AC Milan routs Napoli 4-0 in Champions League warning

AC Milan routs Napoli 4-0 in Champions League warning
AC Milan's Portuguese forward Rafael Leao (2ndR) opens the scoring past Napoli's Italian goalkeeper Alex Meret (L) during the Italian Serie A football match between SSC Napoli and AC Milan on April 2, 2023 at the Diego-Maradona stadium in Naples. (AFP)
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Updated 03 April 2023
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AC Milan routs Napoli 4-0 in Champions League warning

AC Milan routs Napoli 4-0 in Champions League warning
  • Rafael Leao scored twice and Brahim Diaz set up one goal and scored another to hand Napoli their heaviest defeat

ROME: If this was just the antipasto, Napoli should be concerned about what AC Milan will serve up for the main course.

In the first of three matchups between Milan and Napoli this month, the defending Serie A champion routed this season’s runaway leader 4-0 on Sunday ahead of two more clashes in the Champions League quarterfinals.

Rafael Leao scored twice and Brahim Diaz set up one goal and scored another to hand Napoli their heaviest defeat of what otherwise has been an extraordinary season.

“We’re happy with the performance but it’s just one game,” Milan coach Stefano Pioli said. “Tonight’s result has nothing to do with the Champions League games, because that’s a different competition. That will be a very balanced contest.”

Napoli’s only other losses in the Italian league this season both came by scores of 1-0, to Inter Milan in January and to Lazio a month ago.

Napoli were also beaten 2-0 by Liverpool in the final match of the Champions League group phase but that loss came after the Partenopei had already clinched a spot in the round of 16.

Otherwise, Napoli’s only other defeat in 2022-23 came against Cremonese on penalties in the Italian Cup.

Milan moved up to third place, 20 points behind Napoli and four points behind Lazio.

Milan controlled from the start at the Diego Armando Maradona stadium and Diaz set up Milan’s early opener for Leão with a perfect through ball. Leao — last season’s MVP — then did the rest by chipping in over Napoli goalkeeper Alex Meret.

Diaz produced some more fireworks when he faked out Mario Rui to score with a deflection from close range in the 25th.

It marked the first time that Napoli conceded twice in the opening 25 minutes of a Serie A game since a match against Juventus in Aug. 2019.

Leao fired in the third from a sharp angle near the hour mark after deceiving Napoli defender Amir Rrahmani.

Then Alexis Saelemaekers weaved through Napoli’s defense less than 10 minutes later to complete the rout.

At the final whistle, Leao exchanged shirts with his fellow left winger at Napoli, Khvicha Kvaratskhelia.

“I’m a big fan of his,” Leao said. “I like what he does on the pitch. He’s similar to me, he tries to dribble by opponents.”

Milan host Napoli at the San Siro in the first leg of the Champions League quarterfinals in 10 days, then Napoli host the second leg six days later.

Napoli hope to have Serie A scoring leader Victor Osimhen back for those matches after its center forward was ruled out of this game due to an injured abductor muscle in his left leg.

Lazio tightened their grip on second place with a 2-0 win at Silvio Berlusconi’s Monza.

Having beaten Napoli and Roma in the derby before the international break, Lazio extended their unbeaten streak in the Italian league to six matches.

A free kick from Sergej Milinkovic-Savic after the break followed an early goal from Pedro for Lazio.

Lazio have kept six consecutive clean sheets for the second time this season.

Georginio Wijnaldum scored one goal and earned a penalty that Paulo Dybala converted as Roma beat 10-man Sampdoria 3-0 to move level on points with fourth-place Inter Milan.

All of the goals came after Sampdoria defender Jeison Murillo was sent off for two yellow cards early in the second half.

Wijnaldum opened the scoring with a header then Stephan El Shaarawy sealed it from the edge of the area after Dybala’s penalty.

Roma coach Jose Mourinho’s counterpart at Sampdoria, Dejan Stankovic, was one of Mourinho’s players when he coached Inter to a treble of titles in 2010.

Also, Bologna continued to impress under Thiago Motta with a 3-0 win over Udinese to move up to eighth.

Stefan Posch, Nikola Moro and Musa Barrow scored for Bologna.

Motta replaced the fired Sinisa MiHajjlović in September after Bologna was unable to produce a win in itheir opening five matches.

Salernitana drew 1-1 at Spezia.


Major League Soccer chief blasts referees union over lockout

Major League Soccer chief blasts referees union over lockout
Updated 22 February 2024
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Major League Soccer chief blasts referees union over lockout

Major League Soccer chief blasts referees union over lockout
  • Garber: I can’t remember in my near 40 years of sports of having a bargaining unit reach agreement and not have their members support it
  • The referees’ previous five-year labor deal expired in January

FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida: Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber has hit out at referee union members after talks broke down leaving the league to start the new season without their top referees.

Garber, speaking to reporters prior to the opening game of the season between Inter Miami and Real Salt Lake, warned MLS was “very prepared” to deal with the lockout of the officials.

The Professional Soccer Referees Association (PSRA) said on Saturday that 95.8 percent of their voting members had voted to reject the tentative deal they had reached with MLS’s Professional Referees Organization (PRO).

“I can’t remember in my near 40 years of sports of having a bargaining unit reach agreement and not have their members support it,” Garber told reporters, saying that over 20 bargaining sessions had been held before the deal was reached between negotiators.

“Very disappointing process. In my opinion, it was one that either was intentional or there’s a disconnect between the members and their elected negotiators,” he said.

“It’s not the way MLS was looking to start a season, but you can’t really negotiate with an entity that, in my opinion, hasn’t really negotiated with PRO fairly. So we’ll see how all that plays out in the weeks to come,” he added.

The referees’ previous five-year labor deal expired in January.

PSRA said the rejected deal fell “short of expectations, along with a lack of quality of life improvements.”

But Garber said it was not clear to him what the main issues were that needed resolving.

“At this point, we don’t even know what it is that they’re looking for because we agreed (a deal) with their elected representation.

“Not knowing what it is and how far PRO is apart from the PSRA, that is just not something that I can say is normal in a bargaining unit right now,” he said.

The PRSA responded quickly to Garber’s comments on social media.

“If the Commissioner doesn’t know what we want, he should simply ask his own Negotiating Committee. We have made it clear: “PRO negotiators failed to heed PSRA’s warnings at the table that the TA (agreement) would fall short of membership expectations and face an uphill ratification process,” the union posted.

PSRA members earlier staged protests on Wednesday outside MLS’s offices in midtown Manhattan and in Arlington, Texas.

“My hope would be that they would have come and told us what it was that the officials were looking for that their elected representatives were not able to deliver for them rather than spending their time on protesting outside our offices,” said Garber.

“So I’m sitting here today not quite sure what the next step is. I don’t know how you get to a point where there’s work stoppage and not know what it is that you’re disagreeing about.

“That’s frustrating. I imagine it’s frustrating for fans. It’s certainly frustrating for us. We’ll see how it plays out. I will tell you that we are very prepared.

“We’re more than willing to manage this in a way that’s in the best interest of our players, our teams, the best interest of our fans,” he said.


Galeno stuns Arsenal with late Porto winner in Champions League

Galeno stuns Arsenal with late Porto winner in Champions League
Updated 22 February 2024
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Galeno stuns Arsenal with late Porto winner in Champions League

Galeno stuns Arsenal with late Porto winner in Champions League
  • The defeat ended Arsenal’s eight-game unbeaten run against Portuguese opposition

PORTO, Portugal: Galeno curled in a sublime stoppage-time strike as FC Porto defeated Arsenal 1-0 in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie in Portugal on Wednesday.
Appearing in a first knockout match in Europe’s premier club competition for seven years, Arsenal struggled to break down an organized Porto defense before Galeno’s last-gasp stroke of brilliance.
The defeat ended Arsenal’s eight-game unbeaten run against Portuguese opposition and leaves Mikel Arteta’s side with plenty of work to do in the return leg in London next month.
Arteta stuck with the same starting line-up for the third game in succession following his team’s 5-0 demolition of Burnley at the weekend.
Porto defender Pepe, who turns 41 next week and is the oldest outfield player in Champions League history, made his 119th appearance in the competition.
By comparison, Arsenal’s starters had combined for a total of 104 before kick-off at the Estadio do Dragao.
While short on Champions League experience, Arteta has said his squad have the belief they can mix it with Europe’s best.
The Gunners have started the new year with five successive wins in the Premier League, scoring 21 goals in those games, and are firmly in the race for a first title since 2004.
As well as reigning supreme in England for the first time in 20 years, the north Londoners are convinced they can also conquer Europe, spurred on further by the prospect of a Wembley final.
Arsenal have never won the Champions League — losing their only final appearance against Barcelona in 2006.
Porto, European champions in 1987 and 2004, are a disappointing third in Portugal this term, but frustrated Arsenal throughout.
They were happy to cede possession and allow Arsenal to dictate the tempo in the first half, but it was the hosts who created the best chance.
Francisco Conceicao darted in from the right and slid over a cross that looped off a sliding Gabriel, with Galeno rifling against the far post and then steering the rebound wide after the ball came right back to him.
William Saliba and Kai Havertz headed wide at corners either side of a Nico Gonzalez drive that sailed over in a physical opening 45 minutes.
Leandro Trossard, deployed again as the leader of the attack alongside Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli, lashed over on the volley from Declan Rice’s driven corner early in the second half.
Arteta made his first change with a quarter of an hour left, replacing Trossard with Jorginho, as Arsenal sought additional control in the closing minutes only to be undone by a moment of magic from Galeno.


Returning hero Osimhen snatches Champions League draw with Barca

Returning hero Osimhen snatches Champions League draw with Barca
Updated 22 February 2024
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Returning hero Osimhen snatches Champions League draw with Barca

Returning hero Osimhen snatches Champions League draw with Barca
  • Nigeria forward Osimhen rolled home the leveller with 15 minutes left of the first leg at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona

NAPLES, Italy: Victor Osimhen made a special return to action for Napoli on Wednesday as his goal gave the Italian champions a 1-1 draw with Barcelona in the last 16 of the Champions League.
Nigeria forward Osimhen rolled home the leveller with 15 minutes left of the first leg at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona in his first match since returning from the African Cup of Nations.
The 25-year-old equalized Robert Lewandowski’s 60th-minute opener, which seemed likely to be the decisive goal as Barca were for long periods the better team, with Napoli’s first and only shot on target.
Osimhen had last played for Napoli in a 2-0 defeat at Roma just before Christmas, when he was one of two players from his team to be sent off.
His ninth club goal of the season came at a crucial time, not just in the match but in Napoli’s campaign as they play under their third manager of the season in Francesco Calzona.
Calzona had less than 48 hours to prepare for his first match in charge after replacing Walter Mazzarri on Monday night, and Osimhen gave Napoli a chance of progressing despite a disjointed performance by his team.
Napoli head into next month’s second leg in the Catalan capital knowing that they with Osimhen in the team there is always a chance of a goal regardless of the overall team display.
For Barca meanwhile it was the latest misstep of a complicated campaign at the end of which coach Xavi will leave, assuming president Joan Laporta doesn’t sack the coach before then.
The away side had the better chances but couldn’t put Napoli away and could yet pay for their wastefulness.
Barca showed why they were pre-match favorites in the opening exchanges, dominating the ball and creating shooting opportunities which dulled an initially raucous crowd.
Teen sensation Lamine Yamal come close to becoming the Champions League’s youngest ever scorer when his ninth-minute effort was well-saved by Alex Meret.
In the 23rd minute, the away side twice went close to taking the lead, Lewandowski’s flicked finish kept out by Meret who then tipped away Ilkay Gundogan’s long-range rocket.
From that point on Napoli’s presence in the game grew, but the hosts failed to let off a single effort on goal before the break despite pushing their opponents on back.
Gundogan forced another smart save from Meret shortly after the restart after being put through by Yamal before blasting over another presentable chance.
Barca had the lead their performance deserved on the hour when Lewandowski collected Pedri’s pass and drilled a perfect low finish past Meret.
With the away side looking like they would push home their advantage, Osimhen pounced as Inigo Martinez slipped on the edge of the area to level the scores and transform the atmosphere in the stadium.
Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa and substitute Giovanni Simeone both had efforts off target with the home side’s tails up, but it was Barca who went inches away from snatching a late win.
Gundogan’s frustrating night in front of goal continued deep into stoppage time as his low effort flew just wide.


Injury-hit Liverpool roar back against Luton to surge four points clear

Injury-hit Liverpool roar back against Luton to surge four points clear
Updated 22 February 2024
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Injury-hit Liverpool roar back against Luton to surge four points clear

Injury-hit Liverpool roar back against Luton to surge four points clear
  • Victory takes Jurgen Klopp’s men four points clear of Manchester City and five ahead of third-placed Arsenal, but having played a game more than both their title rivals

LIVERPOOL: An injury-ravaged Liverpool fought back from a goal down to beat Luton 4-1 and open up a four-point lead at the top of the Premier League on Wednesday.
Chiedozie Ogbene had given the Hatters a shock first-half lead against a Liverpool side missing Mohamed Salah, Darwin Nunez and Diogo Jota among others.
Dutch international duo Virgil van Dijk and Cody Gakpo turned the game on its head in two minutes just before the hour mark before Luis Diaz and Harvey Elliott secured the win.
Victory takes Jurgen Klopp’s men four points clear of Manchester City and five ahead of third-placed Arsenal, but having played a game more than both their title rivals.
Liverpool’s squad was already stretched by injuries prior to loss of Curtis Jones, Jota and Nunez in the first-half of Saturday’s 4-1 win at Brentford.
Salah scored on his return from a hamstring injury at the weekend, but was forced on as a substitute earlier than planned and suffered a setback that kept him out.
Klopp was already without Alisson Becker, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Joel Matip and Thiago Alcantara due to injury and the stretched Reds were forced to work harder for the three points than they would have wished just days before the League Cup final.
Without the first-choice front three of Salah, Jota and Nunez, there was extra responsibility on Diaz but the Colombian had a first 45 minutes to forget.
Twice he had big chances to open the scoring in the first five minutes, but took too long to get his shot away and then fired wide.
Luton held Liverpool 1-1 when the sides met at Kenilworth Road in November and have made a habit of ruffling the feathers of the Premier League’s elite on their return to the top flight.
However, the visitors had barely posed a threat before they went in front on 12 minutes.
Tahith Chong burst into the Liverpool box and when his powerful shot was parried by the legs of Caoimhin Kelleher, Ogbene headed in at the far post.
All of Liverpool’s chances before the break continued to fall to Diaz.
He just could not stretch to make a strong connection on Wataru Endo’s cross and then blazed high and wide when unmarked from the edge of the area.
Klopp was whipping up the Anfield crowd at every opportunity and his side finally opened the floodgates on 56 minutes.
Captain Van Dijk led by example as he shrugged off his marker to power in Alexis Mac Allister’s corner.
Mac Allister was the creator again seconds later as Luton again switched off from a dead ball.
Conor Bradley’s throw-in picked out the Argentine midfielder and his volleyed cross was headed in by Gakpo.
Only some heroics from Thomas Kaminski denied Gakpo and Van Dijk their second goals of the night as Liverpool continued to surge forward, even with the lead.
And an animated Klopp could finally relax 19 minutes from time when Diaz this time kept his composure to slot home his 10th goal of the season.
Elliott then rounded off the scoring on his 100th Liverpool appearance by blasting a loose ball into the top corner.
Liverpool’s attention now turns to securing the first of a potential quadruple of trophies to mark Klopp’s final season in charge when they face Chelsea in Sunday’s League Cup final at Wembley.


Ronaldo once again the key as Al-Nassr book place in Asian Champions League quarter-finals

Ronaldo once again the key as Al-Nassr book place in Asian Champions League quarter-finals
Updated 22 February 2024
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Ronaldo once again the key as Al-Nassr book place in Asian Champions League quarter-finals

Ronaldo once again the key as Al-Nassr book place in Asian Champions League quarter-finals
  • They defeat fellow Saudi Pro League side Al-Fayha 2-0 on Wednesday on their way to a 3-0 aggregate win, to which the Portuguese star contributed two goals
  • On Thursday, Al-Hilal and Al-Ittihad will hope to make it 3 Saudi teams in the last 8 as they take on Sepahan of Iran and Uzbek side Navbahor respectively

Cristiano Ronaldo once again made all the difference as Al-Nassr booked their place in the quarter-finals of the Asian Champions League on Wednesday with a 3-0 aggregate victory over fellow Saudi Pro League side Al-Fayha.

After a 1-0 win away from home in last week’s first leg, thanks to a late Ronaldo goal, Al-Nassr moved a step closer closer to their first-ever continental championship with a comfortable 2-0 home victory.

It was a fine performance in which they opened the scoring after 17 minutes when Abdullah Al-Khaibari floated a ball over from deep and it was headed home in emphatic fashion by Otavio.

Roared on by an excited home crowd, Al-Nassr continued to push forward and create chances. Al-Fayha fought hard and tried to close down their star-studded opponents but Al-Nassr were in control. Not long before the break, Ronaldo met a free-kick from Marcelo Brozovic and headed against the crossbar, as the Riyadh giants looked to really turn the screw.

Early in the second half, the Portuguese megastar bamboozled the goalkeeper to fire the ball home but his strike was ruled out for offside.

Al-Nassr continued push forward and were finally rewarded when, with five minutes to go, Ronaldo broke free of the defense and, with only the goalkeeper to beat, stroked the ball home from just inside the area. And that was that.

“We worked hard and we knew what we had to do,” Al-Nassr coach Luis Castro said. “It was a tough game and we are so happy to go through to the next round and then think about what happens next.

“We played well overall and we are now looking forward to the next challenge.”

Despite the disappointment, Al-Fayha coach Vuk Rasovic was proud of his players.

“We did what we had to do and worked so hard,” said the Serbian boss. “We did our best but we also know that Al-Nassr have so much quality, and we are so happy to make it this far.”

Al-Nassr will face Emirati side Al-Ain in the quarter-finals on March 4 and 11.

On Thursday, Al-Hilal and Al-Ittihad will be looking to make it three Saudi teams in the last eight of the competition.

Al-Hilal, with a record four continental titles to their name, are in a strong position after winning the first leg of their tie against Sepahan in Iran 3-1. Al-Ittihad, winners of the competition in 2004 and 2005, are also at home but return to Jeddah after a 0-0 draw in their first leg against Uzbek side Navbahor.