PARIS: Paris Saint-Germain were named as Ligue 1 champions on Thursday after France’s football league declared the coronavirus-hit season over.
PSG led the table by 12 points from Marseille when the season was suspended in mid-March because of the Covid-19 outbreak, which has gone on to kill over 24,000 people in France.
The announcement by the LFP comes after Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said on Tuesday that “professional sports leagues, notably football, cannot restart” because of the pandemic.
“There is no ambiguity about this declaration. We needed to make a final decision about this season. We acknowledge that the 2019-20 season is over,” said LFP president Nathalie Boy de la Tour, in a conference call with reporters.
France becomes the biggest European league yet to end its season, just as its neighbors in England, Germany, Italy and Spain consider ways of resuming matches.
Ruling out any possibility of copying the Netherlands, who voided their season without a champion, relegation or promotion, the LFP arranged a final table on the basis of average points per game.
Ten rounds of matches remained when the campaign was halted, although PSG and Strasbourg both had a game in hand.
As a result, PSG are champions with an average of 2.52 points per game, with Andre Villas-Boas’s Marseille second with an average of 2 points and qualifying for the Champions League.
“We wish to dedicate this title to all health workers and other everyday heroes whose commitment and self-sacrifice throughout these long weeks deserve our admiration,” said PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi in a statement.
It is PSG’s ninth French title, the seventh in eight seasons for the Qatar-owned club being awarded in unique circumstances and with many of their foreign players — including Neymar — having returned to their home countries with France under strict lockdown.
“We understand, respect and support the decisions taken by the French government to stop the season. Health, as the government has always said, must be everyone’s priority,” added Al-Khelaifi, whose club still hope to be able to continue their Champions League campaign having reached the quarter-finals before action stopped.
Rennes finish third and also qualify for the Champions League, while fourth-placed Lille will play in the Europa League.
Toulouse and Amiens, the bottom two, are condemned to relegation, with Lorient, as champions, and Lens coming up from Ligue 2.
However, Toulouse have kept open the possibility that they might now take legal action.
The identity of the other European representatives depends on whether the finals of the two domestic cups are ever played.
Large gatherings of people remain banned in France until September.
However, if the French government and UEFA accept, both finals could be staged in early August with European places still up for grabs. The LFP then hopes to begin next season by August 23 “at the latest.”
PSG were due to play Lyon in the League Cup final and Saint-Etienne in the French Cup final. If the games are eventually played, Lyon and Saint-Etienne could qualify for the Europa League by winning.
Otherwise, Nice and Reims would qualify by virtue of finishing in fifth and sixth in the league.
Lyon — seventh in the table when the season was stopped — would otherwise miss out on European qualification for the first time in over two decades.
Ironically, they were still involved in this season’s Champions League when it was suspended, leading Juventus 1-0 after the first leg of their last-16 tie.
Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas had previously stated his hope that the season could still be played to a conclusion in August.
“Maybe there will be appeals, but the decisions taken...are solid,” said LFP director general Didier Quillot.
Nevertheless, for all clubs, the economic consequences of ending the season now could be dire.
Resuming matches behind closed doors would have safeguarded TV income, but the loss for clubs in the top two divisions of remaining payments from broadcasters Canal Plus and beIN Sports is believed to be as high as 243 million euros ($266 million), plus 35 million euros for international rights.
PSG awarded Ligue 1 title as French football season declared over
PSG awarded Ligue 1 title as French football season declared over
- PSG led the table by 12 points from Marseille when the season was suspended in mid-March because of the Covid-19 outbreak
- France becomes the biggest European league yet to end its season, just as its neighbors in England, Germany, Italy and Spain consider ways of resuming matches
PARIS: Paris Saint-Germain were named as Ligue 1 champions on Thursday after France’s football league declared the coronavirus-hit season over.
Shootout masters Croatia end Brazil’s hopes of sixth World Cup
- Neymar looked to have kept Brazil's hopes of a sixth World Cup title alive by starting and finishing a brilliant effort in extra time
- But he was left distraught and sobbing after Brazil lost a shootout
DOHA: Croatia stunned Brazil in a dramatic penalty shootout on Friday to reach the semifinals of the World Cup after Marquinhos slammed the decisive kick against the post.
Neymar looked to have kept Brazil’s hopes of a sixth World Cup title alive by starting and finishing a brilliant effort in extra time that equalled Pele’s international scoring record of 77 goals.
But he was left distraught and sobbing after Brazil lost a shootout that was triggered when Bruno Petkovic popped up to make it 1-1 at the end of extra time.
Neymar’s individual flash of brilliance had lit up a tense and often niggly game that finished goalless in normal time, Croatia’s man-of-the-match goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic pulling off a series of stunning blocks to keep the Brazilians at bay.
But as the minutes of extra time ticked down at the Education City Stadium, Petkovic popped up to connect with a cross and his deflected shot found its way into the net past the outstretched arm of Brazil ‘keeper Alisson.
If Brazil were rocked by the late equalizer, worse was to come in a series of nerve-shredding spot kicks.
The tone was set when Nikola Vlasic slammed the opening penalty down the middle and into the net, before Livakovic tipped away Rodrygo’s first effort for Brazil.
In the end it came down to Paris Saint-Germain center-back Marquinhos who strode up confidently, but saw his kick rebound off the post to give Croatia a 4-2 win in the shootout and a place in the last four for the second World Cup in a row.
As the Croatian players sprinted across the turf in joy, Marquinhos sank to his knees and Neymar was soon in tears, being consoled by veteran teammate Dani Alves.
Livakovic, who again played a huge role after his heroics against Japan, said: “We’re raised as fighters. We spare no effort — we’re always giving our best and that’s our recipe for success.”
The Croatian team coached by Zlatko Dalic followed up their win over Japan on penalties in the last round with this victory, which might well go down as their greatest ever triumph.
Brazil will have to wait at least another four years for that sixth title — by 2026 it will be 24 years since they last won it.
Instead of a blockbuster South American semifinal between Brazil and Argentina, it is Croatia who will face the winners of the clash later Friday between Lionel Messi’s side and the Netherlands.
Seven-time Ballon d’Or winner Messi is hoping to end his wait for a World Cup after Argentina lost to Germany in the final eight years ago.
The Copa America holders go up against the Dutch at Lusail Stadium, the venue for the December 18 final.
The two countries have met five times at the World Cup, including in the 1978 final, which Argentina won 3-1 after extra-time.
Attention switches on Saturday to the heavyweight clash between defending champions France and England.
France captain Hugo Lloris said the rivalry between the two countries was special.
“These are two great football nations and the rivalry between us also exists in other sports like rugby,” he said on Friday.
“When you get to such a high level these are great battles. At an event like the World Cup there is a special flavour to a France-England game. But we are preparing for a World Cup quarter-final, regardless of the opponent.”
England boss Gareth Southgate has vowed to go on the attack, despite the threat from the fleet-footed Kylian Mbappe, arguably the best player in the world.
“There is no point going into a game like this and just covering up and sitting on the ropes,” he told ITV. “We believe we can cause problems with the ball and we intend to do that.”
In the other game on Saturday, Morocco, in the World Cup quarter-finals for the first time, take on Portugal.
Portugal on Thursday denied reports that Cristiano Ronaldo threatened to quit the camp after he was benched for their 6-1 rout of Switzerland in the last 16.
Ronaldo, Portugal look to end Morocco’s World Cup run
- Ronaldo has again managed to steal the spotlight in his inimitable way
- Will he start, or won’t he? That’s the big question being asked about Ronaldo
DOHA: These really are pinch-yourself times for Morocco: A first-ever spot in the quarterfinals of a World Cup — the first to take place in the Arab world, no less — and now a meeting with Portugal and their superstar striker, Cristiano Ronaldo.
Because Ronaldo has again managed to steal the spotlight in his inimitable way, even bumping Morocco’s historic run to the last eight off the top of the agenda before Saturday’s narrative-laden match.
Will he start, or won’t he? That’s the big question being asked about Ronaldo after he was dropped by Portugal coach Fernando Santos for the 6-1 win over Switzerland in the round of 16 on Tuesday.
Not only was the five-time world player of the year relegated to the bench, his replacement — 21-year-old Gonçalo Ramos — scored a hat trick to leave Santos with quite the selection dilemma against Morocco.
“I hope he won’t (play),” Morocco coach Walid Regragui said Friday of Ronaldo. “As a coach I know he’s one of the best players in history and so I’d be delighted if he didn’t play.”
The announcement of Portugal’s team about 90 minutes before the game at Al Thumama Stadium is keenly awaited as Ronaldo prepares to play in the quarterfinals of the World Cup for just the second time in his glittering career.
Santos declined to share selection thoughts Friday for what he said would be a different kind of game to the one against Switzerland, while noting that “90 percent of the questions” are about Ronaldo at Portugal’s pregame news conferences.
One inevitable question Santos faced was about reports in national media that Ronaldo threatened to leave the World Cup after being told he was benched. Not true, the coach said.
“He has never told me that he wanted to leave the national team,” Santos said through an interpreter. “Cristiano obviously wasn’t very happy about it. He told me ‘Do you really think it’s a good idea?’”
Portugal are at this stage for only the third time after 1966 and 2006, perhaps surprising given the talent to have come from the country down the years.
Four years ago, Portugal lost in the round of 16 to Uruguay, though a group-stage game against Morocco was “possibly the most difficult match” the team faced, Santos said Friday.
“We won 1-0 but we had to suffer a lot to win that match,” he said. “My players know that.”
As for Morocco, the nation is in uncharted territory after becoming only the fourth African country to reach the quarterfinals at soccer’s biggest tournament, after Cameroon (1990), Senegal (2002) and Ghana (2010). None of them reached the semifinals.
Morocco are also the only team from outside Europe or South America to make it to the last eight in Qatar.
The team’s penalty-shootout victory over Spain in the last 16 sparked wild celebrations not just among its many fans in Qatar and at home.
The excitement extended to the Moroccan diaspora of around 5 million people spread mostly around Europe, which has united behind the World Cup run of the team nicknamed the “Atlas Lions.”
Morocco fans poured into the streets of European cities to celebrate the team’s passage to the quarterfinals, which came after Morocco advanced from a group containing second-ranked Belgium and 2018 runner-up Croatia.
“We haven’t got carried away by the euphoria,” Regragui said. “We’ve just surprised a few people and surprised a few algorithms who expected Belgium to get through ... and expected Spain to get through. We are not satisfied with where we have come so far.”
Regragui, who was born in France, and 14 of the 26 players in the squad were born abroad — the highest proportion for any team at a World Cup being held in the Middle East for the first time in the tournament’s 92-year history.
The Arab world’s standard bearer, Morocco are in the quarterfinals on merit, too. The team have only conceded one goal — and that was an own-goal against Canada — and are proving so well-organized, with a sturdy back four headlined by Achraf Hakimi, a dedicated midfield anchored by Sofyan Amrabat, two mercurial wingers in Hakim Ziyech and Sofiane Boufal, and a striker in Youssef En-Nesyri, who occupies defenses with his relentless work rate.
Three key players might be struggling to be healthy enough to play against Portugal, though. Amrabat said he played with a back injury requiring painkilling injections in the match against Spain, during which captain Romain Saiss finished the game with his leg bandaged up after treatment, and fellow center back Nayef Aguerd hobbled off in tears with an apparent thigh injury.
“Yes, they are tired, yes, we have injuries. We are not going to hide it and we are not going to complain,” Regragui said. “We are here on a mission.”
Portugal doesn’t appear to have such problems, with Santos’ squad depth so impressive that he could afford to leave players like Ronaldo, João Cancelo and Rúben Neves on the bench against Switzerland after they started every group game.
Even if he is among the substitutes again, Ronaldo — playing in what is likely his last World Cup — is expected to see some time on the field. Given the drama constantly surrounding him, he’s sure to be a talking point whatever happens.
England out to stop World Cup’s ‘irresistible force’ Mbappé
- Mbappé is the tournament’s leading scorer with five goals
- He is widely considered the man to succeed Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo as soccer’s biggest star
DOHA: England’s players have been asked one question on repeat as they prepare to face France in the World Cup quarterfinals on Saturday. How do you stop Kylian Mbappé?
Hardly surprising, given Mbappé is the tournament’s leading scorer with five goals and is widely considered the man to succeed Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo as soccer’s biggest star.
“I’m sure England will have prepared to face Kylian,” France coach Didier Deschamps said at a news conference Friday. “But Kylian is in the position to make a difference.
“Kylian is Kylian and he always will be.”
There is no sense of France trying manage expectations of their star player, even as the hype surrounding him grows with each stellar performance in Qatar.
He has already scored one more goal than the four he managed as his country won the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
In the round of 16, he struck twice as the defending champions beat Poland 3-1, with two thunderous shots past goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny.
“He cannot be compared to other players,” said teammate Dayot Upamecano.
“We all believe in Kylian,” added Youssouf Fofana.
Mbappé is being depicted as an unstoppable force in Qatar — something England defender Kyle Walker pushed back against this week.
“I don’t know how to say it even more: I feel he is a top player. I’m not underestimating that one bit, but we are not playing tennis, it’s not a solo sport,” he said after being faced with a series of questions about the Paris Saint-Germain striker.
But France’s players seem happy to feed the narrative that Mbappé is simply unstoppable.
“If he (Walker) can stop Kylian Mbappé, good for him,” added Fofana. “But 19 other teams in Ligue 1 have been waiting for the solution. The truth will come from the pitch.”
Walker will have the job of trying to limit the damage Mbappé can inflict on England’s defense at Al Bayt Stadium. But rather than merely trying to contain France’s biggest threat, discussion this week has been about how bold Three Lions coach Gareth Southgate is prepared to be in response.
England reached the semifinals in 2018 and the final of last year’s European Championships.
On both occasions Southgate was criticized for a cautious approach, even though England only lost on a penalty shootout to Italy at the Euros.
“I very much like Gareth. If I understand correctly, not everyone appreciates him so much in his own country,” noted Deschamps.
England lost 2-1 to Croatia four years ago and the shootout loss to Italy came after a 1-1 draw at Wembley.
England had taken the lead in both matches, and Southgate was accused of adopting defensive tactics to try to protect the lead.
His team has played with more freedom at this World Cup, with a more attacking style leading to 12 goals in four games to tie Portugal as leading scorers.
Southgate has opted to play with a back four in the tournament so far, but could switch to a five-man defense to try to cope with Mbappé.
“Nobody was complaining about us playing a five before we reached the Euros final,” said Walker. “I think it’s a bit harsh to judge him on what we’ve done previously. I think at this tournament we have been playing good attacking football and scoring a lot of goals.”
After coming close in their last two major tournaments, Walker believes England are ready to win this time around. Beating France, he says, would be evidence of that.
“It’s a great opportunity to put a stamp down and to say that we are a good team and we can achieve great things, and give us the belief that we can win this,” he said. “I’m not saying we don’t believe, but to beat a big team like that in a quarter-final, they’re the reigning world champions, that will give us great confidence — not arrogance but confidence.”
Ahmed's 7-114 on test debut helps Pakistan rein in England
- The 24-year-old mystery spinner helped dismiss England for 281 inside the first two sessions
- England got rid of Pakistan openers before Azam’s unbeaten 61 carried hosts to 107-2 at stumps
MULTAN: Unheralded Abrar Ahmed bagged a rich haul of seven wickets in a dream test debut as Pakistan's spinners kept England’s aggression in check on the first day of the second test on Friday.
The 24-year-old mystery spinner grabbed 7-114 and got plenty of help from the dry wicket at Multan Cricket Stadium to dismiss England for 281 inside the first two sessions.
England got rid of both Pakistan openers — Imam-ul-Haq and Abdullah Shafique — early before captain Babar Azam’s unbeaten 61 carried the home team to 107-2 at stumps when bad light stopped play with 10 overs still remaining in the day.
Saud Shakeel, who scored a gritty half century in Pakistan’s 74-run defeat in the first test at Rawalpindi, was not out on 32.
Ahmed was surprisingly left out from the first test despite picking up 43 wickets in this season’s first class tournament. He mystified England with his sharp googlies and carrom balls with only Ben Duckett (63) and Ollie Pope (60) scoring rapid half centuries.
Legspinner Zahid Mahmood made a forgetful test debut at Rawalpindi, but finished off the tail just before tea to end up with 3-63 after Ahmed’s brilliance constantly posed challenges to England’s aggression.
Duckett and Pope both scored half centuries in the first session before falling to Ahmed as the legspinner became only the second bowler in test history to pick up five wickets before lunch in his debut test and England reached 180-5.
Leftarm spinner Alf Valentine of the West Indies was the other bowler to do so when he debuted against England at Manchester in 1950.
Ahmed struck off his fifth ball as Babar turned to his mystery spinner as early as in the ninth over after Ben Stokes won the toss and elected to bat.
Ahmed challenged England’s aggression through his variety of bowling on a wicket offering plenty of assistance to the spinners inside the first hour and wasn’t afraid to lure the England batters through his variations.
Zak Crawley (19) was baffled by Ahmed’s sharp delivery which jagged back into him and knocked back his stumps and then the legspinner successfully won lbw decisions against Duckett and Joe Root (8) through television referrals.
Duckett and Pope combined in a 79-run stand off 61 balls and briefly dominated even Ahmed through their extravagant reverse sweep shots before the bowler broke through soon after Duckett had completed his half century.
Allrounder Faheem Ashraf and Ahmed were two of the three changes Pakistan had to make after fast bowlers Haris Rauf and Naseem Shah both were ruled out with injuries, and the home team also dropped experienced No. 3 batter Azhar Ali because of lack of form and brought in allrounder Mohammad Nawaz.
England didn’t slow down and its fearless approach to score at a rapid pace cost them when Pope was caught at point while going for a reverse sweep and Harry Brook gave a skied shot to Nawaz at mid-off against Ahmed as England reached 180-5.
Captain Stokes (30) and Will Jacks (31) added 61 runs but Ahmed continued to strike after lunch by removing both batters in his successive overs. Stokes was shocked by Ahmed’s sharp turner that hit the lefthander’s off stump and Jacks was trapped leg before wicket.
Mark Wood, the only change England made to its playing XI, struck eight fours in his unbeaten 36 off 27 balls to underline England’s aggressive batting throughout the innings before Mahmood wrapped up England’s innings quickly.
Wood, playing his first test since March, replaced allrounder Liam Livingstone who flew back home after injuring his knee during the first test.
Veteran James Anderson struck early when he found the outside edge of Imam in his second over without scoring before wicketkeeper Pope held on to another thin edge of Shafique’s bat against Jack Leach when England successfully went for television referral.
Leach couldn’t get much purchase of the wicket with the new ball after Stokes went to his spinners from the onset in the last session.
Babar, who pushed himself at No. 3 after Azhar was dropped, was fluent against both spin and pace and completed his half century off 57 balls late in the last session before bad light brought an early closure.
'Made-in-Sialkot' Adidas ball puts Pakistan in the World Cup
- Sialkot has a rich history of making soccer balls and other sporting equipment dating back to colonial times
- The eastern Pakistani city made more than 43 million balls valued at $191 million in the 2021-22 financial year
SIALKOT: Even though it is a cricket-mad nation, Pakistan is playing a big part in the soccer World Cup by making the balls used on the training fields in Qatar and the replicas sold to fans worldwide.
Forward Sports, a multinational sports equipment company in the northeastern city of Sialkot, has been working with Adidas AG for almost 20 years. It is one of the two manufacturers of Adidas’ Al Rihla, the official World Cup ball.
Forward Sports Director Hassan Masood Khawaja said his company had made 5.5 million Al Rihla balls, including 60,000 high-quality replicas of the balls used in matches, only without the real-time technology helping referees with offside and line calls.
They are used by the teams as they train in Qatar, and sold as a premium product to football enthusiasts across the globe, with the rest sold as lower-priced leisure and souvenir balls. The match balls are made in China. Adidas declined to identify the manufacturer.
For the company, the contract is a source of pride.
“More than business, it is a matter of prestige and honor for us to make the World Cup ball,” Khawaja said.
“How do we do it? It’s the skill of the people ... and our love for the sport,” he said.
While soccer is popular among fans, the national side is ranked 194 out of 211 countries by FIFA. Cricket reigns supreme.
Sialkot has a rich history of making soccer balls and other sporting equipment dating back to colonial times.
Pakistan remains one of the world’s biggest manufacturers of soccer balls, along with China and India. The local chamber of commerce said more than 43 million balls valued at $191 million were made in Sialkot in the 2021/22 financial year.
About 8 percent of Sialkot’s population of around 1 million people work in the industry, but many say they have little time to actually see their product in action.
“We work all day,” said Forward Sports quality control inspector Amna, when asked if she watched soccer. “At night, when we go home, we need to rest.”