Germany celebrate turnaround as confidence grows before hosting Euro 2024

Germany celebrate turnaround as confidence grows before hosting Euro 2024
Germany’s forward Niclas Fullkrug celebrates with team mates after scoring the 2-1 goal during their friendly match against the Netherlands in Frankfurt on Mar. 26, 2024. (AFP)
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Updated 27 March 2024
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Germany celebrate turnaround as confidence grows before hosting Euro 2024

Germany celebrate turnaround as confidence grows before hosting Euro 2024
  • “Everything fits together,” former Germany great Lothar Matthäus said after the France game
  • “Something has come out of the last week that wasn’t there before,” said Toni Kroos, who came out of international retirement to rejoin the team for Euro 2024

BERLIN: What a difference a game makes.
The pessimism and frustration shrouding Germany’s soccer team ahead this summer’s European Championship has been lifted and replaced by confidence that the host can now win the tournament.
All it took was a win over France for the Germans to cast aside their doubts.
“Everything fits together,” former Germany great Lothar Matthäus said after the France game, which was followed up by a 2-1 win over the Netherlands on Tuesday. “The team not only can be European champion, they must be European champion!”
It’s a remarkable turnaround for a team that had lost their previous games against Austria and Turkiye in November, and which had only two wins from their previous 10 matches before beating France 2-0 in Lyon on Saturday.
“Something has come out of the last week that wasn’t there before,” said Toni Kroos, who came out of international retirement to rejoin the team for Euro 2024. “There’s a confidence in our actions and I hope we take that with us toward the tournament because then we can be confident of always doing well.”
Germany needed to dig deep to beat the Dutch in Frankfurt after Joey Veerman’s fourth-minute goal for the visitors, but goals from Maximilian Mittelstädt and Niclas Füllkrug consolidated the team’s new-found bullishness and rewarded coach Julian Nagelsmann for some brave calls in squad selection.
Nagelsmann had called up six new faces and coaxed the 34-year-old Kroos back from retirement.
The Real Madrid star’s return had arguably had the greatest impact because of his leadership qualities and a calm composure that helped settle the players around him. Kroos began by setting up for Germany’s fastest ever goal after just seven seconds in the win in France, then delivered both corners that led to the goals against the Netherlands.
“I know that the team is coming from a really tough time,” Kroos said. “What’s good is that few took that baggage with them, that it was left behind through the relatively radical changes and you could see that.”
Kroos’ return allowed İlkay Gündoğan to push further forward, Wirtz and fellow youngster Jamal Musiala starred on the wings, and in-form Arsenal forward Kai Havertz started up front. Bayer Leverkusen’s tough-tackling Robert Andrich made his second and third Germany appearances beside Kroos in midfield.
Nagelsmann named the same starting lineup for the Netherlands as he had for France, and – barring injuries – it will not change much from the team that will start Euro 2024 against Scotland in Munich on June 14.
“The spirit of the team is very good. They’re a good mix,” Nagelsmann said. “I think we’ve found a good mix of players who can take on the role of not playing and still give their all when they come in.”
Of the new faces, three were from Stuttgart, which are playing some of the best soccer in the Bundesliga this season. Mittelstädt, the Stuttgart left back, made his Germany debut against France and starred in both games. A year ago, he was fighting relegation with Hertha Berlin.
“Everyone said, he hasn’t played any international game, maybe it’s too early,” Nagelsmann said of Mittelstädt. “He’s a very good player, a lot of ambition, a lot of power and also a top guy. He’s good for us.”
Nagelsmann made a point of selecting in-form players for their confidence, while omitting the likes of Bayern Munich midfielder Leon Goretzka and a host of Borussia Dortmund players.
Nagelsmann paid tribute to Leipzig defenders David Raum and Benjamin Henrichs for their impact as substitutes, as well as Pascal Gross in midfield, while Füllkrug, another substitute, was the one who scored the winner against the Netherlands.
All of the players, whether starters and substitutes, displayed a bite and commitment that had been lacking in previous Germany performances. Antonio Rüdiger and Jonathan Tah formed a formidable partnership in central defense, while Wirtz and Musiala in particular provided moments of inspiration.
“I think football is always about confirming things. A one-hit wonder is always possible,” Nagelsmann said before Tuesday’s match. “In the end it’s about confirming the path that we’re on. And I also said before I don’t want to be infected by this hysteria. But I’m also not one to put the brakes on euphoria.”
Nagelsmann was only given a contract through Euro 2024 after he was appointed successor to the fired Hansi Flick in September, but he’s likely to have it extended before the tournament starts.
Germany next faces Ukraine and Greece for their final tournament warmups before its opening game against Scotland in Munich on June 14. Nagelsmann’s team then play Hungary in Stuttgart on June 19 and Switzerland in Frankfurt on June 23.


Saudi national football team prepares for Asian qualifiers

Saudi national football team prepares for Asian qualifiers
Updated 30 May 2024
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Saudi national football team prepares for Asian qualifiers

Saudi national football team prepares for Asian qualifiers
  • Players participating in the King’s Cup final between Al-Nasser and Al-Hilal on Friday will join the national squad on Sunday
  • Green Falcons fly to Islamabad on Wednesday for their game against Pakistan on Thursday, and then host Jordan in Riyadh on June 11

RIYADH: The Saudi national football team gathered at their training camp in Riyadh on Thursday to begin preparations for the upcoming Asian qualifiers for the 2026 World Cup and the 2027 Asian Cup.
As the Green Falcons held their first training session on Thursday evening behind closed doors at Mahd Academy, members of the squad from Al-Nasser and Al-Hilal, who will meet in the final of the King’s Cup on Friday, were absent. They will join the national team’s preparations on Sunday after head coach Roberto Mancini gave them a day off on Saturday to recover.
The 31-player squad, announced by Mancini last week, will fly out on Wednesday for their game against Pakistan in Islamabad on June 6, and then host Jordan at Alwal park in Riyadh on June 11.
Saudi Arabia currently tops Group G of the Asian qualifiers, with 10 points from four games, ahead of Jordan (7 points) and Tajikistan (5). Pakistan are bottom of the group having lost all four games so far.


Maradona’s heirs lose court battle to block auction of World Cup Golden Ball trophy

Maradona’s heirs lose court battle to block auction of World Cup Golden Ball trophy
Updated 30 May 2024
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Maradona’s heirs lose court battle to block auction of World Cup Golden Ball trophy

Maradona’s heirs lose court battle to block auction of World Cup Golden Ball trophy
  • Maradona’s heirs tried to stop the auction of the Golden Ball trophy he received for being the best player of the 1986 World Cup
  • Lawyer Gilles Moreu told The AP the court’s ruling “was not favorable to the heirs of Diego Maradona” and said he would lodge an appeal

PARIS: A French court ruled the auction of a trophy awarded to the late Diego Maradona after the 1986 World Cup can go ahead as planned despite opposition from his heirs, their lawyer told The Associated Press on Thursday.
Maradona’s heirs tried to stop the auction of the Golden Ball trophy he received for being the best player of the 1986 World Cup by starting an urgent judicial procedure. Lawyer Gilles Moreu told The AP the court’s ruling “was not favorable to the heirs of Diego Maradona” and said he would lodge an appeal.
The trophy is set to be auctioned next Thursday in Paris by the Aguttes auction house, which did not immediately comment on the ruling.
The Golden Ball was missing for decades after it disappeared in uncertain circumstances and only recently resurfaced. Maradona’s heirs say the trophy was stolen and claimed the current owner wasn’t entitled to sell it. Aguttes said the trophy reappeared in 2016 among other lots that were acquired from a private collection at auction in Paris.
Moreu said the president of the Nanterre court outside Paris considered the current owner of the trophy, identified as Mr. Benchaieb, “should be considered as acting in good faith.”
Benchaieb and Aguttes claimed that when he bought the trophy years ago he was not aware it had been stolen.
“The Ballon d’Or is a unique piece of property, which Diego Maradona’s children want back,” Moreu said. “My clients are extremely saddened by the court’s decision.”
Maradona received the award in 1986 at a ceremony at the Lido cabaret on the Champs-Élysées. It subsequently disappeared, giving rise to rumors. Some say it was lost during a poker game or sold to pay off debts. Others say Maradona stored it in a safe in a Naples bank that was robbed by local gangsters in 1989 when he played in the Italian league. Maradona’s heirs believe it was stolen from the bank.
French judicial officials last week opened an investigation after they received a complaint relating to the resale of allegedly stolen goods. The Nanterre prosecutor’s office did not say whether the court’s decision would have an impact on the probe, and if it was still ongoing.
Maradona, who died in 2020 at age 60, captained Argentina in its 3-2 win over West Germany in the 1986 final in Mexico City. In a quarterfinal win over England he scored the “Hand of God” goal and the “Goal of the Century.”
Aguttes said it expects the trophy “to fetch millions due to its uniqueness.”
Bidders will be asked to make a deposit of 150,000 euros ($161,000) to participate in the auction.
The Hand of God goal came when Maradona punched the ball into England’s net. Four minutes later, he weaved through England’s midfield and defense and past goalkeeper Peter Shilton for what FIFA later declared the greatest goal in World Cup history.


Kompany to stick with same footballing principles after swapping Burnley for Bayern Muncih

Kompany to stick with same footballing principles after swapping Burnley for Bayern Muncih
Updated 30 May 2024
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Kompany to stick with same footballing principles after swapping Burnley for Bayern Muncih

Kompany to stick with same footballing principles after swapping Burnley for Bayern Muncih
  • “At this club and this journey, I have no intention of being a different person,” Kompany said
  • Kompany said the fact that next season’s Champions League final is being staged at Munich’s Allianz Arena will be used as some motivation

MUNICH: Vincent Kompany insists his footballing principles will not change after swapping the Championship for the Champions League by making the unlikely move from Burnley to Bayern Munich.
Kompany led Burnley to promotion to the Premier League in his first season at the northwest English club, only to get a reality check when his bold and attacking style of play was exposed in the top division.
Burnley’s relegation led to accusations by some that Kompany’s tactics were naïve, but the former Manchester City and Belgium defender said he was proud to have stayed consistent “in the very highs and the very lows” and will be working the same way at Bayern.
“At this club and this journey, I have no intention of being a different person,” Kompany said on Thursday at a news conference where he was presented as the replacement for Thomas Tuchel. “I don’t think that’s what they want.”
Kompany will, therefore, ask the same things from Bayern’s higher-quality players as he did from those at Burnley.
“I want the players of Bayern Munich to be brave, really brave on the ball, to have personality on the ball,” he said. “But also my nature is, I’m also someone that is aggressive, so I want the team to be aggressive.
“I want the team to represent those two things that would make my character — absolutely brave when they have the ball, when they’re making decisions, and absolutely aggressive, something that they carry throughout every minute of the game always.”
Kompany said the fact that next season’s Champions League final is being staged at Munich’s Allianz Arena will be used as some motivation.
“The goal is for me quite simple: I always try to win every match. It doesn’t matter where you are, it is always most, most important that we want to win every match,” he said. “That the Champions League final is here in Munich might make it a bit more important than the others, if I am honest. But I know we will not reach it by just expressing it.”


Celebrations in Greece as Olympiakos beat Fiorentina 1-0 for first European title

Celebrations in Greece as Olympiakos beat Fiorentina 1-0 for first European title
Updated 30 May 2024
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Celebrations in Greece as Olympiakos beat Fiorentina 1-0 for first European title

Celebrations in Greece as Olympiakos beat Fiorentina 1-0 for first European title
  • Olympiakos coach Jose Luis Mendilibar secured a second straight European title after winning the Europa League with Sevilla last season
  • Tens of thousands of Olympiakos fans joined wild celebrations across the Greek capital after attending outdoor viewing parties

ATHENS: Olympiakos won Greece’s first European club title by beating Fiorentina 1-0 with a last-gasp goal in extra time in the Europa Conference League final on Wednesday.

Ayoub El Kaabi provided the dramatic ending, diving to nudge in a last-gasp goal in the second period of extra time, with fans erupting in celebration after a lengthy wait for a VAR check for offside.

The Moroccan striker — who finished as the competition’s top scorer — struck in the 116th minute of the match, dropping to his knees as he waited the goal review. El Kaabi met a cross from Santiago Hezze to decide a game that had looked destined for a penalty shootout following an energetic but largely risk-free encounter at AEK Arena.

The late goal condemned Fiorentina and ttheir coach Vincenzo Italiano to a second straight defeat in the final of the Europa Conference League, after losing last year to West Ham.

Olympiakos coach Jose Luis Mendilibar secured a second straight European title after winning the Europa League with Sevilla last season.

Tens of thousands of Olympiakos fans joined wild celebrations across the Greek capital after attending outdoor viewing parties. Youths held up lit flares in the port city of Piraeus, near Athens, where the team is based.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis described Olympiakos as “a true legend,” adding in an online post: “Olympiakos has won the Europa Conference League and made history! A sensational night for the club itself, but also for Greek football as a whole.”

The third-tier European club competition took place amid a massive security operation, with some 5,000 police officers forming concentric cordons around a northern area of the capital.

The final was briefly marred by scuffles between Fiorentina fans inside the stadium and riot police next to them.

Although the visitors dominated the early stages of the final, Fiorentina goalkeeper Pietro Terracciano kept his team in the game with two impressive fingertip saves to block on-target shots from Daniel Podence in the fourth minute and Stevan Jovetic in the sixth minute of extra time.

El Kaabi, who scored a total of 11 goals in the competition, had been largely sidelined in the match by Fiorentina’s unyielding four-man defense.


The Roshn Saudi League 2023/24: A ‘game-changing season’

The Roshn Saudi League 2023/24: A ‘game-changing season’
Updated 29 May 2024
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The Roshn Saudi League 2023/24: A ‘game-changing season’

The Roshn Saudi League 2023/24: A ‘game-changing season’
  • ‘Some of the best players in the world chose RSL to showcase their incredible talents alongside the next generation of young Saudi talent,’ says league CEO Omar Mugharbel
  • 5-time Ballon d’Or winner Ronaldo set a league record by scoring 35 goals during the season, one more than Abderrazak Hamdallah managed in 2018/19

RIYADH: During the 2023/24 season of the Roshn Saudi League, which concluded on Monday, 909 goals were scored in 306 matches, a 40 percent increase compared with the previous season.
Al-Nassr’s Portuguese superstar, Cristiano Ronaldo, contributed 35 of those goals, in 31 games, setting a league record for the number of goals in a season.
As he looked back on Wednesday at some of the highlights of an eventful season, the league’s CEO, Omar Mugharbel, predicted that it will be remembered as a milestone in the growth of elite football in the Kingdom.
“Some of the best players in the world chose RSL to showcase their incredible talents alongside the next generation of young Saudi talent,” he said.
“Their arrival amplified even further the huge interest in the league from fans, broadcasters and sponsors. It is impossible to overstate how much of a game-changing season 2023/24 has been.”
The season began with major signings of several international stars, including Karim Benzema, Neymar, Riyad Mahrez, Sadio Mane, N’Golo Kante, Georgino Wijnaldum, Aleksandar Mitrovic and Ruben Neves.
Champions Al-Hilal grabbed headlines around the globe when they set a world record for successive top-flight victories, winning 34 games in a row across all competitions during an unbeaten campaign.
On an individual level, five-time Ballon d’Or winner Ronaldo achieved further success in the calendar year 2023 when he netted the most club goals in the world, with 54 in 59 appearances in all competitions.
And during the 2023/24 season, the Portuguese star set a record by scoring 35 goals in the league, one more than previous record holder Abderrazak Hamdallah managed in 2018/19.
An increased focus on the development of young Saudi talent, to help them excel on the world stage, meant that age of eligibility to play in the league was reduced from 18 to 16 years old. The average age of players dropped to 27.5 years old.
Mugharbel said he has no doubt the league will continue to go from strength to strength, with preparations already underway for next season.
“What is crucial now is enhancing the offering for all stakeholders across the Roshn Saudi League to ensure that we deliver a product, on and off the field, that is truly and consistently world class across all metrics,” he said.
“These are hugely exciting times for football in Saudi Arabia and we look forward immensely to the Roshn Saudi League season 2024/25.”
Off the pitch, the transformation of the league attracted global attention. This was reflected in major milestones that were achieved across metrics such as broadcast deals, sponsorship agreements, and social media reach.
Games were broadcast in more than 160 countries on 38 global platforms as the league reached more fans than ever. Meanwhile, its social media channels attracted 6.72 million new followers during the season, representing a 141 percent increase from the start of the campaign.
The Manager of the Season award went to Al-Hilal boss Jorge Jesus, who was also named Manager of the Month five times along the way.
As noted, Ronaldo was Top Goalscorer, while Al-Hilal’s Yassine Bounou, who kept 15 clean sheets and conceded the fewest goals, was named Goalkeeper of the Season.