'I missed the Premier League' says Coutinho after dream Villa debut

'I missed the Premier League' says Coutinho after dream Villa debut
Aston Villa’s Jacob Ramsey celebrates after scoring his side’s opening goal during their English Premier League match against Manchester United at Villa Park in Birmingham on Saturday. (AP)
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Updated 16 January 2022

'I missed the Premier League' says Coutinho after dream Villa debut

'I missed the Premier League' says Coutinho after dream Villa debut
  • Steven Gerrard's side were trailing by two goals in the closing stages at Villa Park
  • It was the perfect way for Coutinho to celebrate a welcome return to the English top-flight four years after leaving Liverpool to join Barca

BIRMINGHAM, United Kingdom: Philippe Coutinho admitted he was happy to be back in the Premier League after the Aston Villa forward marked his debut with a late equaliser in Saturday's 2-2 draw against Manchester United.
Steven Gerrard's side were trailing by two goals in the closing stages at Villa Park before Coutinho worked his magic just days after arriving on loan from Barcelona.
Stepping off the bench in the 68th minute, Coutinho set up Jacob Ramsey's 77th minute goal with a deft pass.
Five minutes later, the Brazilian latched onto Ramsey's low cross with a cool finish from close-range to cap Villa's fightback.
It was the perfect way for Coutinho to celebrate a welcome return to the English top-flight four years after leaving Liverpool to join Barca.
"I missed these games and the Premier League. I'm very happy to be here with my new teammates," Coutinho told Sky Sports.
"It was a good start, we kept believing until the end, but we didn't lose."
Asked if he was nervous before making his Villa debut, Coutinho said: "Yes, a little bit, I don't speak English very well, I prefer to be on the pitch than talking all the time.
"I'm happy, it was the first game and I want to work hard to improve and be in better shape."
Coutinho has endured a difficult time at Barca and spent 2019-20 season on loan at Bayern Munich.
Villa boss Gerrard played with Coutinho at Liverpool and is convinced he can reignite the Brazil star's career.
Coutinho was among the world's best players when he left Liverpool, but he does not want to dwell on the reasons for his slump in Spain.
"There have been many ups and downs. It is in the past," Coutinho said.
"I'm here and I'm focused on the objectives of the club and the manager and I want to do a good job to help my teammates and the club."


Fresh Al-Ittihad take on overworked Al-Hilal in Classico that could decide SPL title destination

Fresh Al-Ittihad take on overworked Al-Hilal in Classico that could decide SPL title destination
Updated 22 May 2022

Fresh Al-Ittihad take on overworked Al-Hilal in Classico that could decide SPL title destination

Fresh Al-Ittihad take on overworked Al-Hilal in Classico that could decide SPL title destination
  • A win for the reigning Saudi and Asian champions will close the gap on leaders to three points with three matches left
  • In the past two months Al-Hilal have played 11 matches, Al-Ittihad only two

The Classico is always a huge clash but Monday’s meeting has an extra edge as it could play a key role in deciding whether the Saudi Professional League trophy stays in Riyadh or heads to Jeddah.

Leaders Al-Ittihad meet Al-Hilal holding a six-point advantage at the top of the table, with four games to play. If the Tigers beat the defending champions, then their first title since 2009 is a virtual certainty, while a draw would surely leave Al-Hilal with too much to do. However, a win for the visitors opens things up. Three points between them with three games to go would make for a fascinating end to the season.

Al-Ittihad are obviously in the better position and not just because of the cushion they have at the top. This is the business end of the season and usually games are coming thick and fast. There are injuries, suspensions and general fatigue, as well as huge pressure to deal with. That is true for one team and not the other. Al-Ittihad have played 14 games in 2022 and only two in the past two months. Al-Hilal have played 25 matches, with 11 in that period.

That means that the leaders have had to seek out friendlies to keep their players sharp. The extension to the season, due to the postponement of last week’s games following the death of UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan on May 13 even means that Ahmed Hegazi is fit to play for the first time this year. The Egyptian defender has been missed, especially in the team’s last match, the 4-4 draw with Al-Fateh when a 3-1 lead was thrown away. Hegazi is likely to start, as is Brazilian attacker Igor Coronado, who picked up a knock in that roller coaster encounter. Other attackers such as Romarinho and Abderrazak Hamdallah are raring to go, the major absence being that of Fahad Al-Muwallad, who was hit with an 18-month ban last week for testing positive for a banned substance.

Al-Hilal, by contrast, have all kinds of issues. On Thursday the defending champions lost the King’s Cup final to Al-Feiha. Even worse was the fact that it came after a penalty shootout which followed two hours of tense and draining football. It remains to be seen if there is a psychological reaction to the defeat but there is sure to be a physical one. In the latter stages, stars such as Salem Al-Dawsari were suffering from cramp, a sight that must have given hope to Al-Ittihad fans.

Coach Ramon Diaz has plenty of injuries, as well, to keep him busy. There are the long-term issues with Abdullelah Al-Malki and Saleh Al-Shehri. Peruvian winger Andre Carrillo has been out for a while and is still a doubt, as are Gustavo Cuellar and Yasser Al-Shahrani. Central defender Jang Hyun-soo hurt a toe in the final and missed training on Friday. The South Korean should be fit for the big game and the same goes for captain Salman Al-Faraj, who picked up a slight knock on Thursday.

But the physical side is only half the story. At this stage of the season, mental matters are crucial. While Al-Ittihad may have been able to get much more rest than their Riyadh rivals, it is hard to know how such relative inaction has affected a team that has been so close to a first title for 13 years. Being within touching distance of the trophy for so long but not having games to play must have been a frustrating experience.

They have had two and a half weeks to think about the 4-4 draw and reflect on what happened. A victory against Al-Fateh would have put the leaders eight points clear with four to play. It would surely have been all over, regardless of the Classico result.

And there is more. Al-Ittihad have lost just once in their last 17 league games. That was against Al-Hilal. To lose again would raise the prospect of the title being thrown away by a team that has been on top for around three-quarters of the season.

The chasing team, meanwhile, knows that only a win will do. The Asian champions have shown over the years that when it comes to the big games, they often to find a way. If Al-Hilal can avoid any ill effects from the King’s Cup final defeat, both mentally and physically, they have what it takes to defeat Al-Ittihad. Whatever happens, it really should be a game to remember.


Bronze for Saudi cyclist Dania Sambawa at GCC Games in Kuwait

Bronze for Saudi cyclist Dania Sambawa at GCC Games in Kuwait
Updated 22 May 2022

Bronze for Saudi cyclist Dania Sambawa at GCC Games in Kuwait

Bronze for Saudi cyclist Dania Sambawa at GCC Games in Kuwait
  • Heartbreak for Saudi women’s futsal team after they lost to host nation on penalties in semi-finals

Saudi cyclist Dania Sambawa claimed third place and a bronze medal in the women’s individual time trial at the third Gulf Games in Kuwait.

Sambawa finished the race in a time of 20:02.34 minutes, while her colleague Munira Al-Dariwish came fourth after reaching the finish line in 20:04.89 minutes.

Meanwhile in the women’s futsal semi-finals, Saudi Arabia lost on penalties to Kuwait after normal time had ended in a 1-1 draw, and the two extra periods finished 2-2.

The Saudi men’s basketball team also suffered defeat, going down 63-51 to Bahrain.


Newcastle United look to end season on a high note against Burnley

Newcastle United look to end season on a high note against Burnley
Updated 22 May 2022

Newcastle United look to end season on a high note against Burnley

Newcastle United look to end season on a high note against Burnley
  • The Magpies head to Turf Moor Sunday afternoon knowing a win has the potential to see them sneak into the top half of the Premier League table

NEWCASTLE: Stand-in skipper Callum Wilson has told Newcastle United to produce a season-ending ‘statement’ performance at relegation-threatened Burnley.

The Magpies head to Turf Moor this afternoon knowing a win could put them in the top half of the Premier League table. Three points against Burnley might lift them to 10th position, depending on results elsewhere.

Wilson is expected to lead the line again despite suffering a nasty facial injury in the win against Arsenal.

“We have one more important game. We can finish higher up the league, Burnley are fighting relegation. There is a lot riding on it. It won’t fizzle out. We will try to do the job,” said the England international frontman.

“We thank the fans for the atmosphere they have created. Since the takeover it has been fantastic, it has breathed life into the city.

“We brought players into the squad in January. There is a good team environment and everyone is together.

“There are a lot more chances there for a striker and next season is going to be a good one. Everyone wrote us off and we have proved people wrong week in, week out. We can finish in the top half of the table and what a statement of intent that would be for next season.”

Wilson led the team out to a wall of noise and sea of colour at St James’ Park last Monday night, as the Magpies signed off on home turf with arguably their stand-out performance of a topsy-turvy season, beating Arsenal 2-0.

The 30-year-old is expecting a hostile atmosphere, especially given that Mike Jackson’s side can secure safety with a win.

“We have run ourselves into the ground for the cause. We have an unbelievable atmosphere at St James’ Park. (Last week) when we heard it and walked out to it, it made the hair on my arms stand up and gave you butterflies in a good way.

“The thought of playing in the Championship? This club is Premier League and we had to show that. We have managed to get results.

“I watched for a while on the sidelines and was so excited to get back out amongst it. I want to score. We can finish in the top ten. We have to focus on ourselves. It will be hostile and we have to thrive under that and silence them.”

Head coach Eddie Howe might yet recall club captain Jamaal Lascelles to the United starting XI for the final game of the season.

Lascelles has seen very little game time in the second half of the campaign, but that has not affected his leadership skills.

Howe said: “I have to say Jamaal has been an exceptional captain for us and the biggest compliment I can give him is when he was out of the team, and when you’re captain of the club, how do you act in that moment? That was a real test of his leadership and I have to say his response was brilliant.

“For me, it elevated him as a captain because of that. He was positive, led really well around the group. It’s very easy to fall into your own psychology or thinking if you’re disappointed you’re not playing and let that affect you negatively — it didn’t. He has elevated his leadership, been a brilliant captain on and off the pitch.

“It’s not ideal that the armband changes around, you want a consistent leader in your group but actually, the benefits of that happening is it inspired leadership from other people. Callum took the armband and led the team really well. The more leaders I can have in the group, the better.”


Al-Nassr beat Al-Raed to tighten grip on third place in Saudi Pro League table

Al-Nassr beat Al-Raed to tighten grip on third place in Saudi Pro League table
Updated 22 May 2022

Al-Nassr beat Al-Raed to tighten grip on third place in Saudi Pro League table

Al-Nassr beat Al-Raed to tighten grip on third place in Saudi Pro League table
  • A 3-0 away win sees the Riyadh giants move five points clear of Al-Shabab with three matches left in the race for the AFC Champions League qualification spot

The Al-Nassr defeated Al-Raed at King Abdullah Sports City Stadium on Saturday night to tighten their grip on third place in the Sauid Pro League table.

The team from the Saudi capital are now five points clear of Al-Shabab with three matches to go and favorites for the AFC Champions League qualification spot.

Al-Nassr’s goals came from Sultan Al-Ghanam after eight minutes, Brazilian Anderson Talisca on 74 minutes, and Argentine Pity Martinez in the final minute of the match.

Rui Vitoria’s team have now won three matches on the trot, having beaten Al-Feiha 1-0 and Al-Shabab 4-0 in their last two outings.

Al-Raed are without a win and sit in 10th in the SPL table.


Fast start helps Lyon down Barca to win Women’s Champions League

Fast start helps Lyon down Barca to win Women’s Champions League
Updated 21 May 2022

Fast start helps Lyon down Barca to win Women’s Champions League

Fast start helps Lyon down Barca to win Women’s Champions League
  • Midfielder Amandine Henry netted a brilliant solo goal and striker Ada Hegerberg scored one and made another
  • Favorites Barca struggled to deal with the French side's pressure in the opening 45 minutes, and by the time they found their feet it was too late

TURIN, Italy: Olympique Lyonnais beat Barcelona 3-1 in the Women’s Champions League final on Saturday with all the goals coming in the first half.
Midfielder Amandine Henry netted a brilliant solo goal and striker Ada Hegerberg scored one and made another.
Favorites Barca, who thumped Chelsea in the 2021 final after suffering defeat by Lyon in the 2019 decider, struggled to deal with the French side’s pressure in the opening 45 minutes, and by the time they found their feet it was too late.
On a sweltering night at the Juventus Stadium in Turin, Henry gave Lyon the lead with a stunning strike in the sixth minute, winning the ball and cutting inside on her right foot before firing a rocket from distance into the top corner.
Hegerberg added a second with a header in the 23rd and the Norway striker then teed up Catarina Macario to score Lyon’s third with a tap-in 10 minutes later as the Spaniards, who have only lost once all season, looked a shadow of themselves.
Alexia Putellas pulled one back for Barca before the break and in the second half they came out all guns blazing, forcing Lyon back but struggling to make the most of their chances.
Patricia Guijarra stunning lob from inside the center circle came back off the bar and substitute Ana-Maria Crnogorcevic blazed a volley just wide with the goal at her mercy.
Boasting plenty of experience in their squad, Lyon succeeded in doing everything they could to take the pace out of the game and a tired Hegerberg almost added a second in stoppage time, volleying the ball against the near post.
The final whistle heralded Lyon’s eighth triumph in the competition after their last success in 2020, with France international Wendy Renard raising the trophy as fireworks exploded behind her.
With the club’s official Twitter account quickly welcoming the Champions League trophy home, Lyon coach Sonia Bompastor made history as the first to win the competition as both a player and a coach.
“Barcelona were incredible. But I’m just really happy that we were able to start the game so well, getting those three goals in the first half really helped,” Macario said.
“I think it just came out, we were the team that showed up the most today, and we had the most experience. So thankfully, we were able to come out on top,” she added.