Barca edge past Dynamo to revive Champions League hopes at half-empty Camp Nou

Barca edge past Dynamo to revive Champions League hopes at half-empty Camp Nou
Dynamo Kyiv’s Georgiy Bushchan looks dejected after FC Barcelona’s Gerard Pique scored their first goal during their Champions League — Group E match at Camp Nou in Barcelona on Wednesday. (Reuters)
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Updated 20 October 2021

Barca edge past Dynamo to revive Champions League hopes at half-empty Camp Nou

Barca edge past Dynamo to revive Champions League hopes at half-empty Camp Nou
  • The attendance was recorded at 45,968, with several blocks of seating filled by only a handful of supporters
  • Barcelona needed victory to resuscitate their chances of progress and avoid the embarrassment of going out in the group stage

BARCELONA: Gerard Pique sparked Barcelona’s flailing Champions League campaign into life on Wednesday by scoring the only goal in a 1-0 win over Dynamo Kiev, a victory that was witnessed by a half-empty Camp Nou.
The attendance was recorded at 45,968, with several blocks of seating filled by only a handful of supporters for a game coach Ronald Koeman said the team had to win to have any chance of reaching the last 16.
After losing both of their opening games in Group E 3-0 to Bayern Munich and Benfica, Barcelona needed victory to resuscitate their chances of progress and avoid the embarrassment of going out in the group stage for the first time since 2000.
Pique at least ensured the job was done in that regard, his close-range finish toward the end of a dreary first half enough to get Barca up and running, with a crucial game away in Kiev now to come in two weeks’ time.
Before then, they face Real Madrid in the first Classico of the season on Sunday, when another win would make it a hugely positive week for Koeman, whose future looked bleak when the team lost to Atletico Madrid before the international break.
That game will also be at Camp Nou and it remains to be seen if the number of Barcelona fans in attendance improves.
An early kick-off may well not have helped and there is undoubtedly still some nervousness lingering from the Covid-19 pandemic, both locally and among traveling supporters.
But it is hard not to conclude fans are also less enthused by a team that lost Lionel Messi in the close season and had lost their last three Champions League matches in a row at home, as many as they managed in the previous 74.
Pique’s goal made him Barcelona’s oldest ever Champions League goalscorer at 34 years and 260 days old but the most excitement these days surrounds the 18-year-old Ansu Fati, who is expected to ease fears around his future by signing a new contract on Thursday.
Fati, whose deal currently expires at the end of the season, is still being eased back into action after 11 months out with injury.
He came on as a substitute after starting against Valencia on Sunday and, presumably, with greater involvement planned against Real Madrid this weekend.
Barcelona could have been ahead inside two minutes but Sergino Dest, playing on the right of the front three instead of right-back, nodded over from a yard at the back post.
Luuk de Jong also headed over the kind of chance he is in the team to score but Barca hardly deserved the lead, their play stunted and hesitant, lacking any of the fizz expected of a side trying to stay in the competition.
The crowd were as flat as the team, neither one really encouraging the other, until the sight of Fati emerging down the touchline to warm up suddenly raised the fans from their stupor.
The players felt it too, the buzz reaching them on the pitch, and within moments Pique was left free at the back post to meet Jordi Alba’s cross on the half-volley, the ball flying in.
Fati came on with Philippe Coutinho at half-time and should have scored. He earned the chance by rushing Dynamo goalkeeper Georgiy Bushchan but had his back to goal when Memphis Depay hooked it back to him. Fati could have laid back to Coutinho but instead scooped the ball up and flicked wide.
The game drifted and without a second goal, Barcelona briefly grew anxious. A better opponent might have turned the screw in the latter stages but Dynamo never created the decisive chance and Barca sealed a much-needed win.


Delighted Eddie Howe says first win is only the beginning as he eyes tough challenges ahead 

Newcastle United manager Eddie Howe celebrates after the match with Burnley. (Action Images via Reuters)
Newcastle United manager Eddie Howe celebrates after the match with Burnley. (Action Images via Reuters)
Updated 21 sec ago

Delighted Eddie Howe says first win is only the beginning as he eyes tough challenges ahead 

Newcastle United manager Eddie Howe celebrates after the match with Burnley. (Action Images via Reuters)
  • Newcastle have a tough December but will hope Burnley win gives them springboard to more positive results

NEWCASTLE: Eddie Howe admits there’s a feeling of satisfaction about securing Newcastle United’s first three points of the season — but an understanding that this is only the start of their fight for Premier League survival.

Callum Wilson scored the only goal of the game against Burnley as the Magpies climbed off the foot of the table, kept their first clean sheet and claimed their maiden victory this campaign at the 15th attempt.

Howe’s Magpies go to Leicester City next week looking to pull themselves out of the bottom three — a win has the potential to do just that — and the head coach knows his team have done nothing but put down a foundation on which to build.

When asked whether this is the start of a United revival, Howe said: “We hope so. The last two games have given us very different challenges. We had 10 v 11 against Norwich, then this one a much more physical contest. But we have taken things forward.

“We have been defensively better, but there is still work to do all over the pitch.

“I can’t praise them (the players) enough physically and mentally. This was a real physical effort, their third game in a week — and they gave everything.

“There is a feeling of satisfaction with the result but we have to back that up,” he added.

Asked to expand on his emotions, which were obvious to see as he lapped the pitch on the final whistle, fist-pumping toward the fans on the St. James’ Park terraces, Howe continued: “It was a real mixture of emotions.

“I am very proud of the team, in what was a very difficult game against Burnley — we defended well. There were a lot of positives. To a man, we stepped up defensively.

“We started slow, but once we scored that changed. We had spells in the second half where we were excellent, then had to hang on.”

While joy reigns supreme on Tyneside this weekend, December presents a number of potential further bumps in the road.

Next up in NE1 is Manchester City on Dec. 19, coming hot on the heels of a trip to Liverpool just days after the Magpies’ King Power Stadium trip. That is before Ralf Rangnick’s Manchester United travel to Newcastle shortly after Christmas.

According to Howe, his players will need every ounce of fan support to get his team through the festive period, one which looks like a nightmare on paper.

“The relationship we’ve built with fans so quickly has been great. I can’t thank them enough,” said Howe of the unwavering home support.

“It was great to get that first win, a big thanks to them (the fans), we know how desperate they were — we all were — to get it is an amazing feeling. The reaction at the end can only galvanize us to move forward positively.”


Lewis Hamilton clinches pole position for inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton celebrates after qualifying in pole position for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. (Reuters)
Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton celebrates after qualifying in pole position for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. (Reuters)
Updated 04 December 2021

Lewis Hamilton clinches pole position for inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton celebrates after qualifying in pole position for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. (Reuters)

JEDDAH: Lewis Hamilton made history on Saturday by becoming the first driver to clinch a Saudi Arabian Grand Prix pole position after he beat out teammate Valtteri Bottas and world championship title rival Max Verstappen.

The two Mercedes drivers secured a one-two grid position which will give them the advantage over the Red Bull driver on the Jeddah Corniche circuit, where overtaking may prove difficult.

It was the 103rd pole of Hamilton's career, the fifth of the season and comes off the back of his stellar qualification drive in the previous round in Qatar.

With Hamilton trailing Verstappen by 8 points in the championship fight with just one more race after Jeddah remaining, the qualification victory for Hamilton felt crucial.

The seven-time world champion beat out Finnish driver Bottas by just over a tenth of a second, and was 0.142 seconds ahead of Verstappen in third.

Ferrari's Charles LeClerc was half a second back in fourth and Mexican Red Bull driver Sergio Perez rounded out the rest of the top five.

It was a difficult end to the session for Verstappen who hit the wall on his last flying lap, proving the perils of the relentlessy quick Jeddah circuit.

"I don't really understand what happened (on the final flying lap)," he said. "I locked up a bit. P3 is disappointing but today did show that the car is quick around here... so we'll see what happens tomorrow."

Hamilton admitted the track is a tough challenge, while paying tribute to his teammate Bottas who will be leaving the Mercedes garage at the end of the season.

"What a tough track this is," he said. "It's amazing what they've built, the speed and the pace around here is phenomenal.

"It's a great result for the team and a great job by Valtteri, he's the best team mate there's ever been in this sport," he added.

And Bottas also sounded like he enjoyed the speed of the Jeddah streets.

"This was an important qualifying," he said. "I was on the limit, this track is tough but I really enjoyed it. I will do my best tomorrow."

Verstappen, with a slight lead over Hamilton with just two races left, will hope he can claim his first title on Sunday if he wins the race and Hamilton finishes outside the top six.

But belief remains strong in the Mercedes camp that Hamilton can close the gap in Jeddah and seal a dramatic championship victory in Abu Dhabi.


Newcastle beat Burnley to seal first Premier League win of the season

Newcastle beat Burnley to seal first Premier League win of the season
Updated 04 December 2021

Newcastle beat Burnley to seal first Premier League win of the season

Newcastle beat Burnley to seal first Premier League win of the season

NEWCASTLE: Callum Wilson scored late in the first half and Newcastle went on to beat Burnley 1-0 for its first victory in this English Premier League on Saturday.
Newcastle ended a 14-game winless run and earned desperately needed points as it tries to climb out of the relegation zone.
Burnley had been unbeaten in five games but could muster only one shot on target at St. James’ Park.
Wilson scored in the 40th minute after Burnley goalkeeper Nike Pope couldn't control Joe Willock's cross. Pope came out to the penalty spot to snatch the ball out of the air but on his way down collided with Newcastle's Fabien Schar and dropped the ball. Wilson took one touch around Pope and and fired high into the net.
Newcastle, which has recently come under Saudi ownership, moved one spot off the bottom of the table, bumping Norwich into last place with Burnley in 18th — all with 10 points.
Burnley thought it equalized in the 84th but forward Jay Rodriguez's tap in was ruled out because he was offside. Matej Vydra skied a half-volley over the crossbar in first-half injury time for the visitors.
Newcastle dominated the second half with lively play from attackers Allan Saint-Maximin and Miguel Almiron. Jonjo Shelvey's curling shot to the far post was tipped over by Pope in the 79th.
The win was also the first for Newcastle's new manager, Eddie Howe, who was hired last month to replace the fired Steve Bruce.


AS IT HAPPENED: Hamilton clinches pole position in Saudi Arabian Grand Prix qualification

AS IT HAPPENED: Hamilton clinches pole position in Saudi Arabian Grand Prix qualification
Updated 04 December 2021

AS IT HAPPENED: Hamilton clinches pole position in Saudi Arabian Grand Prix qualification

AS IT HAPPENED: Hamilton clinches pole position in Saudi Arabian Grand Prix qualification

JEDDAH: The second day of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix got underway on Saturday, with the drivers completing one final practice session on the Jeddah Corniche circuit ahead of qualifying/

Lewis Hamilton made history on Saturday by becoming the first driver to clinch a Saudi Arabian Grand Prix pole position after he beat out teammate Valtteri Bottas and world championship title rival Max Verstappen.

Red Bull's Verstappen topped the final practice, ahead of world championship title rival Hamilton in second, with fellow Red Bull driver Sergio Perez finishing third.

The next fastest drivers were Yuki Tsunoda for AlphaTauri in fourth and followed by teammate Pierre Gasly.

Mercedes driver Hamilton had dominated the first day of practice, finishing ahead of Verstappen in the first session and extending his lead over the rest of the pack, including teammate Valtteri Bottas in the second session.

See how Saturday's action unfolded below... (All times GMT)

18:00 - There it is! His 103rd pole position of his career, Lewis Hamilton takes the very first pole at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix and will be in a prime position to take maximum points from Sunday's race.

17:45 - Q2 comes to a close, with Ricciardio, Raikkonen, Alonso, Russell and Carlos Sainz Jnr all being eliminated.

17:25 - It was a tough one for former world champion Sebastian Vettel as he fails to get out of Q1.

17:00 - The first qualifying session, involving all 20 drivers who will be trying to finish in the top 15 of the grid, is now ready to go...

15:05 - Red Bull’s Max Verstappen finally broke Lewis Hamilton's practice dominance by setting the pace in final practice. The Dutchman was 0.214 seconds quicker than his title rival, who appeared to be struggling with his tyres - something the Mercedes team will want to address ahead of qualifying later.

Fellow Red Bull driver Sergio Perez finished third, and it was a fantastic session for the Alpha Tauri team as both their drivers - Yuki Tsunoda and Pierre Gasly - closed out the rest of the top five.

 

14:40 - Red Bull team principal Christian Horner was full of praise for the Jeddah Corniche circuit this weekend, admitting it was both unforgiving and dangerous, but also that it was a drivers’ circuit and one with plenty of opportunity. 

“In for a penny, in for a pound. This championship has had everything. This track is a real drivers’ circuit. It’s unforgiving, it’s fast, it’s dangerous, it’s going to bite if you make a mistake. How many safety cars are there going to be? Are there going to be VSCs. It can go both ways. It’s a race that has jeopardy and opportunity.”

14:20 - Lewis Hamilton has a small run-off in Sector One of the track after a front wheel lock-up, but the scare doesn't last long as he spins back into the action. Meanwhile, Max Verstappen is running in sixth with with 1:29.8...work to do for the championship leader.

14:15 - In case you missed it earlier, the team behind the Grand Prix released footage of Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal getting behind the wheel of the famous Williams FW07 car from the late 1970s and early 1980s. Watch below...

14:00 - The third and final practice session of the weekend is now up and running. The drivers will have an hour to iron out any issues with their cars as well as gaining more experience of the brand new Jeddah Corniche circuit ahead of the qualifying session later this evening.

READ MORE

ICYMI: Hamilton seals practice double, LeClerc crashes out on day one of historic Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. Click here for more.


Early days of 2021 FIFA Arab Cup highlight intrigue on and off the pitch

Early days of 2021 FIFA Arab Cup highlight intrigue on and off the pitch
Updated 04 December 2021

Early days of 2021 FIFA Arab Cup highlight intrigue on and off the pitch

Early days of 2021 FIFA Arab Cup highlight intrigue on and off the pitch
  • As 16 Arab nations battle it out on the pitch, FIFA’s resident and other officials are in Qatar for the 2022 World Cup dress rehearsal, with readiness of stadiums and new offside technology on the agenda

Just a few days into the 2021 Arab Cup in Qatar, there are already several intriguing talking points emerging, both on and off the pitch.

An emotional opening ceremony, the first round performances, young players to keep an eye on, and the new technology under the watchful eye of FIFA’s leadership.

The organizers attempted to showcase the cultures of the 16 participating Arab nations at an opening party that lasted for 30 minutes in front of a large crowd at Al-Bayt Stadium.

It was a worthy start for this 10th edition of the tournament, and for the first time since its launch in Lebanon in 1963, it is under the FIFA umbrella. And for the first time ever, it comes as a replacement for the FIFA Confederations Cup, that traditionally precedes the World Cup by a year.

That this Arab Cup is a dress rehearsal for the 2022 World Cup was given even more weight by the presence of FIFA President Gianni Infantino and other major sports leaders in the stands.

And the officials are not there for merely ceremonial reasons, but to also make sure all is going to plan, from checking the readiness of the stadiums to keeping a watchful eye on the new VAR technology for offside that is under testing with view to being implemented officially at the World Cup next year.

The matches are taking place at six of the eight stadiums that will be used at the World Cup.

The showpiece opening between Qatar and Bahrain was held in front of 60,000 spectators at Al-Bayt Stadium, and the tournament is being played across Al-Janoub Stadium, Ras Abu Aboud Stadium (974 Stadium), Al-Thumama Stadium, Ahmed Bin Ali Stadium, and Education City Stadium, and Al-Ebdaa Stadium.

The new VAR addition, the so-called semi-automated offside technology based on artificial intelligence, tracks the players’ movements, giving signals on 29 points in their bodies at 50 times every second; this is picked up in the control room, then sent to the on-field official who will give his decision, as was explained by the chairman of the FIFA Referees Committee, Pierluigi Collina.

The technology has already been tested behind closed doors at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester and the Allianz Arena in Munich.

This particular improvement to the VAR system — which aims to have speedier decisions with higher accuracy — is to be welcomed, as matches continue to suffer from lengthy, confusing offside cases.

The 16 teams are made up of 10 Arab nations from the Asian continent and six from Africa, and it’s the latter that caught the eye in the first round with victories for Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt, and Morocco.

Meanwhile, Jordan’s 1-0 victory over a youthful Saudi Arabian team was particularly impressive, Iraq equalized in the 98th minute against Oman, hosts Qatar beat Bahrain, and the UAE overcame Syria.

With World Cup qualification still a priority for several teams, some have decided to compete with squads made up of home-based players only, such as Egypt, or even with a second string, such as Saudi Arabia.

Herve Renard’s focus is firmly on Qatar 2022, and the Saudi national team was chosen from players born after 1999. In the circumstances, they performed well against Jordan despite the eventual defeat.

With assistant Laurent Bonadei leading the team, Renard watched from the stands as the senior players took a well-earned rest and the younger ones — many of whom played in the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games — staked a claim for the remainder of the World Cup qualifiers. 

This reminded me of what Renard did with the Moroccan national team in the African Cup of Nations in 2018. They went on to lift the trophy.

Of particular interest to Renard will be the Al-Ahli goalkeeper Mohammed Al-Rubaie, Al-Shabab leftback Moteb Al-Harbi, highly rated Al-Hilal forward Abdullah Al-Hamdan and the brilliant Al-Fateh striker Firas Al-Buraikan.

On the other hand, Carlos Queiroz’s Egypt team have been criticized for their lacklustre performance against Lebanon, though they played without Mohamed Salah or Mohamed Elneny.

With the start of the second round, things are starting to take shape.

Qatar’s late, late 2-1 win over the luckless Omanis leaves them top of Group A with six points while their opponents sit in third with just one. Meanwhile, Iraq and Bahrain — who drew 0-0 — are second and fourth respectively.

In Group B, the UAE’s 1-0 win over Mauritania took them to the top of the standings with maximum points from two matches, three points ahead of second-placed Syria, who recorded an impressive 2-0 win over Tunisia.

It’s too early to draw conclusions from the early stages of the 2021 Arab Cup, but the second round of matches in the group stages are slowly giving an indication of which teams will challenge for the title.

For the fans, as much as the watching FIFA officials, there is much at stake in the coming days.