Xavi calls on Felix to let Atletico criticism inspire him

Xavi calls on Felix to let Atletico criticism inspire him
Barcelona’s Spanish coach Xavi gestures during their UEFA Champions League first round group H match against FC Porto at the Estadi Olimpic Lluis Companys in Barcelona on Nov. 28, 2023. (AFP)
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Updated 02 December 2023
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Xavi calls on Felix to let Atletico criticism inspire him

Xavi calls on Felix to let Atletico criticism inspire him
  • Atletico playmaker Antoine Griezmann this week said Felix lacked “consistency” or “got tired” of finding it
  • “(The criticism) should be extra motivation against Atletico,” Xavi told reporters Saturday

BARCELONA: Barcelona coach Xavi Hernandez called on Joao Felix to use criticism from his former Atletico Madrid team-mates to motivate him when the teams meet on Sunday in La Liga.
The Portuguese forward, on loan at Barca from Atletico Madrid, failed to convince coach Diego Simeone during four years in the Spanish capital.
Atletico playmaker Antoine Griezmann this week said Felix lacked “consistency” or “got tired” of finding it, while midfielder Saul Niguez also said Felix had plenty to improve on.
Simeone said Saturday he did not want to speak about the forward because he was not at the club, despite still being an Atletico player.
“(The criticism) should be extra motivation against Atletico,” Xavi told reporters Saturday.
“I see he is motivated and happy, he is being consistent, I am happy with his performance and how he has adapted to the group.”
Barcelona loaned Atletico’s record 126 million euro ($137 million) signing in the summer and after an impressive start, he began to struggle.
Felix scored his first goal in 13 matches against Porto on Tuesday as Barcelona secured qualification to the Champions League last 16.
The victory helped quieten the negative noises around the club after a string of bad performances and Xavi hopes they can build on it against Atletico.
“We have to find our game, the second half against Porto was very good ... we have to be more consistent,” said the coach.
“We can’t say we’re in our best moment of the season, (but) we have had some very good minutes.
“We have to improve our performances and the consequence will be good results.”
Xavi confirmed goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen was still sidelined because of back pain and will not feature at the weekend.
Champions Barcelona are fourth after last weekend’s draw at Rayo Vallecano, while Atletico Madrid are third, level with the Catalans on 31 points.
Simeone said his team was still at a disadvantage against the traditional big two — Barcelona and Real Madrid — but were always looking to level the playing field.
“In principle Barcelona and Madrid start with more chance of winning, but in recent times we’ve cut the gap,” said the coach.
“This is about deeds and not words, and we will keep working to keep cutting into it.”


Al-Shabab crowned inaugural Saudi Women’s U-17 football champs after defeating Al-Hilal in final

Al-Shabab crowned inaugural Saudi Women’s U-17 football champs after defeating Al-Hilal in final
Updated 29 February 2024
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Al-Shabab crowned inaugural Saudi Women’s U-17 football champs after defeating Al-Hilal in final

Al-Shabab crowned inaugural Saudi Women’s U-17 football champs after defeating Al-Hilal in final
  • Their success in the knockout phase follows a group stage in which they were unbeaten, racking up 9 wins and a draw while scoring 116 goals and conceding just 2
  • Event serves as showcase for talent and potential of young female players and the rapid development of women’s football in the Kingdom, officials say

JEDDAH: Deem Saud scored the decisive goal as Al-Shabab defeated Al-Hilal 1-0 in the final of the inaugural Saudi Arabian Football Federation Women’s U-17 tournament.
The road to the final, which was played on Wednesday at Noon Academy in Jeddah, began in November with the group stages of the tournament, in which 18 teams from the Women’s Premier League, the First Division and SAFF regional training centers were split into four groups.
Al-Shabab were unbeaten in Group 1, topping the table with 28 points from nine wins and a draw, scoring 116 goals along the way and conceding just two.
In the knockout phase, they defeated Jeddah 2-1 in the quarter-finals, and Eastern Flames 2-0 in the semis.
Adwa Al-Arifi, the assistant minister for sport affairs at the Ministry of Sport, Lamia Bahian, the vice president of SAFF, and Aalia Al-Rasheed, the head of the women’s football department at SAFF, watched the final.
Officials said the competition offered a showcase for the talent and potential of young female players in the Kingdom, illustrating the rapid recent development of women’s football across the country. The players and clubs were praised for their skill, team spirit and passion for the sport.
SAFF congratulated Al-Shabab for their success, commended all of the clubs that took part, and thanked the players, coaches and fans for their enthusiastic support, which they said had helped make the championship a great success.


PSG coach Luis Enrique promises ‘much better team’ next season

PSG coach Luis Enrique promises ‘much better team’ next season
Updated 29 February 2024
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PSG coach Luis Enrique promises ‘much better team’ next season

PSG coach Luis Enrique promises ‘much better team’ next season
  • “If everything goes well I am convinced we will have a much better team than this year,” the Spaniard said
  • “I am convinced, as much in defense as in attack, in the midfield, tactically, physically”

POISSY, France: Paris Saint-Germain coach Luis Enrique on Thursday promised that the French giants will have a stronger team next season despite the impending departure of Kylian Mbappe when the superstar forward’s contract expires.
“If everything goes well I am convinced we will have a much better team than this year,” the Spaniard said after refusing to name specific targets when asked if AC Milan forward Rafael Leao was on the club’s shopping list.
“I am convinced, as much in defense as in attack, in the midfield, tactically, physically,” added the former Barcelona and Spain coach.
His comments came after he took Mbappe off with PSG trailing in last week’s 1-1 draw against Rennes.
Luis Enrique later said the Ligue 1 leaders needed to become accustomed to life without Mbappe, who recently informed PSG of his decision to leave at the end of the current campaign.
“Sooner or later, when it happens, we are going to have to get used to playing without Kylian,” he said after that game.
PSG are 11 points clear at the top of Ligue 1 before going to Mbappe’s former club Monaco on Friday, when they will be without captain Marquinhos due to a calf injury.
They then travel to Spain to face Real Sociedad in the second leg of their Champions League last-16 tie next Tuesday, defending a 2-0 lead from the first meeting.
“Obviously we are entering into a difficult period. The players really want to win things and this is the key point in the season, the best time,” Luis Enrique said.
“It is all or nothing, and that is a nice feeling.”


‘Heartbroken’ Pogba to appeal four-year doping ban at CAS

‘Heartbroken’ Pogba to appeal four-year doping ban at CAS
Updated 29 February 2024
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‘Heartbroken’ Pogba to appeal four-year doping ban at CAS

‘Heartbroken’ Pogba to appeal four-year doping ban at CAS
  • “I am sad, shocked and heartbroken that everything I have built in my professional playing career has been taken away from me,” Pogba said
  • “As a consequence of the decision announced today I will appeal this before the Court of Arbitration for Sport"

ROME: Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba’s career hung in the balance on Thursday after he was handed a four-year doping ban but the France international said he would try to clear his name by appealing the decision at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Pogba was provisionally suspended by a tribunal of Italy’s national anti-doping organization (NADO Italia) in September after testing positive for testosterone — a banned substance and hormone that increases athletes’ endurance.
Juventus did not comment on the ban, but a source confirmed the club was notified about the decision and would assess the next steps.
The 30-year-old Pogba, who has a contract at Juve until June 2026, said he had been informed of the decision but denied any wrongdoing and believed the verdict to be incorrect.
“I am sad, shocked and heartbroken that everything I have built in my professional playing career has been taken away from me,” Pogba said in a statement.
“As a professional athlete I would never do anything to enhance my performance by using banned substances and have never disrespected or cheated fellow athletes and supporters of any of the teams I have played for, or against.
“As a consequence of the decision announced today I will appeal this before the Court of Arbitration for Sport,” he added, referring to sport’s highest court.
Italy’s national anti-doping organization (NADO Italia) declined to comment on Pogba’s case citing privacy rules.
The doping test, performed after Juve’s 3-0 Serie A season-opening victory at Udinese on Aug. 20, detected testosterone, with the tribunal saying the results were consistent with an ‘exogenous’ (external) origin of the substance.
Pogba was an unused substitute in that game but he later made two appearances off the bench against Bologna and Empoli before he was handed a provisional suspension.
Pogba’s positive doping test was also confirmed in a counter-analysis on a second sample in October.
The ban could effectively end Pogba’s career at the highest level.
The Frenchman was among the sport’s highest-earning players at his peak after he completed a then-world record transfer of over 100 million euros ($108.42 million) in 2016 to Premier League giants Manchester United.

MINIMUM WAGE
According to a source, Juve are currently paying Pogba a minimum wage of 2,000 euros ($2,169.80) per month.
If the ban is upheld by CAS, Pogba’s contract could be terminated while he will not be able to return to action until September 2027 — when he will be 34.
“When I am free of legal restrictions the full story will become clear, but I have never knowingly or deliberately taken any supplements that violate anti-doping regulations,” Pogba added.
Pogba has had a torrid second spell with Juve due to injuries since he returned to the Turin-based club following his departure from United on a free transfer in 2022.
The 2018 World Cup winner barely featured last season due to knee and hamstring injuries as well as knee surgery, which prevented him playing for France at the World Cup in Qatar.


First La Liga Futures competition in Saudi Arabia kicks off March 1

First La Liga Futures competition in Saudi Arabia kicks off March 1
Updated 29 February 2024
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First La Liga Futures competition in Saudi Arabia kicks off March 1

First La Liga Futures competition in Saudi Arabia kicks off March 1
  • The U-14 tournament, hosted at Mahd Sports Academy in Riyadh, will feature 8 La Liga and 4 international teams

MADRID: La Liga FC Futures U-14, a flagship tournament featuring the youth academies of top-tier Spanish clubs, and being held in Saudi Arabia for the first time, kicks off on March 1.

The matches, to be played at Mahd Sports Academy in Riyadh, has been organized in collaboration with Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Sports. For the first time, the players making up the competing sides will be in the under-14 category and will play 11-a-side matches.

The tournament will feature 12 clubs, eight EA Sports La Liga teams, plus AS Roma (Italy), SL Benfica (Portugal), Olympique de Marseille (France) and Mahd Academy (Saudi Arabia).

La Liga’s leadership chose Saudi Arabia as the host because of the country’s emergence as a hub for sporting and cultural activities in recent years. The most popular sport in the Kingdom is football, with the highest level of participation among those under the age of 30.

For the past 15 years, La Liga matches have been followed by millions of football fans across the Kingdom, and Saudi Arabia now has six official supporter clubs.

The 12 teams will be divided into three groups: Mahd Academy, FC Barcelona, AS Roma and Cadiz CF (Group A); Atletico de Madrid, Olympique de Marseille, Sevilla FC and Villarreal CF (Group B); and Real Betis, Valencia CF, SL Benfica and CA Osasuna (Group C).

Matches will kick off on March 1 at 9:30 a.m. (Saudi Arabia time) and March 2 at 10 a.m., with the quarterfinals being played on Saturday at 5 p.m. The semifinals will kick off at 10 a.m. on Sunday, with the final at 5 p.m.


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
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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.