Barcelona seek their first win against Lyon in Women’s Champions League final

Barcelona seek their first win against Lyon in Women’s Champions League final
Barcelona players attend a training session on the eve of their UEFA Women's Champions League final against Olympique Lyonnais at the San Mames stadium in Bilbao on May 24, 2024. (AFP)
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Updated 25 May 2024
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Barcelona seek their first win against Lyon in Women’s Champions League final

Barcelona seek their first win against Lyon in Women’s Champions League final
  • The titleholders from Spain have a shot at a statement victory by finally overcoming the storied French club and winning their third European title
  • Lyon won five titles in a row from 2016-20, and hold nearly every Women’s Champions League club record

BILBAO, Spain: Barcelona have to find a way past the most successful club in women’s soccer if they want to build on their recent dominance.

Barcelona will play in their fourth straight Women’s Champions League final on Saturday in Bilbao against record eight-time champion Lyon, the nemesis they have never been able to beat.

The titleholders from Spain have a shot at a statement victory by finally overcoming the storied French club and winning their third European title — all within a four-season span.

Lyon, meanwhile, will be hoping to reclaim the trophy after not getting out of the quarterfinals last season and seeing the hype grow about Barcelona and their star players Alexia Putellas and Aitana Bonmatí, who have won back-to-back world player of the year awards.

“We are a team that has won a lot in the past. But we remain really ambitious,” Lyon coach Sonia Bompastor, the first woman to win the league as a player and coach, said on Friday.

“For me we are the best team in the world and will continue to be no matter what happens tomorrow. I trust my players. I know there is all the individual and collective talent needed to achieve this goal.”

Bompastor, who can become the first woman to win two titles as a coach, said it’s natural for rivals to be extra motivated to try to bring down Lyon, which will be playing in its 11th European final in 15 seasons.

Lyon won five titles in a row from 2016-20, and hold nearly every Women’s Champions League club record. The French side has won all four of its matches against Barcelona, including 4-1 in the 2019 final in Hungary and 3-1 in the 2022 final in Italy.

“This Barça is different from the one we faced in the final two years ago,” Bompastor said. “They have made new signings and each final brings with it a different story. It will be a totally different game tomorrow.”

Bonmatí said Barcelona have “grown a lot” since the first final against Lyon.

“I would say that we didn’t have any kind of experience, and physically, we were far off the big teams,” she said. “Now, we are probably one of the teams to beat out of anyone.”

Barcelona beat Chelsea for their first European title in 2021, and Wolfsburg for their second in 2023.

“We’ve had a fantastic season, playing great football, and the recent weeks have seen us on a great dynamic,” said Barcelona coach Jonatan Giraldez, who will leave at the end of the season to join US club Washington Spirit. “It’ll be a great final because I have no doubt at all that these are the two best teams in the world right now. To have the chance to add another Champions League means we can try to show we are still the best team in Europe.”

The club had nine players in the Spain squad that broke through with the nation’s first Women’s World Cup title last year. Barcelona also sent eight players to the semifinals of the inaugural Women’s Nations League, which Spain won in February.

Barcelona are trying to become the third team to win three European titles, after the eight by Lyon and four by Eintracht Frankfurt. They reached the final by overcoming a 1-0 first-leg loss to Chelsea at home in the semifinals. Lyon eliminated French rival Paris Saint-Germain.

Lyon have lost two of their goal scorers from the 2022 final in Turin — Amandine Henry and Catarina Macario. The other, Ada Hegerberg, had been nursing a injury but was expected to be fit to play on Saturday.

“Ada has resumed normal team training,” Bompastor said. “She could be available tomorrow.”
 


New Asian champions to earn $12 million in prize money in club competition revamp

New Asian champions to earn $12 million in prize money in club competition revamp
Updated 20 June 2024
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New Asian champions to earn $12 million in prize money in club competition revamp

New Asian champions to earn $12 million in prize money in club competition revamp

HONG KONG: The winners of the new Asian Champions League Elite will pocket a minimum of $12 million, the Asian Football Confederation said on Wednesday in a major boost to club football in the region.

The competition, which kicks off with a preliminary round in August, is at the heart of a major revamp of club football across the continent and involves 27 clubs from 12 nations including Japan, South Korea, Australia and Saudi Arabia.


Shaqiri scores stunning goal in Switzerland’s 1-1 draw with Scotland at Euro 2024

Shaqiri scores stunning goal in Switzerland’s 1-1 draw with Scotland at Euro 2024
Updated 20 June 2024
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Shaqiri scores stunning goal in Switzerland’s 1-1 draw with Scotland at Euro 2024

Shaqiri scores stunning goal in Switzerland’s 1-1 draw with Scotland at Euro 2024
  • It is the sixth-straight major international tournament in which Shaqiri has scored, dating back to the World Cup in 2014

COLOGNE, Germany: “Shaq” did it again.
At the age of 32 and having left top-flight European soccer behind to play in MLS, Xherdan Shaqiri is back on the international stage and back scoring again.
His stunning first-half strike secured a 1-1 draw for Switzerland against Scotland at Euro 2024 on Wednesday.
It is the sixth-straight major international tournament in which Shaqiri has scored, dating back to the World Cup in 2014.
That’s three World Cups in a row and now three European Championships for the Chicago Fire forward.
“He proved tonight that he lives and breathes for moments like these,” Switzerland coach Murat Yakin said.
Shaqiri rolled back the years with a first-time curling effort from about 20 meters out at Cologne Stadium.
Scotland had led from the 13th minute when Scott McTominay’s shot took a wicked deflection off Fabian Schar to beat Switzerland goalkeeper Yann Sommer.
But Shaqiri pounced on Anthony Ralston’s loose pass in the 26th to even the match with a left-footed shot into the top corner and past Scotland keeper Angus Gunn.
“If that chance falls to any other player in the Swiss team, it’s not a goal,” Scotland manager Steve Clarke said. “You knew when it was rolling toward Shaqiri it was destined for the back of the net. He’s a top, top player, so you don’t give top, top players that kind of chance.”
Shaqiri’s career has seen him play for some of Europe’s most iconic teams, including Bayern Munich, Inter Milan and Liverpool. He joined Chicago Fire two years ago, but in that time has continued to produce for his country on the biggest stage.
“Shaq always gives everything in training,” Switzerland defender Manuel Akanji said. “I don’t know how many other players are able to score that goal.”
The draw leaves Switzerland on four points, second in Group A behind Germany and likely to advance to the round of 16.
Germany became the first nation to advance to the round of 16 after 2-0 win over Hungary.
Scotland’s hopes of making the knockout round depend on its final game against Hungary on Sunday and results elsewhere. No team has failed to advance from the group stage with four points.
Both teams had chances to win the game.
The Swiss should have taken the lead just before the hour mark when Dan Ndoye turned Kieran Tierney on the edge of the box. With just goalkeeper Angus Gunn to beat, Ndoye fired wide of goal.
Grant Hanley then headed against the post from a Scotland free kick and Switzerland’s Zeki Amdouni headed wide at the far post late on.
Scotland has never advanced beyond the group stage of a World Cup or Euros on 11 previous attempts.
But repeated disappointment doesn’t seem to dampen optimism among its fans, who filled Cologne’s square before the game.
Swiss fans were out in numbers, too, creating a raucous atmosphere in the stadium.
It was certainly a more enjoyable evening for Scotland’s fans than the opening game of the Euros — a 5-1 loss to Germany.
“It was what we expected. It was a good reaction to a disappointing night. We’re still alive in the tournament,” Clarke said.
Goals from Jamal Musiala and İlkay Gündoğan made it two wins from two for host Germany after victory against Hungary and ensured there would be no repeat of its group stage exit from the 2022 World Cup.
Albania substitute Klaus Gjasula scored in the fifth minute of stoppage time to hold World Cup semifinalist Croatia to a 2-2 draw in Group B. Gjasula’s own goal, just four minutes after entering the game in the second half, had looked like handing Croatia the win until his late strike.


Lionel Messi could be playing in his final tournament with Argentina at Copa America

Lionel Messi could be playing in his final tournament with Argentina at Copa America
Updated 20 June 2024
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Lionel Messi could be playing in his final tournament with Argentina at Copa America

Lionel Messi could be playing in his final tournament with Argentina at Copa America
  • “The moment I feel that I am not going to help my team, I will retire,” Messi said in March in an interview with Saudi broadcaster Riyadh Season
  • He spends time with his three children, starts new businesses and lives as if soccer is slowly becoming a smaller part of his life

BUENOS AIRES: It’s sad but true, Copa America could mark Lionel Messi’s final chapter with Argentina’s national soccer team.

The World Cup winner will turn 37 during the tournament in the US, which kicks off Thursday. He’s clearly past his peak at Inter Miami after two decades of playing at the highest level in Europe.

Messi has not set a date for his retirement and has kept the door open to playing in a sixth World Cup in 2026 to defend his title from Qatar. But he already recognizes his shortcomings.

“I don’t think about that yet. The moment I feel that I am not going to help my team, I will retire,” Messi said in March in an interview with Saudi broadcaster Riyadh Season. “I always ate well, trained. But as I grew I became aware that the physical effort we make is getting harder. As you grow old, things become more difficult.”

Last year, the eight-time Ballon d’Or winner struggled with muscular injuries while playing in MLS and for Argentina. That didn’t change much in 2024.

Messi has shown he enjoys going out at night with his wife, Antonella, and his friends in Miami. He spends time with his three children, starts new businesses and lives as if soccer is slowly becoming a smaller part of his life.

Still, he has 12 goals and 13 assists for Inter Miami this season.

“I have a good time at the club. I am lucky to have teammates and friends (Luis Suarez, Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba, all former Barcelona players) by my side,” Messi told ESPN. ”I have a good time in the national team, where I have teammates and friends, too. And I enjoy the little details that I know that when I don’t play anymore, I’m going to miss.”

Angel di Maria, a 36-year-old winger who has played alongside Messi for years with the national team, is sure to bid farewell to international soccer after the Copa America. That has also brought more questions about whether the team’s biggest star will remain on the squad.

“As long as I feel like I’m fine and I can continue contributing, I’m going to do it. Today, the only thing I think about is getting to the Copa America well and being able to compete in it,” Messi told the Star Plus platform in December. “Fighting for it again, as we always did, trying to be champions.”

Argentina’s all-time top scorer and the national team’s leader with 26 World Cup appearances is also seeking records in the continental competition.

Messi, who won the South American championship in 2021, wants to become the Copa America’s leading scorer. He has 13 goals in six editions, four behind Norberto Méndez of Argentina and Zizinho of Brazil with 17.

He also wants to be the player with most appearances in the Copa America, a record he currently shares with former Chile goalkeeper Sergio Livingston, both with 34 games.

Messi’s teammates don’t want to see him go.

“We’ll see how long, but while he’s here we’re going to enjoy it to the fullest,” Argentina defender Cristian Romero said. “We grew up watching him. We are part of those tournaments.”


Playing Italy like ‘looking in a mirror’, says Spain’s De la Fuente

Playing Italy like ‘looking in a mirror’, says Spain’s De la Fuente
Updated 19 June 2024
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Playing Italy like ‘looking in a mirror’, says Spain’s De la Fuente

Playing Italy like ‘looking in a mirror’, says Spain’s De la Fuente
  • “They’re very similar to us, they have changed coach and they have young players,” De la Fuente told reporters
  • “I think it will be a very high quality match“

GELSENKIRCHEN, Germany: Luis de la Fuente said on Wednesday he was struck by the similarities between his Spain team and Italy as the pair aim to secure qualification for the knockout stage of Euro 2024.
La Roja and champions Italy have undergone a change in playing personnel over the last year, and have young blood throughout their squads.
Spain are more direct than under previous coach Luis Enrique while Luciano Spalletti is attempting get Italy to play a high-intensity attacking style with which he won the Serie A title for Napoli.
“They’re very similar to us, they have changed coach and they have young players. They are very competitive,” De la Fuente told reporters.
“It’s almost like we’re looking in a mirror actually. We are a growing, developing team which is working on cohesion and consistency and so are they. I think it will be a very high quality match.”
Spain have faced Italy at each of the last four Euros and meet in Gelsenkirchen on Thursday where both teams can ensure top spot in Group B with a win.
They are locked on three points at the top of the group, two ahead of Albania and Croatia who played out an exciting 2-2 draw earlier on Wednesday.
And De la Fuente, who has a fully fit squad at his disposal, is in no doubt that his team will play to win rather than try to not lose and then attempt to secure top spot in their final group game with Albania.
“Without doubt we want to win. This game most important game for us so far,” he said.
“That is the only thing we’re thinking about... We play all matches to win. I don’t know how to play any other way.”
Fabian Ruiz, who will face his former coach at Napoli in Spalletti, shrugged off talk of Spain being favorites for the Euros despite their blistering debut win over Croatia.
“We don’t see ourselves as favorites but we have confidence in our potential,” said Fabian Ruiz.
“We know we have the quality to get to the final and we’ll do what we can to get there. Maybe if we get to the final I’ll be able to tell you whether we’re favorites or not. But it’s very difficult to win a tournament.”


UEFA fines Albania, Serbia $10,700 each for nationalist fan banners at Euro 2024 games

UEFA fines Albania, Serbia $10,700 each for nationalist fan banners at Euro 2024 games
Updated 19 June 2024
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UEFA fines Albania, Serbia $10,700 each for nationalist fan banners at Euro 2024 games

UEFA fines Albania, Serbia $10,700 each for nationalist fan banners at Euro 2024 games
  • Each federation was charged with “transmitting provocative messages not fit for a sports event”
  • UEFA also opened a separate investigation into alleged discrimination by Serbia fans

FRANKFURT: UEFA fined the Albanian and Serbian soccer federations 10,000 euros ($10,700) each on Wednesday for fans displaying banners with nationalist maps at European Championship games.
Each federation was charged with “transmitting provocative messages not fit for a sports event” because they are responsible for the conduct of their fans at stadiums.
Albania fans displayed a banner with a map of their country extending its borders into the territory of neighboring countries. It was shown during the 2-1 loss against Italy on Saturday in Dortmund.
Serbia fans’ banner included the independent territory of Kosovo and a slogan “No Surrender” at a 1-0 loss against England in Gelsenkirchen. A case was prosecuted by FIFA at the 2022 World Cup when players were photographed with a similar banner in their locker room ahead of a game against Brazil.
UEFA also opened a separate investigation into alleged discrimination by Serbia fans. The Kosovo soccer federation field a formal complaint with UEFA.
The Albanian federation was fined a further 27,375 euros ($29,400) for fans lighting flares and fireworks, throwing beer cups and a fan who went on the field.
Fans invading the playing area have been a regular feature in the first week of games at Euro 2024.
UEFA announced the sanctions of its disciplinary panel hours after Albania drew 2-2 with Croatia in their second Group B game.
Serbia’s federation must pay 4,500 euros ($4,800) more for fans throwing beer cups.