Arsenal, Chelsea win in Europa League as Rangers hold Villarreal

Aubameyang opened the scoring in London after 32 minutes of the Group E encounter. (Reuters)
Updated 21 September 2018
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Arsenal, Chelsea win in Europa League as Rangers hold Villarreal

  • I think we played well in the first half and in the beginning of the second as well: Aubameyang
  • Chelsea made a winning start to their Group L campaign as Willian's seventh-minute effort was enough to see off PAOK

PARIS: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang struck twice as Arsenal defeated Ukraine's Vorskla Poltava 4-2 in the Europa League on Thursday, while in-form Chelsea began their campaign with a 1-0 win away to PAOK in Greece.
Aubameyang has struggled to hit top gear in the Premier League so far with just one goal in five starts, but the Gabon striker opened the scoring in London after 32 minutes of the Group E encounter.
Danny Welbeck nodded in a second just after half-time and Aubameyang curled in the Gunners' third, with Mesut Ozil also on target before a lapse in concentration saw Vorskla hit back with two late goals.
"I think we played well in the first half and in the beginning of the second as well," Aubameyang told BT Sport.
"We have to improve and try to fight not to concede a goal like we did in the last minute."
Premier League leaders Chelsea made a winning start to their Group L campaign as Willian's seventh-minute effort was enough to see off PAOK at a hostile Toumba Stadium.
Eden Hazard was omitted from the Chelsea squad at his own request due to fatigue, but manager Maurizio Sarri fielded a strong side as the Blues extended their winning run to six games in all competitions.
"We were in control of the match for 90 minutes. We had a lot of opportunities. We missed them and so I'm very happy with the three points, very happy with the performance, but not very happy with the result," said Sarri.
"When it's time to kill the match, we have to kill the match."
Steven Gerrard's Rangers acquitted themselves well on their first appearance in the group stage of a European competition since the 2010-11 Champions League, as they came away with a 2-2 draw against Villarreal.
A disastrous start for the Glasgow side saw Carlos Bacca fire Villarreal ahead inside 60 seconds, but Scott Arfield turned home a cross from Daniel Candeias to level on 67 minutes.
Gerard Moreno put the hosts back in front almost immediately, only for Kyle Lafferty to again hit back for Rangers as Gerrard's men made a solid start in Group G.
Leigh Griffiths hit a late winner for Celtic in a 1-0 home victory over Rosenborg, a team Brendan Rodgers' side knocked out in this season's Champions League qualifying rounds.
Salzburg triumphed in the clash of Red Bulls in the other Group B fixture as Fredrik Gulbrandsen scored a minute from time to give the Austrian club a 3-2 victory over RB Leipzig.
Marseille, last season's runners-up, slumped to a 2-1 home defeat by Eintracht Frankfurt in Group H as Luka Jovic grabbed an 89th-minute winner for the reigning German Cup champions.
Lucas Ocampos opened the scoring early for Marseille, who were playing behind closed doors at the Stade Velodrome after numerous crowd incidents last season.
But Lucas Torro levelled on 52 minutes for Eintracht before Jovic's late strike won it.
Dudelange, the first Luxembourg team to play in the Europa League group stage, made seven-time European champions AC Milan work hard for a 1-0 win in Group F.
Luxembourg's Grand Duke Henri and Grand Duchess Maria Teresa were in the crowd as Dudelange, who have a dozen non-professional players in their squad, succumbed to a deflected second-half goal by Gonzalo Higuain.
Record five-time winners Sevilla launched their Group J campaign with a 5-1 rout of Standard Liege, as Ever Banega and Wissam Ben Yedder both netted twice for the Spaniards.


Joan Oumari makes case for Lebanon causing Asian Cup shock

Updated 18 October 2018
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Joan Oumari makes case for Lebanon causing Asian Cup shock

  • Lebanon have made it to their first Asian Cup since 2000 and are up to 77th in world rankings.
  • Oumari feels the Cedars have what it takes to upset a few of the big guns.

LONDON: While much of the focus ahead of the Asian Cup will be on defending champions Australia, who are one of the favorites, along with Japan and South Korea, Lebanon’s Joan Oumari is hoping his side can grab people’s attention and cause a shock or two.
The Cedars’ last appearance at the tournament came back in 2000 when they were hosts — this is the first time they have qualified for the tournament on merit.
Since their FIFA world ranking fell to 147 in 2016, Lebanon have been one of Asia’s most improved and in-form teams, with their ranking jumping to its current position of 77 — the highest in their history.
Drawn alongside regional heavyweights Saudi Arabia, Qatar and North Korea in Group E, it will not be easy, but Oumari, one of their star players, is convinced they can put on a show when the tournament gets under way in January.
“I think when we play and stay like we are now we can go far,” the defender told Arab News. “In football everything is possible and we have a great team.”
Oumari knows that just being back at the Asian Cup after a 19-year absence is already a victory for the nation of six million people.
“For sure it is a great thing for us as a national team, but also for all the people (of Lebanon),” the 30-year-old said. “I hope we will write history and get very far in this tournament.”
Oumari’s journey to play for the Cedars is an interesting, and not unfamiliar one in the recent climate of war, family displacement and refugees. His parents, both born in Lebanon, fled the country during the civil war of the 1970s, making their way to Germany, where Oumari was born in 1988.
Starting his professional career in the lower divisions, he gradually worked his way through the professional tiers of club football in Germany, playing for SV Babelsberg in the fourth division, FC Rot-Weiß Erfurt in the third tier, before making the step up to FSV Frankfurt in 2.Bundesliga in 2013.
Along the way he came to the attention of the Lebanon Football Association, and when the invitation came to join the Cedars in 2013, there was no hesitation in accepting and representing the country of his heritage, if not his birth.
“When I got the invitation from the national team for sure I didn’t have to think about it,” he recalled. “I was very proud to play for the national team.”
His debut in a 2-0 win against Syria in September 2013 did not go to plan, however, getting sent off late in the game. His next appearance would not come for almost two years after Miodrag Radulovic had taken over as coach.
“To be honest it was my decision not to play for the national team for these two years,” he said.
“The main reason was our ex-coach (Giuseppe) Giannini, because after he invited me to the national team I was on the bench and I am not used to flying all over the world just to sit on the bench.
“I am not a player who sits on the bench in my club and not in the national team. After Mr. Radulovic started at the national team the federation called me and convinced me to come.”
The change in fortunes for the Cedars since Radulovic took over has been remarkable, and as it stands they are one of the most in-form teams in Asia, going 16 games without a loss dating back to March 2016.
A friendly match with defending Asian Cup champions Australia in Sydney next month will be sure to provide tougher competition, but given their form they travel to Sydney confident of causing an upset.
While the Asian Cup is within touching distance, Oumari’s immediate focus is on club matters and trying to help his side avoid relegation. Having made the move to Japan’s Sagan Tosu, becoming the first Lebanese player to play in the J.League, Oumari has been in and out of a side that has struggled for consistency and currently lie 17th in the 18-team league.
“I hope that we can avoid relegation and stay up, that’s why I came to help the team,” he said.
One of his new teammates in Japan is Spanish World Cup winner Fernando Torres, and despite the team’s struggles on the field, Oumari is loving his time in Japan.
“It’s really nice here and I like it very much,” he said. “I am enjoying the time with my teammates after training. For sure Fernando (Torres) is a great football player and any football player can learn from him no matter which position you are playing.”