Liverpool, Leverkusen aim to play up to favorites tag in Europa League

Liverpool, Leverkusen aim to play up to favorites tag in Europa League
Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool are one of four British teams still alive in the competition and hoping to go all the way to this season’s final, which will be played in Dublin on May 22. (File/AP)
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Updated 06 March 2024
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Liverpool, Leverkusen aim to play up to favorites tag in Europa League

Liverpool, Leverkusen aim to play up to favorites tag in Europa League
  • Having won the League Cup, the Reds are top of the Premier League and also through to the last eight of the FA Cup
  • Unbeaten all season, the 1988 UEFA Cup winners are 10 points clear at the top of the Bundesliga with 10 games left

PARIS: Liverpool and Xabi Alonso’s Bayer Leverkusen are the standout contenders to go all the way in this season’s Europa League with both teams this week heading east for last-16 ties they will be expected to win comfortably.

Jurgen Klopp’s side are one of four British teams still alive in the competition and hoping to go all the way to this season’s final, which will be played in Dublin on May 22.

However, while Brighton and Hove Albion, West Ham United and Rangers all face difficult last-16 ties, it would be a major surprise if Liverpool slipped up against Sparta Prague and missed out on the quarter-finals.

Sparta are top of the Czech league and have had some fine results in Europe this season, qualifying from their group ahead of Real Betis and then eliminating Galatasaray in the knockout round playoffs.

Yet Liverpool are in fantastic form and still in contention to win a remarkable quadruple in Klopp’s final season as manager at Anfield.

Having won the League Cup, the Reds are top of the Premier League and also through to the last eight of the FA Cup.

The biggest danger for them heading to the Stadion Letna in Prague is that their minds may be on Sunday’s huge meeting with Manchester City, who sit a single point behind Klopp’s men at the top of the Premier League.

They lost their last two away games in the group stage, at Toulouse and in Belgium to Union Saint-Gilloise, and Klopp may again choose the Europa League to give an opportunity to some of his exciting youngsters.

Meanwhile, Mohamed Salah has played just once since returning injured from the Africa Cup of Nations and this game could also come too soon for the Egyptian.

Liverpool are aiming to secure a place in the March 15 draw for the quarter-finals, which would also reveal the identity of their potential semifinal opponents.

There is the prospect that they could yet cross paths with Leverkusen, who are enjoying a stunning campaign under former Liverpool midfielder Alonso.

Unbeaten all season, the 1988 UEFA Cup winners are 10 points clear at the top of the Bundesliga with 10 games left.

A first German title is their priority, but they remain in the German Cup and will be fully expected to see off Qarabag of Azerbaijan to reach the quarter-finals in Europe.

The Werkself head to Baku for the second time this season for Thursday’s first leg, having beaten Qarabag home and away in the group stage with a 6-1 aggregate scoreline.

Through to the knockout phase in their first ever European campaign, Brighton are in Italy to play a Roma side enjoying a revival under Daniele De Rossi.

Thursday’s first leg at the Stadio Olimpico will see De Rossi come up against his friend, the Brighton boss Roberto De Zerbi.

“I have big respect for him. I knew he could be a great coach because as a player he showed an incredible personality,” De Zerbi said recently of his counterpart.

“He thinks the same as me about football. He is a passionate person and we are friends, but I hope to win.”

West Ham, who won last season’s Europa Conference League, are in Germany to face a Freiburg side who are fresh from holding Bayern Munich to a draw in the Bundesliga last weekend.

It will be the third meeting of the clubs in the competition this season, with the Hammers coming out on top both times in the group stage.

Rangers, beaten Europa League finalists two years ago, surprisingly finished top of their group but their reward is a tough tie against Benfica, with the first leg in Lisbon.

“It will be the first game we will be underdogs, that’s the reality. But that doesn’t mean that we cannot qualify,” Rangers manager Philippe Clement, whose side top the Scottish Premiership, said after the draw.

Benfica’s city rivals Sporting host Atalanta on Wednesday, while AC Milan take on Slavia Prague and Marseille play Villarreal.

The Spanish side’s coach is Marcelino Garcia Toral, who quit as Marseille boss earlier this season after just three months in charge.


New Liverpool boss Slot admits he could not resist lure of club

New Liverpool boss Slot admits he could not resist lure of club
Updated 21 May 2024
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New Liverpool boss Slot admits he could not resist lure of club

New Liverpool boss Slot admits he could not resist lure of club

LONDON: Arne Slot said the chance to work at one of the world’s biggest clubs was “difficult to ignore” after Liverpool confirmed on Monday that the Feyenoord coach would be their new manager.

Just 24 hours after Jurgen Klopp’s emotional farewell at Anfield, the Premier League club said in a statement that the Dutchman would take up the position of head coach on June 1, subject to a work permit.

The club did not specify the length of Slot’s contract but it was widely reported in the British press that he had signed a three-year deal.

The new manager’s arrival was an open secret, with Liverpool reportedly agreeing a compensation deal worth up to £9.4 million ($12 million) with Feyenoord.

Slot, 45, confirmed Anfield was his next destination at his final pre-match press conference at the Eredivisie club on Friday.

“It is certainly not an easy decision to close the door behind you at a club where you have experienced so many wonderful moments and worked successfully with so many wonderful people,” he told Feyenoord’s website on Monday.

“But as a sportsman, an opportunity to become a head coach in the Premier League, at one of the biggest clubs in the world, is difficult to ignore.”

Klopp, 56, announced in January that the 2023/24 season would be his last at Anfield, and took charge of his final game on Sunday, a 2-0 win against Wolves.

In his farewell speech to the crowd, the German urged fans to throw their full support behind his successor, leading them in a chant of “Arne Slot, na na na na na.”

“You welcome the new manager like you welcomed me,” he said. “You go all-in from the first day. And you keep believing and you push the team.”

Slot, linked with a move to Tottenham last year, became Feyenoord boss in 2021 after impressing in his first managerial role at AZ Alkmaar.

He led the Dutch giants to the inaugural Europa Conference League final at the end of his first season, which they lost 1-0 to Jose Mourinho’s Roma.

Slot then delivered just a second league title in 24 years to De Kuip last season before penning a new three-year deal.

Feyenoord have enjoyed a strong season, winning the Dutch Cup and coming second to an all-conquering PSV Eindhoven side in the league.

Under Slot, Feyenoord have delighted the fans at De Kuip with an attacking brand of football and Slot has won praise from Klopp himself.

“I like the way his team plays football. If he is the one, I like that he wants it,” Klopp said last month.

“It’s the best job in the world, best club in the world. Great job, great team, fantastic people. A really interesting job.”

Liverpool captain and fellow Dutchman Virgil van Dijk has hailed Slot’s attacking mindset, saying it would suit the philosophy at Anfield.

Speaking about the future under the new boss, Van Dijk said: “It is all about sticking together and giving him the chance of showing what he is capable of with the other guys who will come in.

“He probably knows already but everyone knows our expectations are always huge and it is about managing that in the right way and getting the maximum out of all of our players.”

Slot has huge shoes to fill at Anfield after Klopp restored Liverpool to the elite of English and European football during his nine-year reign.

Under his leadership Liverpool won a sixth Champions League crown and a 19th league title, as well as a clutch of other trophies.

Initially, Bayer Leverkusen boss and former Liverpool midfielder Xabi Alonso was the favorite to succeed Klopp at Anfield.

However, Alonso committed to staying at Leverkusen as he led them to a first-ever Bundesliga title.

Liverpool finished third in the Premier League, qualifying for next season’s Champions League, and won the League Cup in Klopp’s final season.


Liverpool confirm Slot will replace Klopp as manager

Liverpool confirm Slot will replace Klopp as manager
Updated 20 May 2024
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Liverpool confirm Slot will replace Klopp as manager

Liverpool confirm Slot will replace Klopp as manager
  • Liverpool said in a statement that the Dutchman, 45, would take up the position of head coach on June 1, subject to a work permit
  • Slot’s arrival has been an open secret, with Liverpool reportedly agreeing a compensation deal worth up to $12 million

LONDON: Feyenoord coach Arne Slot was Monday confirmed as Jurgen Klopp’s successor at Liverpool by the Premier League club.
Liverpool said in a statement that the Dutchman, 45, would take up the position of head coach on June 1, subject to a work permit.
The club did not specify the length of his contract in their statement but Sky Sports said it understood Slot had signed a three-year deal.
Slot’s arrival has been an open secret, with Liverpool reportedly agreeing a compensation deal worth up to £9.4 million ($12 million).
He confirmed Anfield was his next destination at his final pre-match press conference at the Eredivisie club on Friday.
Klopp announced his departure in January and took charge of his final game on Sunday, a 2-0 win against Wolves.
In his final speech to the Anfield crowd, the German urged fans to throw their full support behind Slot.
“You welcome the new manager like you welcomed me,” he said. “You go all-in from the first day. And you keep believing and you push the team.”
Slot moved to Feyenoord in 2021 after impressing in his first managerial role at AZ Alkmaar.
He led the Dutch giants to the inaugural Europa Conference League final at the end of his first season. They narrowly lost 1-0 to Jose Mourinho’s Roma.
Slot then delivered just a second league title in 24 years to De Kuip last season before penning a new three-year deal.
“You can see people are genuinely sorry you are leaving,” he said on Friday.
“You can say that with words, but when you see it in people’s faces, it affects me quite a lot.”
Feyenoord have enjoyed a strong season, winning the Dutch Cup and coming second to an all-conquering PSV Eindhoven side.
Liverpool captain and fellow Dutchman Virgil van Dijk has hailed Slot’s attacking mindset, saying it would suit the philosophy at Anfield.
Initially, Bayer Leverkusen boss and former Liverpool midfielder Xabi Alonso was the favorite to succeed Klopp at Anfield.
However, Alonso has committed to staying at Leverkusen after leading them to a first-ever Bundesliga title.
Liverpool won the League Cup in Klopp’s final season in charge and finished third in the Premier League, qualifying for next season’s Champions League.


Maradona’s 1986 World Cup Golden Ball up for auction, a reminder of Argentine’s genius

Maradona’s 1986 World Cup Golden Ball up for auction, a reminder of Argentine’s genius
Updated 20 May 2024
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Maradona’s 1986 World Cup Golden Ball up for auction, a reminder of Argentine’s genius

Maradona’s 1986 World Cup Golden Ball up for auction, a reminder of Argentine’s genius
  • FIFA award for devastating displays in Mexico will be up for auction on June 6 at the world famous Aguttes International Auction House in Paris

Diego Maradona played once in Saudi Arabia, incredibly wearing the shirt of Jeddah powerhouse Al-Ahli in 1987, for a friendly game against Brondby of Denmark.

Yet it was the year before when he really made football history.

Many think Maradona is the best to have ever played the game, but all would surely agree that he was the star of the 1986 World Cup, and dragged Argentina to the title in heroic fashion. FIFA certainly thought so, and awarded the legend the Adidas Golden Ball trophy after it all finished, the prize given to the tournament’s best player.

Now, a piece of World Cup history is up for grabs, as the award is set to go up for auction on June 6 at the world famous Aguttes International Auction House in Paris. Serious interest is expected.

“At that 1986 World Cup, Diego shone like never before or since in his career; it was his monument,” Jorge Burruchaga, Argentina teammate of Maradona and scorer of the winning goal in the 1986 World Cup final as the South Americans defeated West Germany 3-2, said. “We knew we had the best player in the world, there was no doubt about it, we knew it for a fact.”

As dramatic as that final was, it is the 2-1 quarterfinal win against England in Mexico City that everyone remembers. Maradona’s first goal was the “Hand of God” goal, when he punched the ball into the net. It remains one of the most famous goals ever scored, matched only, perhaps, by the second he scored that day. Maradona picked the ball up from inside his own half, ran past half the England team, and the rest is history.

“My favorite recollection of this World Cup is the second goal he scored against England, which remains the most beautiful in history for me, because you must consider the state of the pitch, the altitude, the context between the two countries, and what he managed to do,” said Burruchaga.

“He breezed past six players ... It was divine. On that day, he created a lasting legacy for all Argentinian sportsmen and women, not just footballers, showing just how much you have to fight to be worthy of wearing the Argentine jersey.”

That shirt was handed by the man himself to England midfielder Steve Hodge at the final whistle. In 2022, it was sold at auction by Hodge for a figure reported to be around $7 million.

The golden ball, which was fittingly awarded to Maradona in Paris 38 years ago, is another piece of football history according to Francois Thierry, sports expert for Aguttes Auction House.

“Used far too often wrongly, the word ‘legend’ fits Diego Maradona perfectly,” Thierry said. “He is to football what Muhammad Ali is to boxing or Michael Jordan to basketball — an icon who goes far beyond the boundaries of his sport. He is certainly one of the most human athletes we have ever known, with his strengths and weaknesses. The golden kid, ‘El Pibe de Oro,’ is a special case … The history of football with a capital H is closely linked to that of Maradona.”


Hamdy gives Zamalek second CAF Confederation Cup title

Hamdy gives Zamalek second CAF Confederation Cup title
Updated 20 May 2024
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Hamdy gives Zamalek second CAF Confederation Cup title

Hamdy gives Zamalek second CAF Confederation Cup title
  • The two-leg final finished 2-2 on aggregate with the Cairo club winning the African equivalent of the UEFA Europa League on away goals
  • It was a historic triumph for Zamalek boss Jose Gomes, who became the first Portuguese coach to win the Confederation Cup

CAIRO: Ahmed Hamdy scored midway through the first half to give Zamalek of Egypt a 1-0 victory over Renaissance Berkane of Morocco on Sunday and a second CAF Confederation Cup title.

The two-leg final finished 2-2 on aggregate with the Cairo club winning the African equivalent of the UEFA Europa League on away goals.

The previous Zamalek triumph in the second-tier competition also came against Berkane with the Egyptians winning on penalties in 2019 after another aggregate draw.

It was a historic triumph for Zamalek boss Jose Gomes, who became the first Portuguese coach to win the Confederation Cup.

Zamalek made one change to the team that started the first leg in Morocco last Sunday with Senegalese Ibrahima Ndiaye replacing Nigeria-born fellow winger Samson Akinyoola.

Berkane were unchanged with Burkina Faso center-back Issoufou Dayo captaining the team and Senegalese Paul Bassene leading the attack.

A sell-out crowd in the 75,000-capacity Cairo International Stadium cheered, chanted and waved large flags as Zamalek attacked relentlessly in the early stages.

It seemed a matter of time before Berkane conceded, and Zamalek took the lead on 23 minutes through Hamdy, a midfielder who joined the White Knights four months ago.

An attempted clearance by Berkane was blocked and Ahmed ‘Zizo’ Sayed pushed the ball to unmarked Hamdy, who rifled a low shot wide of goalkeeper Hamza Hamiani into the corner of the net.

Level on aggregate but behind on away goals, Berkane came out of their defensive shell and Dayo almost levelled soon after with a far-post header after a free kick.

Paul Bassene had his first sight of goal on 32 minutes, but blazed over, then Yassine Labhiri was much closer to equalising with a shot from just outside the area.

Zamalek finished the opening half strongly and Berkane had to defend desperately with defenders blocking several goal attempts after Hamiani failed to grasp a cross.

The Berkane goalkeeper nearly gifted Zamalek a second goal just past the hour mark as he initially hesitated to clear the ball and came close to being dispossessed by Seifeddine Jaziri.

Berkane threatened with 14 minutes remaining when awarded a free kick close to the area, but a poor attempt by Ayoub Khairi sailed over.

The Moroccans were reduced to 10 men two minutes into added time when Hamza El Moussaoui was red-carded for stamping on Zizo after fouling the winger.


Man City win historic fourth straight Premier League title

Man City win historic fourth straight Premier League title
Updated 20 May 2024
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Man City win historic fourth straight Premier League title

Man City win historic fourth straight Premier League title
  • The champions’ relentless surge to the finishing line has included 19 wins and four draws since their last defeat in the league, at Aston Villa in early December
  • The Gunners, without a Premier League trophy since 2004, came from a goal down to beat Everton 2-1 but had to content themselves with second place for a second straight season

MANCHESTER, United Kingdom: Manchester City created English football history on Sunday, beating West Ham 3-1 to win their fourth straight Premier League title and break Arsenal’s hearts as Jurgen Klopp made an emotional Liverpool exit.

Phil Foden scored two early goals — including one after 79 seconds — at an expectant Etihad to lay the foundations for City’s victory.

West Ham’s Mohammed Kudus pulled a goal back with a spectacular overhead kick to give Arsenal renewed hope but Rodri struck just before the hour mark to effectively wrap up the title.

The Gunners, without a Premier League trophy since 2004, came from a goal down to beat Everton 2-1 but had to content themselves with second place for a second straight season after they finished two points behind City’s tally of 91.

The champions’ relentless surge to the finishing line has included 19 wins and four draws since their last defeat in the league, at Aston Villa in early December.

City, who have now won six titles in seven seasons, stand alone as the only English team to have won four straight top-flight titles, eclipsing the achievements of the great Liverpool and Manchester United teams of the past.

“When I moved here, if someone had said I would win six leagues in seven seasons I would say ‘You’re insane — no way’,” said City manager Pep Guardiola.

“All these players for Manchester United and Liverpool and Chelsea, all these teams. Now is our period. We are part of that.”

But while City have set new standards in English football, they remain under a cloud as a result of 115 Premier League charges for alleged financial irregularities, levelled early last year.

Elsewhere on the final day of the Premier League season, Luton’s relegation was confirmed with a 4-2 loss at home to Fulham. They will join Burnley and Sheffield United in the Championship next season.

Tottenham beat Sheffield United 3-0 to seal fifth spot and a place in next season’s Europa League while Chelsea guaranteed a sixth-place finish and European football with a 2-1 win against Bournemouth.

Newcastle’s 4-2 win at Brentford condemned Manchester United to an eighth-place finish — their lowest since 1990.

Erik ten Hag’s men, who beat Brighton 2-0 in Roberto De Zerbi’s last game in charge of the south coast club, have a chance to salvage something from a disastrous season in next week’s FA Cup final against City.

But if United lose that they will miss out on European football.

Foden, 23, has enjoyed his most impressive season yet for City, taking his tally to 27 goals in all competitions on Sunday, together with 11 assists.

The England midfielder opened the scoring on Sunday in the second minute with a vicious left-footed shot from outside the penalty area, settling nerves among the home fans. He then stroked the ball into the net in the 18th minute after an assist from Jeremy Doku.

The title race briefly came alive again when Takehiro Tomiyasu side-footed home to level for Arsenal at the Emirates before Kudus pulled one back for West Ham.

The atmosphere became more subdued at the Etihad but the visitors rarely threatened again in David Moyes’s final game in charge for the visitors and Rodri’s goal in the 59th minute ultimately made the game safe.

Kai Havertz’s late winner for Arsenal proved irrelevant.

Arteta gave a rousing speech to the fans in the immediate aftermath of the match, urging them to crave more.

“All this is happening because you started believing, you started to be patient and started to understand what we tried to do,” he said.

“All the credit has to go to the players and the staff. Don’t be satisfied. We want much more than that and we’re going to get it.”

Klopp ended his Liverpool reign with a 2-0 win at home to Wolves but the match was merely a sideshow as the fans paid a warm tribute to a manager who has transformed the club since arriving in 2015.

“It doesn’t feel like an end,” the German told a packed Anfield. “It just feels like a start. Today I saw a football team play full of talent, youth, creativity, desire, greed.”

He added: “We have this wonderful stadium, training center and you — the superpower of world football. Wow.”