Chelsea shatter dream of Guardiola’s Man City to win Champions League final

Chelsea's team captain Cesar Azpilicueta lifts the trophy at the end of the Champions League final soccer match between Manchester City and Chelsea at the Dragao Stadium in Porto, Portugal, Saturday, May 29, 2021. (AP)
Chelsea's team captain Cesar Azpilicueta lifts the trophy at the end of the Champions League final soccer match between Manchester City and Chelsea at the Dragao Stadium in Porto, Portugal, Saturday, May 29, 2021. (AP)
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Updated 30 May 2021

Chelsea shatter dream of Guardiola’s Man City to win Champions League final

Chelsea's team captain Cesar Azpilicueta lifts the trophy at the end of the Champions League final soccer match between Manchester City and Chelsea at the Dragao Stadium in Porto, Portugal, Saturday, May 29, 2021. (AP)
  • Havertz rounded Ederson to score three minutes before half-time at the Estadio do Dragao

PORTO: Chelsea won the Champions League for the second time as a Kai Havertz goal secured a tense 1-0 victory over Manchester City in Saturday's final in Porto, shattering Pep Guardiola's dream of lifting the trophy for the third time, a decade on from his last triumph.
Havertz rounded Ederson to score three minutes before half-time at the Estadio do Dragao and the Chelsea players ran to the far end of the pitch to celebrate with the German.
Coach Thomas Tuchel, full of energy on the touchline just like his opposite number, punched the air in celebration, and later jumped with joy on the pitch after Chelsea held on for victory in the second half as City lost distraught skipper Kevin De Bruyne to injury.
The London club may have finished fourth in the Premier League, a huge 19 points behind the champions City, but this, remarkably, was their third win over Guardiola's side in six weeks.
They shattered City's hopes of a domestic treble when they triumphed in the FA Cup semi-finals in April and then delayed their title celebrations with victory in Manchester.
Now, in a final watched by a limited crowd of just over 14,000 fans who created a raucous atmosphere, they have denied City the first Champions League crown they and Guardiola so crave.
City have had to wait 13 years since being taken over by Abu Dhabi's Sheikh Mansour just to get to the Champions League final.
They are now the seventh consecutive team to lose in their first appearance at this stage. The same misfortune befell Qatar-owned Paris Saint-Germain last year as well as Tottenham Hotspur when they were beaten by Liverpool in the last all-English final in 2019.
Chelsea also lost when they first got to the final, succumbing on penalties against Manchester United in Moscow in 2008.
They overcame the final hurdle by beating Bayern Munich, also in a shoot-out, in 2012 and now they have their second European Cup to move level with Juventus, Benfica and Porto as well as another English side, Nottingham Forest.
Their transformation into one of Europe's super clubs has been down to the riches of Roman Abramovich, their Russian oligarch owner who was in attendance at the game in Portugal.
Chelsea have been transformed since the appointment as coach in January of Tuchel, but City were still the favourites off the back of their third Premier League title triumph in four seasons.
Feeding off the energy of the crowd in a stadium that Portuguese authorities had allowed to be filled to a third of its capacity -- all fans required negative Covid-19 tests to gain entry -- both teams played with a level of intensity rarely seen in the last year of football in empty grounds.
City pressed high but struggled to trouble Edouard Mendy in the Chelsea goal, while at the other end Timo Werner should have done better than shoot straight at Ederson in the 14th minute.
Chelsea then suffered an injury blow as an emotional Thiago Silva was forced off hurt, Andreas Christensen taking the Brazilian's place in central defence.
Yet it was they who opened the scoring in the 42nd minute, Mason Mount's ball splitting the City defence with John Stones out of position, allowing Havertz -- their marquee 71 million-pound ($100m) signing last summer -- to go around the lunging Ederson and convert into an empty net.
City now needed to break down a Chelsea defence that has been exceptional since Tuchel came in.
But they lost De Bruyne just before the hour mark, the brilliant Belgian taken out in a collision with Antonio Ruediger that appeared to leave him concussed.
He came off in tears, and Guardiola instead turned to Sergio Aguero for the latter stages, but there was to be no glorious send-off as a City player for the Argentine, even if a Riyad Mahrez shot sailed just over in the sixth minute of injury time.
There was also no third European Cup for Guardiola, who remains one adrift of the record for the coaches with most wins in the competition, held jointly by Bob Paisley, Carlo Ancelotti and Zinedine Zidane.


Saudi Arabia rise to 56th in latest FIFA World Men’s Rankings

Saudi Arabia rise to 56th in latest FIFA World Men’s Rankings
Updated 17 September 2021

Saudi Arabia rise to 56th in latest FIFA World Men’s Rankings

Saudi Arabia rise to 56th in latest FIFA World Men’s Rankings
  • Herve Renard’s team is now the fifth highest among AFC nations and second highest among Asia’s Arab teams

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia have risen to 56th position in the latest FIFA Men’s Rankings after a perfect start to their 2022 World Cup qualification campaign.

September’s wins over Vietnam (3-1) and Oman (1-0) in the final round of the Asian Qualifiers have helped Herve Renard’s team from the Kingdom add 20.31 coefficient points to now rank as the fifth best of the Asian Football Confederation member nations behind Iran (22), Japan (26), Australia (32), Korea (36) and Qatar (43).

It also means that Saudi Arabia are the second-highest among Asia’s Arab contingent behind Qatar, with the UAE, 69th overall, in third.

Of the other Arab nations in the AFC, Iraq are 72nd, Oman 78th, Syria 81st, and Bahrain 91st.

Among the Arab nations in Africa, Tunisia are 25th in the FIFA rankings, ahead of Algeria (30), Morocco (33) and Egypt (48).

Globally, Belgium head the rankings and are followed by Brazil, England, France and Italy in the top five.


Saudi Arabia overcome Thailand at 2021 Asian Men’s Volleyball Championship

Saudi Arabia overcome Thailand at 2021 Asian Men’s Volleyball Championship
Updated 17 September 2021

Saudi Arabia overcome Thailand at 2021 Asian Men’s Volleyball Championship

Saudi Arabia overcome Thailand at 2021 Asian Men’s Volleyball Championship
  • 2-1 win puts Kingdom’s team in semifinals of section to determine positions 9-12

RIYADH: The Saudi Arabian national team has beaten Thailand 2-1 to reach the semifinals of the section that will determine positions nine to 12 at the 2021 Asian Men’s Volleyball Championship in Tokyo.

The Kingdom’s team overcame their opponents (25-20, 20-25, 25-19) at the Funabashi Gymnasium in the Japanese capital on Friday morning to top Pool H, one of two pools that split from the top eight teams fighting for the championship after the initial group stages.

The semifinal will be played on Saturday.

On Thursday, Saudi Arabia beat Hong Kong 3-0 (25-12, 25-18, 25-19) and are now on a three-match winning run.

Previously, the Saudis had defeated Kazakhstan in straight sets (25-23, 25-21, 25-23) at Chiba Port Arena in the final Group D match, to leave them in third place in the table and heading into the round that will determine positions nine-16 in the tournament.

The Saudi players had lost in their other Group D matches to South Korea and Chinese Taipei. Finishing third meant that while the Saudi team was not among the final eight that could contest the championship, it still had a chance to finish highest in the final nine to 16. After their latest result, ninth place has edged closer while the lowest they can finish will be 12th.


FIFA intensifies push to stage men’s World Cup every 2 years

FIFA intensifies push to stage men’s World Cup every 2 years
Updated 16 September 2021

FIFA intensifies push to stage men’s World Cup every 2 years

FIFA intensifies push to stage men’s World Cup every 2 years
  • In its latest survey, FIFA players all agreed it was a good idea to double the number of men’s World Cups in each four-year period
  • Staging more tournaments would increase opportunities and enthusiasm in most of the 211 member countries, says FIFA chief

GENEVA: FIFA intensified its push for hosting the men’s World Cup every two years on Thursday by garnering support from soccer fans around the world to help combat resistance from Europe and South America.
The latest public relations tactic came in the form of an online survey commissioned by FIFA. The Associated Press does not routinely report the claims of opinion polls conducted over the Internet.
FIFA claimed its findings from more than 15,000 respondents aged at least 18 identified in 23 countries showed “considerable differences between the so-called traditional markets and the developing football markets” and younger fans more enthusiastic than older ones.
A follow-up survey involving 100,000 people in more than 100 countries is now being done, FIFA said.
European soccer body UEFA and South American counterpart CONMEBOL oppose FIFA’s plan and have threatened to boycott additional World Cups. Europe and South America combine for 65 of the 211 FIFA members — fewer than the one-third total likely needed to block any proposal.
The governing bodies of the six continental soccer federations all stage their own championships, with Europe hosting its tournament every four years halfway between the World Cups. Adding an extra World Cup in every four-year cycle would likely cut into the European event’s revenue stream.
The women already have two major world tournaments in every four-year cycle because the top teams and best players compete at the Olympics as well as the Women’s World Cup.
FIFA’s latest survey follows one week after it hosted about 80 former international players, including several World Cup winners, for a two-day meeting in Qatar — the 2022 World Cup host country.
The players reported they all agreed it was a good idea to double the number of men’s World Cups in each four-year period.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino believes staging more tournaments would increase opportunities and enthusiasm in most of the 211 member countries, many of which never qualify to play at the World Cup.
Expanding the World Cup from 32 teams to 48 starting at the 2026 tournament in North America was one of the biggest early decisions of Infantino’s presidency, which began in 2016. FIFA also wants to distribute extra World Cup revenue to improve talent development and help national teams globally close the gap on Europe.
European teams have won the past four World Cups and filled 13 of the 16 semifinal slots. The other three semifinalists from 2006-18 were from South America.
The UEFA-backed Football Supporters Europe group also opposed the biennial World Cup plan, claiming it would distort the balance between domestic and international soccer, and club and national teams.
Global players’ union FIFPRO has also warned of burnout in the increasingly congested soccer schedule.


PSG coach Pochettino must work on weaknesses as stars flop

PSG coach Pochettino must work on weaknesses as stars flop
Updated 16 September 2021

PSG coach Pochettino must work on weaknesses as stars flop

PSG coach Pochettino must work on weaknesses as stars flop
  • “Fantomatique” — or "Ghost-like — was the headline in French sports daily L’Equipe on Thursday
  • PSG's performance highlighted that the team still has glaring shortcomings despite being able to field three of the world's best forwards

PARIS: Paris Saint-Germain was able to start its superstar attacking trio of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe for the first time on Wednesday in the Champions League.
Instead of fireworks, though, they only produced a big thud as PSG drew 1-1 draw against modest Belgian side Club Brugge.
“Fantomatique” — or “Ghost-like — was the headline in French sports daily L’Equipe on Thursday.
While 2020 champion Bayern Munich and last season’s runner-up Manchester City won and scored freely, PSG’s performance highlighted that the team still has glaring shortcomings despite being able to field three of the world’s best forward.
The fact that Keylor Navas was the busier goalkeeper on the night — and PSG’s best player — should be of concern to coach Mauricio Pochettino ahead of playing much tougher teams in the competition.
“We’ve got a magnificent squad, but we need to find balance,” Pochettino said.
But given PSG’s remarkable summer recruitment drive, Pochettino knows he has little room for error in a season where the Qatari-backed club has been touted by many observers as the favorite to win the Champions League.
Behind the veneer of Messi’s arrival, the reality is that the midfield and defense still look very vulnerable, and allowed a modest side like Brugge to muster 16 shots at goal.
That is alarming considering that City is PSG’s next opponent in the group stage. Pep Guardiola’s side visits Parc des Princes on Sept. 28, giving Pochettino little time to make his team more solid.
PSG has a home game against Lyon in the French league on Sunday followed by a midweek trip to Metz before hosting Montpellier.
Pochettino also has a thorny goalkeeping dilemma to resolve — whether to stick with Navas or start Italy’s European Championship star Gianluigi Donnarumma.
Last season, Navas rescued PSG with outstanding performances against Barcelona and Bayern in the knockout stages before PSG’s limitations were exposed by City in the semifinals.
PSG would likely have lost against Brugge without Navas who, through no fault of his own, now finds himself fighting for the No. 1 jersey. Pochettino sounded evasive when asked after the Brugge game if Donnarumma would play against Lyon.
“Anything’s possible,” Pochettino said. “Decisions will be made game after game with regards to the performances.”
But rotation could also work against Pochettino, for he needs a settled goalie to take command of a brittle defense that was too easily exposed by Brugge.
Even the signing of Netherlands midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum and Italian league champion Achraf Hakimi at right back did little to stop the waves of Brugge attacks.
Wijnaldum lost a surprising number of tackles and was not helped by Leandro Paredes, who failed to control a simple pass early on as it rolled under his foot and led to a yellow card as he then fouled a Brugge player breaking through.
Wijnaldum and Paredes were both replaced by Pochettino, whose midfield clearly struggles when Marco Verratti is absent. The Italy star’s ball retention and distribution is superior and takes pressure off his teammates.
With Messi and Neymar up front, PSG also has a forward line that isn’t known for tracking back to defend, which can lead to the midfield getting overrun and the defense being exposed as a result.
Central defenders Marquinhos and Presnel Kimpembe looked exhausted at the end on Wednesday, as they often did last season when PSG lost eight games and the league title to Lille.
Messi’s positioning on the right of the three-man attack offers little protection to the midfield or to Hakimi, who by nature is a very attacking player and leaves space behind him where the opposition is free to counter.


Boateng appeals assault verdict, 1.8 million euros fine

Boateng appeals assault verdict, 1.8 million euros fine
Updated 16 September 2021

Boateng appeals assault verdict, 1.8 million euros fine

Boateng appeals assault verdict, 1.8 million euros fine
  • A Munich regional court’s spokesperson said Boateng's lawyer and state prosecutor have contested the verdict
  • Boateng looked last week visibly shocked after being found guilty of assaulting and insulting his former

BERLIN: Germany’s 2014 World Cup winner Jerome Boateng has filed an appeal against his conviction for assault and 1.8 million euros ($2 million) fine, a court official in Munich confirmed Thursday.
A spokesperson for Munich regional court told AFP subsidiary SID that both Boateng’s lawyer and the state prosecutor have contested the verdict.
A week ago, Boateng looked visibly shocked after being found guilty of assaulting and insulting his former partner, the mother of his twin daughters, during a Caribbean holiday in 2018.
The prosecutor had asked the court to give Boateng a suspended 18-month prison sentence and a fine of 1.5 million euros, but the former Bayern Munich defender avoided a custodial sentence when the judge gave his verdict last Thursday.
The 33-year-old Boateng, who left Bayern Munich to sign for French club Lyon at the start of the month and made his debut off the bench last Sunday, denied the allegations.