US and Japan make fast World Cup starts but England labor to victory

US and Japan make fast World Cup starts but England labor to victory
England's Alessia Russo in action with Haiti's Tabita Joseph during the Women's World Cup match between England and Haiti in Brisbane, Australia on July 22, 2023. (Reuters)
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Updated 23 July 2023

US and Japan make fast World Cup starts but England labor to victory

US and Japan make fast World Cup starts but England labor to victory
  • Denmark snatch a 1-0 win over China, thanks to a 90th-minute goal from Vangsgaard

BRISBANE, Australia: England squeezed past Haiti 1-0 as they began their Women’s World Cup title bid in unconvincing fashion on Saturday, but holders the United States and former champions Japan were far more comfortable.
European champions England have been touted as the prime challengers to a United States team chasing an unprecedented third World Cup crown in a row.
But they will have to play far better than they did in front of nearly 45,000 spectators in Brisbane, where a youthful Haiti side making their World Cup debut could have snatched a point at the end.
A Georgia Stanway penalty in the first half put Sarina Wiegman’s side ahead, but despite having more of the ball and more shots, England had goalkeeper Mary Earps to thank for preserving their narrow lead.
She made a superb save with her left leg as the time ticked down after Roseline Eloissaint found herself all alone with only Earps to beat.
England, who have been embroiled in a dispute with the FA over bonuses in the lead-up to the tournament, are aiming to add a first World Cup crown to the European title they won at Wembley last year.
“We need more ruthlessness,” Wiegman said.
“We went very close a couple of times, and their defense was tough too, but we need to keep trying, keep working on it, starting tomorrow.”
Also in Group D, Denmark snatched a 1-0 win over China in Perth thanks to a 90th-minute goal from substitute Amalie Vangsgaard, who nipped in to prod home from close range.
In contrast to England’s labored performance, the United States and Japan were rampant against other supposed minnows.
The United States cruised to a 3-0 win over Vietnam — it should have been many more — before Japan crushed Zambia 5-0.
Sophia Smith was the star of the show for the US team at Eden Park in Auckland, scoring twice and setting up captain Lindsey Horan for the third in front of just over 41,000 fans.
The only sour note for Vlatko Andonovski’s side, which featured six World Cup debutants at kick-off, was their lack of finishing ability in front of goal.
They had 27 attempts to none for Vietnam and Alex Morgan missed a penalty.
“At the end, I just felt we needed to be a little bit better with the final shot,” said the coach.
“We created opportunities, we had a penalty kick, obviously enough to score a few more goals, but there are lots of positives from game one going into game two.”
Next up for the Americans, who brought veteran Megan Rapinoe off the bench for the last 30 minutes, are the Netherlands in a re-run of the 2019 final. The US won that game 2-0 to retain their title.
Japan are not seen as the threat they were in 2011, when they went on to lift the World Cup, but they were much too good for Zambia.
Zambia are the lowest-ranked team at the World Cup and they were on the back foot for long periods against a Japan team who looked like scoring every time they went forward.
Much like the US against Vietnam, the scoreline actually flattered the losers and Zambia could easily have lost by more in front of 16,111 spectators in the New Zealand city of Hamilton.
Hinata Miyazawa scored twice and Mina Tanaka, Jun Endo and Riko Ueki were also on the scoresheet as Japan joined Spain on three points in Group C.
Spain, another of the pre-tournament favorites, cruised to a 3-0 win over Costa Rica on Friday.
To cap a disastrous day for Zambia, goalkeeper Catherine Musonda was sent off at the death for a second yellow card and conceded a penalty, which Ueki slotted in at the second attempt.
“We’re not looking at excuses — we have just not played well this evening,” said Zambia’s coach Bruce Mwape.
Title contenders Sweden, France and the Netherlands all play on Sunday, with the Dutch facing Portugal before taking on the USA on Thursday.
Off the pitch, New Zealand’s squad was temporarily evacuated from its hotel in Auckland after a fire, the team said, but all players and staff were safe.

Saudi Arabia football signs talent pact with Bosnia pro side

Saudi Arabia football signs talent pact with Bosnia pro side
Updated 11 December 2023

Saudi Arabia football signs talent pact with Bosnia pro side

Saudi Arabia football signs talent pact with Bosnia pro side
  • Kingdom’s Future Falcons links up with FK Zeljeznicar Sarajevo for trials, coaching cooperation
  • FK Zeljeznicar Sarajevo has won top domestic titles, including the league 8 times

The Saudi Arabian Football Federation’s talent program, Future Falcons, has signed a cooperation pact with top Bosnia football team FK Zeljeznicar Sarajevo.

The signing ceremony in Bosnia was attended by the program’s General Director Ghassan Felemban, and FK Zeljeznicar Sarajevo’s President Yusuf Tanovic.

The agreement includes opportunities for players from the Future Falcons program to have trials with FK Zeljeznicar. It also involves collaboration between the coaching staff, employees, and administrators of both teams.

The agreement will allow scouts and coaches to participate in the Al-Abtal Cup, a tournament in which the Bosnian club competes. FK Zeljeznicar recently appointed national coach Abdulhakeem Al-Tuwaijri to oversee the training of the first team in November. The team includes a former Future Falcons player, Abdulmalik Al-Jaber.

Felemban thanked the Saudi Arabian Football Federation for its support under the organization’s president, Yasser Al-Misehal, and added that the Bosnia side would bring much-needed expertise into the Kingdom.

FK Zeljeznicar Sarajevo has won the league eight times, the Bosnia and Herzegovina Football Cup six times, and the Bosnia and Herzegovina Supercup three times. They also reached the semifinals of the UEFA Cup in the 1984/1985 season.

Al-Ittihad all to play for in FIFA Club World Cup

Al-Ittihad all to play for in FIFA Club World Cup
Updated 11 December 2023

Al-Ittihad all to play for in FIFA Club World Cup

Al-Ittihad all to play for in FIFA Club World Cup
  • Expectations high as Saudi team enjoy home advantage
  • Saudi Arabian sides have proud history in tournament

RIYADH: Saudi Arabian teams have a good record in the FIFA Club World Cup but for the first time it will take place on home soil. That gives Al-Ittihad extra support, incentive as well as pressure.

The first Saudi team to participate was Al-Nassr who went to Brazil for the old FIFA Club World Championship. In a tough group, the Riyadh team finished third, losing to Real Madrid, beating Raja Casablanca, and then going down to local team Corinthians.

Al-Ittihad played at the first tournament in its current format in 2005 as they went to Japan as Asian champions.

It started with a 1-0 win over Al-Ahly (the Egyptians lay in wait on Friday, assuming Al-Ittihad beat Auckland City on Tuesday). On a cold Japanese evening, talismanic midfielder Mohammed Noor got the only goal of the game with 12 minutes remaining, getting to a cross before goalkeeper Essam El-Hadary and then belting the loose ball home from close range.

That was enough to book a semi-final against Sao Paulo. It was always going to be difficult against the South American champions and in front of more than 30,000 fans in Tokyo, Al-Ittihad gave it a real good go. Most of the crowd were there to support the Brazilians but the Saudis got a standing ovation at the end.

It was 1-1 at the break as Amoroso put Sao Paulo ahead before Noor equalized. Amoroso and then Rogerio Ceni, the highest-scoring goalkeeper in the history of football, netted from the penalty spot.

Asian player of the year Hamad Al-Montashari made it 3-2 midway through the second half to set up an exciting finish but Al-Ittihad just could not get the equalizer and then went on to lose to Costa Rica’s Saprissa in the third and fourth place play-off by the same 3-2 margin.

Saudi Arabia then had to wait until 2019 for their next appearance as Al-Hilal ended the drought in the Asian Champions League by defeating Urawa Reds of Japan. In many ways for Saudi Arabia, the 2019 FIFA Club World Cup was a mirror of what happened in 2005, though it took place in Qatar and not Japan.

It started with a 1-0 win over the African champions, this time Esperance de Tunis. Bafetimbi Gomis got the all-important goal. That earned a semi-final against a giant from Brazil. Salem Al-Dawsari put the Blues ahead to send thousands of fans in Doha wild with delight. But it was not to last as Flamengo hit back to win 3-1. The Riyadh giants outshot the South Americans but just could not get the goal needed.

That meant a match for third place with Monterrey. After the game ended 2-2, with Carlos Eduardo and Gomis scoring, it went to penalties with the Mexican team winning 4-3. Eduardo and Mohammed Kanno failed to convert.

It once again demonstrated that Saudi Arabian teams could compete on the global stage and Al-Hilal had another chance in 2021 in a tournament.

That started with a 6-1 thrashing of hosts Al-Jazira of the UAE. There was plenty of attacking talent on display on that day in Abu Dhabi with Odion Ighalo, Matheus Pereira, Kanno, Al-Dawsari, Moussa Marega, and Andre Carrillo all getting on the scoresheet.

Instead of South American semi-final opposition, the Blues of Riyadh faced the Blues of London. Chelsea ended up winning 1-0 but it was a fine performance from Al-Hilal who more than matched the European champions. Romelu Lukaku scored just after the half-hour.

If that was impressive, the match for third place was a disaster and it ended in a 4-0 loss to Al-Ahly. By the half-hour mark, Al-Hilal were two goals down and two men down as Pereira and Kanno were dismissed. Also dismissed soon after was head coach Leonardo Jardim. It was a low point but under his replacement Ramon Diaz, the team then went on a winning spree at home and won an unlikely league title.

Al-Hilal were back for the 2022 edition held in 2023, to deliver a truly memorable performance.

In February, it started with a tricky game against African champions Wydad Casablanca, in front of 44,000 fans in Rabat. It was a fighting display. Going a goal behind early in the second half, Al-Hilal looked to be on their way out. Yet, with seconds remaining Kanno scored to take the game into extra time and almost as soon as it started, the midfielder was sent off.

Despite that, the Saudi Arabians took the game to penalties when young midfielder Musab Al-Juwayr scored the decisive penalty.

Then came the usual semi-final against Brazilian royalty but this time the result was anything but usual. Al-Hilal won 3-2 against Flamengo. Al-Dawsari scored twice from the spot in the first half, a brace that sandwiched a Pedro goal. Luciano Vietto then extended the Asian champions’ lead with 20 minutes remaining and they held out for a famous 3-2 win.

That earned a first Saudi Arabian final against Real Madrid when Al-Hilal gave as good as they got, losing 5-3 in a wildly entertaining game against the mighty European champions.

It meant that Al-Hilal returned home with their heads held high –though it came at a cost in terms of fatigue in their later domestic form.

Just three months after Saudi Arabia’s World Cup win over Argentina, it showed once more that the country was a football force. There has been more attention since with all the big-name signings and headlines.

It means that Al-Ittihad, playing on home soil, have much to live up to in terms of Saudi Arabian history in the tournament as well as global expectations.

Girona make a genuine title contender statement with 4-2 win at Barcelona to go top in Spain

Girona make a genuine title contender statement with 4-2 win at Barcelona to go top in Spain
Updated 11 December 2023

Girona make a genuine title contender statement with 4-2 win at Barcelona to go top in Spain

Girona make a genuine title contender statement with 4-2 win at Barcelona to go top in Spain
  • The statement win moved Girona two points ahead of Madrid, who drew 1-1 with Real Betis on Saturday
  • The game between Granada and Athletic Bilbao was suspended after a fan suffered a cardiac arrest and died in the stands

MADRID: Girona made their strong case to be considered a genuine contender for the Spanish league title by beating Catalan rivals Barcelona 4-2 on Sunday and overtaking Real Madrid at the top of the standings.

Ukraine forward Artem Dovbyk and Viktor Tsygankov teamed up for Girona’s opener, and Miguel Gutierrez, Valery Fernandez and Cristhian Stuani scored a goal each to seal the away victory against the defending league champions. Robert Lewandowski and Ilkay Gundogan scored Barcelona’s goals.

The statement win moved Girona two points ahead of Madrid, who drew 1-1 with Real Betis on Saturday. Barcelona dropped to fourth place, seven points behind their regional rival and five behind Madrid. Atletico Madrid regained third place with a 2-1 win over last-place Almeria to extend their winning streak at home in the league to 17 matches. Atletico hae the same 34 points as Barcelona with a game in hand.

Barcelona had never lost in six matches against Girona in the league, with four wins and two draws.

“Girona deserves a lot of credit. It has a great team,” Barcelona coach Xavi Hernandez said. “It was an even match, it could have gone either way. It also would have been a fair result if we had won it.”

Girona, partly owned by Manchester City’s Abu Dhabi ownership, never looked like the minnow club against Barcelona on Sunday, showing maturity and poise from the start at the Lluis Companys Olympic Stadium.

The team coached by Míchel Sanchez, sporting a white and blue uniform with similar colors to Man City, has been playing some of the best soccer in Spain and holding on to its position near the top from the start of the season.

“It’s a special victory, it gives us the lead,” Michel said. “Very happy with the result because we faced a great Barça team.”

Girona had won 12 of their first 15 league matches, though it had failed in their first big test when they lost 3-0 to Real Madrid at home in September.

There was no problem against Barcelona, though.

The visitors opened the scoring in a breakaway in the 12th minute. Dovbyk found the net from close range after completing a low cross by his countryman Tsygankov. Barcelona equalized with a header by Lewandowski off a corner kick taken by Raphinha in the 19th, but Girona retook the lead in the 40th with a nice shot by Gutierrez into the top corner from inside the area.

Fernandez scored Girona’s third in the 80th before Barcelona pulled closer with Gundogan’s goal two minutes into stoppage time. Stuani restored Girona’s two-goal advantage five minutes into injury time.


The game between Granada and Athletic Bilbao was suspended after a fan suffered a cardiac arrest and died in the stands.

Granada said the fan had been a season ticket holder for 16 years. No further details were given about the fan’s identity.

The match will restart on Monday night from the 17th minute with Athletic leading 1-0. Iñaki Williams had put the visitors ahead in the sixth minute.


Atletico won their 17th consecutive match at home to extend their biggest winning run in the competition as a host.

Alvaro Morata and Angel Correa scored a goal each in the first half before Almeria pulled one back through Leo Baptistao after halftime.

Atletico will have a game in hand after the weekend’s round. Diego Simeone’s team were coming off a 1-0 loss at Barcelona in the previous league round. They had won 11 of their last 13 matches in all competitions before that defeat in Barcelona.

“We know there’s still a long way to go. We lost the other day but it wasn’t the end of it,” Atletico forward Antoine Griezmann said. “We have to keep playing like this.”

Atletico’s last setback at home in the league was a 1-1 draw with Getafe in February.

Morata opened the scoring in the 17th minute after dribbling past a defender and then the goalkeeper inside the area. Correa added to the lead five minutes later from close range after a low cross by Marcos Llorente.

The assist for Morata’s goal came from Griezmann, who had a goal disallowed for offside in the fifth minute. The France forward remains three goals shy of the 173 scored by Luis Aragonés, the club’s all-time leading scorer.

Baptistao scored from close range for Almeria in the 62nd.

It was the 12th league loss for the club from southern Madrid, who remain the only team without a win this season. They stayed on four points from four draws. The Saudi-owned club this week was eliminated by fourth-division team Barbastro in the second round of the Copa del Rey.

Also Sunday, relegation-threatened Cadiz saw their winless streak in all competitions reach 14 matches after a 1-1 draw with Osasuna at home.

Eddie Howe hints Newcastle squad depth inadequate after Tottenham hammering

Eddie Howe hints Newcastle squad depth inadequate after Tottenham hammering
Updated 11 December 2023

Eddie Howe hints Newcastle squad depth inadequate after Tottenham hammering

Eddie Howe hints Newcastle squad depth inadequate after Tottenham hammering
  • Magpies’ hope for European and domestic success in doubt
  • Injuries and poor away form are big problems, says Howe

LONDON: Newcastle United head coach Eddie Howe has for the first time hinted that the Magpies’ squad is not equipped to fight on three fronts.

The Magpies were hammered in North London by Ange Postecoglou’s men, as Richarlison’s double and goals from Heung-Min Son and Destiny Udogie ensured Newcastle slipped further away from the Champions League places in the Premier League. It was also their second three-goal beating in four days, having lost at Everton on Thursday.

So with Premier League top-four hopes faltering, attention turns to the Champions League on Wednesday, when a win against last season’s semifinalists, AC Milan, will ensure European football remains on Tyneside, either in the last 16 of the competition, or in the Europa League, depending on the result in the Borussia Dortmund versus Paris Saint-Germain encounter.

Newcastle also have the prospect of a Carabao Cup quarterfinal in a week and a half, with Chelsea waiting in the wings.

Assessing his side’s performance, and looking at possible reasons for the last week’s disappointments, Howe has for the first time hinted his squad, after a host of injuries, is not capable of performing three times a week, as has been the case since September.

“We had our moments but we gave everything without the resources to give more,” said Howe. “It is difficult because we play on Wednesday, this is what we wanted. We hoped to have the squad to cope with that but we’ve had worse injuries than any team that I can remember.

“You have to critique like you would normally; we weren’t in rhythm around the box and lacked conviction. We didn’t defend the goals well enough. The moments were there, we had chances. There is always more, you can push yourself even when you’re tired.

“It was a difficult afternoon. The players have done so well to keep going behind a very congested period of games with some very hard fixtures for us.

“When you go back to Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United, Bournemouth they’re all difficult fixtures and then Everton and Tottenham away in a very short period of time. We haven’t been at our best, it’s there for everybody to see. The players are giving everything they could give so I have to back them and support them but acknowledge that our performances are not where they could be.

“You want to make changes that benefit the team. Not make changes that don’t benefit the team so I’m trying to make those decisions and get them right. I’ve been backed into a very difficult position with the team selection and even in game decisions. Today it would have been easy to say: ‘You’ve got Callum and Sean, put them on the pitch.’ But they’re not 100 percent fit so I’ve got to be very careful with them. Thankfully they came through and I thought their performances were really good in the game and that is a big positive in the game.”

While injuries have bitten hard, with the absence of fringe men felt as much as key performers, given Howe has been unable to allow his starters to rest, there is hope from the treatment room.

Callum Wilson and Sean Longstaff both came off the bench against Spurs and it is hoped Sven Botman and summer signing Harvey Barnes are not too far behind.

“We have light at the end of the tunnel,” Howe added.

“Callum and Longstaff are two huge players for us. We have to be positive, take the pain and come fighting.

“(Longstaff and Wilson) will be better for today. That was a good 30 minutes for them but we’ll have to take it game by game.”

One player who Howe will have to learn to live without, for (one) game at least, is Kieran Trippier, who picked up his fifth booking of the campaign. He will be unavailable for next week’s visit of Fulham, but will be able to play against Milan.

“It’s a huge blow for us, Kieran is a standard for us really to get a level of consistent performance. We’ll miss his quality,” said Howe.

Two home games in a week comes on the back of an away-day doubleheader. The form on home turf compared to their travels is stark. The Magpies have lost just once at St. James’, while they’ve won just once on the road. Howe knows it’s something that needs to change if Newcastle are to challenge the top four, like they did so successfully last season.

On poor away form, Howe said: “I can’t argue with that assessment. It’s up to us to find answers to that. I can’t defend it, so I won’t.”

Man City beat Luton without Haaland to end 4-match winless run as Tottenham thrash Newcastle 4-1

Man City beat Luton without Haaland to end 4-match winless run as Tottenham thrash Newcastle 4-1
Updated 10 December 2023

Man City beat Luton without Haaland to end 4-match winless run as Tottenham thrash Newcastle 4-1

Man City beat Luton without Haaland to end 4-match winless run as Tottenham thrash Newcastle 4-1
  • The injuries are piling up for Newcastle, and so are the losses

LONDON: Without the injured Erling Haaland and trailing 1-0 to Luton at halftime, Manchester City were in danger of plunging into a full-blown crisis approaching the halfway point of their Premier League title defense.
The defending champions managed to turn it round, though, as goals by Bernardo Silva and Jack Grealish in a three-minute span earned a 2-1 victory Sunday that ended their four-match winless run and trimmed the gap to first-place Liverpool to four points.
If it wasn’t for the recovery in the second half, City manager Pep Guardiola would have stumbled into the worst streak of results in his coaching career, having never gone five matches without a win.
That was the bleak scenario facing Guardiola and City after striker Elijah Adebayo headed in Andros Townsend’s cross at the back post in the second minute of first-half stoppage time to give Luton the lead at Kenilworth Road — five days after the promoted hosts blew a 3-2 lead against Arsenal to lose 4-3.
Haaland was sidelined because of a foot injury so City was without the league’s top scorer in its bid to produce a fightback.
Still, Rodri was back from suspension and when the Spain midfielder’s surge into the area was stopped by a timely challenge, Silva was there to pounce on the loose ball and curl a finish into the bottom corner in the 62nd.
Grealish then converted a cross by Julian Alvarez in the 65th.
City stayed in fourth place, with Guardiola saying Haaland will be assessed ahead of the home game against Crystal Palace on Saturday.
The injuries are piling up for Newcastle, and so are the losses.
With the 4-1 thrashing at Tottenham, Newcastle have lost more games in the Premier League — six — than the team had in the whole of the 2022-23 campaign.
Three of them have come in the last five games and away from home as Newcastle manager Eddie Howe struggles to balance playing domestic and Champions League soccer amid an injury crisis that has led to him playing the same starting lineup in five straight games. Next up is their biggest game of the season, at home to AC Milan on Wednesday when Newcastle’s Champions League hopes are on the line.
Destiny Udogie scored for the first time in the Premier League, Richarlison added goals either side of the break and Son Heung-min converted a late penalty for Tottenham, who hadn’t won since Oct. 27 — when the team were unbeaten and top of the standings.
There have been four defeats and a draw since then, with Spurs taking the lead in each of those games but failing to hold on. Not this time, though Joelinton scored a stoppage-time consolation for Newcastle.
Everton are surging clear of the relegation zone, less than a month after plunging into the bottom three after being deducted 10 points for financial mismanagement.
A 2-0 win over Chelsea secured a third straight win for Everton, which has moved four points clear of third-from last Luton.
Abdoulaye Doucoure scored for the third time in five games, converting a rebound in the 54th after Dominic Calvert-Lewin had a shot saved by Chelsea goalkeeper Robert Sanchez. Lewis Dobbin added a second in the second minute of stoppage time.
After spending around $1 billion on players in the last three transfer windows, Chelsea aren’t even in the top half after losing three of their last four games.
The visitors also lost right back Reece James to another injury after he was forced off in the 27th minute with a suspected hamstring problem.
Raul Jimenez is enjoying a new lease of life at Fulham.
The Mexico international went through some lean times after sustaining a career-threatening head injury while playing for Wolverhampton in November 2020. From being one of the most sought-after strikers in the Premier League, he appeared to lose all of his confidence and was sold to Fulham in July.
With his 22nd-minute strike in Fulham’s 5-0 win over West Ham, Jimenez has four goals in his last five games and is leading a midseason resurgence from the London club.
Willian and Tosin Adarabioyo added first-half goals while Harry Wilson and Carlos Vinicius added more after the break as Fulham scored at least three goals for the fourth straight game, after doing so against Wolverhampton, Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.
It was a second straight 5-0 win, after thrashing Forest by that score in midweek.
Marco Silva’s team are now in 10th place and only three points behind ninth-place West Ham, whose four-match unbeaten run in the league came to an end.