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
Girona's Valery Fernandez, left, scores his side's third goal past Barcelona's goalkeeper Inaki Pena during the Spanish La Liga soccer match between Barcelona and Girona at the Olimpic Lluis Companys stadium in Barcelona Sunday. (Reuters)
Short Url
Updated 11 December 2023
Follow

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.

FAN DEATH

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.

17 IN A ROW

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.


Barca coach Xavi hails rivals Madrid ahead of Clasico

Barca coach Xavi hails rivals Madrid ahead of Clasico
Updated 21 min 39 sec ago
Follow

Barca coach Xavi hails rivals Madrid ahead of Clasico

Barca coach Xavi hails rivals Madrid ahead of Clasico
  • “When you have won so many times you play with more calm, less desperation, more confidence, they are a very good team,” Xavi said
  • “In the end people say it’s luck, I don’t believe much in luck — I think it’s effort, defensive work, the solidarity they showed, everyone working so hard”

MADRID: Barcelona coach Xavi Hernandez praised rivals Real Madrid ahead of their Clasico showdown in La Liga on Sunday.
Los Blancos lead the Spanish top flight by eight points with champions Barcelona needing a victory at the Santiago Bernabeu on Sunday to stand any chance of retaining the trophy.
After Barcelona crashed out of the Champions League against Paris Saint-Germain and Madrid beat holders Manchester City in midweek, Xavi acknowledged the record 14-time winners’ quality.
“When you have won so many times you play with more calm, less desperation, more confidence, they are a very good team,” Xavi told a news conference Saturday.
“In the end people say it’s luck, I don’t believe much in luck — I think it’s effort, defensive work, the solidarity they showed, everyone working so hard.
“The three up front worked harder than ever, Man City missed some clear chances but that’s football, it’s not luck that Madrid have knocked out the best team in the world twice in three years.”
Xavi said he was not throwing in the towel in La Liga despite Madrid’s significant advantage.
“For us it’s the most important game of the season, we have to win to put pressure on the leader,” he added.
“We have enormous respect for Real Madrid, they’ve lost just one game out of 31, their numbers are extraordinary.
“We don’t have bad numbers in La Liga, we’ve got four points less than when we were leaders last season (at this stage).”
Xavi’s counterpart at Madrid, Carlo Ancelotti, said his team could strike a killer blow in the title race.
“It’s a great chance for us to get closer to winning La Liga, but we know it’s hard because Barcelona are a very competitive side,” said the Italian.
“We are very close if we are capable of winning ... it will be the usual Clasico, a hard-fought, equal game.”
Ancelotti said defender Ferland Mendy was tired after the win over City and was given an extra day of rest, but the rest of his squad was fit, beyond the long-term absentees.
Madrid are aiming to win a league and Champions League double for the fifth time in their history.
“The cake is prepared and we have to put the cherry on top this month,” said Ancelotti. “We’re very well positioned.”


Saudi Arabia beat Thailand to edge closer to AFC U-23 Asian Cup quarterfinals

Saudi Arabia beat Thailand to edge closer to AFC U-23 Asian Cup quarterfinals
Updated 20 April 2024
Follow

Saudi Arabia beat Thailand to edge closer to AFC U-23 Asian Cup quarterfinals

Saudi Arabia beat Thailand to edge closer to AFC U-23 Asian Cup quarterfinals
  • The 5-0 win leaves the Green Falcons top of Group C of the tournament, which acts as qualification for this summer’s Olympic Games in Paris

DOHA: Saudi Arabia on Friday night thrashed Thailand 5-0 to edge closer to the quarterfinals of the 2024 AFC U-23 Asian Cup.

The win at Khalifa International Stadium leaves the Green falcons top of Group C with a maximum of six points from three two matches.

Iraq, who defeated Tajikistan 4-2 later on Friday, sit in second with three points, with Thailand third on goal difference. Tajikistan, with two defeats, are bottom of the group with no points.

A win or draw for Saudi Arabia against Iraq on Monday will secure top spot in the group and progress to the last eight.

Saudi took the lead against Thailand after four minutes through Ayman Yahoo’s third goal of the tournament, before Ahmed Al-Ghamdi and Abdullah Radif scored in first-half stoppage time to all but end the match as content.

Radif went on to complete his hat trick with strikes in the 52nd and 73rd minutes.

The U-23 Asian Cup, which runs until May 3, also provides a pathway to the men’s football competition at the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.

The tournament sees 16 nations split into four groups of four teams, with the top two from each progressing to the quarterfinals. The competition also serves as a route to the Olympic Games in Paris this summer, with the winners of the two semifinals both securing automatic qualification.

The two losing semifinalists will contest third place, with the winners also booking a place in Paris, while the fourth-place finishers have a final chance with a play-off against an African qualifier.


Indian walks from Dubai to Riyadh hoping to meet hero Ronaldo

Indian walks from Dubai to Riyadh hoping to meet hero Ronaldo
Updated 20 April 2024
Follow

Indian walks from Dubai to Riyadh hoping to meet hero Ronaldo

Indian walks from Dubai to Riyadh hoping to meet hero Ronaldo
  • “I pray to God to make this dream come true and meet Ronaldo”

JEDDAH: A Cristiano Ronaldo superfan has arrived in Riyadh after a grueling walk from Dubai hoping to meet the Al-Nassr star.

After 1,200 km and 36 days of travel mostly across the arid landscape separating the cities, Civin KP arrived in the Saudi capital.

“Finally, I am here in front of Al-Awal Park where Al-Nassr plays (their) official games and I hope I can meet Ronaldo,” he said.

He posted images of himself on Instagram at the stadium where he managed to take a seat at the home team’s bench and walked pitch-side at the 25,000-capacity venue.

“I came all the way from Dubai on foot and crossed all this distance just to pay respect and show my love to the best player in the world,” said Civin, who is originally from the state of Kerala in India.

Ronaldo is one of the most recognizable faces of international football and has fans across the world who enjoy his skills and passion for the game. He signed for the Riyadh club in 2022 after years of playing in Europe’s top leagues.

Civin feels proud to have completed the journey but still awaits the biggest prize.

“The unexpected moment is always sweeter,” he wrote, “hopefully waiting for more.”

A photo with the Portuguese great and an autograph would be a moment of a lifetime, Civin told MBC as he visited the ground.

“I pray to God to make this dream come true and meet Ronaldo,” he said. “I will cherish this moment, if it happens, for the rest of my life.”

On Friday, Civin was able to secure a ticket to watch Al-Nassr beat Al-Fayha 3-1, but unfortunately his hero did not feature as he is serving a suspension.


Qatar beat Jordan to reach last eight of 2024 AFC U23 Asian Cup

Qatar beat Jordan to reach last eight of 2024 AFC U23 Asian Cup
Updated 19 April 2024
Follow

Qatar beat Jordan to reach last eight of 2024 AFC U23 Asian Cup

Qatar beat Jordan to reach last eight of 2024 AFC U23 Asian Cup
  • A last-gasp 2-1 win leaves the hosts on six points from two matches in Group A of the tournament

DOHA: A stoppage time winner saw hosts Qatar defeat Jordan 2-1 on Thursday night to advance to the quarterfinals of the 2024 AFC U23 Asian Cup.

Qatar took the lead through Abdulla Al-Yazidi on 40 minutes, but Jordan equalized seven minutes into the second half thanks to Aref Al-Haj’s spot kick.

The match looked to be heading for a draw when Mohamed Al-Manai scored 14 minutes into stoppage time to break Jordanian hearts. The win Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium in Al-Rayyan made Qatar the first team to secure a spot in the last eight.

Qatar now sit top of Group A with a maximum six points from two matches. Earlier in the day, Indonesia beat Australia 1-0 at Abdullah Bin Khalifa Stadium in Doha and are currently second in the table with three points. Jordan and Australia are third and fourth respectively with one point apiece.

Saudi Arabia return to action against Thailand on Friday before facing Iraq in their final Group C match on Monday (April 22).

The U23 Asian Cup, which runs until May 3, is also a route to this summer’s Olympic Games in Paris.

The competition sees 16 nations split into four groups of four teams, with the top two from each progressing to the quarterfinals. The winners of both semifinals automatically qualify for the Olympics, regardless who wins the final.

The two losing semifinalists will contest third place, with the winners also booking a spot in Paris. The fourth-place finishers have one final chance with a play-off against an African qualifier.


Liverpool out of Europa League as Leverkusen advance to semis

Liverpool out of Europa League as Leverkusen advance to semis
Updated 19 April 2024
Follow

Liverpool out of Europa League as Leverkusen advance to semis

Liverpool out of Europa League as Leverkusen advance to semis

LONDON: Liverpool crashed out of the Europa League after a 1-0 win against Atalanta that wasn’t enough to overturn their quarter-final deficit, while Bayer Leverkusen’s 1-1 draw at West Ham took the German champions into the last four on Thursday.
In Jurgen Klopp’s last season as Liverpool boss, the Reds were hoping to give the German a memorable farewell in the final in Dublin.
But Liverpool had suffered a stunning 3-0 loss in the first leg against Atalanta at Anfield last week.
And although Liverpool have authored some of European football’s greatest comebacks down the years against the likes of St. Etienne, AC Milan and Barcelona, there would be no miracle escape this time.
Mohamed Salah converted a seventh minute penalty in the second leg in Bergamo after Trent Alexander-Arnold’s cross hit Matteo Ruggeri’s arm.
However, Klopp’s men couldn’t breach the stubborn Atalanta defense again.
It has been a brutal week for Liverpool, whose Premier League title challenge was damaged by a shock home defeat against Crystal Palace on Sunday.
“It’s mixed emotions. We are out but I’m happy with the game,” Klopp said.
“It was clear we gave ourselves a massive hurdle. We wished we could have gone to Dublin but that hasn’t happened.”
While Klopp contemplates his failure to land the one major trophy to elude him during nine years with Liverpool, Atalanta can dream of winning the second silverware in their 116-year history after the 1963 Coppa Italia.
Bidding to reach their maiden European final, Gian Piero Gasperini’s team will face Marseille in their first European semifinal since the 1988 Cup Winners’ Cup.
Fresh from clinching their first Bundesliga title last weekend, Leverkusen survived a scare from West Ham before advancing 3-1 on aggregate.
In the semifinals, Xabi Alonso’s side will play Roma, who saw off Italian rivals AC Milan 3-1 on aggregate.
Leverkusen won the first leg 2-0 but West Ham made the perfect start in east London when Michail Antonio met Jarrod Bowen’s pin-point cross with a close-range header in the 13th minute.
West Ham eventually ran out of steam and Jeremie Frimpong struck in the 89th minute with a shot that deflected in off Aaron Cresswell.
“The momentum was with West Ham. To be honest, we were not at our best in the first half. I’m happy to go through. In the Europa League you always have tough moments,” Alonso said.
Leverkusen are into their second successive Europa League semifinal, while West Ham’s exit means for only the third time in the 21st century, England will have no teams in the Champions League and Europa League last four.
Leverkusen’s 44-game unbeaten run in all competitions has taken them to the brink of an incredible treble, finally ridding the club of the ‘Neverkusen’ tag that mocked their decades of underachievement.
Alonso’s team, who face second tier Kaiserslautern in the German Cup final on May 25, beat Werder Bremen 5-0 on Sunday to win the Bundesliga title.
At the Stadio Olimpico, Gianluca Mancini put Roma head from close-range in the 12th minute and Paulo Dybala doubled their advantage in the 22nd minute with a blistering strike.
Daniele De Rossi’s side were reduced to 10 men in the 31st minute when Zeki Celik was dismissed for a foul on Milan forward Rafael Leao.
Matteo Gabbia got one back in the 85th minute, but his header was little consolation for Milan.
After losing last season’s Europa League final against Sevilla, Roma are one step closer to finally winning the competition for the first time.
Roma, who won the Europa Conference League in 2022, are into their fifth European semifinal in the last seven seasons.
In the south of France, Marseille were 4-2 winners in a penalty shoot-out against Benfica following the French side’s 1-0 victory in a tie that finished 2-2 on aggregate.
Faris Moumbagna struck in the 79th minute, heading in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s cross to force extra-time.
In the shoot-out, Luis Henrique scored the winner for Jean-Louis Gasset’s side after Benfica duo Angel Di Maria and Antonio Silva missed their kicks.