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 Greek midfielder Konstantinos Fortounis (C) and Olympiakos players celebrate with the trophy after winning the UEFA Europa Conference League final against Fiorentina at the AEK Arena in Athens on May 29, 2024. (AFP)
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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.


Host Germany gives Euro 2024 liftoff by outclassing 10-man Scotland 5-1

Host Germany gives Euro 2024 liftoff by outclassing 10-man Scotland 5-1
Updated 1 min 21 sec ago
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Host Germany gives Euro 2024 liftoff by outclassing 10-man Scotland 5-1

Host Germany gives Euro 2024 liftoff by outclassing 10-man Scotland 5-1

Berlin fan zone reaches capacity amid Euro fever

Berlin fan zone reaches capacity amid Euro fever
Updated 14 June 2024
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Berlin fan zone reaches capacity amid Euro fever

Berlin fan zone reaches capacity amid Euro fever
  • Hundreds of thousands of Berliners flocked to the iconic gate in downtown Berlin to watch the match
  • Berlin police said an hour before kick-off “the fan zone at Brandenburg Gate has reached its capacity”

BERLIN: A fan zone at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate was filled to capacity ahead of the Euro 2024 opening game between Germany and Scotland on Friday, with police saying the venue could hold no more people and the local underground station was also closed.
Hundreds of thousands of Berliners flocked to the iconic gate in downtown Berlin to watch the match on big screens and 90 minutes before kick-off fans could be seen running and jostling with stewards and security personnel as they tried to enter.
Berlin police announced on social media site X around an hour before kick-off that “the fan zone at Brandenburg Gate has reached its capacity. No more fans will be allowed in.”
Police later said on X that the nearby train station was also closed, though trains would continue to run through it.
Earlier in the evening, an area at a nearby fan zone near the German parliament was cordoned off due to a suspect device.


European experience will benefit Saudi’s Future Falcons, say Valencia bosses

European experience will benefit Saudi’s Future Falcons, say Valencia bosses
Updated 14 June 2024
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European experience will benefit Saudi’s Future Falcons, say Valencia bosses

European experience will benefit Saudi’s Future Falcons, say Valencia bosses
  • La Liga club’s Technical Director Miguel Angel Corona and academy Director Luis Martinez spoke to Arab News about the Spanish Super Cup in Riyadh, developing Saudi talent and Valencia’s football methodology

VALENCIA: In January 2023, La Liga club Valencia, as the previous season’s Copa del Rey runner-up, participated in the Spanish Super Cup in Riyadh.

A fine performance against Real Madrid in the first semifinal at King Fahd International Stadium saw them earn a 1-1 draw in normal time before exiting after a 4-3 penalty shootout.

It was a chance for Saudi Arabia audiences to watch up close one of Spain’s more successful clubs of the 21st century.

“It was a great experience, of course,” Valencia Technical Director Miguel Angel Corona said, during Arab News’ visit to the club’s academy. “No doubt, the environment was amazing and exciting. Of course our opponent was Real Madrid, so that had an effect. But yes, I appreciated the (support) of the Saudi people.”

Valencia’s mission goes deeper than the annual cup competition, however, and aligns with La Liga’s ambitions to grow its brand in the Middle East and beyond.

Corona says the club is in the middle of a long-term rebuilding process.

“We have passed a very difficult situation in terms of finances, and we have an amazing young team,” said Corona. “We have a coach (former Valencia player Ruben Barja) that understands perfectly the environment, the club. And bit by bit, we are rebuilding this amazing club, because for the last two, three years it was very difficult.”

La Liga fans of a certain age in the Middle East will remember the club’s glorious period at the start of the century, when Valencia, first under Hector Cuper and then Rafael Benitez, reached two Champions League finals, won two league titles (2001/2002 and 2003/2004) and a UEFA Cup (2003/2004).

Corona is now hoping to attract a new generation of supporters.

“In the Premier League, they have Mohamed Salah, they used to have Riyad Mahrez, many players from Algeria, from Morocco, from Tunisia,” he said. “But they (also) love La Liga and we are well aware of that.

“Our social media indicators are very interesting,” said Corona. “We (have) fans in MENA (Middle East and North Africa), Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco, Algeria and also in Saudi, with the Valencia CF fan group we have there. We feel the love and we want to attract more fans, to bring the club even closer to these fans.”

A few months on from last year’s Spanish Super Cup adventure in Riyadh, Valencia were involved in a lesser-known tournament back home that is perhaps no less important for the long-term ties with — and development of — Saudi Arabia football.

Organized in partnership with Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Sport, the Al-Abtal International Cup, an international under-19 tournament, had two teams from the Kingdom compete against clubs from England, France, Portugal, Greece, Belgium, Austria and Croatia at several Spanish venues.

Valencia reached the final and lost to Real Madrid, but earlier in the group stages they had faced the two teams that Saudi Arabia had entered, the “Green” and “White” Future Falcons teams.

The head of the VCF Academy, Luis Martinez, describes the Future Falcons initiative — which has resulted in the Saudi Arabian Football Federation also host under-14 tournaments — as a “great idea.”

“I think that will help to increase their level for sure,” he said, referencing the development of young Saudi Arabia talent. “Because at the end, you increase the level of competitiveness.”

“We have played three years in the tournament,” Martinez added. “The first year (2021), we won the tournament. Second year (2022), we were beaten in semifinals. And last year, we played the final in Prague (against Real Madrid). This year, logistically, we couldn’t participate.”

“The level is good,” he added, but cautioned that Saudi Arabia players may need more experience to compete against established teams from Europe.

“It’s true that the level of the competition that they wanted to create is very high, (but) sometimes you see that they are maybe still not ready to compete at that level.

“Because in the end, they are inviting Valencia, Real Madrid, Villarreal, Zagreb, Liverpool, Benfica, or Lisbon. Those teams are top in Europe. To reach that level is complicated for anyone. For us, for anyone. (But) I think, if they (Saudi Arabia teams) continue like this, the level will go up.”

There are signs that at lower age-group levels, Saudi Arabia’s players are increasingly more competitive. In 2022, a team from the Mahd Academy played against Valencia and Villarreal during a trip to Spain.

And Martinez’s age-group teams have also come up against young Saudi Arabia teams on visits to the Kingdom. In March this year, Valencia took part in the first La Liga FC Futures U-14 tournament held at the Mahd Sports Academy in Riyadh, which was won by Villarreal.

“We played the team from the Mahd Academy and at that age, 14 years old, the level was great,” said Martinez. “They were competing and they were performing well.

“So I think the level is going up, I think in Saudi in general they are investing in football. Of course they are investing a lot in professional football with the big stars, but if they keep investing as well in football development with good professionals, with good structures, methodology, the level must go higher.”

Martinez believes that many players from the Middle East and North Africa region are blessed with natural skills that are gained from being allowed to play with freedom at a young age. Street football, he calls it.

“A lot of players from maybe Morocco and Middle East and Africa, they have the skills, but maybe not the tactical awareness,” he said. “The funny thing is, maybe we, in Spain or south Europe, historically were the source of this kind of talent, players who play in the street, and I think we are destroying this a bit.”

“Right now players in Spain, the kids they don’t play in the streets. So maybe we are losing these type of players that are very technical because they are very anarchic. That’s why we have to go and find them in those countries.”

For Martinez, it is all about finding the right balance between technical skill and tactical awareness. To achieve this, he points to the methodology used at the Valencia CF Academy, which was voted the fourth best in Europe in 2023.

Raul Albiol, David Silva, Isco, Jordi Alba, Paco Alcacer and Ferran Torres are just a few players who have risen through the Valencia ranks to become global superstars.

“The main objective is written at the main door of the academy,” said Martinez.

“It’s developing players for the first team, or if they are not able to play for the first team, at least to place them in professional football. It seems easy, or it seems like something everybody would understand. You are an academy, you develop players for the first team. But it’s not that easy.”

A tactical methodology is implemented throughout the club, from the youngest age group to the first team, ensuring players rising through the ranks will fit into the various teams as they progress.

However, the main challenge for Martinez is how to balance individual talent with maintaining a competitive, winning culture for the team.

“You need to put the focus on developing players, and not as much in just developing teams and making winning teams,” Martinez said. “So that’s, for us, is the key focus. Finding the right people, coaches and rest of the staff, who understand that we are here to develop players.”

“The goal is always developing players (first). The teams that we use are, let’s say, tools to develop those players. This is in opposition to professional football, because at the end, in professional football, your goal is the team, to bring success, to win trophies, to win the league, to go to the Champions League.”

One of the academy’s main targets is to ensure players continue their education as a part of a holistic approach to developing individuals off the pitch.

The club has only one team in each of the under 16, 17 and 19 age groups, as well as the B team. The academy is also home to a 40-bed dormitory for the players, where they are provided with all their needs.

“If you have good players, you have good facilities, good coaches, normally the consequence of all this would be winning. But it shouldn’t be the focus of the situation. The focus of the situation should be developing players.”


US views Copa America as last big challenge before hosting 2026 World Cup

US views Copa America as last big challenge before hosting 2026 World Cup
Updated 14 June 2024
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US views Copa America as last big challenge before hosting 2026 World Cup

US views Copa America as last big challenge before hosting 2026 World Cup
  • Berhalter: Copa America is essential to the growth of this group, and I believe this is a very important tournament for us as a team
  • This will be the fifth Copa America appearance for the US, who were eliminated in the group stage in 1993 and 2007, and finished fourth in 1995 and 2016

NEW YORK: In a region that provides few tests, the US views the Copa America as its last significant challenge ahead of the 2026 World Cup.

“A World Cup on home soil is the biggest thing that you know we’ll probably do in our career,” star attacker Christian Pulisic said. “It’s a special time for this sport in America.”

Eighteen players from the 2022 World Cup roster were in training camp ahead of the tournament. The US open against Bolivia on June 23 at Arlington, Texas, play Panama four days later at Atlanta and close the group stage vs. Uruguay on July 1 at Kansas City, Missouri.

The US could meet Brazil in the quarterfinals. But players and staff view this as another step toward June 12, 2026, when the Americans play their World Cup opener at Inglewood, California.

“Copa America is essential to the growth of this group, and I believe this is a very important tournament for us as a team. This is the last major tournament before the World Cup. We’ll have Gold Cup, but the caliber of teams does not match Copa America,” coach Gregg Berhalter said. “It is a building block in which to to go into the World Cup confident.”

Berhalter was let go when his contract expired at the end of 2022 in the messy fallout of a feud with the Reyna family, then brought back and returned behind the bench last September. His core is the same as during the 2022 World Cup, where the US lost to the Netherlands 3-1 in the round of 16.

Pulisic, 25, comes into the tournament following his best season. He scored 12 Serie A goals in his first season with AC Milan plus one in the Champions League and two in the Europa League. His equalizer gave the Americans a 1-1 draw against Brazil Tuesday night in their last pre-tournament warmup, his 29th international goal in 68 appearances.

“He’s had some unfortunate injuries along his path and he’s been at some places where maybe he hasn’t gotten the best look and wasn’t really the number one option, but I think everyone in this country knows how talented he is,” said American forward Hajji Wright, Pulisic’s teammate now and at the 2015 Under-17 World Cup. “He’s really finding his goal-scoring form. He’s able to affect the game by actually scoring and contributing in front of the goal. And that’s something he always used to do when we were children.”

Tyler Adams, the US World Cup captain and another member of that 2015 team, is regaining fitness following a frustrating 15 months. A 25-year-old defensive midfielder, Adams played just one club match from March 2023 until this past March 13 because of a torn right hamstring that needed surgery. After returning to play two matches for Bournemouth in March, the midfielder was limited by back spasms to one game over the rest of the season, an 11-minute appearance on May 11. He entered the June 12 friendly against Brazil in the 76th minute.

Right back Sergiño Dest will miss the tournament because of a torn ACL, opening the spot for 21-year-old Joe Scally. Chris Richards appears to have gained a starting spot in central defense alongside Tim Ream on a back line that has Antonee Robinson on the left.

Goalkeeper Matt Turner is a cause for concern. He lost the starting job at Nottingham Forest this season after poor play and was at fault for some of the goals in the 5-1 loss to Colombia and this week’s game against Brazil.

“He’s getting his rhythm. He’s going to be fine come tournament time,” Berhalter said. “You can see that he didn’t have a regular slate of games and it’s going to take him a little bit to get into it.”

This will be the fifth Copa America appearance for the US, who were eliminated in the group stage in 1993 and 2007, and finished fourth in 1995 and 2016.

“What you’re seeing on the pitch is now we’re clicking even more than ever,” midfielder Brenden Aaronson said, “and I think it’s just going to continue to get better and better.”


Nagelsmann urges Germany to harness the ‘privilege of pressure’

Nagelsmann urges Germany to harness the ‘privilege of pressure’
Updated 13 June 2024
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Nagelsmann urges Germany to harness the ‘privilege of pressure’

Nagelsmann urges Germany to harness the ‘privilege of pressure’
  • “I think it’s normal that you feel a little bit of pressure before a tournament and before important games like these,” the 36-year-old told reporters
  • “We will work out the pressure and we will work out Scotland“

MUNICH: Germany coach Julian Nagelsmann said his side needed to use the pressure of hosting Euro 2024 to their advantage ahead of Friday’s tournament opener against Scotland in Munich.
This summer’s hosts are three-time winners of the European Championship but have endured a poor time since reaching the semifinals at Euro 2016.
Since that tournament, the Germans were eliminated twice at the group stage of the World Cup, and lost to England in the last 16 at the Euros in 2021.
Admitting to being a “little nervous” ahead of his first game coaching Germany at a major tournament, Nagelsmann said he told his players to embrace the pressure in front of their home fans.
“I think it’s normal that you feel a little bit of pressure before a tournament and before important games like these,” the 36-year-old told reporters on Thursday.
“Ultimately for me it’s the most important theme, when I speak with my players, that pressure is a form of privilege.
“We need to simply enjoy being on the pitch. That’s very important. Our players started playing when they were young. They love it (football).
“If you do it that way, you’re doing it right.”
“We will work out the pressure and we will work out Scotland,” he added.
Nagelsmann shed light on the process of bringing veteran midfielder Toni Kroos, who retired from international duty in 2021, back into the squad. Nagelsmann revealed it took a while to convince the 2014 World Cup winner to return.
“It took a period of time to convince him because he wanted to know what we’ll change in the future,” explained Nagelsmann.
“He said he’ll only be part of the team when he feels we can win, so he wanted to know how we’ll change the team.
“Then he said he’ll be part of it and ‘let’s rock’.”
Nagelsmann was wary of Scotland, saying Steve Clarke’s side were not the “kick and rush” team of the past.
“They have flair and good physicality. They may not be full of superstars, but that can make them dangerous.”