Qatar versus Red Bull — a Champions League semifinal for the 21st century

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Leipzig's Spanish midfielder Dani Olmo (L) jumps for the ball with Atletico Madrid's Uruguayan defender Jose Gimenez during the UEFA Champions League quarter-final football match between Leipzig and Atletico Madrid at the Jose Alvalade stadium in Lisbon on August 13, 2020. (AFP / POOL / Miguel A. Lopes)
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Fans gather as Paris Saint-Germain players arrives at the hotel in Lisbon on August 12, 2020. (AFP / POOL / FRANCK FIFE)
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Updated 17 August 2020

Qatar versus Red Bull — a Champions League semifinal for the 21st century

  • After being bought by state-funded Qatar Sports Investments in 2011, PSG went on to trample over the competition in France
  • Energy drinks giant Red Bull created RS Leipzig after buying the license of SSV Markranstadt

LISBON: Either Paris Saint-Germain or RB Leipzig will reach the Champions League final for the first time this midweek but the prospect of these hugely ambitious clubs clashing in the last four in Lisbon may be a turn-off for many football fans.
When UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin spoke to AFP last week about the future of elite European football, he observed that the sport had become “a different thing to what it was 10 years ago, let alone 20 years ago.”
Ceferin was speaking specifically about the need to change the Financial Fair Play rules after Manchester City’s successful appeal against a two-year Champions League ban.
But his point was about much more than that.
Ten years ago Inter Milan won the Champions League, beating Bayern Munich in the final. Bayern had defeated Lyon in the last four.
Those teams meet again in the semis on Wednesday after Lyon’s unexpected success against City, who have not yet made the Champions League final 12 years on from the Abu Dhabi takeover of the club.
Also in 2010, PSG won the French Cup but finished 13th in Ligue 1. They were going nowhere fast. Leipzig, meanwhile, had just made their way up to the fourth tier of German football.
In 2011, PSG were bought by the state-funded Qatar Sports Investments and have gone on to trample over the competition in France, winning Ligue 1 in seven of the last eight years.

Costly transfers
They paid the two biggest transfer fees in history to sign Neymar and Kylian Mbappe in 2017 and it is a wonder it has taken them this long to reach a Champions League semifinal again, 25 years after their first and last appearance.
“It is very special. It is the first time we have made it to the semifinals. It is history for the club,” said PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi after their quarter-final win over Atalanta, a remark that gave the impression it was a different club that lost to AC Milan in the 1995 semis.
In most ways it was. PSG are now the fifth richest club in world football, according to Deloitte’s Football Money League. Their revenue in 2018/19 was 635.9 million euros ($753 million).
Fans of other clubs sometimes laugh about PSG lacking tradition, given they were only founded in 1970. But they are veritable old-timers compared to Leipzig.

Hated by club supporters
The German club was only founded in 2009 when energy drinks giant Red Bull bought the license of fifth-division minnows SSV Markranstadt, creating RasenBallsport Leipzig.
’RasenBallsport’ is a fabricated German word, a way of getting around Red Bull’s problem that, under German Football League (DFL) rules, a team may not carry a sponsor’s name.
They also navigated their way around the DFL’s so-called ‘50+1’ rule in place to prevent any individual having a controlling stake in a club.
Red Bull, founded by Austrian billionaire Dietrich Mateschitz, owns 49 percent, with the remaining 51 percent owned by company employees.
Even before they first appeared in the Bundesliga in 2016, Leipzig were hated by supporters of other clubs.
Dynamo Dresden fans threw a severed bull’s head onto the pitch during a game between the teams. Borussia Dortmund fans have boycotted matches against Leipzig in protest at the club’s ownership structure.
Unlike PSG, Leipzig’s footballing model places the emphasis on signing and developing talented youngsters.
Nevertheless, cult German football magazine 11Freunde responded to Leipzig’s quarter-final win over Atletico Madrid by saying it would not cover their semifinal.
“RB Leipzig is a pure marketing project. Created solely to strengthen the Red Bull brand,” it wrote, calling the club “an imitation.”
The Red Bull stable also owns Salzburg, who also appeared in this season’s Champions League, New York Red Bulls, and Red Bull Bragantino, who have just reached Brazil’s top flight.
In Leipzig, RB have at least revived a tradition of footballing success — Lokomotiv Leipzig, a leading club in the old East Germany, were UEFA Cup semifinalists in 1974 and Cup Winners’ Cup runners-up in 1987.
Both PSG and RB Leipzig are now within touching distance of the Champions League final, but neutral support could be thin on the ground.

Hazard stunner gives revived Real Madrid win over Huesca

Updated 01 November 2020

Hazard stunner gives revived Real Madrid win over Huesca

  • Belgian forward ends goal drought as he thrills fans with brilliant first-half strike

MADRID: Eden Hazard scored his first goal for Real Madrid in over a year and his team appeared to turn a corner as they beat newly promoted Huesca 4-1 in La Liga on Saturday.
Hazard has had a terrible time with injuries since joining Madrid for €100 million ($113 million) from Chelsea in 2019 but the Belgian will hope his stunning strike from distance at the Alfredo di Stefano can kick-start his career in Spain.

Karim Benzema and Fede Valverde made the win secure before Huesca scored through David Ferreiro, only for Benzema to add his second and Madrid’s fourth in injury-time.

Zinedine Zidane’s side jump above Real Sociedad to the top of the table to cap an encouraging week, which began with a Clasico win over Barcelona at Camp Nou and finishes with them moving nine points clear of the Catalans, who were playing away at Alaves on Saturday.

In between, Madrid came too close for comfort to another damaging defeat in the Champions League but two late goals salvaged a draw at Borussia Monchengladbach that in the end felt like a win.

Huesca, who are yet to win this season, might feel the scoreline was harsh after they squandered early chances.

Madrid will hope the dip that put Zidane under pressure earlier this month is over.

Zidane will have been particularly delighted with Hazard, whose goal was his first for Madrid since he scored against Granada in October last year, and his second overall in La Liga.

Ankle surgery kept Hazard out for the majority of last season and he was not fit for the start of this one, with Madrid only describing his latest setback as a “muscle injury.”

But he made his first appearance off the bench in the Champions League in midweek and against Huesca marked his first start with a brilliant goal in the first half.

Until then, Huesca had been the better team but Hazard’s strike turned the contest in the 40th minute, when he received the ball on the half-turn and swerved a superb shot into the corner from 30 yards out.

Benzema made it two, chesting down Lucas Vazquez’s cross at the back post and driving in, before Valverde struck a sweet half-volley into the corner.

Ferreiro gave Huesca brief hope with 16 minutes left but Madrid were never overly troubled and Benzema rounded off the win in injury-time, converting a smart header back from Rodrygo.