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
Yokohama F. Marinos after winning the Asian Champions League final first leg against Al-Ain on May 11, 2024 at Yokohama International Stadium, Yokohama, Japan. (Reuters)
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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.”


Georgia and the Czech Republic desperate to get off the mark in Group F

Georgia and the Czech Republic desperate to get off the mark in Group F
Updated 48 sec ago
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Georgia and the Czech Republic desperate to get off the mark in Group F

Georgia and the Czech Republic desperate to get off the mark in Group F
  • Türkiye and Portugal are the other two teams in Group F and play later Saturday
  • Georgians and the Czechs were praised for fighting hard in their opening games

HAMBURG: Georgia and the Czech Republic are desperately seeking a win as they meet in their second game of Euro 2024 in Hamburg.
Kickoff is at 3 p.m. local time (1300 GMT) on Saturday.
Türkiye and Portugal are the other two teams in Group F and play later Saturday.
Georgians and the Czechs were praised for fighting hard in their opening games but didn't get any points as Türkiye beat Georgia 3-1 and Portugal beat the Czechs 2-1 on a stoppage-time goal from Francisco Conceicao.
A win for either team would boost their chances of qualifying for the knockout rounds. The losing team wouldn't be eliminated for sure just yet because of the rule that some third-place teams can qualify.
A draw would leave Georgia needing an upset win over Portugal in their last game, and the Czech team needing the same against Türkiye.
Meanwhile, Georgian fans were involved in a brawl in the stadium ahead of the Türkiye game.
Georgia’s midfielder Otar Kiteishvili has been on an individual training program separate from the rest of the squad and was an unused substitute in the loss to Türkiye.
Moreover, Czech coach Ivan Hasek played down fitness concerns around captain and midfielder Tomas Soucek, saying he has been in full training. “I think everybody will be ready to start tomorrow,” he said.
Striker Patrik Schick, of Czech Republic, is set to play his 40th game for his country and his next goal will be his 20th. Five of his international goals to date came at the last European Championship.
"Getting out of the group should be the goal, but the most important thing now is to put on a good show. We are still in the development phase and this tournament will help us to become even stronger in the future,” said Georgia’s coach Willy Sagnol.
“I’m not nervous because football has given me everything and hard moments are something that I enjoy...Tomorrow is a great opportunity for me,” said Czech midfielder Antonin Barak.


Fulfilling dreams and finding new friends: fans camp out at Euro 2024

Fulfilling dreams and finding new friends: fans camp out at Euro 2024
Updated 21 June 2024
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Fulfilling dreams and finding new friends: fans camp out at Euro 2024

Fulfilling dreams and finding new friends: fans camp out at Euro 2024
  • “In 1990 I was with some friends in Italy at the World Cup there and it was so funny and I said at that time, okay, I will do it again,” Harald Goerz, a Germany fan from Aachen told Reuters

STUTTGART: International rivalries have been put to one side in a campsite in Stuttgart as fans from various nations live in motorhomes next to one another and share the common joy of following their team at Euro 2024.
While the action intensifies on the pitch, the fans are making new friends, sharing drinks and creating a festival atmosphere in a unique holiday that could end next week or next month.
“In 1990 I was with some friends in Italy at the World Cup there and it was so funny and I said at that time, okay, I will do it again,” Harald Goerz, a Germany fan from Aachen told Reuters outside his rented motor home.
“In that time I met my wife, we have been married for 32 years. And last year we had the idea to start this traveling with the German team around Germany to all their games.
“That was ever my dream, I said to her if any time a new European Championship or World Cup is in Germany, then we will do that.”
Harald’s wife Martina, sitting beside him in her Germany jersey, said they would make a photo album of their journey across the country that has taken in Munich and Stuttgart so far and then on to Frankfurt next to show their family.
“We want to have a photo album... for our grandchildren to show them: Look. When I tell our daughter about it, she watches it herself, she lives in Cologne, and she will say: ‘That’s amazing, it’s a shame I couldn’t come with you’. She is crazy about football too.”
Germany have two wins from their opening two matches, the second a 2-0 victory over Hungary at the Stuttgart Arena, which is a five minute walk from the campsite.
However, there was no animosity from Hungarian fans also were camping out.
“It’s amazing. That’s the word... after the game we came here and we just sit in the ‘pub’ and drink with the Scottish fans and they are the best,” Hungary fan Tamas Szucs said, camping with his friend Zsolt Kiraly who he met five years ago and now travels with for international matches.
“We had some German fans here, we said to them well done, good job.
“Everyone is friendly,” he added.

’NO SCOTLAND, NO PARTY’
The Scottish fans are proving to be popular at this tournament with thousands having made the journey. At the Stuttgart campsite, groups made their way separately on the long journey from Scotland but are already one big family.
“We left Glasgow 10 days ago and drove 24 hours solid to get here. And the three guys here, they fell right out the bus. They didn’t stop drinking for 24 hours. 80 cans of beer in 24 hours,” Scotland fan John Gilmour said as his fellow fans cheered and raised fresh bottles of beer.
Scotland were part of the last Euros but that one had COVID restrictions, so for some fans it has been their first real chance to see their team at a European Championship since 1996.
“This was my dream,” said Tony, a Scotland fan who lives in Blackpool, England.
“When I was younger I can remember the football but I was too busy with children. So this time was my dream. I wasn’t missing it. And I brought my son. He was born during Euro 96, so I managed to get him here as well.”
There will be more Scottish arrivals in Stuttgart ahead of their crucial Group A match against Hungary on Sunday, with both teams needing a win to be in with a shout of reaching the next stage.
The chant of “No Scotland, no party” will be heard right across the campsite and the city this weekend.


Cristiano Ronaldo back in action as Portugal and Turkiye look for second straight win at Euro 2024

Cristiano Ronaldo back in action as Portugal and Turkiye look for second straight win at Euro 2024
Updated 21 June 2024
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Cristiano Ronaldo back in action as Portugal and Turkiye look for second straight win at Euro 2024

Cristiano Ronaldo back in action as Portugal and Turkiye look for second straight win at Euro 2024

DORTMUND, Germany: Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal play Turkiye in their second group game at the European Championship. Both countries opened Group F play with a win, with Portugal beating the Czech Republic 2-1 and Turkiye defeating Georgia 3-1. Kickoff is at 6 p.m. local (1600 GMT) in Dortmund. Here’s what to know about the match:

Match facts

  • The 39-year-old Ronaldo lost his place in the Portugal team at the World Cup in 2022 but he looks to be as guaranteed a starter as ever under Roberto Martinez, who took over as coach after the tournament in Qatar. Ronaldo is captain and played the full game against the Czechs, though didn’t score.
  • Portugal encountered a Czech Republic team which sat back and defended in numbers in Leipzig. Turkiye is unlikely to do that, given its strength in attack, so expect Ronaldo and company to have more space going forward.
  • Arda Guler is the one to watch for Turkiye. The 19-year-old attacking midfielder from Real Madrid scored one of the goals of the tournament against Georgia — a long-range screamer into the top corner — to take Ronaldo’s record as the youngest debut scorer at a European Championship.
  •  Turkiye is playing a second straight game at Dortmund’s Westfalenstadion. Its fans turned the stadium into a sea of red against Georgia and look sure to outnumber the Portuguese support on Saturday.
  •  Portugal or Turkiye will guarantee a first-place finish in the group with a win in Dortmund and if Georgia-Czech Republic is a draw in Hamburg earlier Saturday.
(AFP)

Team news

  • Portugal’s entire 26-man squad has been in training so Martinez again has some tough decisions to make, given the strength in depth of the group. Joao Palhinha is pushing for a return as the anchorman in midfield.
  • İrfan Can Kahveci missed the win over Georgia because of injury and has yet to return to full training with Turkiye.

By the numbers

  • Ronaldo will look to add to his record 14 goals in European Championships. That is five more than his nearest rival — Michel Platini, whose nine goals all came in the same tournament (1984). It will also be Ronaldo’s record-extending 27th appearance at the Euros.
  • Portugal won all 10 of its qualifying games for Euro 2024 and then its opening group game. The team has also beaten Turkiye in each of their last six competitive matches, and in all three of their meetings at the Euros.
  • By starting against the Czechs, Portugal defender Pepe became — at 41 years and 113 days — the oldest player to feature in a European Championship.
  • By beating Georgia, Turkiye ended a run of losing its opening match in each of its last five appearances at the Euros.

What they’re saying
“We’re expecting a completely different game. Turkiye have better players (than the Czech Republic) and they will want a different kind of match.” — Portugal forward Diogo Jota.
“Even in bad weather, they were at the stadium for us and were so loud. With them, we feel like we are playing with 12 men.” — Turkiye defender Ferdi Kadıoğlu on his team’s loud and passionate fans.


UEFA says it will improve Frankfurt field after turf cuts up in England-Denmark game at Euro 2024

UEFA says it will improve Frankfurt field after turf cuts up in England-Denmark game at Euro 2024
Updated 21 June 2024
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UEFA says it will improve Frankfurt field after turf cuts up in England-Denmark game at Euro 2024

UEFA says it will improve Frankfurt field after turf cuts up in England-Denmark game at Euro 2024
  • Frankfurt has had steady rainfall this week and the Waldstadion roof was closed for 24 hours before kickoff

FRANKFURT: After an England-Denmark game at the European Championship played on a field that cut up following days of rain, UEFA said Friday it was working on “specific issues” to improve the quality.
Frankfurt has had steady rainfall this week and the Waldstadion roof was closed for 24 hours before kickoff, and during the game Thursday, to protect the field that was used all season by host club Eintracht Frankfurt.
Chunks of turf were kicked up during England’s 1-1 draw with Denmark and several players slipped on the greasy grass in humid conditions on a 23-degree (73 F) day.
“A detailed maintenance plan is in place to address specific issues and further improve quality ahead of the upcoming fixtures at the venue,” UEFA said in a statement.
Germany plays Switzerland in the stadium Sunday in a 9 p.m. local (1900 GMT) kickoff. Frankfurt also hosts Slovakia-Romania on Wednesday and a round of 16 game on July 1 for the Group F winner, that could be Portugal.
UEFA has replacement fields ready to bring in when needed. The playing surface at Switzerland’s training stadium was relaid this week after a formal complaint.
England coach Gareth Southgate said he noticed the Frankfurt field break up when Belgium played there Monday and lost 1-0 to Slovakia.
“I’ve been a defender, when you play on a pitch like that it puts you on edge because you are not sure of your footing,” Southgate said after Thursday’s game.
UEFA said its expert field consultants “have seen the overall pitch rating improve consistently over the course of the previous season.”
Persistent rain in Germany during Euro 2024 has added to issues with fields that were relaid before the competition. In Hamburg, the Poland and Netherlands could not practice on the surface before the opening game at Volksparkstadion on Sunday.
Playing surfaces have been relaid during previous tournaments with turf brought from the Netherlands: During Euro 2016 at Lille, France, and Euro 2008 at Basel, Switzerland.


Argentina begin Copa title defense with 2-0 win over Canada

Argentina begin Copa title defense with 2-0 win over Canada
Updated 21 June 2024
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Argentina begin Copa title defense with 2-0 win over Canada

Argentina begin Copa title defense with 2-0 win over Canada
  • Messi produced another clinical, defense-splitting pass and this time Lautaro made no mistake, slipping past the advancing Crepeau to make it 2-0

ATLANTA: World champions Argentina opened their bid for back-to-back Copa America titles with a 2-0 win over Canada in front of a crowd of 70,564 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Thursday.
Julian Alvarez put Argentina ahead in the 49th minute but a combination of inspired goalkeeping from Canada’s Max Crepeau and Lionel Messi’s surprising lack of precision in front of goal ensured that the underdogs were in the game until Lautaro Martinez settled the contest in the 88th minute.
Backed by a huge support decked out in light blue and white striped shirts, Argentina fully deserved their victory but Canada, ranked 48th in the world, can take plenty of credit for the way they fought with the 15-time Copa America winners.
Alvarez, preferred to Lautaro as Messi’s strike partners in attack, had the first opportunity when he charged down an attempted clearance from Ismael Kone and broke away.
But the Manchester City striker took a heavy touch as he bore down on Canada keeper Max Crepeau, who was able to smother the ball.
Messi, who became the most capped player in Copa America history, making his 35th appearance in what is his seventh tournament, then went close to an opener himself but his angled shot from the left flashed just wide of the far post.
While the Argentines were exploiting gaps in the Canadian defense, Jesse Marsch’s team were nonetheless competing in midfield and creating some half-chances for themselves.
Alphonso Davies and Liam Millar both had shots blocked inside the box and Tajon Buchanan screwed an effort from a tight angle wide in the 30th minute.
The first true save of the game came in the 40th minute, though, when Alexis Mac Allister’s stooping header from an Angel Di Maria cross was well dealt with by Crepeau.
But Argentina needed their goalkeeper, Emiliano Martinez, to be at his very best to ensure they went in on level terms at the interval.
Cyle Larin’s cross from the right wing was met with a powerful header from close-range from Stephen Eustaquio but Martinez’s sharp reaction save kept the game goalless.
But it took less than four minutes of the second half for Argentina to break the deadlock — Messi threaded a pass through to Mac Allister, who was brought down by Crepeau, but before the referee could blow his whistle Alvarez had slotted home the loose ball.
Within moments, there was another chance for Alvarez, but this time denied by the diving Crepeau and Canada could live to fight on.
They did so with more urgency and a little more risk after coach Jesse Marsch introduced winger Jacob Shaffelburg and switched to an attacking 4-3-3 formation.
Suddenly the Argentine defense was under pressure and didn’t look at all comfortable as Canada got men forward and exploited the wide areas.
But they were almost caught out with a classic counter-attack as Martinez launched a quick long ball toward Messi, who broke way goalwards but with the crowd expecting to see the eight-time Ballon d’Or winner on target he made a hash of the chance.
His initial effort was parried by Crepeau and although Messi latched on to the loose ball and sought to go round the keeper, his shot was easily cleared by the covering Derek Cornelius.
Incredibly there was another great opportunity for the former Barcelona star to find the target and again he was unable to convert — cutting in from the right with only Crepeau to beat, Messi opened up his body but slid his shot wide of the post.
Crepeau was at his best again to keep out substitute Lautaro as Argentina struggled to put the game to bed but with two minutes of normal time remaining they did just that.
Messi produced another clinical, defense-splitting pass and this time Lautaro made no mistake, slipping past the advancing Crepeau to make it 2-0.