Bremen face final chance to avoid automatic relegation

Bremen face final chance to avoid automatic relegation
Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski in action against Werder Bremen club in Germany. (Reuters/File)
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Updated 27 June 2020

Bremen face final chance to avoid automatic relegation

Bremen face final chance to avoid automatic relegation

BERLIN: Werder Bremen have one final chance to avoid automatic relegation this Saturday on the last weekend of the Bundesliga season while fellow fallen giants Hamburg will also make a last bid to earn a chance to win promotion back to Germany’s top-flight.

The best either team can hope for is a spot in the playoff for the final Bundesliga slot next season. Both must overtake the team above them to do it.

“We owe it to everyone in the club to fight until the very last moment, as long as it is still mathematically possible,” said Bremen head coach Florian Kohfeldt.

To have any chance of staying up, second-from-bottom Bremen must win at home against Cologne and hope Union Berlin beat Fortuna Duesseldorf in the capital.

If Duesseldorf draw, Bremen, who are winless in their last 14 home league games, will need to win by 4 goals against Cologne to climb to 16th and give themselves the hope of a two-legged relegation/promotion playoff against the side who finish third in the second division. In a blow to Bremen, Milot Rashica, the club’s top scorer with 7 goals this season, is doubtful with an ankle injury.

Duesseldorf and Bremen are fighting to avoid joining bottom side Paderborn, who are already relegated.

No other club — not even Bayern Munich, who have already won the title before Saturday’s game at Wolfsburg — has spent longer in the Bundesliga than Bremen.

If they are to survive, the club from northern Germany must stop history repeating itself.

By coincidence, it was a 5-0 home defeat to Saturday’s opponents Cologne in May 1980 which sealed their only previous relegation.

Until the season before last, Bremen’s arch-rival Hamburg was the longest-serving Bundesliga club. If Hamburg are to return, they need to win on Sunday and hope third-placed Heidenheim do not win.

Hamburg, relegated in 2018 for the first time in their history, blew their chances of automatic promotion last Sunday when they leaked two late goals in a 2-1 loss at Heidenheim, who leapfrogged into third place. Fourth-placed Hamburg must beat mid-table Sandhausen and hope Heidenheim fail to win at Bielefeld, who are already promoted as champions.

Should Hamburg come third in the second tier and Bremen manage 16th in the Bundesliga, there would be a heated northern German derby in the two-legged promotion/relegation playoff.

“I would rather see Hamburg play Duesseldorf in the playoffs — I wouldn’t want to face Bremen,” former Hamburg legend Uwe Seeler told Sport Bild. Bremen have won the ‘Nordderby’ 47 times to their rivals’ 38 victories with 36 draws.

After 10 years at Bayer Leverkusen, home-grown in-demand forward Kai Havertz, 21, could play his last game for the club at home to Mainz on Saturday.

Real Madrid, Chelsea, Manchester United and Bayern Munich are all reportedly interested in the attacking midfielder.

England could host Champions League final due to new Turkey travel curbs

England could host Champions League final due to new Turkey travel curbs
Updated 8 min 1 sec ago

England could host Champions League final due to new Turkey travel curbs

England could host Champions League final due to new Turkey travel curbs
LONDON: The all-English Champions League final could be played at home after Turkey was added to England’s “red list” of countries where all but essential travel is banned due to severe coronavirus outbreaks.
Chelsea and Manchester City are due to meet on May 29 in Istanbul and UEFA was hoping to allow around 10,000 fans into the biggest club game of the European football season.
But the British government on Friday warned supporters not to travel to Turkey after imposing the new travel restrictions, and said the English Football Association was in talks with Champions League organizer UEFA about staging the game in Britain, instead.
The most logical English venue to move the game to is Wembley with the London stadium staging eight games of the European Championship across June and July, so it has UEFA’s required logistics and broadcasting infrastructure already in place. Wembley was also already due to stage the 2024 Champions League final so it could be moved up three years.
While Villa Park in the central England city of Birmingham has been floated as an option, it is an older stadium that would require significant infrastructure being installed to reach UEFA requirements.
“We are very open to hosting the final but it is ultimately a decision for UEFA,” British Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said. “The UK has already got a successful track record of football matches with spectators, so we are well placed to do it.
“Given there are two English clubs in that final, we look forward to what they have to say.”
Turkey is in the second week of a three-week national lockdown and government figures show coronavirus cases are declining but 20,107 new infections were announced on Friday and 278 deaths. The vaccine rollout in Britain meant the country recorded 2,490 cases on Friday and 15 deaths.
People from England should visit only red-list countries “in the most extreme of circumstances,” Shapps said. Anyone returning from them must stay in hotels for 10 days at their own expense, with meals delivered to their door.
Players would also be required to enter quarantine, unless exemptions were granted, which would impact their preparations for the European Championship, which opens on June 11 and is being staged across 10 countries.
If the Champions League final was moved to Wembley, the English Football League would have to accept moving the date of the Championship playoff to determine the final promotion place to the Premier League, which is scheduled to be played at the stadium on May 29.
Wembley in recent weeks has staged the only football games with fans in England in 2021 as part of test events, with the crowd for the FA Cup final on May 15 rising to 21,000 people who have to produce a negative coronavirus test.
At least 22,500 fans will be allowed into the three group-stage Euro 2020 games at Wembley in June, with the 90,000-capacity Wembley set to be half-full for the final on July 11.
The pandemic already prevented Istanbul staging the 2020 Champions League final with the game moved to Lisbon to be played in an empty stadium.

Saudi Pro League title race swings Al-Hilal’s way after heavy defeat of Al-Shabab

Saudi Pro League title race swings Al-Hilal’s way after heavy defeat of Al-Shabab
Updated 11 min 14 sec ago

Saudi Pro League title race swings Al-Hilal’s way after heavy defeat of Al-Shabab

Saudi Pro League title race swings Al-Hilal’s way after heavy defeat of Al-Shabab
  • The reigning champions are now three points clear with four matches left in pursuit of a 17th championship

RIYADH: The Saudi Professional League title looks to be heading in a familiar direction after Al-Hilal took a huge step towards a record 17th championship on Friday night by beating Al-Shabab 5-1 in Riyadh.

The two teams started their top of the table clash level on points but now, with four games remaining, the defending champions are three points clear with a hugely superior goal difference. There is still plenty to play for, but if Al-Hilal lift that trophy they will look back at the few minutes at the end of the first half as a turning point.

As the clock reached the 45minute mark, Al-Hilal were 2-1 up in what was an entertaining end-to-end clash, but two incidents in stoppage time changed the course of the match.

First, Al-Shabab’s Argentine playmaker Ever Banega received a second yellow card to reduce the hosts to 10 men, and then moments later Al-Hilal’s Argentine star Luciano Vietto scored with a delightful chip to make it 3-1. There was no coming back from that. Al-Shabab had their moments in the second half but were caught out by the leaders to receive what can only be described as a thrashing.

Al-Shabab coach Carlos Inarejos was left lamenting Banega’s red card.

“The match was finely balanced and both teams were creating opportunities to score but Banega’s dismissal made it difficult for us,” said the Spaniard. “We have to remember that Al-Hilal have been playing in the AFC Champions League while we have not had a competitive game for 27 days, and that period affected us.”

The win will be celebrated by new Al-Hilal coach Jose Morais, even if the Portuguese boss, appointed last week to replace Rogerio Micale, was not on the sidelines. Jose Mourinho’s former assistant is still in quarantine after arriving in Riyadh, leaving coach Abdullatif Al-Husseini in charge on the pitch.

Al-Hilal’s one-man advantage in the second half meant that they did not have to worry about fatigue after the hectic schedule of six games in two weeks.

“I am pleased with our performance,” Al-Husseini said. “Banega’s dismissal did make it easier for us but we were superior from the start, I thought.”

Al-Husseini, who revealed he had consulted closely with Morais on video, said that he understood the fans’ feelings after the disappointing performances in the Champions League.

“We know we can do better and the players had a strong desire to win and to show the fans what they are made of, and they did that from the first minute,” he said.

Al-Hilal’s star striker Bafetimbi Gomis opened the scoring after three minutes with a fine header from a corner, though almost instantly Fabio Martins swept home from the edge of the area to make it 1-1. Midway through the first half, Hassan Tambakti handled in the area and Gomis made no mistake from the spot to become the first foreign player to score 100 goals in all competitions for Al-Hilal in just 126 games for the club.

Ten minutes before the break, Al-Shabab had the chance to level the scoreline but striker Christian Guanca chose to pass when through on goal and Al-Hilal snuffed the danger out. Soon after, Banega was dismissed and Vietto scored and the contest was virtually over.

“The referee killed the game but I don’t want to talk about that,” said Odion Ighalo, Al-Shabab’s striker, who arrived in January from Manchester United. “We played well in the first half but when you play with 10 men against a team like Al-Hilal, then you are going to find it very difficult. There is still a lot to play for, however.”

Next Friday, the two teams are in action again with Al-Shabab going to Al-Ettifaq and Al-Hilal hosting Al-Batin.

Coach Inarejos is still optimistic about Al-Shabab’s chances of winning their first championship since 2012, which would be their seventh overall.

“The league is not over yet,” he said. “There are four matches remaining, and we still have a chance of winning the title. We will bounce back from this.”

But the ball is now in Al-Hilal’s court.

“I told the players in the dressing room that nothing has been decided yet in terms of the title but we are delighted with the result and the performance,” said Al-Husseini. “From now though, every game is like a final for us.”



La Liga fever pitch, Bayern on brink and French derby — what to watch in Europe

La Liga fever pitch, Bayern  on brink and French derby — what to watch in Europe
Updated 08 May 2021

La Liga fever pitch, Bayern on brink and French derby — what to watch in Europe

La Liga fever pitch, Bayern  on brink and French derby — what to watch in Europe
  • Protagonists Barcelona, Atletico seek momentum needed to go on and claim title

PARIS: Barcelona host Atletico Madrid while Real Madrid face Sevilla as La Liga’s title race enters the final straight; Bayern Munich can secure a ninth consecutive Bundesliga crown while Ligue 1 leaders Lille should expect no favors from northern rivals and European hopefuls Lens.

Here’s some of the standout action in Europe this weekend:

Barcelona vs.Atletico Madrid, Saturday 1415 GMT

Atletico may have the two-point cushion at the top in Spain, but Diego Simeone’s side have been limping towards the finish line in their bid to break up the Barcelona-Real Madrid duopoly.

Atletico’s lead was spared only by a missed penalty at the end of a 1-0 win over Elche, coming days after Barcelona missed a chance to dislodge them following a shock home loss to Granada.

While it might not be a winner-takes-all clash like the 2014 showdown at Camp Nou on the final day of the season, when a 1-1 draw handed Atletico the trophy, victory could give either club the momentum needed to go on and claim the title.

Real Madrid vs. Sevilla, Sunday 1900 GMT

Madrid’s shortcomings were laid bare in a subdued Champions League semifinal defeat at Chelsea, signaling the end for an ageing team clearly in need of rejuvenation.

Images of Eden Hazard joking with former teammates have, predictably, irked Madrid fans. An anonymous display at Stamford Bridge was simply another forgettable chapter in the Belgian’s miserable spell with the Spanish giants.

All is not lost though for Zinedine Zidane’s old guard, as the reigning Spanish champions could still retain their domestic crown. But they have the toughest run-in, starting with the visit of a Sevilla side desperate to keep their flickering title hopes alive.

Bayern Munich vs. Borussia Moenchengladbach, Saturday 1630 GMT

Julian Nagelsmann will take over at Bayern next season, but the job isn’t quite finished yet for outgoing coach Hansi Flick in Bavaria.

The summer promises to be one of sweeping changes for Bayern, with Jerome Boateng and David Alaba both out of contract in the summer and long-serving midfielder Javi Martinez departing the Allianz Arena as well.

Before then, however, Bayern will look to seal a ninth successive German title with victory at home to Borussia Moenchengladbach.

They could even be crowned before kicking off if RB Leipzig lose at Borussia Dortmund, in a dress rehearsal for the German Cup final on May 13.

Lens vs. Lille, Friday 1900 GMT

Lille are three wins from a first French title since 2011, and fourth overall. Of their three remaining games, the clash against neighboring Lens appears the most testing.

“It’s much important than just a regular derby for us. Lens have ambitions but so do we. We must not put pressure on ourselves, and take the three games left one after another,” said Lille’s Turkish striker Burak Yilmaz, hardened by the experience of numerous Istanbul derbies.

Lens are out for revenge after a 4-0 humbling in the reverse fixture as they try to stay ahead of the contenders for the final European place.

“We can’t say our goals have been met because we want to reach higher,” said Gael Kakuta, Lens’ top scorer with 11 goals this term. “And if we can rob Lille of the title, that would be good too!”

Juventus vs. AC Milan, Sunday 1845 GMT

Juventus, with their nine-year reign ended, and AC Milan, whose title pursuit fizzled out following a considerable downturn in 2021, find themselves fighting to secure a place in the Champions League.

Both clubs are level on 69 points with second-placed Atalanta, with Napoli on 67 and Lazio, who have a game in hand, on 64 going into the last four rounds.

Former Milan and Juventus coach Fabio Capello believes a loss for either side in Turin would see them miss out on Europe’s top club competition.

“I think the psychological repercussions of a defeat would be very heavy,” he told Corriere della Sera.

Hamilton tops second practice in Spanish Grand Prix

Hamilton tops  second practice in  Spanish Grand Prix
Updated 08 May 2021

Hamilton tops second practice in Spanish Grand Prix

Hamilton tops  second practice in  Spanish Grand Prix
  • Hamilton will be aiming for his 100th career pole on Saturday

MONTMELO, Spain: Lewis Hamilton looked poised to continue his dominance of the Spanish Grand Prix after clocking the fastest time during the second practice session on Friday.

Formula One leader Hamilton had a flying lap of 1 minute, 18.170 seconds. Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas was .139 seconds behind Hamilton after the Finn set the fastest time in the first practice session. Red Bull driver Max Verstappen, seen as the main challenger to Hamilton’s reign as world champion, finished only ninth fastest at .615 off the pace. Verstappen missed some time on the track while his team worked on the car, and his last lap was cut short when he damaged the right tip of his front wing.

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc had the third-best time, followed by Alpine pair Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso, who is back in Spain for his first race since 2018.

Only eight points separate Hamilton from Verstappen at the top of the standings after they finished 1-2 in the first three races.

Hamilton won the season-opener in Bahrain and last week’s race in Portugal. Verstappen won the season’s second race in Italy.

On Saturday, Hamilton will be aiming for his 100th career pole.

On Sunday, he will be looking to equal Michael Schumacher’s six wins in Montmelo.

Zverev beats Nadal in straight sets at Madrid Open

Zverev beats Nadal in straight sets at Madrid Open
Updated 08 May 2021

Zverev beats Nadal in straight sets at Madrid Open

Zverev beats Nadal in straight sets at Madrid Open
  • Zverev will next face Dominic Thiem in a rematch of the 2018 final
  • Thiem, who lost to Zverev in straight sets three years ago, defeated John Isner 3-6, 6-3, 6-4

MADRID: Rafael Nadal’s bid to reach a 75th semifinal at a Masters event ended Friday with a 6-4, 6-4 loss to Alexander Zverev.

The sixth-ranked German beat Nadal for the first time on clay and for the third time in a row overall. Zverev broke Nadal’s serve twice in the first set and once in the second. His previous two wins over Nadal were on indoor hard courts.

Zverev will next face Dominic Thiem in a rematch of the 2018 final. Thiem, who lost to Zverev in straight sets in the Spanish capital three years ago, defeated John Isner 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.

Nadal, who is preparing to play for a 14th title at the French Open, had been improving after a slow start to his clay season. He lost to Andrey Rublev in the Monte Carlo quarterfinals before beating Tsitsipas in the Barcelona Open final.

Nadal played well in his first two matches in Madrid, comfortably defeating youngsters Carlos Alcaraz and Alexei Popyrin in straight sets.

In the early match, Thiem capitalized on two of his four chances to break Isner’s serve, and that was all he really needed.

Thiem broke the tall American on his first chance in the second set and then once more in the third to reach the semifinals in Madrid for the fourth straight time.

“He is one of the best servers in history, especially here in the altitude. His serve is bouncing so high and it’s so difficult to return,” Thiem said. “I really stayed focused, with a good fighting spirit. Against guys like him, a few points decide and that’s when I saved the break points in the beginning of the second set.”

Thiem saved four break points in the fifth game of the second set, then broke Isner’s serve in the next game to take the match to a third set. The Austrian squandered another break chance in the first game of the deciding set but capitalized again at 4-4. He then served out the match.

Isner served more than 100 aces in his four matches in the Spanish capital, where the high altitude adds speed to the balls and makes the clay courts faster.