Raphinha leads Barcelona past Las Palmas to stay in touch with Real Madrid

Raphinha leads Barcelona past Las Palmas to stay in touch with Real Madrid
Barcelona's Raphinha heads the ball to scores his side's opening goal during a Spanish La Liga soccer match between Barcelona and Las Palmas at the Olimpic Lluis Companys stadium in Barcelona on March 30, 2024. (AP)
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Updated 31 March 2024
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Raphinha leads Barcelona past Las Palmas to stay in touch with Real Madrid

Raphinha leads Barcelona past Las Palmas to stay in touch with Real Madrid
  • Raphinha said after Saturday’s game that the turnaround was due to the players “talking about things internally and about what we needed to do to get wins”
  • Sevilla’s 1-0 win at Getafe was marred by racist insults by fans targeting Sevilla defender Marcos Acuña and coach Quique Sanchez Flores

BARCELONA, Spain: Raphinha helped to reduce Las Palmas to 10 men before scoring to lead Barcelona to a 1-0 victory in the Spanish league on Saturday.

The Brazil winger was racing clear behind the defensive line when Las Palmas goalkeeper Alvaro Valles raced out of his area and crashed into him, earning a direct red card in the 24th minute.

Las Palmas bunkered down in their area until Raphinha broke through in the 59th when he headed in a perfectly floated pass by substitute Joao Felix.

“These are three important points. We will keep fighting until the end and won’t give up until the league is over,” Raphinha said about the defending champion’s chances of overtaking Real Madrid.

Second-placed Barcelona closed to within five points of leader Real Madrid before they host Athletic Bilbao on Sunday. The Spanish powerhouses will meet in the capital in three weeks after the Champions League quarterfinals, where Barcelona face Paris Saint-Germain and Madrid face Manchester City.

Felix had a great chance to add to the lead when Jules Kounde found him all alone at the far post, only for the Portugal forward to send his shot off the crossbar.

Despite being down a man, Alberto Moleiro almost equalized for the Canary Islands club in the final minutes when he hit the side netting.

“We have done our homework today and got the three points we needed to stay in the fight,” coach Xavi Hernández said after watching the game from the stands while he serves a two-game suspension for protesting.

Since Xavi said he would not continue next season after a series of painful losses, Barcelona have improved — above all in defense — and gone unbeaten in 11 straight across all competitions.

Xavi said he hoped the decision would spark a reaction in his team. Raphinha said after Saturday’s game that the turnaround was due to the players “talking about things internally and about what we needed to do to get wins.”

Xavi and his players have 11 days to prepare for PSG.

With the league taking a break next weekend for the Copa del Rey final, Barcelona won’t play again until the opening leg of its matchup against PSG on April 10.

Barcelona’s Ferran Torres returned as a second-half substitute for his first minutes since he injured his right thigh in late January.

BUDIMIR CATCHES JUDE

Osasuna striker Ante Budimir scored his 16th league goal of the season to pull level with Madrid’s Jude Bellingham as the competition leading scorers. Budimir helped to secure a 3-0 win at last-placed Almeria.

The Croatia international made it 2-0 for Osasuna after an error by Almeria goalkeeper Luis Maximiano. The goalie tried to impede the concession of a corner kick when he slid to stop the ball from crossing the endline, only to inadvertently pass it to an Osasuna player who easily set up Budimir to score into an open net.

Budimir is having the best season of his career and has netted six times in his last seven games. He next best season was for Mallorca in 2019-20 when he scored 13 times.

Bellingham returns on Sunday from a two-game suspension.

RACIST INSULTS

Sevilla’s 1-0 win at Getafe was marred by racist insults by fans targeting Sevilla defender Marcos Acuña and coach Quique Sanchez Flores.

Referee Javier Iglesias halted the game briefly when Acuña was insulted by fans in the 68th. Sánchez Flores, who has coached Getafe at three different times, said after the match his Roma heritage was insulted.

“We are workers who come here to work in peace and be respected,” Sánchez Flores said. “It is an aberration that in these times when we are advancing in so many ways that (these individuals) grab us and pull us backwards.”

Sergio Ramos scored the fifth-minute winner.

MALLORCA PREPARES FINAL

Mallorca drew at Valencia 0-0 a week before they face Athletic in the Copa del Rey final.

Javier Aguirre’s side, which relies on its defense, has kept three clean sheets in its last four games.


Man Utd to sack Ten Hag even if they win FA Cup: reports

Man Utd to sack Ten Hag even if they win FA Cup: reports
Updated 24 May 2024
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Man Utd to sack Ten Hag even if they win FA Cup: reports

Man Utd to sack Ten Hag even if they win FA Cup: reports
  • Britain’s The Guardian newspaper said the Premier League club had decided to take the ruthless step after a dismal season
  • Van Gaal was fired just two days after United’s FA Cup final victory against Crystal Palace in 2016

LONDON: Manchester United will sack embattled manager Erik ten Hag after the FA Cup final against Manchester City regardless of the result at Wembley, it was reported on Friday.
Britain’s The Guardian newspaper said the Premier League club had decided to take the ruthless step after a dismal season.
If Ten Hag’s two-year reign does end following the City clash, his exit would provoke memories of fellow Dutchman Louis van Gaal’s Old Trafford departure.
Van Gaal was fired just two days after United’s FA Cup final victory against Crystal Palace in 2016.
United finished an embarrassing eighth in the Premier League this season — their lowest final position since 1990 — and crashed out of the Champions League in the group stage.
Ten Hag has been the subject of intense speculation over his future, months after British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe took a minority stake in the club and assumed control of football operations.
United insist no decision has been made on the Dutchman’s future and say a full review will take place after Saturday’s showpiece against the Premier League champions, who are chasing their second straight league and FA Cup double.
The club have been linked with a list of names including Thomas Tuchel, Mauricio Pochettino, England’s Gareth Southgate and Ipswich boss Kieran McKenna, who has previously coached at Old Trafford.
Speaking before the latest report emerged, United goalkeeper Andre Onana said the final was “extra motivation” after an injury-hit season in which many of their star players flopped.
“We lost twice against City already (in the Premier League),” he said. “We know how good they are. Best team at the moment — all of our respect — but we go there to win. A final.”
Onana, who also played under Ten Hag at Ajax, stood up for his manager, describing him as a “good guy, a good coach.”
“Tactically he’s very good and he showed it last season,” said the Cameroon international. “I was not here last season and they got top four.
“This season a lot of things happened. I’m not here to back him. He is big enough to back himself. But he is a really good guy, he is a positive coach and tactically he’s good.
“If he had all his squad it would probably be different. This season is difficult for him, for us, for the club, for the fans.”
Saturday’s match offers United a shot at silverware against their bitter rivals and a route to Europa League qualification.
“It would make things look better,” said Onana, who has had an inconsistent first season at Old Trafford.
“It’s important to end well and winning this game would mean we’re in the Europa League.”


Barcelona say Xavi will not return as coach next season

Barcelona say Xavi will not return as coach next season
Updated 24 May 2024
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Barcelona say Xavi will not return as coach next season

Barcelona say Xavi will not return as coach next season
  • The club said Laporta “has informed Xavi Hernández that he will not be continuing as first team coach in the 2024-25 season”
  • His departure comes a month after Xavi had reversed a previous decision made in January to leave the club this summer

BARCELONA: Barcelona say coach Xavi Hernandez is leaving the club at the end of the season.
The Spanish club made the announcement Friday after a meeting between club president Joan Laporta, Xavi and several other senior figures at the team’s training ground.
The club said Laporta “has informed Xavi Hernández that he will not be continuing as first team coach in the 2024-25 season.”
Xavi’s last game in charge will be Sunday’s away game against Sevilla on the final day of the league season.
His departure comes a month after Xavi had reversed a previous decision made in January to leave the club this summer. In April, the 44-year-old Xavi said that he had changed his mind after his players showed him that they believed in the team’s potential and had improved their performances.
But Laporta had reportedly been displeased by Xavi’s recent comments in a news conference that Barcelona’s poor financial situation would make it nearly impossible to compete against Real Madrid and Europe’s other top clubs.
The former midfielder led Barcelona to the Spanish league title last year, but the team are eight points behind already crowned champion Madrid going into the last round.
As a player, Xavi left Barcelona in 2015 after helping the club win 25 titles, including four Champions Leagues and eight Spanish leagues in 17 seasons while forming a formidable trio with Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta. He was also key to Spain’s streak of titles when they won the 2010 World Cup and European Championships in 2008 and 2012.
Laporta brought Xavi back from his only prior coaching job in Qatar in November 2021 to lead his rebuilding project of a club that had just lost Messi amid a financial crisis.
The following summer the club sold off future television revenues and other club assets, which Laporta dubbed financial “levers,” to sign Robert Lewandowski and other players. Xavi was able to win the club’s first titles since Messi’s departure and the future looked bright.
This season, however, Barcelona lost all three ‘clasico’ matches against Madrid and were thumped twice by upstart Catalan rival Girona, losing both of their league matchups 4-2. They also lost in the quarterfinals of both the Champions League and the Copa del Rey.


Tickets for Pakistan-Saudi Arabia football World Cup qualifier go up for sale

Tickets for Pakistan-Saudi Arabia football World Cup qualifier go up for sale
Updated 24 May 2024
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Tickets for Pakistan-Saudi Arabia football World Cup qualifier go up for sale

Tickets for Pakistan-Saudi Arabia football World Cup qualifier go up for sale
  • Pakistan and Saudi Arabia will play against each other in Islamabad on June 6 for round two of World Cup qualifier
  • Saudi Arabia beat Pakistan 4-0 in November 2023 when the two sides met each other for first round of qualifiers

ISLAMABAD: Tickets for Pakistan’s upcoming FIFA World Cup 2026 Qualifier Round 2 home-leg match against Saudi Arabia are officially on sale, the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) announced on Thursday. 

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia will lock horns at the Jinnah Football Stadium in Islamabad on June 6, with the match scheduled to kick off at 8:30 p.m. Pakistan Standard Time. 

Pakistan is in Group G of the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers with Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Tajikistan. The South Asian country will face Tajikistan on June 11 in an away fixture. 

A total of 36 football squads have been split into nine groups with four teams each in the second round of qualifiers. The winners and runners-up from each group would progress through to the third round.

“In a bid to make the event accessible to all football enthusiasts, ticket prices have been thoughtfully set at budget-friendly rates,” the PFF said in a media release, adding that tickets were available at Bookme.pk website. 

It said tickets for the Premium Plus enclosures were set at Rs4,000 [$14.37] while the Premium enclosure tickets were priced at Rs1,500 [$5.39]. The General enclosure tickets are being sold for Rs750 [$2.69]. 

Saudi Arabia thrashed Pakistan 4-0 when the two sides met in November 2023 for their first clash of the FIFA World Cup qualifiers in Al Ahsa. 

Preliminary Pakistan squad

Goalkeepers: Hassan Ali and Tanveer

Defenders: Haseeb Khan, Mamoon Moosa Khan, Huzaifa, Waqar Ihtisham, Abdul Rehman, Umar Hayat, Muhammad Adeel, Muhammad Saddam and Zain ul Abideen

Midfielders: Yasir Arafat, Alamgir Ghazi, Ali Uzair, Rajab Ali, Moin Ali, Junaid Ahmed and Fahim

Forwards: Adeel Younas, Shayak Dost, Ali Zafar and Fareedullah

The PFF said the names of diaspora players joining the national training camp later would be included in the final squad.


Yokohama take a 2-1 lead into the 2nd leg of the Asian Champions League final against Al-Ain

Yokohama take a 2-1 lead into the 2nd leg of the Asian Champions League final against Al-Ain
Updated 24 May 2024
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Yokohama take a 2-1 lead into the 2nd leg of the Asian Champions League final against Al-Ain

Yokohama take a 2-1 lead into the 2nd leg of the Asian Champions League final against Al-Ain
  • If the Japanese team win they will participate in the 2025 FIFA Club World Cup where they could face their English stablemate as the English team qualified for the tournament
  • Despite the first-leg lead from the opener in Japan, getting past Al-Ain won’t be easy. The 2003 Asian champions also reached the final in 2005 and 2016

DUBAI: There will be celebrations in the UAE on Saturday regardless of whether Yokohama F. Marinos can protect their 2-1 lead in the second leg of the Asian Champions League final or Al-Ain come back to take the title.

Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayad is not only president of UAE but has been club president of Al-Ain, based near the country’s border with Oman, since 1979.

His vice president Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed is the owner of Manchester City, the founding member of the City Football Group, a worldwide stable of 13 clubs which became a minority shareholder in Yokohama in 2014.

If the Japanese team win they will participate in the 2025 FIFA Club World Cup where they could face their English stablemate as the English team qualified for the tournament, which will be expanded from seven to 32 teams, after becoming European champions in 2023.

Despite the first-leg lead from the opener in Japan, getting past Al-Ain won’t be easy. The 2003 Asian champions also reached the final in 2005 and 2016. The second loss is still fresh in the memory and serves as motivation.

“That’s why everybody wants this trophy so bad,” Al-Ain defender Khalid Al Hashemi said on the Asian Football Confederation’s official website. “I hope from the bottom of my heart that we can give happiness to everybody in our country.”

Al-Ain, coached by former Argentina striker Hernan Crespo, took an early lead through Mohammed Al-Baloushi at the Nissan Stadium on May 11 only for two late goals from Asahi Uenaka and Kota Watanabe to give Yokohama a slender advantage.

“We lost against great opponents who played very well but we did have chances which we didn’t put away,” Crespo said. “We have another opportunity at home and I hope it will be different,” said the ex-Milan, Inter and Chelsea forward.

“What we need is a little bit more quality in front to be dangerous. We had some chances, but it wasn’t enough and that is credit to Yokohama as they didn’t give us much space.”

Neither finalist has been able to transfer strong Asian form into domestic results. Al-Ain are in third in the league, 16 points behind leader Al-Wasl. Yokohama have won the J-League five times but currently sit 13th in the standings. The Japanese team have never been in the Champions League final.

Harry Kewell has been in charge since December and the former Leeds and Liverpool winger is close to achieving something that neither of his Australian predecessors Ange Postecoglou and Kevin Muscat managed at Yokohama.

“I’ve never been afraid of a challenge and I’m going to make sure my team’s not afraid of this challenge,” Kewell said. “It’s going to be tough . . . nothing’s given for free, you have to pay for it, you have to work for it. We have to suffer if we want to pick up this title.”


Beaten Leverkusen hope to ‘find themselves’ in German Cup final

Beaten Leverkusen hope to ‘find themselves’ in German Cup final
Updated 24 May 2024
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Beaten Leverkusen hope to ‘find themselves’ in German Cup final

Beaten Leverkusen hope to ‘find themselves’ in German Cup final
  • A loss will recall the club’s infamous ‘Neverkusen’ season in 2002, when they somehow emerged empty-handed
  • Leverkusen were without a trophy despite being five points clear in the league with three games remaining, while also qualifying for the German Cup and Champions League finals

BERLIN: Bayer Leverkusen face second-division Kaiserslautern in Saturday’s German Cup final licking their wounds after a first loss in almost a year.

Xabi Alonso’s side were thoroughly outclassed in a 3-0 loss to Atalanta in the Europa League final on Wednesday, their first defeat in any competition since May 2023 — a run of 51 games.

Energetic and dynamic this season with a taste for late goals, Leverkusen looked a shadow of the team which thundered past Bayern Munich to win their first ever Bundesliga title this season.

In a year when Alonso pledged to stick around with the club despite reported interest from Liverpool and Bayern, Leverkusen looked on track for a remarkable three trophies.

Now they need to rebound to stop their underdog opponents, who flirted with relegation to the third division for much of the campaign, spoiling what has been an incredible season.

A loss will recall the club’s infamous ‘Neverkusen’ season in 2002, when they somehow emerged empty-handed despite being five points clear in the league with three games remaining, while also qualifying for the German Cup and Champions League finals.

Leverkusen’s unbeaten run, which broke a 59-year-old record set by Portuguese giants Benfica in 1965, was bound to end sometime but it was the manner in which the club capitulated which will concern Alonso the most.

The Germans were outmuscled by a determined Atalanta, with the reliable Florian Wirtz and Granit Xhaka, so important this season, having off nights.

Winger Jonas Hofmann summed up the club’s struggles on Wednesday night, lamenting “many mistakes, individual mistakes, bad passes and simple technical errors,” saying the performance was “not Bayer-like.”

“We weren’t confident in the buildup,” Hofmann said, explaining Leverkusen had given Atalanta the feeling “they could stand up to us and win the title.”

For a side which has made a habit of scoring late goals — they have scored 15 times after the 90-minute mark this season — Leverkusen were not able to turn the tide.

Alonso was self-critical after the match, saying “we weren’t at our best, including me” and explained the system he chose “did not work,” urging his side to “transform our pain into positive energy.”

Despite the disappointment, beating Kaiserslautern would make Leverkusen just the sixth side in German football history to do the double — an incredible achievement for a team which had two major trophies to their name before this season started.

Xhaka told reporters on Wednesday the result was “not easy” but “we will not let it destroy us.”

“If we don’t win the triple, then we will win the double.”

Center-back Jonathan Tah, captain on Wednesday night, said “the show must go on.”

“We’ve got a very important game ahead of us — we can’t afford to talk ourselves down too much.”

Their opponents may now face a wounded Leverkusen hoping to make amends, but also understand Alonso’s side are vulnerable after Wednesday’s surprise loss.

Despite their run to the final, Kaiserslautern only played one top-division side in the Cup — beating Cologne, who were relegated to the second division at the end of the season.

Kaiserslautern striker Ragnar Ache told AFP he had been cheering for Leverkusen in Wednesday’s final in the hope Alonso’s side “would maybe party a little bit” into the night.

Ache however said Leverkusen “have a very big squad with high quality players — and they’re used to it.”

“It’s still not going to be easy for us. We have to look at ourselves and what we are going to do.”