Barcelona avenge Lyon defeats to win third women’s Champions League

Barcelona avenge Lyon defeats to win third women’s Champions League
Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas raises the trophy in celebration with teammates after winning the UEFA Women's Champions League final between FC Barcelona and Olympique Lyonnais at the San Mames stadium in Bilbao on May 25, 2024. (AFP)
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Updated 26 May 2024
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Barcelona avenge Lyon defeats to win third women’s Champions League

Barcelona avenge Lyon defeats to win third women’s Champions League
  • The defending champions had never beaten the French giants, losing in the 2019 and 2022 finals against them, but finally succeeded in Bilbao
  • Securing their third Champions League trophy from five final appearances, Barcelona demonstrated that they are the new powerhouse of the women’s game

BILBAO, Spain: Aitana Bonmati and Alexia Putellas struck to earn Barcelona their third women’s Champions League trophy, securing a 2-0 triumph over record eight-time winners Lyon on Saturday.

The defending champions had never beaten the French giants, losing in the 2019 and 2022 finals against them, but finally succeeded in Bilbao to compete a spectacular quadruple this season in coach Jonatan Giraldez’s last match in charge.

Bonmati pounced after 63 minutes and substitute Putellas finished the job in stoppage time to avenge Barcelona’s prior defeats by Sonia Bompastor’s side.

Securing their third Champions League trophy from five final appearances across the last six seasons, Barcelona demonstrated that they are the new powerhouse of the women’s game.

“(It’s) a dream day, it is difficult to explain with words the feeling I have now. It is a special moment,” said Giraldez.

“It is one of happiest days of my life.”

Barca’s stars had insisted that this time they were capable of beating Lyon, adding experience and mental strength to their undoubted talent, and so it proved at a packed San Mames.

Backed by the vast majority of a 51,000 record crowd at a women’s Champions League final, Bonmati and her side completed one of the few challenges remaining to them.

“It’s the first time we’ve beaten Lyon. I’m proud of the team, and we know that with these fans we have, we can’t fail,” Bonmati told DAZN.

“It’s incredible what we’re living through as a team, I’m so lucky... to see we’re creating that for so many people, the historic amount of fans we’ve brought, it’s the proudest I’ve felt, I wouldn’t change it for anything.”

Giraldez started Mariona Caldentey in attack and moved Fridolina Rolfo to left-back, dropping Ona Batlle to the bench alongside two-time Ballon d’Or winner Putellas.

Lyon left Ada Hegerberg started on the bench too, with the all-time top scorer in the competition’s history struggling for form after injury.

Lucy Bronze deflected a ball onto her own crossbar and Lyon’s towering captain Wendie Renard hit the outside of the post as Barcelona suffered a couple of early jitters.

After going four goals down by half-time in the 2019 final and three down in 2022, this time the Catalans dug deep to hold it together at the back.

Barca threatened increasingly at the other end. Patri Guijarro, who scored twice in last year’s final against Wolfsburg, broke in for their first big chance after half an hour.

Christiane Endler saved and Selma Bacha cleared the ball off the line after it rebounded back toward goal.

Barca’s Caroline Graham Hansen, in sparkling form this season, gave left-back Bacha a torrid time and had 11-time finalist Renard backpedalling fearfully near the end of the first half, but dragged her shot wide.

Barcelona made their quality count after the hour mark when Bonmati sent them ahead.

The Ballon d’Or winner had been quiet but arrived to collect Caldentey’s clever pass and burst into the area.

Bonmati’s low shot deflected off Vanessa Gilles and flew over the helpless Endler, for her sixth goal of the tournament.

Champions League top goalscorer Kadidiatou Diani curled agonizingly over for Lyon as Bompastor’s side tried to fight back. Hegerberg headed off target as Lyon’s chances ebbed away.

“We have to recognize Barcelona had a great match and deserved to win even though it’s hard to accept it,” said Bompastor, tipped to join Chelsea next season, although she stayed tight-lipped on her future.

“We lacked attacking efficiency, we should have scored a goal.”

Eventually Putellas, on as a late substitute, put on the captain’s armband and settled the game by rifling into the top corner to get Barcelona’s celebrations started early.

“Obviously it’s a dream come true, what we have achieved,” said Putellas after her goal locked in Barcelona’s quadruple.

Bronze who won the competition for the fifth time — including three times with Lyon — praised Putellas.

“She’s the captain of the team, she’s the ‘queen’ of Barcelona for a reason,” said Bronze.

“She’s got the quality to do that in the last minute of the Champions League final when we were up against it at the end and just sealed the win for us.”
 


Costa Rica keeps USA to 0-0 draw in Olympic sendoff game

Costa Rica keeps USA to 0-0 draw in Olympic sendoff game
Updated 17 July 2024
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Costa Rica keeps USA to 0-0 draw in Olympic sendoff game

Costa Rica keeps USA to 0-0 draw in Olympic sendoff game

WASHINGTON: Costa Rica played the United States women’s national team to a goal-less draw on Tuesday in the Americans’ sendoff match before departing for the Paris Olympics.

US captain Lindsey Horan told a crowd of nearly 19,000 spectators they were undaunted about their chances in France despite the draw.

“We wish we would have gotten the win,” she said. “But we’re going to go out and do our thing at the Olympics. This team is amazing. We’re going to represent this country so well and we’ll do everything possible to being back a gold medal.”

Costa Rica goalkeeper Noelia Bermudez and a swarming defensive effort frustrated a patient US squad to earn the Ticas a draw after losses in their first 17 matches against the Americans.

The US women outshot Costa Rica 26-2, forcing 12 saves from Bermudez and taking all 16 corners in the match.

“It takes a lot of patience to play against a low block. Costa Rica did it really well,” US midfielder Sophia Smith said. “It was definitely challenging for us but it was a good test because we’re going to face that in the Olympics.

“I know we can create chances. We created I don’t know how many chances tonight. It’s getting one in the back of the net, no matter how that looks. That will come.”

While it was a disappointment against a defensive-minded squad for new coach Emma Hayes and her US team, it showed the Americans what they need to do before they start to play for gold next week in France.

“That was a big message from Emma at the end of the game — don’t be frustrated,” Smith said. “We wanted a result from this but these games are preparation for something bigger.

“We need to peak when we need to peak and that’s at the start of the Olympics. We’re calm about it. We’re not frustrated. We trust the process. We know things will go our way when we need them to.”

The American women begin Olympic Group B play on July 25 against Zambia at Nice and also face Germany and Australia in group matches at Marseille.

“I think it’s going to be amazing,” Smith said. “I’m so excited to be going with this group. I’m excited to get the ball rolling in France. This group has a lot of potential and good things in store.”

The United States have won four Olympic women’s football titles — in 1996 on home soil and three in a row in 2004, 2008 and 2012.

US midfielder Rose Lavelle, who helped win the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France, was a late scratch from the match due to leg tightness. Korbin Albert replaced her in the US starting lineup.

The Americans have three wins and a draw without surrendering a goal under England’s Hayes.

“I think we’ve made good, nice progress,” Hayes said. “When you take over a team and you’ve got to implement quite a lot, they have adapted to those ideas really well.

“We’re going into the Olympics with an idea of what we look to do most of our moments but now we’re starting to add some adaptations.”

Smith and Mallory Swanson were each denied on early chances by Bermudez while Trinity Rodman was offside on another US opportunity.

Bermudez and Rodman collided as the keeper denied Horan in the 24th minute. Bermudez also grabbed a Horan header in the 40th minute and thwarted Smith shortly before halftime.

Bermudez batted away a Smith chance in the 49th minute and deflected Horan’s kick in the 50th to keep Las Ticas level.

Horan found the net in the 55th minute only for the offside flag to be raised.

Bermudez deflected away a Rodman centering pass in extra time and Horan nodded a header over the crossbar in the final seconds.


Hard Rock Stadium hits back at CONMEBOL after Copa final chaos

Hard Rock Stadium hits back at CONMEBOL after Copa final chaos
Updated 17 July 2024
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Hard Rock Stadium hits back at CONMEBOL after Copa final chaos

Hard Rock Stadium hits back at CONMEBOL after Copa final chaos

MIAMI:  Hard Rock Stadium defended the security measures in place for Sunday’s Copa America final after CONMEBOL accused the venue of ignoring advice that might have prevented the chaotic incidents that held up the game.

The showpiece final between Colombia and Argentina at the Miami venue was delayed by 82 minutes as overwhelmed security struggled to get fans inside after ticketless fans rushed the entry points.

CONMEBOL, the governing body for football in South America, suggested that local organizers had failed to follow suggested procedures such as setting up an outer perimeter to screen ticketless fans.

“We regret that the acts of violence produced by malicious people have tarnished a final that was ready to be a great celebration of sport,” CONMEBOL said in their statement, adding that CONMEBOL “was subject to the decisions made by the Hard Rock Stadium authorities, according to the contractual responsibilities established for security operations.”

Stadium officials said Tuesday that security measures were jointly decided by the venue, CONMEBOL and local law enforcement.

“Hard Rock Stadium has safely hosted hundreds of world-class events in its 37-year history, including Super Bowls, major international soccer matches, Formula 1, NFL and college football, headline concert tours and other global events,” management of the venue said in a statement.

“In each of those, security was a joint effort among the organizer, local law enforcement agencies and the venue.

“As we’ve previously said, Hard Rock Stadium worked collaboratively with CONMEBOL, CONCACAF and local law enforcement agencies on security both leading up to and during the Copa America tournament.

“The agencies met regularly, including daily security briefings throughout the month-long tournament. Hard Rock Stadium implemented, and in many cases exceeded, CONMEBOL’s security recommendations throughout the tournament and the Final.”

The disturbing scenes before the final, won 1-0 by Argentina, immediately raised concerns for the 2026 World Cup which will be co-hosted by the United States, Canada and Mexico.

Local police, overwhelmed by the situation despite the presence of 800 officers, said they detained 27 people and ejected 55 others from the venue.

It wasn’t the only concerning security incident during the tournament.

On Wednesday, Uruguay players were involved in a brawl with Colombian fans in the stands after their 1-0 semifinal defeat in Charlotte, North Carolina.


Gareth Southgate says it’s ‘time for change’ and announces he will step down as England manager

Gareth Southgate says it’s ‘time for change’ and announces he will step down as England manager
Updated 17 July 2024
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Gareth Southgate says it’s ‘time for change’ and announces he will step down as England manager

Gareth Southgate says it’s ‘time for change’ and announces he will step down as England manager
  • Southgate’s contract was due to expire this year and his announcement comes after months of uncertainty surrounding his future
  • Southgate achieved what no other England manager has by leading his team to two finals, including a first on foreign soil

LONDON: After eight years, four major tournaments and two finals, Gareth Southgate announced he was stepping down as England manager on Tuesday, saying it was “time for change.”

Sunday’s 2-1 loss to Spain in the European Championship final proved to be his last game in charge of the national team.

“As a proud Englishman, it has been the honor of my life to play for England and to manage England. It has meant everything to me, and I have given it my all,” he said. “But it’s time for change, and for a new chapter.”

Southgate’s contract was due to expire this year and his announcement comes after months of uncertainty surrounding his future.

Mikel Oyarzabal’s 86th-minute winner in Berlin was a painful way to end his reign after he transformed the fortunes of England’s underperforming national team.

Hired in 2016, he led England to back-to-back finals at the Euros and to the semifinals of the World Cup in 2018.

But, ultimately, he was unable to end the nation’s decades-long wait for a first major trophy since the World Cup in 1966.

“Gareth, I want to thank you — not as the President of the FA, but as an England fan,” Prince William said on X. “Thank you for creating a team that stands shoulder to shoulder with the world’s finest in 2024. Thank you for showing humility, compassion, and true leadership under the most intense pressure and scrutiny. And thank you for being an all-round class act. You should be incredibly proud of what you’ve achieved. W.”

Southgate said before the European Championship that it would likely be his last tournament if England did not win.

During it, he faced fierce criticism for the team’s early performances and some fans threw plastic beer cups in his direction at the end of the 0-0 draw with Slovenia in the group phase.

But he achieved what no other England manager has by leading his team to two finals, including a first on foreign soil.

“Gareth has made the impossible job possible and laid strong foundations for future success. He is held in the highest regard by the players, the backroom team, by everyone at the FA and across the world of football,” said Mark Bullingham, chief executive of the English Football Association.

Before Southgate’s arrival England had won only seven knockout games at tournaments since 1966. The team won nine during his tenure.

England was also in the top five of FIFA’s rankings for six years under Southgate. Previously its longest run had been seven months.

Southgate was not an obvious choice to take over when hired after Sam Allardyce’s one-match reign came to an end after just 67 days in charge.

He didn’t have a stellar managerial career, with a three-year spell at Middlesbrough his only job in club soccer.

But he was well-respected within the FA for his work with England’s under-21 team and he exceeded all expectations with the senior job.

The World Cup semifinal in 2018 came after England had suffered the humiliation of being eliminated by Iceland at Euro 2016 and failed to advance beyond the group stage of the World Cup in 2014.

England had not advanced to a semifinal since Euro 96 and hadn’t reached that stage of a World Cup since 1990.

At the Euros in 2021, Southgate went one better by leading his team to the final, which it lost to Italy in a penalty shootout.

England were tied 1-1 with Spain in the final on Sunday before Oyarzabal’s late winner.

“We look back at Gareth’s tenure with huge pride — his contribution to the English game, including a significant role in player development, and in culture transformation has been unique. However, it is his record of winning tournament games which is most extraordinary,” Bullingham said.

Southgate was widely seen as a unifying figure during a period of political upheaval in English politics and society, taking over the national team shortly after a divisive referendum on leaving the European Union and seeing five different prime ministers during his time in charge.

“Gareth Southgate’s greatest achievement was not on the pitch, but in the standard that he has set for how a role model and representative of our country should conduct themselves,” Chief Rabbi Sir Ephraim Mirvis said on X. “His legacy will be a generation of young people who have learned from him that leadership is primarily about decency, integrity and bringing honor to others. That is worth more to our country than any trophy.”

Now thoughts will turn to finding Southgate’s successor and the FA said the process was already underway.

Jurgen Klopp stepped down as Liverpool manager at the end of last season, but the German has said he wants to take a break.

Former Tottenham, Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea boss Mauricio Pochettino is out of work, as well as former Bayern Munich coach Thomas Tuchel.

Sarina Wiegman has led the England Women’s team to success in the Euros and also to the final of the World Cup last year.

Leading English contenders could include Newcastle manager Eddie Howe, former Chelsea bosses Graham Potter and Frank Lampard and England Under-21 manager Lee Carsley.

England play Ireland in the Nations League on Sept. 7, but the FA said it was prepared to go into that match with an interim coach, rather than rush to a decision on its next manager.


Colombia’s football federation president and son among 27 arrested in chaos at Copa America final

Colombia’s football federation president and son among 27 arrested in chaos at Copa America final
Updated 16 July 2024
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Colombia’s football federation president and son among 27 arrested in chaos at Copa America final

Colombia’s football federation president and son among 27 arrested in chaos at Copa America final
  • Both men are facing three counts of felony battery on an official after being accused of fighting multiple stadium security guards
  • In a statement released Monday, CONMEBOL said it regrets the scene in which countless fans entered the stadium without tickets and “tarnished” the event

MIAMI GARDENS, Florida: Colombia’s football federation president and his son were among 27 people arrested during the crowd control issues that broke out Sunday at the Copa America final between Argentina and Colombia, police said Monday.

Ramon Jesurun and his son Ramon Jamil Jesurun were detained after the event at Hard Rock Stadium and charged, Miami-Dade police detective Andre Martin told The Associated Press.

Both men are facing three counts of felony battery on an official after being accused of fighting multiple stadium security guards. Arrest records said both men tried to go onto the field through a tunnel where media was gathering after the match. They were stopped by security, and the police report said they “became irate” at the delay. A verbal altercation eventually turned physical with a guard placing an “open palm” on Ramon Jamil Jesurun’s chest to “guide him back” and the younger Jesurun grabbing the guard “around his neck” and pulling him to the ground before throwing “two punches that impacted” the guard, the report said. The two men were placed into custody after midnight.

Colombia’s football federation didn’t immediately respond Monday to a request for comment from the AP.

Ramon Jesurun, 71, has been president of the Colombian football federation since 2015 and is a vice president of CONMEBOL, South American football’s governing body that organizes the Copa America tournament.

Ramon Jesurun, the head of Colombia’s football federation, is shown in this police booking photo after an altercation at the stadium shortly after midnight, according to arrest reports by Miami police, in Miami, Florida, Monday. (Reuters)

In a statement released Monday, the organization said it regrets the scene in which countless fans entered the stadium without tickets and “tarnished” the event. The game was delayed for more than an hour as authorities worked to control the situation, eventually deciding to let some fans in without going through security checkpoints.

“In this situation, CONMEBOL was subject to the decisions made by the Hard Rock Stadium authorities, according to the contractual responsibilities established for security operations,” the organization said. “In addition to the preparations determined in this contract, CONMEBOL recommended to these authorities the procedures proven in events of this magnitude, which were NOT taken into account.”

Hard Rock Stadium — the site of 2026 World Cup matches — said security was a shared responsibility between its stadium officials, the organization, CONCACAF (the governing body that oversees football in North and Central America and the Caribbean) and local police.

“More than double the personnel” used for a typical event were onsite Sunday, a stadium spokesperson said in a news release.

Miami-Dade police said more than 800 law enforcement officers were at the match. In addition to the arrests, 55 people were ejected, they said.

It was a chaotic scene just hours before the scheduled 8 p.m. start of the championship match between the two South American countries: Fans forced their way in and jumped over security railings and ran past police officers and stadium attendants, some appearing hysterical as they searched for the people they arrived with.

There appeared to be significant damage to the venue as a result. Video and images posted to social media showed the shattered side railings of an escalator inside the stadium, with shoes, soda cans, reading glasses and articles of clothing left behind. Security railings at a checkpoint in the southwest entrance to the stadium were bent over as thousands of people, including crying children, pushed against them.

The Hard Rock Stadium release said stadium officials communicated with tournament organizers around 8 p.m. and decided to open the gates to both ticketed and unticketed fans who were thrust against the entrance in fear of stampedes and serious injuries. The gates were then closed with many ticketed fans left outside.

The stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida, which is home to the NFL’s Dolphins, will be the site of seven World Cup matches in 2026, including a quarterfinal and third-place match.

FIFA organizes the World Cup and is a different organization from CONMEBOL. FIFA is an international federation that oversees more than 200 affiliated associations under regional bodies like CONMEBOL.

Ramon Jesurun is also a member of the FIFA Council.

FIFA did not immediately respond Monday to the AP’s request for comment on the crowd control issues and how it would prevent similar problems in 2026.

Attorney Steve Adelman, a crowd control expert and vice president of the Event Safety Alliance, said Hard Rock organizers failed to understand that Sunday’s game would bring out passionate fans desperate to see their teams, some willing to force their way inside.

“A match between fans of two rival South American nations is about as passionate as you’re going to get,” he said.

Adelman said organizers should have learned from the 2021 Euro Cup final at London’s Wembley Stadium, where ticketless England fans forced their way inside for their team’s match with Italy. The melee injured 19 police officers and resulted in 53 arrests. In 1989, 97 people were fatally crushed at a major English match when fans forced their way into the stadium.

“Unfortunately, international football matches have been marked by this sort of aggressive supporter behavior,” Adelman said. “This behavior is not desirable, it’s not good, but it is reasonably foreseeable. ... They needed to plan for the crowd they were likely to have, not the crowd they wished they had.”


SPL unveils exciting 2024-25 RSL fixtures list

SPL unveils exciting 2024-25 RSL fixtures list
Updated 15 July 2024
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SPL unveils exciting 2024-25 RSL fixtures list

SPL unveils exciting 2024-25 RSL fixtures list
  • Opening round of games takes place from Aug. 22, with champions Al-Hilal starting title defence at Al-Okhdood
  • New ‘Magic Rounds’ will feature derbies across Riyadh, Jeddah and the Eastern Province in weeks 9 and 26

Riyadh: The Saudi Pro League’s competitions department has officially announced the fixtures for the upcoming 2024-25 Roshn Saudi League season, which is set to kick off from Aug. 22-24.

The opening weekend will see reigning champions Al-Hilal beginning their title defense away against Al-Okhdood.

This season will feature 306 matches, meticulously scheduled to accommodate international breaks, continental competitions, and Saudi Arabian Football Federation tournaments. Notably, no fixtures will be held during the last 10 days of Ramadan, ensuring respect for the holy month.

The league has also prioritized player welfare by ensuring a minimum two-day rest between matches.

One of the highlights of this season is the introduction of “Magic Rounds.” Scheduled for Matchweeks 9 and 26, these special weekends will host thrilling derbies across Riyadh, Jeddah, and the Eastern Province, showcasing rivalries such as Al-Ahli versus Al-Ittihad and Al-Hilal against Al-Nassr.

The league’s fixture list is designed to ensure a balanced competition. Each team will play nine home matches and eight away matches in the first half, mirroring the same structure in the second half. Teams will avoid playing more than two consecutive matches at home or away, with a maximum of two such occurrences permitted per half of the season.

Clubs from the same city will be paired to guarantee that when one team is at home, the other is away, promoting exciting local derbies. Additionally, the season’s start and end are synchronized; a team playing at home in Matchweek 1 will play away in Matchweek 34, and vice versa. The final four rounds will feature each team playing two home and two away matches, ensuring an electrifying conclusion to the season.

The season opens with a series of compelling matchups.

Al-Shabab will host Al-Ettifaq, while 2023-24 runners-up Al-Nassr will face Al-Raed at home. Newly promoted Al-Orobah will travel to Jeddah to challenge Al-Ahli, and Al-Taawoun will welcome Al-Fayha. In Ar Rass, Al-Ittihad will take on newcomers Al-Kholood. The 2023-24 First Division League champions, Al-Qadsiah, will host Al-Fateh, and Damac will begin their campaign at home against Al-Khaleej, with Al-Riyadh traveling to Makkah to meet Al-Wehda.

The Roshn Saudi League fixtures list. photo credit: @SPL_EN

The SPL will announce match dates and kick-off times in a phased manner:
July 18: breakdown for Matchweeks 1 and 2.
Aug. 18: (Subject to AFC draw date) breakdown for Matchweeks 3 to 8.
Sept. 30: (Subject to King’s Cup Round of 16 draw date) breakdown for Matchweeks 9 to 13.
Oct. 31: (Subject to King’s Cup quarter-final draw date) breakdown for Matchweeks 14 to 22.
Feb. 22: (Subject to AFC Round of 16 draw date) breakdown for Matchweeks 23 to 34.

These announcements will depend on confirmation from the AFC and SAFF regarding their respective competition draw dates.

As the league prepares for another thrilling season, fans can look forward to a calendar packed with drama, excitement, and unforgettable moments in Saudi football.