Italy recover from disastrous start to win Euro 2024 opener

Italy recover from disastrous start to win Euro 2024 opener
Italy's Alessandro Bastoni, left, scores his side's opening goal during a Group B match between Italy and Albania at the Euro 2024 soccer tournament in Dortmund, Germany, Saturday, June 15, 2024. (AP)
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Updated 16 June 2024
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Italy recover from disastrous start to win Euro 2024 opener

Italy recover from disastrous start to win Euro 2024 opener
  • Italy are in some ways an unknown quantity coming into this tournament, with the reigning champions having also missed the last two World Cups and failed to fully convince during qualifying

DORTMUND, Germany: Italy recovered from conceding the fastest goal in the competition’s history to get their defense of the European Championship title off to a winning start on Saturday as they came back to beat Albania 2-1 in front of a partisan crowd.
Nedim Bajrami stunned the Italians and delighted a huge Albanian support in Dortmund as he smashed in the opener after just 23 seconds, his strike pulverising the previous record for the quickest goal at the Euros of 67 seconds by Dmitri Kirichenko of Russia in 2004.
Yet Italy’s response to falling behind was quick too, as Alessandro Bastoni headed the Azzurri level on 11 minutes and Nicolo Barella’s glorious effort put them ahead just past the quarter-hour mark.
From then on Luciano Spalletti’s team looked much more assured, although they really should have won by a greater margin rather than face an anxious finale as Albania pushed for an equalizer.
Their performance — the first 23 seconds apart — was largely encouraging before an enticing showdown with fellow heavyweights Spain in nearby Gelsenkirchen next Thursday.
Whatever happens in that match, Italy are already well-placed to advance to the knockout phase of Euro 2024 from Group B, in which Spain defeated Croatia 3-0 earlier on Saturday in Berlin.
Italy are in some ways an unknown quantity coming into this tournament, with the reigning champions having also missed the last two World Cups and failed to fully convince during qualifying.
Only five of Italy’s line-up at kick-off here started the final of the last Euros three years ago, with a new-look team featuring Bologna center-back Riccardo Calafiori winning just his third cap.
Albania, though, are appearing at just their second major tournament having also gone to Euro 2016.
The novelty of the experience for them helps explain why the home of Borussia Dortmund was a sea of excitable Albanian fans decked in red and black who made up the vast majority of the crowd.
They could hardly believe it when their team, coached by the Brazilian former Arsenal and Barcelona left-back Sylvinho, opened the scoring almost straight from kick-off.
Italy’s Federico Dimarco took a throw from the left-back position but played it loosely back into his own box. Bastoni was caught on the back foot, and Bajrami — who plays in Italy for Sassuolo — pounced to control and fire past Gianluigi Donnarumma at the goalkeeper’s near post.
It was a similar start to Italy’s last European Championship match, when Luke Shaw put England ahead inside two minutes in the final at Wembley in 2021 before the Azzurri came back to win on penalties.
This time they drew level when Dimarco and Lorenzo Pellegrini played a short corner routine on the left before the latter crossed for Inter Milan center-back Bastoni to head in at the back post.
Italy had regained their composure and soon went in front on 16 minutes, a Jasir Asani clearance dropping straight to another Inter player in Barella, who made the cleanest of contacts at the edge of the area to send a first-time shot past goalkeeper Thomas Strakosha.
They should have added to their lead before the interval, with Davide Frattesi hitting the post after meeting a lovely reverse pass by Gianluca Scamacca in the box.
Scamacca was then denied by Strakosha, while Fedrico Chiesa curled a shot just wide on the hour mark.
Italy then sat back, but Albania did not manage another attempt on target and the second-lowest ranked nation in the competition could not find an equalizer despite their best efforts late on.
Substitute Rey Manaj came closest after getting in behind in the 90th minute, but he could not beat Donnarumma.


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.


Thomas Mueller ends Germany career following Euro 2024

Thomas Mueller ends Germany career following Euro 2024
Updated 15 July 2024
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Thomas Mueller ends Germany career following Euro 2024

Thomas Mueller ends Germany career following Euro 2024
  • Mueller, who turns 35 in September, was a key member of the German team that won the 2014 World Cup

BERLIN: Germany striker Thomas Mueller said Monday he was retiring from international football after a disappointing Euro 2024 in which the host nation were eliminated in the quarter-finals.
“After 131 national team games and 45 goals, I am saying goodbye,” Mueller said in a video statement announcing his decision.
Mueller, who turns 35 in September, was a key member of the German team that won the 2014 World Cup.
The charismatic forward also scored the opening goal in Germany’s unforgettable 7-1 win over the hosts Brazil in the semi final.
“When I played my first international match for the German national team over 14 years ago, I could never have dreamed of all this,” Mueller said in the video.
“It always made me very proud to play for my country. We celebrated together and sometimes shed a tear together,” he said.
A tearful Mueller had hinted at retirement following Germany’s exit from Euro 2024.
The tournament hosts lost 2-1 in the quarter-final to Spain, who went on to lift the trophy on Sunday against England.
After the Spain game, Mueller said he would hold talks with national team coach Julian Nagelsmann and decide whether it was the “sensible option” to step aside in favor of younger players.
Goalkeeper Manuel Neuer is the only member of Germany’s 2014 World Cup-winning side still involved in the national team set up.
Germany and Real Madrid midfielder Toni Kroos announced before Euro 2024 that he would retire from football after the tournament.
Unlike Kroos, Mueller will continue to play for his club Bayern Munich, where he is under contract until 2025.
Only Lothar Matthaeus and Miroslav Klose have played more games for Germany than Mueller, who is also Germany’s sixth highest goalscorer of all time.


Argentina defeat Colombia 1-0 to win record 16th Copa America

Argentina defeat Colombia 1-0 to win record 16th Copa America
Updated 15 July 2024
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Argentina defeat Colombia 1-0 to win record 16th Copa America

Argentina defeat Colombia 1-0 to win record 16th Copa America
  • The win was the third straight major tournament title for Argentine following their 2021 Copa victory
  • Messi appeared to suffer a noncontact injury while running full speed on the pitch

MIAMI: Lautaro Martinez scored an extra-time winner as Argentina beat Colombia 1-0 to win a record 16th Copa America title at Hard Rock Stadium on Sunday.

A poor game which had been marred by security and crowd issues, forcing a 82-minute delay, was decided by a quality finish from Martinez — his fifth goal of the tournament.

The win was the third straight major tournament title for Argentine following their 2021 Copa victory and their triumph in the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

There were tears before the celebrations though with Argentina captain Lionel Messi going off injured in the 66th minute watching the rest of the game distraught on the bench, while there was an emotional farewell for Angel Di Maria in his final game for the national team.

For Colombia, whose only title came in the 2001 Copa America, it was a disappointing night when little seemed to work for Nestor Lorenzo’s team.

There was chaos around entry to the stadium for fans, with organizers blaming supporters for trying to enter without tickets while fans blamed the lack of an efficient entry system to the venue.

The scenes were alarming with some fans needing medical attention for heat exhaustion but after the decision to suddenly throw open the gates, with no checks on those entering, the situation was largely resolved and the game finally went ahead.

Colombia’s Jhon Corboba hit the bottom of the post with a speculative shot in the seventh minute but neither side were able to find their flow in the early stages.

Di Maria found Messi in the 20th minute with a low ball into the box and Messi’s left-foot shot was saved by Colombia keeper Camilo Vargas.

Colombia had looked the more lively in the opening period and they went close in the 33rd minute when Jefferson Lerma tried his luck from 25 yards out and his low drive forced Emiliano Martinez into a diving save.

There was concern for Messi in the 36th minute when he dribbled to the byline but was halted by a sliding challenge from Santiago Arias which was ruled fair left the Argentine captain needing treatment.

Messi, who now plays his club football in Miami, then curled a free-kick in from the left flank but Nicolas Tagliafico’s header was just off target.

It had been a disappointing first half and it didn’t improve much after the break, when the fans had at least received some entertainment from Colombian singer Shakira.

Argentina failed to deal with a James Rodriguez corner and the ball looped to Davinson Sanchez but he was unable to keep down his header which floated over the bar.

There was finally some of the expected quality when Di Maria produced one of his trademark runs in from the left and forced Vargas into action, the Colombia keeper turning the ball wide of the post.

Then came a major blow for Argentine hopes when Messi went down, without contact, as he ran in midfield, and clearly in pain he went off to be replaced by Nicolas Gonzalez in the 66th minute.

It was too much for Messi, in what may have been his last major tournament, as he sat in tears on the bench, unable to hold back his emotions.

The Argentine fans thought they had grabbed a winner in the 75th minute when Tagliafico found Gonzalez in the box, who beat Vargas with a low drive but the effort was ruled out for offside.

Little changed in extra-time with a half-chance from Miguel Borja after a flick from Jorge Carrascal but the game was settled by a worthy winner.

Leandro Paredes won the ball in midfield for Argentina with a perfectly timed tackle, found Giovani Lo Celso whose first time pass was perfect for the on-running Martinez who confidently fired home the winner.


Spain beat England 2-1 to win record fourth European Championship title

Spain beat England 2-1 to win record fourth European Championship title
Updated 15 July 2024
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Spain beat England 2-1 to win record fourth European Championship title

Spain beat England 2-1 to win record fourth European Championship title
  • Oyarzabal slid in to poke home Marc Cucurella’s cross, just when the game at Berlin’s Olympiastadion seemed destined for extra time

BERLIN: Spain won a record fourth European Championship title on Sunday after Mikel Oyarzabal’s 86th-minute goal clinched a 2-1 victory over England, whose painful decades-long wait for a major trophy goes on.
Oyarzabal slid in to poke home Marc Cucurella’s cross, just when the game at Berlin’s Olympiastadion seemed destined for extra time after the latest show of resilience by England at the tournament.
Substitute Cole Palmer equalized for England in the 73rd minute to cancel out Nico Williams’ opener in the 47th from 17-year-old prodigy Lamine Yamal’s pass.
Spain also won the title in 1964, 2008 and 2012.
“I did my job and what I had to and was lucky enough to score the goal for the win,” said Oyarzabal, who came on as a substitute for captain Alvaro Morata. “When you are among the 26 names to be picked, that is special enough, but then to get to help the team like I did, that is the most important part.”
England men’s team has now lost back-to-back Euro finals and is still without a major title since winning the 1966 World Cup.
It is another agonizing loss for one of the world’s most underperforming national teams, this one coming in front of Prince William and Spain’s King Felipe at the venue built for the 1936 Olympics.
“This time it just wasn’t meant to be,” the prince wrote on social media. “We’re all still so proud of you.” 


There were joyous scenes after the final whistle among the Spanish players, with Williams putting his hands to his face before he was embraced by his teammates. Dani Carvajal slumped to the field and was piled on by jubilant teammates.
Yamal, Marc Cucurella and Dani Olmo were among the first to jump over the advertising hoardings to reach the Spanish fans in the stadium’s east end of the stadium.
It was fitting that Yamal and Williams combined for the crucial first goal as they are the poster boys of this exciting, multicultural team that mirrors the new reality in Spain.
Yamal’s mother is from Equatorial Guinea and his father is from Morocco, while fellow winger Williams has Ghanaian parents who made the long journey to Europe looking for a better life. To make it to Spain, they had to ride on the back of a crowded truck and walk barefoot through the Sahara desert.
“Euphoria! We are so happy. We deserved this,” said Williams, the player of the match. “This is for our fans and our parents, who have supported us throughout.”
Unlike his brother Inaki, who is a Ghana international, Nico chose to play for Spain and will now be regarded as a national hero there.
As, indeed, will Oyarzabal and the rest of the Spain team, who have won all seven of their matches at this tournament — an unprecedented feat — and beaten heavyweights Germany, France and England, back-to-back in the knockout stage.
Spain is back as a major player in senior soccer after winning both the Women’s World Cup and the men’s UEFA Nations League in 2023.
Since 2001, Spanish men’s teams have won 23 consecutive major finals in club and international soccer.