent a free kick from inches outside the box perfectly into the corner of the net.

In the 23rd, Diego Laxalt tried a long-range shot. It caromed off Denis Cheryshev of Russia, changed directions sharply and hit the net. It was ruled an own goal.

Russia’s chance to come back dimmed badly when it was reduced to 10 men after Igor Smolnikov got a second yellow card for tripping.

Uruguay exploited its man advantage in the second half before finally getting a third goal in injury time. Edinson Cavani jumped on a rebound and poached it to make the final score 3-0.

After two hard-fought 1-0 wins, it was a welcome goal deluge for Uruguay.

These teams could each face stern opposition in the next round: probably Spain and Portugal.

In the group’s other game between two eliminated teams, Saudi Arabia defeated Egypt, 2-1.

Posted On Tuesday, 26 June 2018 02:52 Written by

Iceland have pulled an upset at the ongoing Russia 2018 World Cup as the minor held star-studded Argentina to a 1-1 draw with Lionel Messi missing a penalty.

Iceland, regarded as the underdog in Group D, is the smallest nation to be in Russia 2018.
Sergio Aguero opened scoring for Argentina in the 19th minute of the game and everyone thought it would be Argentina all the way.

Marcos Rojo had the ball at left-back, lashed in a cross/shot along the deck, Aguero killed it brilliantly with one touch, wriggled away from a defender and then battered a left-footed shot right into the roof of the net.

Iceland shocked all when they equalised five minutes later through Alfred Finnbogason on 24 minutes.

On 64 minutes, Argentina got the opportunity to take the lead when the referee awarded a penalty, but Messi’s kick was saved.

Hannes Halldorsson flew to his right to push away a Messi penalty.
Despite pressure on the Iceland defence, the players stood resolutely and defended well.
Argentina had 78 percent possession of the ball, 28 shots of which seven were on target and 10 corner kicks, yet they could not break the resilient defence of Iceland.
Only Luigi Riva has mustered more shots in a World Cup game since 1966 without scoring than Lionel Messi today (13 v Sweden and v Israel in 1970), with Messi attempting 11.
Posted On Sunday, 17 June 2018 14:36 Written by

Retired Sweden striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic insists his side have little weight of expectation and should 'just enjoy' the World Cup because he is no longer in the team.

"I think Sweden, they have less pressure when I'm not there, because when I'm there we're supposed to win everything," he said.

"Just enjoy. No pressure, because I'm not there."

Posted On Thursday, 14 June 2018 10:48 Written by

Real Madrid retain their European Champions League on Saturday as they whip Liverpool 3-1, with Gareth Bale scoring a brace.

With the victory, Madrid become the first club in history to win the Champions League three times consecutively.

It was an easy victory for Madrid as they dominated play from the beginning to the end, but Liverpool missed their talisman, Mohamed Salah who sustained injury after clashing with Segio Ramos.

Liverpool will have their keeper to blame after two costly error ensured Madrid claimed victory in the game played in Kiev.

Madrid opened scoring on 51 minutes as Liverpool goalkeeper, Loris Karius made the biggest mistake in Champions League history. He came off his line to catch a long ball forward. Karim Benzema was standing in front of him and the goalkeeper just threw the ball off the striker’s foot – and it flied past him into the back of the net.

Liverpool drew level on 55 minutes. James Milner took a corner, Dejan Lovren heads it on and Sadio Mane struck his leg out to prod the ball over Keylor Navas from five yards out.

On 63 minutes, Bale scored a wonder goal to give Madrid 2-1 lead. He scored one of the great Champions League final goals. Marcelo’s cross was deflected to the Welsh sub and he sent a bicycle kick flying past Loris Karius from near the penalty spot.

Bale’s wonder goal

Bale was at it again on 83 minutes as he got his brace to make it 3-1 for Madrid after Loris Karius’ howler.

Bale is given time to shoot from 30 yards – it was right at Karius’ hands but somehow the ball turned into a bar of butter in the air and squirmed into the back of the net.

Madrid were clearly the winner and it is a third consecutive Champions League victory and manager Zidane creating history as the first coach to win Champions league three times consecutively.

Posted On Saturday, 26 May 2018 21:57 Written by
  • Heartbreak for Buffon, Celebration for Ronaldo

A last minute penalty from Cristiano Ronaldo gave Real Madrid the goal they needed to beat Juventus 3-1 on Wednesday night, after the Bianconeri had leveled the aggregate score.

Mario Mandzukic became the first player to score two first-half away goals at the Estadio Bernabeu in a Champions League match, after he opened the scoring early on then grabbed another just before the break. Blaise Matuidi completed the comeback on the hour as he capitalised on a Keylor Navas error.

But just as it looked like the tie was heading to extra-time, Mehdi Benatia gave away a penalty in the 93rd minute, which Ronaldo blasted into the top corner. Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon was sent off for his protestations.

After Tuesday’s heroics by Roma, Juventus went about part two of mission impossible in right way, scoring just two minutes in.

Sami Khedira got free on the right to pass the ball to the back post with Mandzukic free to head past a stranded Keyor Navas.


A frantic start to the game saw Madrid go up the other end with Juve relying on a Gianluigi Buffon double save to deny Gareth Bale, who tried a delicious back heel on his second attempt.

Ronaldo was next up to have a go and his powerful effort was well saved by an alert Buffon.

It looked as if Madrid were on their way to a killer goal, as first Marcelo then Isco both had attempts, as did Toni Kroos, though a combination of poor finishing and a Juve defence throwing everything in the way denied Los Blancos.

Zidane’s men were given a warning of things to come as Mandzukic got on the end of a low Miralem Pjanic cross from the right, and it bounced off his knee from three yards out and into the hands of Navas.

Then again from the right side, Stephan Lichtsteiner hung a deep looping ball to the back post once more and Mandzukic rose above Dani Carvajal to bag his second header of the night.

As half time approached, Raphael Varane smacked the crossbar with a header.

After the break, Douglas Costa signaled Juventus’ intent, cutting in from the right and blasting over.

Ronaldo had a go from the edge of the area, while Gonzalo Higuain turned from the same range with both shots saved by their respective goalkeepers.

However, just after the hour mark Douglas Costa launched a deep cross into the area and it looked like Navas would gather easily, Matuidi came rushing in and knocked the ball from the goalkeepers grasp, before side-footing home.

Buffon showed great reactions as he palmed an Isco shot which took a wicked deflection off Mehdi Benatia, then Varane flashed an effort just wide from the penalty area.

As the 90 minutes came to an end Carvajal found Ronaldo at the back post, but the Portuguese was unable get his header on target, but things were to get much more controversial.

Ronaldo headed a cross back across goal to Lucas Vazquez, who was fouled by Benatia, and the referee awarded a penalty. Buffon was then sent off or his protests.

And in the fourth minute of added time, Ronaldo stepped up to send Real Madrid into the semi-finals

Posted On Wednesday, 11 April 2018 23:18 Written by

Kostas Manolas sent Roma through to the semi-finals of the Champions League after an incredible 3-0 victory over Barcelona at the Stadio Olimpico on Tuesday saw them overhaul a 4-1 first-leg deficit and advance on away goals.

The superb Edin Dzeko set the ball rolling in the sixth minute, and after Daniele De Rossi converted a penalty 13 minutes after the break to get the home fans believing, Manolas glanced home a brilliant header with eight minutes left to send the Roma supporters into raptures and leave Barca wondering what had hit them.

Just as they were at the Camp Nou, Roma were aggressive from the off, and Dzeko gave the home side a deserved lead after just six minutes, brilliantly bringing down De Rossi’s clipped through ball, holding off Samuel Umtiti and poking the ball past Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

Patrik Schick had the best chances to double Roma’s lead before half-time on his Champions League debut, but continued the poor form in front of goal that has blighted his club-record move from Sampdoria.

He sent two glorious headed chances wide, the first from a vicious 13th-minute Aleksandar Kolarov corner.

The second, just before the half-hour mark was even more glaring, a free header on the penalty spot that should have hit the target.

He was however unlucky not to control Radja Nainggolan’s mishit shot when it flashed to him in the area just two minutes later.

Roma started the second half as they started the first and got their reward in the 58th minute when Edin Dzeko was chopped down by Gerard Pique and De Rossi slotted home the spot-kick.

Eusebio Di Francesco’s side smelled blood, and with the raucous crowd urging their team they tore into wobbling Barca.

De Rossi flashed a header wide in the 69th minute, and 10 minutes later it looked like Ter Stegen had saved the away side’s skin with an incredible close-range stop from Stephan El Shaarawy.

However with just seven minutes left Manolas met another fizzing Kolarov corner with a unsaveable header, sparking wild celebrations on and off the pitch.

Barca finally came out of their shells as Roma tried to hold on to the result, but the hosts held on brilliantly to see the result out and go through to the semis for the first time since 1984, when they lost the final at home to Liverpool, Tuesday’s other victors.

Posted On Wednesday, 11 April 2018 03:04 Written by

Arsenal ended a run of three successive Premier League defeats as they secured a fine 2-1 victory over Watford.

Shkodran Mustafi headed in Mesut Ozil’s left-wing free-kick to give the Gunners an eighth-minute lead, before Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang collected Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s pass to add a second.

Watford had a chance to pull one back but Troy Deeney’s penalty was saved by Petr Cech, who secured the 200th Premier League clean sheet of his career.

BBC reports that Mkhitaryan sealed Arsenal’s victory, their first league win since beating Everton 5-1 on 3 February, with a shot from inside the penalty area following Aubameyang’s pass.

The result leaves the Gunners sixth, 10 points behind fourth-placed Tottenham in the final Champions League spot.

However, Arsenal could still qualify for next season’s Champions League if they win the Europa League, and that competition affected Arsene Wenger’s team selection on Sunday.

With Arsenal holding a 2-0 lead against AC Milan and playing the second leg of their last-16 leg tie at home on Thursday, Wenger took a risk by making six changes.

Aaron Ramsey and Laurent Koscielny were rested, with Jack Wilshere only on the bench, but the gamble paid off for Arsenal.

Posted On Sunday, 11 March 2018 18:49 Written by

Kenneth Omeruo is set for a permanent departure from English Premier League side Chelsea in the summer at the end of his current loan deal with Turkish top flight side Kasimpasa.

Zenit St. Petersburg were close to signing the 24-year-old in February, but their proposal to have him on an initial loan deal was knocked back by Chelsea, who were only keen on an outright transfer.

Omeruo has endured six different loan spells since moving to Chelsea in 2013, and with no first team appearance to his team, the club have decided to let go of him for a fee in the region of £5m.

With 20 appearances to his name in the Turkish top flight for Kasimpasa and a goal as well, his form has helped put him in the shop window as well as a spot in the Nigeria national team ahead of the World Cup in Russia later this year.

Spartak Moscow were also close to signing him in February, but there’s no report of them returning back for him in the summer unlike Zenit who are hoping to snare him in the summer on a permanent basis.

Posted On Saturday, 10 March 2018 23:22 Written by

Neymar already regrets moving to Paris Saint-Germain and is seeking a shock return to Barcelona, according to reports in the Spanish media on Friday.

In the same week that PSG crashed out of the Champions League, and only seven months after he joined the club for a world record 222million euros ($264 million, Neymar´s future has become uncertain.

Spanish sports newspaper Mundo Deportivo claims the Brazilian, recovering from surgery on a broken foot in Brazil, has made contact with Barca to ask how he can engineer a return.

The article adds Neymar has explained he made a mistake in leaving the club, was wrong to want independence from Lionel Messi and has been disappointed by the standard of opposition in Ligue 1.

Barca, however, is not the only club Neymar is reportedly targeting as a potential way out of PSG.

Madrid-based newspaper AS reports Neymar´s father has met with Real Madrid, who are ready to pay 400million euros to sign the striker.

Asked about the speculation on Friday, Real coach Zinedine Zidane said: “Neymar could play in all the clubs because he is very good, like many players.

“I´m not going to talk about a player that is not mine. On the 400 million, they paid 220 million and when they bought me they paid 72.

“It seemed crazy to me and 10 years later they are paying 220 million. It can be that in the next 10 years someone will pay 400m, or sooner, I do not know.”

Mundo Deportivo concedes Neymar´s courting of Barcelona may even be a tactic to justify a move to Real, given the Catalan club are likely to reject any chance to re-sign the 26-year-old.

Barcelona are still embroiled in a financial dispute over a bonus due to Neymar last summer, which the club cancelled when they believe it became clear he was moving to PSG.

Neymar missed PSG’s last 16 loss to Real on Tuesday after undergoing surgery on a broken foot in Brazil last week.

Posted On Friday, 09 March 2018 14:12 Written by
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