Brighton and West Ham seal spots in Europa League knockout round

Brighton and West Ham seal spots in Europa League knockout round
Brighton & Hove Albion’s Evan Ferguson and Lewis Dunk in action with AEK Athens’ Orbelin Pineda during their Europa League — Group B — match at Stadium OPAP Arena, Athens on Nov. 30, 2023. (Reuters)
Short Url
Updated 30 November 2023
Follow

Brighton and West Ham seal spots in Europa League knockout round

Brighton and West Ham seal spots in Europa League knockout round
  • Roberto De Zerbi’s side are competing in Europe for the first time in their history
  • The Seagulls’ adventure will continue into the new year thanks to Joao Pedro’s winner in Greece

LONDON: Brighton booked their place in the Europa League knockout stage with a 1-0 win at AEK Athens, while West Ham also advanced after a late Tomas Soucek goal against Backa Topola on Thursday.
Roberto De Zerbi’s side are competing in Europe for the first time in their history and the Seagulls’ adventure will continue into the new year thanks to Joao Pedro’s winner in Greece.
Brighton sit two points above Marseille at the top of Group B, with the French club able to regain pole position if they beat Ajax later on Thursday.
Europa League group winners go through to the last 16 automatically, while the runners-up play in a two-legged knockout round play-off in February against a team who finish third in a Champions League group.
Albion will vie for first place in the group when Marseille visit the Amex Stadium in the final round of fixtures in December.
The Greeks laid seige to Brighton’s goal for a period in the first half, with Orbelin Pineda denied by keeper Bart Verbruggen.
Steven Zuber became engaged in a virtually one-on-one battle with the Seagulls as the Swiss international’s effort was tipped over by Verbruggen.
Zuber flashed a header wide from the resulting corner, then evaded Joel Veltman and unloaded a powerful shot that was deflected onto the post by Lewis Dunk before Mijat Gacinovic put the rebound wide.
Gacinovic’s strike was well stopped by Verbruggen, whose heroics laid the foundation for Brighton to snatch the lead.
Damian Szymanski fouled Joao Pedro and the Brazilian striker picked himself up to slot home the penalty in the 55th minute.
That made the Brighton man the top scorer in the Europa League with five goals, three of those having been penalties against AEK Athens.
AEK’s fate was sealed when they were reduced to 10 men in the 85th minute when Gacinovic earned a second booking for a foul on Veltman.
Brighton fan Norman Cook, known as DJ Fatboy Slim, was set to perform in Athens after the game, with the Albion supporters who made the trip in party mood.
West Ham became the second Premier League club to move into the knockout round as Soucek’s late goal saw off Serbian minnows Backa Topola 1-0.
Soucek’s 89th-minute volley from Maxwel Cornet’s cross sealed the victory that put his team top of Group A.
The Czech midfielder has scored in his last five matches for club and country, after also netting a last-gasp winner at Burnley last weekend.
Second-placed Freiburg thrashed Olympiakos 5-0 to join West Ham in the knockout round.
The Hammers will seal first place if they avoid defeat against the German side in east London in December.
In Group C, Sparta Prague beat Real Betis 1-0 to close within two points of the first-placed Spanish club and keep alive their bid to reach the knockout stage.
Atalanta wrapped up top spot in Group D after a 1-1 draw against second-placed Sporting Lisbon, who are also through to the knockout round.
Rennes’ 3-0 win against Maccabi Haifa took the French team to the top of Group F and into the knockout round.


World Cup champion Spain beats France 2-0 to win inaugural edition of Women’s Nations League final

World Cup champion Spain beats France 2-0 to win inaugural edition of Women’s Nations League final
Updated 29 February 2024
Follow

World Cup champion Spain beats France 2-0 to win inaugural edition of Women’s Nations League final

World Cup champion Spain beats France 2-0 to win inaugural edition of Women’s Nations League final
  • Bonmati, named the player of the match, volleyed in a low cross in the first half and Caldentey doubled the lead shortly after the break in a dominant performance by the hosts
  • Spain also hold the men’s Nations League title, having beaten Croatia in the final in June

SEVILLE, Spain: Spain have not lost momentum since winning their first World Cup title, defeating France 2-0 on Wednesday to also win the inaugural edition of the Women’s Nations League.

Ballon d’Or winner Aitana Bonmati and Mariona Caldentey scored a goal each for Spain in front of 32,657 fans at La Cartuja Stadium in southern Spain. It was a record crowd for Spain’s women’s team in the country.

Spain also hold the men’s Nations League title, having beaten Croatia in the final in June.

“We have a very good present and a very good future,” women’s team coach Montse Tome said. “I have a group with very experienced players and with new young players coming up. It’s a very positive mix. They have a winning mentality. France haven’t had a shot on goal and that’s also a credit to all of the players.”

Bonmati, named the player of the match, volleyed in a low cross in the first half and Caldentey doubled the lead shortly after the break in a dominant performance by the hosts.

“Happy to win another title,” Bonmati said. “It may seem that what we have achieved is easy, that we have an obligation to win everything, but this is not something easy. And here we are lifting another trophy.”

It was Spain’s first victory over France.

“They’ll be the team to beat at the Olympics, it won’t be easy,” France coach Herve Renard said. “We are going to have to keep improving, learn lessons and keep moving forward. Let’s say we have taken one step but we haven’t taken the second. There’s still a lot of work to do.”

Spain had their breakthrough tournament at the World Cup in New Zealand and Australia, winning the title in their third appearance.

The celebrations were marred by one of the country’s worst crises, though, as the then-president of the Spanish soccer federation, Luis Rubiales, kissed player Jenni Hermoso on the lips during the awards ceremony to spark an outrage in soccer and Spanish society in general. Rubiales eventually resigned, and prosecutors later accused him of sexual assault.

“Today we get to celebrate again. We deserve it,” Hermoso said. “We try to enjoy ourselves but we also have the responsibility that there are so many people behind us who want to follow in our footsteps. We are so proud that there are so many girls who want to be champions in the future.”

Spain defeated the Netherlands 3-0 in last week’s semifinal, a result that also secured the team a place in the Paris Olympics.

France were already qualified for the Olympics as the host country.

“We didn’t play a good game against a team that are world champions and flying high in women’s football,” Renard said. “You have to be aggressive and keep the ball when you get it, but we lost it again straight away.”

Spain scored a competition-high 28 goals, seven more than any other team. It also had the most total attempts at 131.

Alexia Putellas, the former Ballon d’Or winner, did not enter the match for Spain. She hasn’t played for club or country since undergoing arthroscopic surgery on her left knee last year.


Man United and Chelsea grab late winners in FA Cup. Youngsters deliver again for Liverpool

Man United and Chelsea grab late winners in FA Cup. Youngsters deliver again for Liverpool
Updated 29 February 2024
Follow

Man United and Chelsea grab late winners in FA Cup. Youngsters deliver again for Liverpool

Man United and Chelsea grab late winners in FA Cup. Youngsters deliver again for Liverpool
  • Casemiro stooped to head in an 89th-minute goal to seal United a 1-0 win at Nottingham Forest and a last-eight meeting with great rival Liverpool
  • Wolverhampton beat Brighton 1-0 in an all-Premier League matchup and will be at home to Championship team Coventry in the quarterfinals

LONDON: Manchester United and Chelsea kept alive their hopes of silverware this season by scoring late winners in the FA Cup on Wednesday.

Liverpool also advanced to the quarterfinals, with their youngsters coming through big again for Jurgen Klopp.

Casemiro stooped to head in an 89th-minute goal to seal United a 1-0 win at Nottingham Forest and a last-eight meeting with great rival Liverpool, whose youthful team beat second-tier Southampton 3-0 thanks to goals by 18-year-olds Lewis Koumas and Jayden Danns.

Chelsea — fresh off a loss to Liverpool in the English League Cup final — left it even later than United to secure their progress, with Conor Gallagher coming off the bench to score in the 90th minute for a 3-2 victory over Leeds. Chelsea will play another second-tier team, Leicester, in the last eight.

Wolverhampton beat Brighton 1-0 in an all-Premier League matchup and will be at home to Championship team Coventry in the quarterfinals.

PRESSURE OFF

Winning the FA Cup could salvage disappointing seasons for United and Chelsea. Who knows, it could also keep their under-pressure managers in their jobs.

Neither team put in a convincing display in the fifth round, but they are still alive in the famous old competition and have home draws to look forward to after late winners from midfielders.

Casemiro got between two defenders and stuck out his head to divert a low free kick that had been whipped in from the left wing by Bruno Fernandes. The Brazil international got a kick in the face for his efforts — blood was seen pouring down his cheek afterward — but, more importantly, a crucial goal.

After a morale-sapping loss to Fulham in the league on Saturday, another defeat would have left United in a mess heading into Sunday’s Manchester derby against City. Instead, United manager Erik ten Hag was quick to point out that his team has now won seven of its nine games in all competitions in 2024.

“This team, what they showed today, they have to show it every game,” Ten Hag said. “We found a way to win.”

Chelsea manager Mauricio Pochettino has come under renewed pressure in the wake of his expensively assembled team’s loss in the League Cup final. Now he is one game away from a return to Wembley Stadium, this time for the FA Cup semifinals.

Gallagher ran onto Enzo Fernandez’s pass, span his marker and converted a rising shot to put out a spirited effort from a Leeds team whose priority this season is securing an immediate return to the Premier League.

Despite fielding a weakened starting team, Leeds took the lead in the eighth minute at Stamford Bridge through Mateo Joseph, who also equalized to make it 2-2 after goals for Chelsea by Nicolas Jackson and Mykhailo Mudryk.

“In the context of the week, I am happy,” Pochettino said. “It is about building our confidence again.”

KLOPP’S KIDS

Jurgen Klopp’s kids have done it again.

Amid an injury crisis, the Liverpool manager turned to a bunch of academy products to help beat Chelsea in the League Cup final and he kept faith in them for the match against Southampton three days later at Anfield.

The average age of Liverpool’s team on Wednesday was 23 years, 128 days after Klopp made six changes to the lineup, including giving a debut to Koumas and starting 19-year-old midfielders James McConnell and Bobby Clark after their starring roles off the bench at Wembley. There were six players aged 21 or younger in the team.

Koumas squeezed home a shot in the 44th minute to mark the biggest game of his fledging professional career and make it 1-0. Danns came off the bench, like he did in the League Cup final, and scored in the 73rd and 88th minutes for his first senior goals.

Liverpool, who lead the Premier League and are into the round of 16 in the Europa League, stayed on course for a quadruple of trophies in Klopp’s final season.


Cristiano Ronaldo handed one match ban, fine after obscene gesture

Cristiano Ronaldo handed one match ban, fine after obscene gesture
Updated 29 February 2024
Follow

Cristiano Ronaldo handed one match ban, fine after obscene gesture

Cristiano Ronaldo handed one match ban, fine after obscene gesture
  • The Saudi Arabian Football Federation’s Ethics and Discipline Committee also ordered the Portuguese star to pay an additional SR20,000 to Al-Shabab, as compensation for the Riyadh club’s complaint filing fees

RIYADH: Al-Nassr striker Cristiano Ronaldo has been suspended for one match and fined SR10,000 ($2,666) after making an offensive gesture following his team’s victory over Al-Shabab in the Saudi Pro League on Sunday.

The Saudi Arabian Football Federation’s Ethics and Discipline Committee also ordered the Portuguese star to pay an additional SR20,000 to Al-Shabab, as compensation for the Riyadh club’s complaint filing fees.

Following the game on Sunday, videos posted on social media showed Ronaldo cupping his ear and repeatedly thrusting his hand forward near his pelvis, seemingly aimed at rival Al-Shabab supporters.

In the background, chants of “Messi” could be heard, referring to Ronaldo’s longstanding football rival from Argentina.

The committee called in the five-time Ballon d’Or winner to hear his response to the complaint filed by Al-Shabab, and asked the official broadcaster to provide footage of the incident in question.

The committee said in a statement that the decision is non-appealable.

This is not the first time that the Portuguese legend has been at the heart of fan controversy.

Earlier this month, the star was seen putting a scarf down his shorts before throwing it back at Al-Hilal fans after Al-Nassr loss in the Riyadh Season Cup. In the same game, the striker reacted angrily to Al-Hilal fans chanting the name of Lionel Messi.

Last year, the 39-year-old attacker grabbed his crotch after Al-Hilal fans taunted him by again invoking the name of the Argentine World Cup winner.


Jordan, Nepal to contest WAFF Women’s Championship final in Jeddah

Jordan, Nepal to contest WAFF Women’s Championship final in Jeddah
Updated 28 February 2024
Follow

Jordan, Nepal to contest WAFF Women’s Championship final in Jeddah

Jordan, Nepal to contest WAFF Women’s Championship final in Jeddah
  • Match will take place at Prince Abdullah Al-Faisal Stadium on Thursday

JEDDAH: Jordan and Nepal will face off in the final of the West Asian Football Federation Women’s Championship after completing victories in their respective semi-finals on Tuesday evening in Jeddah.

Jordan booked their place in Thursday’s final at Prince Abdullah Al-Faisal Stadium in Jeddah after beating Palestine 5-0, with goals coming from Maysa Jbarah (on 27 and 83 minutes), Lana Feras (34), Sarah Abu Sabbah (59), and Enas Al-Jamaeen (86).

In the other semi, Lebanon took the lead in the 37th minute through an own goal by Puja Rana, but Nepal equalized 15 minutes from the end through star striker Sabitra Bhandari before Preeti Rai snatched victory with a goal in stoppage time.


Hamdallah proves irreplaceable for Al-Ittihad despite influx of stars

Hamdallah proves irreplaceable for Al-Ittihad despite influx of stars
Updated 28 February 2024
Follow

Hamdallah proves irreplaceable for Al-Ittihad despite influx of stars

Hamdallah proves irreplaceable for Al-Ittihad despite influx of stars
  • The Moroccan international was expected to exit the reigning SPL champions but has ended up being their most consistent forward this season

Al-Ittihad’s defense of the Saudi Pro League title has largely been one to forget.

Despite some early season promise that had them top for the first month, the wheels quickly fell off culminating in a disappointing showing in December’s FIFA Club World Cup and speculation that star signing Karim Benzema wanted out.

As recently as round seven they were still top of the table, but just 14 matches later they are now fifth and a whopping 22 points behind league leaders Al-Hilal. Any notion of going back-to-back has long since disappeared.

Their mission now is to simply try to close the gap on third-placed Al-Ahli, their crosstown Jeddah rivals, in the hope of securing what is still an unlikely spot in next season’s reformed AFC Champions League Elite competition.

Whereas last season they had one of the best defenses in the league — and one of the best on record in Saudi Pro League history — this season they have the equal worst of the top six.

Nuno Espirito Santo, meanwhile, who spearheaded that drought-breaking title triumph, has been moved on for hotshot Argentine manager Marcelo Gallardo.

But as bad as it has been, it could have been so much worse were it not for the goals of Moroccan international Abderrazak Hamdallah, who has 15 from 17 games this season.

The veteran striker has made a name for himself in the Kingdom since joining Al-Nassr after an equally fruitful stint in Qatar with El-Jaish and Al-Rayyan.

Scoring a league record 34 goals in his debut season with Al-Nassr, and 29 in his second season, he transferred to Al-Ittihad during the 2021-2022 season and has registered double digits in each of his five SPL seasons before the current campaign, making him one of the SPL’s all-time leading scorers.

It has also won him the hearts of Ittihad’s large and fervently faithful fanbase.

But after Al-Ittihad’s stunning capture of Benzema, regarded as one of the best strikers of the modern era, questions were naturally asked as to what the future held for the 33-year-old Hamdallah.

It seems inconceivable that the title-winning team would move on their leading striker who had just won the league’s golden boot, but that is what almost eventuated.

It is understood that the plan inside the walls of Al-Ittihad was to move the striker on — after all, they had Benzema now — only relenting after growing fan pressure against the move, giving the Moroccan a reprieve.

While running your recruitment based on the wishes of the fans is perhaps not the smartest strategy, it could be argued it was their best management decision of the summer.

Still only 33 and with plenty of years ahead of him, Hamdallah is what every team craves — a natural and reliable goalscorer. And as Al-Ittihad’s title defense has faltered, it is largely the goals from Hamdallah that is keeping their campaign alive.

His brace in their come-from-behind 2-1 victory over Al-Wehda on the weekend was further proof of his importance to Gallardo’s side.

Looking back, it seems incredulous that he could have been moved on. He will know how close he was and you get the sense he is playing with that chip on his shoulder, that every time he steps foot on the pitch, he has a point to prove.

And boy is he proving it.

His form this season also serves as a timely reminder that the SPL did not begin with the influx of headline signings in the most recent off-season.

Before the arrival of Benzema, Riyad Mahrez, Neymar and even before Cristiano Ronaldo, the SPL still attracted elite talent.

While Hamdallah may not possess the profile of those recent arrivals, his quality cannot be questioned. The same can be said for Ronaldo’s Al-Nassr teammate, Anderson Talisca.

After Ronaldo’s arrival in Riyadh there was speculation that the Brazilian would be moved on; deemed surplus to requirements at a club that had to shed a foreign player to make way for Ronaldo.

Talisca remained and this season he and Ronaldo have combined for 35 of Al-Nassr’s 60 goals.

Write these guys off at your peril.

As Al-Ittihad prepare for a season-defining fortnight, which will feature three Saudi Clasico’s against the high-flying Al-Hilal — one in the league and home-and-away ties in the AFC Champions League — they will do so grateful to have the Moroccan leading the line.

Having scored in eight consecutive league matches dating back to November, his form is imperious. His five goals in three games since the league resumed from its winter break make him the league’s most in-form striker.

While their title defense may be over, that does not mean they cannot impact where the silverware goes this season. Not to mention there is still silverware of their own to play for in the form of the AFC Champions League, where he has registered a further four goals.

Staring down this Al-Hilal side is a daunting prospect — their winning streak currently stands at 24 across all competitions (26 if you include friendly wins over Inter Miami and Al-Nassr). Their undefeated streak is now at 34 games.

And as good as his scoring record is, Hamdallah has only scored once against Al-Hilal since joining Al-Ittihad two years ago; that coming in their 4-3 loss earlier this season. It is a wrong he will be determined to right over the next fortnight.

In a season to forget for Al-Ittihad, Hamdallah could still deliver moments to remember and that starts with this week’s trip to Riyadh’s Kingdom Arena.