Italy beat Ukraine in key Euro 2024 qualifier; Spain win big and Romania fans’ chants stop game

Italy beat Ukraine in key Euro 2024 qualifier; Spain win big and Romania fans’ chants stop game
Italy’s players celebrate at the end of the Euro 2024 group C qualifying match between Italy and Ukraine at the San Siro stadium, in Milan on Tuesday. (AP)
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Updated 13 September 2023
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Italy beat Ukraine in key Euro 2024 qualifier; Spain win big and Romania fans’ chants stop game

Italy beat Ukraine in key Euro 2024 qualifier; Spain win big and Romania fans’ chants stop game
  • Italy’s improved and more energetic performance survived Ukraine forward Andriy Yarmolenko cutting the lead before halftime
  • Spain’s 6-0 rout of Cyprus on Tuesday followed a 7-1 win at Georgia on Friday

LONDON: European champions Italy took a big step Tuesday toward being able to defend their title. Spain and Belgium won easily on their path to Euro 2024. Sweden look like it’s failing to qualify for the first time in 28 years.

Romania and Kosovo managed to finish a game that risked being abandoned. Political pro-Serbia chants by home fans in Bucharest forced a 45-minute delay in the first half and players were taken back to their locker rooms.

After Romania risked forfeiting the game as a 3-0 loss, late goals earned a 2-0 win though the national federation now faces punishment in a UEFA disciplinary case.

The highest-stakes game of the evening saw Italy secure a vital 2-1 win over Ukraine in what shapes as a tight race to finish second in the group led by England.

Two first-half goals by Inter Milan midfielder Davide Frattesi in his home stadium at San Siro gave new coach Luciano Spalletti a first win after a tension-filled draw at North Macedonia on Saturday.

Italy’s improved and more energetic performance survived Ukraine forward Andriy Yarmolenko cutting the lead before halftime.

Italy and Ukraine are tied on seven points — with North Macedonia, which beat Malta 2-0 but has the toughest schedule — trailing six behind England, who Spalletti’s team must face at Wembley Stadium next month.

A possible scenario is a decisive final-round game between Ukraine and Italy on Nov. 20: a place at Euro 2024 for one, and for the other uncertainty next March in the playoffs that stopped Italy going to the past two World Cups.

SETTLED SPAIN

On the field, the Spanish men’s team has found a calm serenity in stark contrast to the scandalous furor surrounding its now-former federation president Luis Rubiales.

A 6-0 rout of Cyprus on Tuesday followed a 7-1 win at Georgia on Friday. In between, Rubiales finally resigned while suspended by FIFA and now under criminal investigation by Spanish prosecutors for alleged sexual assault against player Jenni Hermoso at the Women’s World Cup final on Aug. 20.

Coach Luis de la Fuente seems to have survived in his job despite ties to Rubiales and his players did their bit in Granada to show all is well within the men’s team.

“I’m happy because there’s reason to be,” said De la Fuente, who had no concerns after Gavi started the scoring in the 18th. Substitute Ferran Torres scored twice in a late flurry of goals.

Spain now trail six points behind group leader Scotland. Spain lost 2-0 in Glasgow in March and hosts the Scots next on Oct. 12 before playing its game in hand at Norway three days later.

Norway stars Erling Haaland and Martin Odegaard scored first-half goals Tuesday in a 2-1 win over Georgia to stay in outside contention for a top-two finish. The playoffs await Norway as a safety net.

SWEDEN SLUMP

Sweden does not have a playoff option and not much hope of a top-two finish trailing badly behind Belgium and Austria in Group F.

As Belgium cruised past last-place Estonia 5-0, Sweden slumped to a 3-1 home loss against Austria that left coach Janne Andersson insisting he would not walk away from the job he has held for more than seven years.

Sweden has qualified for six straight Euros since missing the 1996 edition but now is seven points behind the two leaders with three rounds left. Next up: away to Belgium on Oct. 16.

Belgian celebrations started early against Estonia with veteran defender Jan Vertonghen scoring a fourth-minute header in his 150th game for the Red Devils.

Romelu Lukaku scored twice in three second-half minutes to run his tallies to 77 goals in 110 national-team games. Belgium next goes to Austria on Oct. 13.

TIGHT RACE

Switzerland, Romania and Israel are locked in a three-way battle for two qualifying places from Group I.

Romania captain Nicolae Stanciu went over to talk with fans who had chanted and displayed a banner with the “Kosovo is Serbia” slogan early in the game. Kosovo’s declaration of independence from Serbia in 2008 is formally recognized by about 100 countries and the majority of European Union members though not Romania.

Late goals by Stanciu and Valentin Mihaila, in stoppage time, sealed the win that proved even more important after Israel also found a goal in added time from Gabi Kanichowsky to beat Belarus 1-0.

Switzerland eventually cruised past last-place Andorra 3-0 with second-half goals from Cedric Itten, Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri.

The Swiss lead Romania by two points with Israel a point further back and each had four games left. Israel hosts Switzerland on Oct. 12.


Celtic edge Manchester City 4-3 in US pre-season friendly

Celtic edge Manchester City 4-3 in US pre-season friendly
Updated 46 sec ago
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Celtic edge Manchester City 4-3 in US pre-season friendly

Celtic edge Manchester City 4-3 in US pre-season friendly

Nicolas Kuhn scored twice and Luis Palma netted the decider in the 68th minute to give Celtic a 4-3 victory over Manchester City in a pre-season friendly on Tuesday.

Norway’s Erling Haaland, wearing the City captain’s armband for the first time, nodded home an equalizer in the 57th minute only for Honduran international Palma to tap in the winning goal on a breakaway at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan Memorial Stadium.

The match was a tuneup for next month’s start of the 2024-25 campaigns for Celtic, winner of the past three Scottish Premiership crowns, and four-time defending English Premier League champion Manchester City, which began a US tour.

With several top stars resting from the European Championships, City manager Pep Guardiola used the opportunity to analyze younger talent.

The match marked a Celtic debut for goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel, the 37-year-old Dane who began his career with City in 2006. He played the first half for the Hoops.

German right wing Kuhn netted a first-half brace for Celtic, playing in a fourth pre-season match.

Down 3-1 at half-time, City answered seconds into the second half on just-inserted 21-year-old Argentine substitute Maximo Perrone’s goal, a left-footed shot from the right side into the far corner on his first touch of the ball.

Haaland headed in a centering pass from countryman Oscar Bobb in the 57th minute to lift City level.

But Celtic scored the winner in the 68th minute as Palma, who entered three minutes earlier, finished a three-man breakaway as City’s defenders were caught flat-footed near midfield after pressing with the backline.

City substitute Ben Knight was denied an equalizer in the 76th minute when second-half Celtic keeper Viljami Sinisalo of Finland knocked the ball over the crossbar.

Kuhn opened the scoring in the 13th minute, taking a pass on the right side and charging in on City starting goalkeeper Stefan Ortega, then firing a left-footed shot just inside the far post.

Schmeichel denied Haaland in the 23rd minute with a right-hand save on a left-footed shot off a feed from James McAtee.

In the 31st, Schmeichel again denied Haaland, from the right side on a left-footed shot that Schmeichel swatted away with his left hand.

But Man City equalized in the 33rd minute as Haaland flicked the ball left to onrushing Bobb, who blasted a shot that deflected off Schmeichel and bounced into the goal.

Kuhn answered for Celtic in the 36th minute, rushing in from the right wing then pulling back the ball to evade a defender and curling a left-footed blast high into the goal.

Celtic stretched the edge to 3-1 in the 44th minute when Kuhn delivered a perfect centering pass to Japan’s fast-rushing Kyogo Furuhashi, who split two defenders, evaded Ortega and fired in a left-footed shot from a steep angle.

Man City’s US tour continues Saturday against AC Milan at New York’s Yankee Stadium, with other matches next week against Barcelona at Orlando and Chelsea in Columbus, Ohio.

Celtic will face Chelsea on Saturday in South Bend, Indiana.


Miami’s Messi, Suarez out for MLS All-Star Game

Miami’s Messi, Suarez out for MLS All-Star Game
Updated 23 July 2024
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Miami’s Messi, Suarez out for MLS All-Star Game

Miami’s Messi, Suarez out for MLS All-Star Game

MIAMI: Argentina star Lionel Messi and Inter Miami teammate Luis Suarez will miss Wednesday’s Major League Soccer All-Star Game with injuries, the league and team announced Monday.

An updated MLS roster for the match-up against Mexico’s Liga MX All-Stars at Columbus, Ohio, listed Messi and Uruguayan striker Suarez among those who would not play.

Inter Miami detailed the injuries, with Messi still sidelined after missing two MLS matches last week with a right ankle injury suffered in Argentina’s Copa America final triumph over Colombia.

“Messi will miss the All-Star Game due to an ankle injury while Luis Suarez, who recently returned from international duty after over 40 days away from the club, will miss the All-Star Game due to knee discomfort,” Inter Miami said.

It would have been the first MLS All-Star appearance for 37-year-old Messi, who joined Inter Miami last July.

Eight-time Ballon d’Or winner Messi, who helped spark Argentina to the 2022 World Cup title, led Miami to last year’s inaugural Leagues Cup crown in a tournament of MLS and Mexican league squads.

But Miami said Messi’s status and that of Suarez remain in doubt for Saturday’s home match against Mexico’s Puebla, Inter’s first step in defending the Leagues Cup title.

The availability of Messi and Suarez will be determined by their “daily recovery process” according to the team statement.


Diogo Jota says Riyadh Esports World Cup ‘a truly amazing experience’

Diogo Jota says Riyadh Esports World Cup ‘a truly amazing experience’
Updated 22 July 2024
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Diogo Jota says Riyadh Esports World Cup ‘a truly amazing experience’

Diogo Jota says Riyadh Esports World Cup ‘a truly amazing experience’
  • Liverpool and Portugal star, an avid gamer and investor, watched all the ‘Dota2 Riyadh Masters’ and ‘Counter-Strike 2’ action, and met esports players

RIYADH: Diogo Jota, the Liverpool and Portugal footballer, who attended the Esports World Cup in Riyadh on Sunday, has declared the globe’s largest gaming festival “a truly amazing experience.”

Jota, an avid gamer and investor in multinational esports organization Galaxy Racer, watched all the action at Boulevard Riyadh City as teams contested the finals of the “Dota2 Riyadh Masters” and “Counter-Strike 2” competitions.

The eight-week Esports World Cup features a unique cross-game structure pitting the top clubs and players against one another across 22 competitions in 21 leading games.

Held within the 8,000-capacity Saudi Esports Federation Arena at Boulevard Riyadh City, it runs until Aug. 25 and has a tournament prize pool of $60 million, the largest in the history of the sport.

The attacker, who has 42 caps and played for Portugal at the UEFA Euro 2024 this summer, met participating stars, including from Saudi Arabia’s Team Falcons, and happily swapped gaming and esports stories.

Jota said: “Being here at the inaugural Esports World Cup is a truly amazing experience. The organization and scale behind this event are truly impressive, even more than I anticipated.

“I’ve always believed in the potential of esports, even before starting my own team, and EWC is proof that this scene is evolving rapidly. This level of investment and infrastructure is exactly what esports needs to grow and reach a wider audience.

“I’m excited to see how EWC continues to evolve and push the boundaries of competitive gaming.”

Jota, who wears the No. 20 for Liverpool, was ranked world No. 1 in FIFA 21’s Champions Leaderboard. A regular streamer on Twitch, he also won an invitational series of FIFA matches, run by the Premier League, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Then a Wolverhampton Wanderers player, Jota defeated future Liverpool team-mate Trent Alexander-Arnold in the final.

Last year, Jota’s own esports organization, Diogo Jota Esports, was rebranded to Luna Galaxy — coming under the Galaxy Racer umbrella.

Prior to this, Diogo Jota Esports participated in the FIFAe Finals at Gamers8, organized by the Saudi Esports Federation, at Boulevard Riyadh City last summer, with Daniel “DFernandes” Fernandes finishing in the top 16.

More than 1,500 players, of over 60 nationalities, are battling it out at the inaugural Esports World Cup. Week three of the competition features action in the “Dota2 Riyadh Masters,” “Counter Strike 2,” and “PUBG Mobile” contests.


SAFF launches first edition of Regional Under-13 Championship in Taif

SAFF launches first edition of Regional Under-13 Championship in Taif
Updated 21 July 2024
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SAFF launches first edition of Regional Under-13 Championship in Taif

SAFF launches first edition of Regional Under-13 Championship in Taif
  • Top talents from academies across 14 cities, provinces, and regions are featuring in the tournament
  • The competition will provide valuable experience for young up-and-coming referees who have been selected from SAFF Referees’ Academy

RIYADH: The Saudi Arabian Football Federation has launched the first edition of the Regional Under-13 Championship in Taif, running from July 18–30.

Currently in its third day, the 12-day tournament features 14 regional teams, showcasing top talents from academies across 14 cities, provinces, and regions.

The 14 regional teams competing in the championship are from Al-Ahsa, Jazan, Najran, Jouf, Hail, Al-Qassim, the Eastern Province, Riyadh, Jeddah, Asir, Madinah, Makkah, Hafar Al-Batin, and Tabuk.

SAFF’s Technical Director Nasser Larguet said: “The championship represents the result of the significant work supported by the Saudi Arabian Football Federation, and the outcome is the creation of the Regional Under-13 League. Clear goals and strategic plans have been set to discover and support young talents.”

Additionally, the tournament will provide valuable experience for young up-and-coming referees, who have been selected from the SAFF Referees’ Academy, further contributing to the development of skilled officials in the sport.

Manuel Navarro, president of the SAFF Referees Committee, said: “The Regional Under-13 Championship is an opportunity to develop promising referees, especially since it will witness the participation of 32 young referees. The committee aims to increase their refereeing hours and enhance their experience.”

This tournament is a significant part of SAFF’s strategy to scout and develop over 4,000 young talents by 2025, supporting the growth and future of Saudi football.


Al-Ittihad unveils new kit for 2024-25 season

Al-Ittihad unveils new kit for 2024-25 season
Updated 20 July 2024
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Al-Ittihad unveils new kit for 2024-25 season

Al-Ittihad unveils new kit for 2024-25 season
  • The classic striped design in yellow and black is based on the Nike shirt, with its authentic heritage
  • The kit’s new design represents the architectural style “Rawashin”

JEDDAH: Al-Ittihad FC has unveiled its kit for the 2024/25 season in collaboration with Nike.

Al-Ittihad presented its distinctive new kit in photo sessions in the center of historic Jeddah, among its alleys and ancient buildings, in cooperation with Al-Balad Development Company, the club’s official sponsor.

The classic striped design in yellow and black is based on the Nike shirt, with its authentic heritage, which fans have loved and celebrated for 97 years.

The kit’s new design represents the architectural style, “Rawashin,” the prominent traditional wooden panels used to cover windows and external openings at the old houses of Jeddah — considered an icon of the city’s heritage.

Domingos De Oliveira, CEO of Al-Ittihad Club, described the new kit as a symbol of the club’s history: “We worked closely with Nike in order to ensure access to the best that can be presented in the new kit, while preserving the established values of the basic kit, which represents a unique identity, after maintaining it for nearly a century.

“In the new kit, we worked to blend the heritage of Al-Ittihad Club with the history of the region from which it started, with a modern spirit that creates innovation in order to emerge with a product that reflects the club’s vision of starting from the base of its great history toward more glory and development in the current era and the future.

“Attention was paid to all the details in terms of the degree of color and their overlapping in the dividing line between them in the same way that the wooden columns in the Rawashin buildings of Jeddah are intertwined.”

For the first time, the home kit will be presented in three categories — the official home kit, which the players will wear, the stadium category, and the fans category.