Spain complete perfect Euro 2024 group stage as Albania go out

Spain complete perfect Euro 2024 group stage as Albania go out
Spain's forward #11 Ferran Torres celebrates scoring his team's first goal during the UEFA Euro 2024 Group B football match between Albania and Spain at the Duesseldorf Arena in Duesseldorf on June 24, 2024. (AFP)
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Updated 25 June 2024
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Spain complete perfect Euro 2024 group stage as Albania go out

Spain complete perfect Euro 2024 group stage as Albania go out
  • It is the first time since 2008 that Spain have won all three group games at either a World Cup or European Championship

DÜSSELDORF, Germany: An early Ferran Torres strike gave Spain’s second-string side a 1-0 win over Albania on Monday as the three-time champions finished the Euro 2024 group stage with a perfect record and the defeat eliminated their opponents.
Barcelona winger Torres finished off a fine move in the 13th minute in Duesseldorf to puncture the atmosphere in a stadium filled with a majority of noisy Albanian fans.
However, this game was not a cruise for a Spain team showing 10 changes to the side which started their 1-0 win over Italy four days earlier.
Spain had already secured top spot in Group B, but Albania knew they realistically needed a win to go through and that made for a frantic encounter at times, particularly as they pushed forward in the second half.
Despite their best efforts, Albania go home after picking up only one point and finishing bottom of a difficult section.
It is a regression for them from their debut European Championship appearance in 2016, when they also went out in the first round but did manage to win a game.
Beating a Spain side who have probably been the most impressive so far in Germany was always going to be a big ask for Albania, coached by former Barcelona left-back Sylvinho.
It is the first time since 2008 that Spain have won all three group games at either a World Cup or European Championship.
Coach Luis de la Fuente can now turn his full attentions to a last-16 tie in Cologne on Sunday against an as-yet unknown third-place finisher.
Center-half Aymeric Laporte was the only Spain player to keep his place following the Italy game, with key midfielder Rodri suspended and everyone else given a breather.
Goalkeeper David Raya, defender Dani Vivian, left-back Alejandro Grimaldo and midfielder Martin Zubimendi, all largely untested at international level, came in.
There was also a start for Jesus Navas, who was part of the Spain teams that won the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012, and who is now 38.
Even Laporte was removed at half-time, replaced by Robin Le Normand, while Lamine Yamal and Alvaro Morata also appeared in the second half.
Albania, ranked 66th in the world, knew it would be a big ask to beat Spain having lost all of their eight previous meetings.
Spain first threatened in the 12th minute when Mikel Merino’s header was saved by goalkeeper Thomas Strakosha, and a minute later they were ahead.
Dani Olmo stepped into the space between the Albanian lines to receive a pass, and then fed a measured ball in behind for Torres to latch onto.
The former Manchester City player timed his run perfectly and finished with precision too, his first-time effort going in off the far post.
Torres has made a habit of scoring at these tournaments, having netted twice at the last Euros and twice at the 2022 World Cup.
It took Albania until the final minute of the half to test Raya, the Arsenal shot-stopper flying to his right to parry a powerful strike by Kristjan Asllani.
Joselu hooked a Grimaldo cross just wide moments after the restart for Spain, before the Albanian fans raised the noise levels as they became aware of events in the other match.
They were very close to equalising when substitute Armando Broja met an Asllani free-kick and tried to lob Raya, but the goalkeeper saved.
Asllani then fizzed an effort just wide, and Broja was again denied by Raya in stoppage time as Albania bowed out.


Diogo Jota says Riyadh Esports World Cup ‘a truly amazing experience’

Diogo Jota says Riyadh Esports World Cup ‘a truly amazing experience’
Updated 22 July 2024
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Diogo Jota says Riyadh Esports World Cup ‘a truly amazing experience’

Diogo Jota says Riyadh Esports World Cup ‘a truly amazing experience’
  • Liverpool and Portugal star, an avid gamer and investor, watched all the ‘Dota2 Riyadh Masters’ and ‘Counter-Strike 2’ action, and met esports players

RIYADH: Diogo Jota, the Liverpool and Portugal footballer, who attended the Esports World Cup in Riyadh on Sunday, has declared the globe’s largest gaming festival “a truly amazing experience.”

Jota, an avid gamer and investor in multinational esports organization Galaxy Racer, watched all the action at Boulevard Riyadh City as teams contested the finals of the “Dota2 Riyadh Masters” and “Counter-Strike 2” competitions.

The eight-week Esports World Cup features a unique cross-game structure pitting the top clubs and players against one another across 22 competitions in 21 leading games.

Held within the 8,000-capacity Saudi Esports Federation Arena at Boulevard Riyadh City, it runs until Aug. 25 and has a tournament prize pool of $60 million, the largest in the history of the sport.

The attacker, who has 42 caps and played for Portugal at the UEFA Euro 2024 this summer, met participating stars, including from Saudi Arabia’s Team Falcons, and happily swapped gaming and esports stories.

Jota said: “Being here at the inaugural Esports World Cup is a truly amazing experience. The organization and scale behind this event are truly impressive, even more than I anticipated.

“I’ve always believed in the potential of esports, even before starting my own team, and EWC is proof that this scene is evolving rapidly. This level of investment and infrastructure is exactly what esports needs to grow and reach a wider audience.

“I’m excited to see how EWC continues to evolve and push the boundaries of competitive gaming.”

Jota, who wears the No. 20 for Liverpool, was ranked world No. 1 in FIFA 21’s Champions Leaderboard. A regular streamer on Twitch, he also won an invitational series of FIFA matches, run by the Premier League, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Then a Wolverhampton Wanderers player, Jota defeated future Liverpool team-mate Trent Alexander-Arnold in the final.

Last year, Jota’s own esports organization, Diogo Jota Esports, was rebranded to Luna Galaxy — coming under the Galaxy Racer umbrella.

Prior to this, Diogo Jota Esports participated in the FIFAe Finals at Gamers8, organized by the Saudi Esports Federation, at Boulevard Riyadh City last summer, with Daniel “DFernandes” Fernandes finishing in the top 16.

More than 1,500 players, of over 60 nationalities, are battling it out at the inaugural Esports World Cup. Week three of the competition features action in the “Dota2 Riyadh Masters,” “Counter Strike 2,” and “PUBG Mobile” contests.


SAFF launches first edition of Regional Under-13 Championship in Taif

SAFF launches first edition of Regional Under-13 Championship in Taif
Updated 21 July 2024
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SAFF launches first edition of Regional Under-13 Championship in Taif

SAFF launches first edition of Regional Under-13 Championship in Taif
  • Top talents from academies across 14 cities, provinces, and regions are featuring in the tournament
  • The competition will provide valuable experience for young up-and-coming referees who have been selected from SAFF Referees’ Academy

RIYADH: The Saudi Arabian Football Federation has launched the first edition of the Regional Under-13 Championship in Taif, running from July 18–30.

Currently in its third day, the 12-day tournament features 14 regional teams, showcasing top talents from academies across 14 cities, provinces, and regions.

The 14 regional teams competing in the championship are from Al-Ahsa, Jazan, Najran, Jouf, Hail, Al-Qassim, the Eastern Province, Riyadh, Jeddah, Asir, Madinah, Makkah, Hafar Al-Batin, and Tabuk.

SAFF’s Technical Director Nasser Larguet said: “The championship represents the result of the significant work supported by the Saudi Arabian Football Federation, and the outcome is the creation of the Regional Under-13 League. Clear goals and strategic plans have been set to discover and support young talents.”

Additionally, the tournament will provide valuable experience for young up-and-coming referees, who have been selected from the SAFF Referees’ Academy, further contributing to the development of skilled officials in the sport.

Manuel Navarro, president of the SAFF Referees Committee, said: “The Regional Under-13 Championship is an opportunity to develop promising referees, especially since it will witness the participation of 32 young referees. The committee aims to increase their refereeing hours and enhance their experience.”

This tournament is a significant part of SAFF’s strategy to scout and develop over 4,000 young talents by 2025, supporting the growth and future of Saudi football.


Al-Ittihad unveils new kit for 2024-25 season

Al-Ittihad unveils new kit for 2024-25 season
Updated 20 July 2024
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Al-Ittihad unveils new kit for 2024-25 season

Al-Ittihad unveils new kit for 2024-25 season
  • The classic striped design in yellow and black is based on the Nike shirt, with its authentic heritage
  • The kit’s new design represents the architectural style “Rawashin”

JEDDAH: Al-Ittihad FC has unveiled its kit for the 2024/25 season in collaboration with Nike.

Al-Ittihad presented its distinctive new kit in photo sessions in the center of historic Jeddah, among its alleys and ancient buildings, in cooperation with Al-Balad Development Company, the club’s official sponsor.

The classic striped design in yellow and black is based on the Nike shirt, with its authentic heritage, which fans have loved and celebrated for 97 years.

The kit’s new design represents the architectural style, “Rawashin,” the prominent traditional wooden panels used to cover windows and external openings at the old houses of Jeddah — considered an icon of the city’s heritage.

Domingos De Oliveira, CEO of Al-Ittihad Club, described the new kit as a symbol of the club’s history: “We worked closely with Nike in order to ensure access to the best that can be presented in the new kit, while preserving the established values of the basic kit, which represents a unique identity, after maintaining it for nearly a century.

“In the new kit, we worked to blend the heritage of Al-Ittihad Club with the history of the region from which it started, with a modern spirit that creates innovation in order to emerge with a product that reflects the club’s vision of starting from the base of its great history toward more glory and development in the current era and the future.

“Attention was paid to all the details in terms of the degree of color and their overlapping in the dividing line between them in the same way that the wooden columns in the Rawashin buildings of Jeddah are intertwined.”

For the first time, the home kit will be presented in three categories — the official home kit, which the players will wear, the stadium category, and the fans category.


Argentina apologizes to France in football-chant row

Argentina apologizes to France in football-chant row
Updated 20 July 2024
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Argentina apologizes to France in football-chant row

Argentina apologizes to France in football-chant row

BUENOS AIRES: Buenos Aires apologized to France after Argentina’s vice president called the European country “colonialist” and its people “hypocrites” in an argument over alleged racist chants by Argentine footballers.
President Javier Milei’s office said Friday it had sent a senior official to the French embassy to explain that Victoria Villarruel’s angry statement on social media was made in her personal capacity.
FIFA has announced an investigation into the chants sung by Argentina players, including Chelsea and Argentina midfielder Enzo Fernandez, 23, after they won the Copa America.
The chants were heard on a live video posted on social media by Fernandez from the team bus in the wake of the Copa victory over Colombia in Miami on Sunday.
The song targets France’s star striker Kylian Mbappe among others and includes racist and homophobic insults.
Fernandez has apologized, but Chelsea have launched an internal disciplinary procedure against him. The French Football Federation (FFF) has complained to FIFA.
On Wednesday, Villarruel expressed support for Fernandez on X, saying: “No colonialist country is going to intimidate us because of a stadium chant nor for speaking truths that they do not want to admit. Enough with feigned outrage, hypocrites.”
The diplomatic incident came just days before Milei is due to travel to Paris to attend the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games.
“Diplomatic relations with France are intact,” presidential spokesman Manuel Adorni said Friday.
Argentina’s under secretary for sports, Julio Garro, was dismissed from his post this week after saying captain Lionel Messi and the Argentine Football Association should apologize for the chants.


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.