Ireland wait on captain ahead of France clash

Ireland wait on captain ahead of France clash
Ireland’s Seamus Coleman during a training session. (Reuters)
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Updated 27 March 2023

Ireland wait on captain ahead of France clash

Ireland wait on captain ahead of France clash
  • Seamus Coleman to be given chance to prove his fitness ahead of Euro 2024 qualifier on Monday

DUBLIN: Republic of Ireland captain Seamus Coleman will be given every chance to prove his fitness ahead of Monday’s Euro 2024 qualifier against France.

The 34-year-old Everton defender has a slight thigh strain and Ireland manager Stephen Kenny is prepared to wait until as late as possible before deciding if his skipper can take part in the Lansdowne Road tie.

“No, he is not ruled out, we will have to see how today goes. We train today,” said Kenny, at a pre-match news conference on Sunday.

“Seamus is a very good player. It’s not so much his experience, it’s that he’s playing well at the moment. Experience is a factor, but his performances for Everton have been very good.

“For footballing reasons, he merits his place in the team because he has been playing very well for Everton and had an injury-free run and been able to train regularly over the last number of months and performed very well for Everton.

“He is the captain, of course, but we’ll have to see on that.”

Republic left wing-back Callum O’Dowda suffered a groin injury during Wednesday’s 3-2 friendly victory over Latvia and while he too has yet to be ruled out, Preston’s Robbie Brady has been drafted in as cover.

Earlier, Morocco stunned Brazil 2-1 on Saturday as the north African side recorded a first ever win over the five-time world champions.

Midfielder Sofiane Boufal, in the 29th minute, gave Morocco the lead before Brazil skipper Casemiro levelled in the 67th minute in Tangiers.

But Abdelhamid Sabiri struck the winner in the 79th minute as Morocco showed that becoming the first Arab or African nation to reach the World Cup semifinals last year was no fluke.

Only 10 of the 23-man squad that took Brazil to a disappointing quarter-final exit at the World Cup made the trip to Morocco for the game.

The injured Neymar was again missing with his number 10 shirt passing to Real Madrid youngster Rodrygo.

Brazil also had a new manager in the dugout with interim coach Ramon Menezes having replaced Tite who stepped down after the World Cup quarter-final exit at the hands of Croatia.

The Brazilian Football Confederation hopes to be able to announce the name of its new coach before the start of qualifying for the 2026 World Cup in September.

According to Brazilian media, the federation’s first choice is Carlo Ancelotti, currently in charge of Real Madrid.

However, he is not expected to make a decision on his future before the end of the European season.

Before kick-off at the Ibn Batouta stadium on Saturday, both teams paid tribute to Pele, who died last December at the age of 82.

Until Saturday, Morocco had suffered defeats in their only two other meetings with Brazil — 2-0 in a 1997 friendly and 3-0 in the group stage of the 1998 World Cup in France.

Benzema happy to be in ‘beloved and beautiful’ Saudi Arabia and ready to push his limits

Karim Benzema signs for Saudi club Al Ittihad. (Supplied/Al-Ittihad)
Karim Benzema signs for Saudi club Al Ittihad. (Supplied/Al-Ittihad)
Updated 08 June 2023

Benzema happy to be in ‘beloved and beautiful’ Saudi Arabia and ready to push his limits

Karim Benzema signs for Saudi club Al Ittihad. (Supplied/Al-Ittihad)
  • New Al-Ittihad star is looking forward to playing against former Real Madrid team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo
  • Benzema eager to encourage more youngsters and females to enjoy football

JEDDAH: New Al Ittihad signing Karim Benzema is looking forward to getting results in front of the ‘passionate’ Saudi fans and delivering trophies to his “legendary” new club in a competitive league which he believes is improving year on year.

The current holder of the Ballon d’or signed for the Jeddah based club following 14 seasons of domestic and European glory with Spanish giants Real Madrid and is hoping that his experience can bring plenty of honours for his new club, the recently crowned Saudi Pro League champions.

Speaking on an exclusive interview published on the club Twitter and Instagram and Saudi Pro League channels, he said: “I hope for my new club, what I’ll be able to bring is my football and most importantly to be able to win titles. It’s a new chapter for me and I would like to further advance the club. It’s a club with a lot of passion. I would like the fans to find themselves in me. I would like to leave a lasting legacy, because I love football. I always have this competitiveness to push my limits and go even higher. That’s why I’m going to be well prepared to give them and show them my talent.”

When asked why came to Saudi Arabia, he stated: “Well because I am Muslim and it’s a Muslim country. I’ve always wanted to live there. I’ve already been to Saudi Arabia and I feel good about it. Most importantly it’s a Muslim country, it’s beloved and it’s beautiful. When I had a conversation with my family I was signing with Saudi Arabia, they were all very happy and here i am, to me it’s where I want to be.”

Speaking about the footballing standards of the players in the Saudi Pro League, he added: “I heard a lot of things, it’s a good championship and there are many good players… each year they take go a level higher. I saw the World Cup, they (Saudi Arabia) played a good game, great matches, especially against (eventual World Cup champions) Argentina. Obviously, they have very good players.”

Benzema famously created a potent attacking threat alongside Cristiano Ronaldo during a highly successful spell at Real Madrid, and he will be lining up against his former Bernabeu team-mate next season, after the Portuguese sensation joined Al-Nassr in Riyadh last term.

Benzema admits that his former team-mate is playing an important role in elevating the standard and profile of Saudi football.

“It’s important also that Cristiano Ronaldo is in Saudi Arabia, because he’s a very big player. He brings a lot to the game in this country and that will further elevate their playing level,” he said. “So it’s important to show that Saudi football can have a global impact because it’s not about playing in Saudi Arabia or not performing. No, on the contrary I have to push and show all that I was able to do in Europe and and bring it back with me to Saudi Arabia.

The lure of playing for Al-Ittihad, the oldest sports club in Saudi Arabia, was strong for Benzema. Explaining his decision to swap life in Madrid for Jeddah, he said: “It’s one of the top clubs in Saudi Arabia. It’s a club that sees a lot of passion from its fan and has many trophies.

“I would really like to further elevate the club. The stadium is exceptional, and as I said and will repeat; there’s so much passion - a good team always needs fans. The fans are very important, and with that passion, it gives us the motivation to be best on the field.”

Benzema’s signing is part of a new phase in brand-building for the SPL, aimed at generating greater global awareness, engaging more Saudi football fans across society, and encouraging greater community participation in sports, as part of Vision2030, the ambitious transformational plan. Over the last season of the Saudi Pro League, Al-Ittihad Club welcomed over 600,000 fans, more than any other club in the league and was watched from 48 different channels and platforms across 170 countries.   

The striker hopes it will have an impact on football fans all over the country. He said: “The message for all the young people who play football, who love football is to build their dreams, to work hard, to respect the rules of the game, which means respecting the human being, and to always have pleasure in playing football. And never give up; we can always achieve when we put in the work.”

On whether his high-profile signing will encourage more women to participate in football, he added: “Football is important for everyone - for women, for men and we see it even in Europe, they have female teams including the Champions League. It’s important to be supportive, and therefore whether it’s men or women, we are here to support. For women, I’m happy to be part of this family.”

Aside from football, Benzema admitted he had other reasons for moving to Saudi Arabia, stating his Muslim faith as playing a big part in the decision.

“I feel people already like me. And it will allow me to have a new life,” he said. “I would like to learn Arabic and speak fluently, it’s important for me. I’ve already been to Saudi Arabia, Mecca is very close (to Jeddah) and as a believer it’s important for me, this is where I will feel at my best and in my element.

The French star touched down at Jeddah’s King Abdulaziz International Airport late Wednesday, June 7 ahead of his official unveiling in Saudi Arabia.

Man City and Inter target Champions League glory in Istanbul final

Man City and Inter target Champions League glory in Istanbul final
Updated 08 June 2023

Man City and Inter target Champions League glory in Istanbul final

Man City and Inter target Champions League glory in Istanbul final
  • A victory for City will see them complete the treble after they claimed a fifth Premier League title in six seasons
  • Inter Milan have won the European Cup twice in the 1960s and this is their sixth final altogether

ISTANBUL, Turkiye: Manchester City are hoping to get their hands on the Champions League trophy at last, and complete a historic treble, when Pep Guardiola’s team face outsiders Inter Milan in Saturday’s final in Istanbul.

City have been building toward winning Europe’s elite club competition since the Abu Dhabi-backed takeover of 2008 which transformed them and helped reshape the sport on the continent.
They came agonizingly close to Champions League glory in 2021, losing narrowly to Chelsea in the final, before being denied in last year’s semifinals by a remarkable Real Madrid comeback.
Having exacted revenge on Madrid, the holders, in this season’s last four with a 5-1 aggregate triumph, they are now expected to complete the job at the Ataturk Olympic Stadium.
“We have all been working for this for a long time,” City goalkeeper Ederson, at the club since 2017, said this week.
“The whole team have seen a lot of victories but also defeats as well. The players who have been here for five or six years who have seen these sorts of defeats, we have learnt from them so that helps us to grow as a team.”

The Champions League trophy is shown at Besiktas' Vodafone park stadium in Istanbul, Turkey, on June 6, 2023. (AP)

A victory for City will see them complete the treble after they claimed a fifth Premier League title in six seasons and then lifted the FA Cup last weekend, beating Manchester United 2-1 in the final.
United were the last English club to achieve the treble, in 1999.
Ilkay Gundogan was City’s goal hero in the FA Cup final, as Erling Haaland drew a rare blank, but the Norwegian has scored 52 times for his club this season.
His goals appear to have taken City to another level, and Guardiola seems poised to finally win a third Champions League, 12 years after claiming a second in three seasons with Barcelona.
“If we want to make a definitive step as a big club, we must win in Europe,” Guardiola, who joined City in 2016, told
“We have to win the Champions (League). That’s something you can’t avoid.”

Simone Inzaghi’s Inter may have something to say about that, however, and perhaps being the underdog will suit the Nerazzurri.
They are one of Europe’s grand old names, having won the European Cup twice in the 1960s.
This is their sixth final altogether, and first since Jose Mourinho’s team triumphed in 2010, completing a treble of their own.
No Italian club has lifted the trophy since.
Money talks more than ever in football, and City topped this year’s Deloitte Football Money League with revenue of over 700 million euros ($749m).
Their revenue was more than double that of Inter, a club swimming in enormous debts. Nevertheless, their proud history means Inter will be in Saturday’s final to win it.
“We are a big club and we have a lot of expectation,” said goalkeeper Andre Onana.
“When Inter gets into a final they have to win. We’re all big players, we know how to play finals.”
Inter, who finished third in Serie A and won the Coppa Italia, could have had a harder run to this stage, beating Porto, Benfica and neighbors AC Milan in the knockout rounds.
However, they did qualify from a difficult group ahead of Barcelona.

Curiously, City’s first ever appearance in the old European Cup came against Istanbul club Fenerbahce in the 1968/69 first round, and ended in a 2-1 defeat.
That team, featuring Francis Lee, Colin Bell and Mike Summerbee, was City’s last great side before Abu Dhabi’s arrival.
City did not return to Europe’s top table until 2011, by which time former Inter coach Roberto Mancini was at the helm.
The Ataturk Olympic Stadium has hosted a Champions League final between English and Italian clubs before.
This year’s match will need to go a long way to equal the drama of 2005, when Rafa Benitez’s Liverpool recovered from a three-goal half-time deficit to draw 3-3 with Carlo Ancelotti’s Milan before winning on penalties.
The 72,000-seat stadium, located around 25 kilometers west of central Istanbul, now finally gets the chance to stage the showpiece game again.
It was supposed to be the venue for the 2020 final, only for the pandemic to force UEFA to move the latter stages of the competition to Lisbon.
Plans to hold the final there in 2021 again had to be changed, with the match between City and Chelsea eventually taking place in the Portuguese city of Porto.

West Ham beat Fiorentina to win Europa Conference League

West Ham beat Fiorentina to win Europa Conference League
Updated 08 June 2023

West Ham beat Fiorentina to win Europa Conference League

West Ham beat Fiorentina to win Europa Conference League

PRAGUE: Jarrod Bowen’s dramatic 90th-minute goal secured West Ham their first major European trophy since 1965 with a 2-1 win over Fiorentina in the Europa Conference League final on Wednesday.
It is the second European trophy for West Ham after they won the now defunct Cup Winners’ Cup 58 years ago with a team including England World Cup heroes Bobby Moore and Geoff Hurst.
Bowen picked up a superb through ball from Lucas Paqueta, before sending a low shot past a helpless Pietro Terracciano in the Fiorentina goal.
“I obviously dreamed of scoring but to score the winner in the last minute. It’s what you always say you want to do,” Bowen told BT Sport.
“To do it in front of these fans. I thought I was going to cry. I’m just happy.”
Said Benrahma had opened the scoring for West Ham in Prague as he blasted a penalty past Terracciano on 62 minutes after VAR had caught Cristiano Biraghi handling the ball trying to stop Bowen in the box.
Giacomo Bonaventura levelled five minutes later, beating West Ham goalkeeper Alphonse Areola with a fine, low right-footed effort.
Bonaventura capitalized on a superb header back from Nicolas Gonzalez who had leapt over West Ham full-back Emerson.
The champions’ name will be the second ever on the Conference League trophy following Roma, who won the maiden edition of the competition last year.
West Ham have also clinched a spot in next season’s Europa League with the win, while Fiorentina will miss out on European competition after finishing eighth in the Serie A.
West Ham’s previous major trophy was back in 1980 when they won the FA Cup.
They spent most of the last season battling the prospect of relegation, finishing 14th in the Premier League in the end.
“We had a dream, we haven’t had the best season, myself included, but to give these fans this moment, I’m over the moon,” Bowen said.
“This is the biggest game of my career. The emotion, there was time for one more chance. I’m just so happy.”
The game got off to a slow start, although Michail Antonio tested Terracciano with a low shot on 40 seconds.
Fiorentina dominated possession and looked more organized in a largely uneventful first half.
But they did not came close until injury time when Christian Kouame headed against the post from Gonzalez’s cross.
Fiorentina striker Luka Jovic then tapped the ball across the line on a rebound but his goal was ruled out for offside.
Declan Rice’s 13th-minute shot from outside the box whizzed just past the post in the Hammers’ best chance of the first half.
Rice may have played his last game for the East Londoners as he is being courted by the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United.
The game changed with the goals as both sides suddenly looked far more lively, earning corners and creating chances.
But Rolando Mandragora sent his shot just wide and Sofyan Amrabat was denied by Areola, while Tomas Soucek’s header was saved by a diving Terracciano.
Before the game, Prague police said they had detained 16 people as Fiorentina fans attacked West Ham supporters in a bar in central Prague. Three people sustained light injuries.

Lionel Messi: ‘I’ve decided to go to Inter Miami’

Lionel Messi: ‘I’ve decided to go to Inter Miami’
Updated 07 June 2023

Lionel Messi: ‘I’ve decided to go to Inter Miami’

Lionel Messi: ‘I’ve decided to go to Inter Miami’

BARCELONA: Lionel Messi will sign for Major League Soccer side Inter Miami, the player said Wednesday in interviews with Spanish media, choosing the United States as his next destination over a Barcelona reunion or blockbuster deal to play in Saudi Arabia.
The Argentine forward, 35, has spent the last two seasons at Paris Saint-Germain, playing his final game for the club on Saturday, after moving from Barcelona in 2021, where he spent the majority of his career.
Messi said that he did not want to have to wait for Barcelona to find a formula to be able to sign him given their financial situation — they were unable to keep him before his move to PSG, leading to a tearful departure.
“I was afraid that it would happen again,” Messi told Spanish newspapers Diario Sport and Mundo Deportivo.
“I’ve taken the decision that I am going to Miami, I don’t have (the deal) 100 percent sealed or maybe there’s something left to do, but we decided to continue our path there.
“(I decided) to leave Europe, it’s true that I had offers from another European team but I didn’t even think about it because in Europe, my idea was only to go to Barcelona.
“After winning the World Cup and not being able to go to Barca, it’s time to go to MLS to live football in a different way and enjoy my day to day life more.
“Obviously with the same responsibility and desire to win, and to do things well, but with more calm.”
Messi is a seven-time Ballon d’Or winner and is expected to earn the individual accolade once more after leading Argentina to World Cup glory in Qatar in December 2022.
The football world was eagerly awaiting Messi’s decision after PSG confirmed this week the playmaker, widely considered the best player in the history of football, was departing.
Inter Miami, co-owned by former England international David Beckham and founded in 2018, sacked coach Phil Neville last week with the team bottom of the Eastern Conference — with Argentine Javier Morales taking over on an interim basis.
The romance of a Barcelona return and prospect of eye-watering riches in Saudi Arabia fell by the wayside as Messi opted to join MLS, with sun-soaked Miami a city he has holidayed in on previous occasions.
Some reports say key MLS sponsors including sportswear brand Adidas and Apple TV, who own the league’s domestic broadcasting rights, may be contributing to his deal.

Kyle Walker: Manchester City one step away from ‘invincibility’

Kyle Walker: Manchester City one step away from ‘invincibility’
Updated 07 June 2023

Kyle Walker: Manchester City one step away from ‘invincibility’

Kyle Walker: Manchester City one step away from ‘invincibility’
  • Pep Guardiola’s team face will complete a glorious treble if they beat Inter Milan in Saturday’s Champions League final
  • “I think that United team, along with the Invincibles, is probably up there with the best Premier League teams of all time,” said Walker

LONDON: English football player Kyle Walker says Manchester City are a step away from invincibility and matching football’s greatest sides.
Having won the Premier League and FA Cup, Pep Guardiola’s team will seal a treble if they beat Inter Milan in Saturday’s Champions League final.
Only Manchester United, back in 1999 under Sir Alex Ferguson, have ever achieved that feat among English clubs.
Walker says United and Arsenal — who went through the entire 2003-04 Premier League season unbeaten and were known as the Invincibles — are the standard-bearers in the modern era for the best English clubs.
Now, he hopes City will confirm their status among them with success in Istanbul.
“I think that United team, along with the Invincibles, is probably up there with the best Premier League teams of all time,” said Walker, who joined City from Tottenham Hotspur in 2017 for £50 million ($62 million).
“(United) have got the big Champions League trophy that we can never say we have got.”
Inter Milan, he added, also “need to be considered as a great team.”
While City have enjoyed domestic success — they have now won five of the last six Premier League titles — they crave European glory.
But Walker, 33, added: “It doesn’t define what this squad has achieved over the last six years. It doesn’t define us if we go on and win this or not.
“It helps massively to say that we can be put in that category of probably one of the best Premier League teams of all time, but we don’t win five Premier Leagues in six years if we are not a good team.
“We … know we are a good team, but to be recognized globally as one of the best teams, you need to win the Champions League.
“We are not beating around the bush with that; we know this is now a great opportunity. We have a second chance definitely with Pep and the group of players who have stayed around, and we need to put right the wrongs we did against Chelsea.”
That 1-0 defeat to Chelsea came in the 2021 Champions League final in Porto, where City were below par.
Walker, John Stones and Phil Foden then went on to lose the European Championship final with England against Italy at Wembley to cap a painful period for club and country.
“I didn’t really have much time to get over the 2021 final as I had to tune back into England and go and compete in a tournament for my country,” he added.
“It was hard seeing all the Chelsea boys there. You say congratulations to them because they are your teammates now, but it was tough.
“Then I experienced a loss against Italy in the final and I had to pick myself up again and get ready for the season.”
Walker says it is part and parcel of football to experience such disappointment.
“I don’t think any great team goes straight to the final and wins it,” he said. “I think you always have to go through setbacks … Hopefully big things are around the corner.”
Walker has endured a frustrating season with injuries forcing him on the sidelines and then Guardiola preferring Stones, Manuel Akanji and teenager Rico Lewis in the right-sided position, where players have moved into midfield during games.
The City boss felt Walker was not capable of playing that role, saying he did not have the “educated movements” of Stones.
While the criticism hurt, the defender said he did not let it affect him, and he has responded with impressive displays to be a starter again.
“No, it’s his opinion,” said Walker. “He’s my manager and I have to listen to him. If his opinion is right or wrong — it’s not my decision.
“He’s the boss of this club and makes the decision of who goes onto the field, and I have to accept that, right or wrong, get my head down, do my extra work in the gym, make sure I am putting in performances on the training field so when I am called upon, he’s not saying, ‘That’s why I was dropping you, because you are not playing well.’
“When I have got the chance, I have tried to do what I do, play good football and defend well, and hopefully that will give him the confidence to carry on picking me in the big games.
“I wasn’t playing at the start of the season, but things change in football.”
Walker’s upbringing has helped him cope with setbacks. He grew up on a Sheffield estate where he witnessed a fatal arson attack and the dead body of a person who had committed suicide next to his front door.
“When I say certain things about it, people look at me thinking, ‘What actually happened?’, but that was my upbringing,” he said. “It has channeled me into this path where I am now. Do I think I can overcome certain things when the going gets tough, can I stand my heels in the ground and then keep moving? I think I can do that.
“That is just the way I have been brought up, especially in England where people bring (you) up to pull you back down.”