Messi nets record; Manchester United, Bayern Munich march on

Updated 02 April 2013
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Messi nets record; Manchester United, Bayern Munich march on

Lionel Messi scored in a 19th successive league match as Barcelona maintained a 13-point lead in La Liga despite being held to a draw by Celta Vigo, while a deflected goal kept Manchester United 15 points clear in England.
Claudio Pizarro scored four times as Bayern Munich hammered Hamburg SV 9-2 to stand two points away from the Bundesliga title with seven games left and Juventus moved closer to retaining their Serie A crown with a 2-1 win at Inter Milan.

SPAIN
There was no change at the top of La Liga as the top four were all held to draws this weekend, leaving leaders Barcelona 13 points clear of Real Madrid at the top, with nine games left to play.
Lowly Celta Vigo snatched a late equalizer to draw 2-2 at home with Barca, spoiling Lionel Messi’s celebrations after he scored in a record 19th successive league match, completing a run of netting against every side in La Liga consecutively. Like Barca, Real rested players with a view to next week’s Champions League quarter-final first legs and were also forced to come from behind to draw 1-1 at Real Zaragoza, thanks to a Cristiano Ronaldo strike. Third-placed Atletico Madrid missed out on the chance to leapfrog Real when they were held 1-1 at home by Valencia, Radamel Falcao netting the equalizer in only the sixth minute.
Barca have 75 points, Real 62, Atletico 61 and Real Sociedad 48 in fourth after a 2-2 draw at Espanyol.

ENGLAND
Manchester United remained 15 points clear at the top of the Premier League with a gritty 1-0 win at struggling Sunderland.
Robin van Persie’s shot deflected into the net off Sunderland defender Titus Bramble to secure United’s 25th victory in 30 games this season and keep them firmly on course for a 20th league title with eight games left.
Champions Manchester City crushed Newcastle United 4-0 to stay second, five points ahead of Tottenham Hotspur, who won 2-1 at Swansea City, and seven clear of Chelsea who slumped to a 2-1 loss at Southampton.
Arsenal, two points further back in fifth, kept up their challenge for a Champions League place with a 4-1 demolition of bottom club Reading.
Sunderland, just a point clear of the relegation zone, reacted to their defeat by sacking manager Martin O’Neill and appointing Paolo Di Canio as head coach, while Wigan Athletic boosted their survival hopes with a 1-0 win over Norwich City.

ITALY
Juventus took another step toward retaining their Serie A title when they won 2-1 at bitter rivals Inter Milan, keeping them nine points clear of Napoli.
Fabio Quagliarella gave Juve a third-minute lead and Alessandro Matri scored the winner on the hour after Rodrigo Palacio had briefly pulled Inter level. Napoli bravely kept up their challenge by coming from behind to win 5-3 at Torino having trailed 3-2 with 10 minutes left.
Swiss midfielder Blerim Dze-maili leveled in the 80th minute with his third goal of the game and Serie A top scorer Edinson Cavani then added two more. AC Milan’s 1-0 win at Chievo kept them two points behind in third.

GERMANY
Leaders Bayern Munich steamrollered Hamburg SV 9-2, helped by four goals from Peru striker Claudio Pizarro and two from Arjen Robben, to stay a remarkable 20 points clear at the top.
They were on the brink of clinching the title until Robert Lewandowski gave second-placed Borussia Dortmund a late 2-1 win at VfB Stuttgart to extend the title race for at least another week.
However, Bayern only need another two points from their last seven games to clinch their 23rd German league title.
At the bottom, hapless Greuther Fuerth remained without a home win in their debut Bundesliga season after losing 3-2 to Eintract Frankfurt.

FRANCE
Paris St. Germain warmed up for Tuesday’s Champions League quarterfinal first leg against Barcelona with a convincing 1-0 victory at home to champions Montpellier.
PSG are now seven points clear at the top of the Ligue 1 table after Olympique Lyon, who have not won in their last four games, slumped to a shock 2-1 home defeat by lowly Sochaux.
Andre-Pierre Gignac’s 10th league goal of the season was enough for Olympique Marseille to win 1-0 at fellow European hopefuls Nice and leapfrog Lyon into second spot with 54 points.
Lyon have 53 in the third and final Champions League qualifying berth, three more than St. Etienne who drew 2-2 at bottom club Troyes.

NETHERLANDS
A double from Viktor Fischer helped Ajax Amsterdam cruise to a 4-1 win at home to NEC Nijmegen as they went three points clear at the top of the Dutch league with six matches remaining.
Ajax have 60 points with PSV second on 57 after they dropped points in a 2-2 draw with Roda JC Kerkrade. Third-placed Vitesse Arnhem, who beat PEC Zwolle 2-1, are level on points with PSV.
Feyenoord dropped to fourth with 56 points following their 2-0 defeat by Marco van Basten’s Heerenveen.

PORTUGAL
High-flying Benfica drilled six past Rio Ave in a comfortable 6-1 home win that kept them four points clear of Porto at the top of the Portuguese Premier League with six rounds to go.
Brazilian striker Lima grabbed a hat trick as Benfica strolled to a morale-boosting victory ahead of their Europa League quarter-final first leg at home to Newcastle United on Thursday. Defending champions Porto kept up the chase by overcoming Academica 3-0 away thanks to goals from French center back Eliaquim Mangala, Brazil right back Danilo and midfielder Castro. Benfica have 64 points from 24 matches with Porto on 60.

GREECE
Champions Olympiakos Piraeus were held to a draw by a determined PAOK Salonica as the Super League’s big North v South derby ended goalless.
The spotlight was grabbed by Panathinaikos, though, who parted company with coach Fabri in the wake of their 1-0 defeat by Platanias and appointed academy coach Giannis Vonortas as his replacement in a caretaker role unitl the end of the season.
With Olympiakos having wrapped up their 40th title on March 10 and qualified automatically for the Champions League, the focus has turned to the battle for the places in the end-of-season playoffs, which decide Greece’s other European berths.
Asteras Tripolis, PAOK and Atromitos Athinon have all but secured their spots but Panathinaikos face a tough battle for the last remaining place with PAS Giannena, who are three points ahead of the Greens despite a 2-1 defeat by OFI Crete.


Saudi Arabia out to make Kingdom 'proud' and repay faith of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

Updated 23 May 2018
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Saudi Arabia out to make Kingdom 'proud' and repay faith of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

  • Juan Antonio Pizzi’s side are in Zurich on a three-week training camp
  • SAFF have left no stone turned in preparing the team for their first appearance at the finals since 2006

RIYADH: The president of the Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF) acknowledges there will be added scrutiny on the Green Falcons when they kick off this summer’s World Cup against hosts Russia in the opening game, but is confident the players can overcome any first-night nerves and rise to the challenge.
Juan Antonio Pizzi’s side are in Zurich on a three-week training camp as they start to fine-tune preparations ahead of the first game on June 14. The Argentine coach has taken 28 players with him, but must whittle the squad down to 23 by June 4.
SAFF have left no stone turned in preparing the team for their first appearance at the finals since 2006, sanctioning five training camps and arranging nine friendlies, several against high-profile opposition. Their final three games are against sides with top 20 FIFA’s rankings, a deliberate strategy to ensure they are not undercooked heading into Group A games against Russia, Uruguay and Egypt.
“We are at a critical stage of our preparations, one that needs concentration and discipline, especially as we face three strong teams in Italy, Peru and Germany,” said president Adel Ezzat in a video on the federation’s Twitter account. “Our objective is to be on form by June 14 when the eyes of the world will be on us in the opening match. We have a bright history in the World Cup and Asian Cup, so it’s our duty to live up to that reputation. I would like to address all Saudi fans, whether they will be watching the games on TV or from the stadiums in Russia: They should pray for the players. The players are our brothers and sons, and we should all love our Saudi national team. I urge the fans and the media to be united around the national team.”
Ezzat said the players have been energised and inspired by a meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman before they left for Switzerland. The crown prince demonstrated his commitment to the game in the Kingdom by this week vowing to cover all external debts totalling SR1.277 billion (around $340 million) owed by Saudi Pro League clubs.
“We are optimistic after the historic meeting between the players, staff and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman,” said Ezzat. “The meeting set the tone for the final stage of preparations, and the players are up for the challenge of meeting His Highness’ expectations.
“We are grateful for Prince Mohammed for his constant support and generosity toward Saudi football, be it the national team, clubs or the league. It’s our duty to repay the faith of our leaders. This is something that drives us forward and I’m fully confident in the players’ ability to do us proud in Russia.”