La Liga fever pitch, Bayern on brink and French derby — what to watch in Europe

Barcelona’s Lionel Messi and teammates during training ahead of their crucial La Liga match against frontrunners Atletico Madrid on Saturday. Reuters
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Updated 08 May 2021

La Liga fever pitch, Bayern on brink and French derby — what to watch in Europe

  • Protagonists Barcelona, Atletico seek momentum needed to go on and claim title

PARIS: Barcelona host Atletico Madrid while Real Madrid face Sevilla as La Liga’s title race enters the final straight; Bayern Munich can secure a ninth consecutive Bundesliga crown while Ligue 1 leaders Lille should expect no favors from northern rivals and European hopefuls Lens.

Here’s some of the standout action in Europe this weekend:

Barcelona vs.Atletico Madrid, Saturday 1415 GMT

Atletico may have the two-point cushion at the top in Spain, but Diego Simeone’s side have been limping towards the finish line in their bid to break up the Barcelona-Real Madrid duopoly.

Atletico’s lead was spared only by a missed penalty at the end of a 1-0 win over Elche, coming days after Barcelona missed a chance to dislodge them following a shock home loss to Granada.

While it might not be a winner-takes-all clash like the 2014 showdown at Camp Nou on the final day of the season, when a 1-1 draw handed Atletico the trophy, victory could give either club the momentum needed to go on and claim the title.

Real Madrid vs. Sevilla, Sunday 1900 GMT

Madrid’s shortcomings were laid bare in a subdued Champions League semifinal defeat at Chelsea, signaling the end for an ageing team clearly in need of rejuvenation.

Images of Eden Hazard joking with former teammates have, predictably, irked Madrid fans. An anonymous display at Stamford Bridge was simply another forgettable chapter in the Belgian’s miserable spell with the Spanish giants.

All is not lost though for Zinedine Zidane’s old guard, as the reigning Spanish champions could still retain their domestic crown. But they have the toughest run-in, starting with the visit of a Sevilla side desperate to keep their flickering title hopes alive.

Bayern Munich vs. Borussia Moenchengladbach, Saturday 1630 GMT

Julian Nagelsmann will take over at Bayern next season, but the job isn’t quite finished yet for outgoing coach Hansi Flick in Bavaria.

The summer promises to be one of sweeping changes for Bayern, with Jerome Boateng and David Alaba both out of contract in the summer and long-serving midfielder Javi Martinez departing the Allianz Arena as well.

Before then, however, Bayern will look to seal a ninth successive German title with victory at home to Borussia Moenchengladbach.

They could even be crowned before kicking off if RB Leipzig lose at Borussia Dortmund, in a dress rehearsal for the German Cup final on May 13.

Lens vs. Lille, Friday 1900 GMT

Lille are three wins from a first French title since 2011, and fourth overall. Of their three remaining games, the clash against neighboring Lens appears the most testing.

“It’s much important than just a regular derby for us. Lens have ambitions but so do we. We must not put pressure on ourselves, and take the three games left one after another,” said Lille’s Turkish striker Burak Yilmaz, hardened by the experience of numerous Istanbul derbies.

Lens are out for revenge after a 4-0 humbling in the reverse fixture as they try to stay ahead of the contenders for the final European place.

“We can’t say our goals have been met because we want to reach higher,” said Gael Kakuta, Lens’ top scorer with 11 goals this term. “And if we can rob Lille of the title, that would be good too!”

Juventus vs. AC Milan, Sunday 1845 GMT

Juventus, with their nine-year reign ended, and AC Milan, whose title pursuit fizzled out following a considerable downturn in 2021, find themselves fighting to secure a place in the Champions League.

Both clubs are level on 69 points with second-placed Atalanta, with Napoli on 67 and Lazio, who have a game in hand, on 64 going into the last four rounds.

Former Milan and Juventus coach Fabio Capello believes a loss for either side in Turin would see them miss out on Europe’s top club competition.

“I think the psychological repercussions of a defeat would be very heavy,” he told Corriere della Sera.

Al-Hilal send out timely reminder that they remain Saudi Arabia’s premier club on the big stage

Updated 17 sec ago

Al-Hilal send out timely reminder that they remain Saudi Arabia’s premier club on the big stage

  • Cristiano Ronaldo and Al-Nassr may have stolen the spotlight in recent weeks, but the reigning Asian champions’ FIFA Club World Cup semifinal spot reinforces an unmatched legacy on the pitch

LONDON: Al-Hilal are into the FIFA Club World Cup semifinals for the third time in four years.

Yes, Al-Hilal. Remember them? Four-time Asian champions and three-time defending Saudi Pro League champions. That Al-Hilal. Ring a bell?

For those just tuning their antennae to Saudi football for the first time over the past few months, there was only one club dominating the headlines, and it was not the reigning AFC Champions League winners.

It was, of course, Al-Nassr after their headline-grabbing signing of Cristiano Ronaldo, which catapulted them into the international consciousness like no club from Saudi Arabia had ever achieved. Not even Al-Hilal.

To highlight just how much the yellow half of Riyadh was dominating the narrative, one UK-based pundit even claimed Al-Nassr were the most successful Saudi side in recent years — despite Al-Hilal winning five of the past six Saudi Pro League titles.

Al-Hilal? They were cast as a mere footnote to the Al-Nassr-Ronaldo storyline. The Ronaldo-shaped shadow cast not just over Al-Hilal but every other Saudi club was hard to escape.

All that global attention on their Riyadh rivals, while they were still serving a transfer ban and unable to counter the signing of Ronaldo with a move of their own, would have stung a club that has made the AFC Champions League final in three of the past four seasons — something Al-Nassr has not yet managed to achieve even once.

While the world has been busy occupying itself with every exploit of Al-Nassr and Ronaldo — and clips of his first goal for his new club were shown in all corners of the globe over the past few days — Al-Hilal have served a timely reminder that, not only do they still exist, but that they do their best talking on the pitch and have no intention of ceding anything to their crosstown rivals.

Their dramatic win over Wydad Casablanca at the Club World Cup in Rabat on Saturday was a huge statement from Ramon Diaz’s side: “Don’t forget about us.”

The win was all the more impressive given that they are still missing a number of their best players through injuries sustained in Saudi Arabia’s stunning win over Argentina in Qatar just over two months ago.

Talisman and midfield maestro Salman Al-Faraj and energetic full-back Yasser Al-Shahrani both remain sidelined and were absent from the team that silenced the parochial Wydad fans inside the Prince Moulay Abdellah Stadium.

But while the veteran duo were absent, there were a host of other World Cup stars on show, including Saud Abdulhamid, Ali Al-Bulayhi, Mohammed Kanno and star man Salem Al-Dawsari.

The only sour note in an otherwise historic win was the red card for Kanno, whose absence from midfield against Brazil’s Flamengo on Tuesday could be sorely felt, especially with Al-Faraj already missing.

Al-Hilal’s passage to the semifinals continues a golden period for Saudi football, with the national team’s heroics in Qatar fresh in the memory and Ronaldo’s signing generating international attention for the domestic league the likes of which has never been seen before.

But for a club like Al-Hilal, playing at the pinnacle of the club game is not just where they want to be, it is where they expect to be. On both previous occasions they have played at the Club World Cup, they have also advanced to the semifinals; losing to Flamengo in 2019 before coming up short against Chelsea in the 2021 edition.

They will be hoping it is third time lucky in Morocco, but standing in their way again will be Flamengo.

Such is the belief and mindset of the club that, when players like Odion Ighalo and Al-Dawsari mention they are not just playing to make up the numbers but have ambitions of winning the Club World Cup, it is not just hubris.

Do not rule them out from becoming just the third Asian club to make the final of the Club World Cup because Al-Hilal does not just expect success, it demands it. The name carries an aura right around the continent. They are the top dogs and, more importantly, they know it. Not just that, they revel in it; being the center of attention, the envy of all others, is what they crave most.

“The club has to be at the top, always, to meet our fans’ hopes, to win the most trophies,” club legend Nawaf Al-Temyat, who retired in 2008, told Arab News in 2021.

“Any player who can’t play under pressure won’t be a superstar. Playing under pressure is a key factor to show the real personality of the player. This is what the young players must learn,” he added.

One player who mastered playing under pressure is arguably the club’s greatest player, Sami Al-Jaber. During a glittering career that spanned almost 20 years, he played and won everything for Al-Hilal.

“Al-Hilal is not just a football club, Al-Hilal is a legacy, it’s a very big legacy in Saudi Arabia and the region,” he told Arab News back in 2017.

“(It’s) just like my family, just like home and my family. It’s a club that has a legacy and it’s more than just a football club. You can see the history, and in Asia I would say it’s No. 1.

“I can’t say any more than the club is more than a football club, it’s a community.”

While the Club World Cup may not generate the same emotion as its international counterpart, it still comes with significant international exposure and Al-Hilal will bask in taking the spotlight away from Al-Nassr, even if just momentarily.

How could anyone forget Al-Hilal?

Kane’s record goal earns Tottenham 1-0 win over Man City

Updated 6 min 9 sec ago

Kane’s record goal earns Tottenham 1-0 win over Man City

  • The 29-year-old is now also just the third player to net 200 Premier League goals, after Alan Shearer (260) and Wayne Rooney (208)

LONDON: Harry Kane’s record-breaking goal pushed Tottenham to a 1-0 win over Manchester City on Sunday to further dent the champions’ hopes of retaining the Premier League title.
Kane slotted home after 15 minutes and moved past the late Jimmy Greaves as Spurs’ all-time leading scorer on 267 goals.
It proved enough to keep up Tottenham’s excellent recent home record against City, which could have moved two points behind first-place Arsenal following its defeat at Everton on Saturday.
Fifth-place Spurs instead claimed a third victory from their last four matches against Pep Guardiola’s team — despite Cristian Romero’s late sending-off for a second yellow card — to aid the recovery of absent manager Antonio Conte, who is still in Italy after having his gallbladder removed on Wednesday.
Despite Conte recovering from surgery, he was involved in team selection and deadline-day signing Pedro Porro was only on the bench for Spurs with City surprisingly naming Kevin De Bruyne among the substitutes, too.
The visitors had seen Arsenal drop points a day earlier and signaled their intentions with Riyad Mahrez and Julian Alvarez having shots blocked in the opening exchanges.
City was dominating possession but soon felt the familiar feeling of trailing to Tottenham — and it proved a record-breaking goal.
Eric Dier urged his teammates to press higher and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg stole in ahead of Rico Lewis outside the away penalty area to intercept Rodri’s pass and slip the ball into the path of Kane, who scuffed an effort beyond goalkeeper Ederson and into the corner.
The screens inside the stadium acknowledged Kane’s achievement before the striker waved to his family in the West Stand.
Bookings followed with Rodrigo Bentancur and Romero cautioned in quick succession, the latter for clattering into the ineffective Erling Haaland.
Tottenham assistant coach Cristian Stellini, filling in for Conte, was attempting to match the animated presence of his fellow Italian on the touchline but saw his team enjoy a slice of luck before the break.
After Rodri and Jack Grealish failed to find the net with curled efforts late in the half, Mahrez sent a stinging half-volley crashing against the crossbar from 12 yards (meters) that bounced away to safety to ensure Spurs were ahead at the break for the first time at home since Oct. 12.
Ben Davies headed wide for the hosts at the start of the second period before Guardiola turned to De Bruyne with 57 minutes played.
De Bruyne’s first real involvement saw his short free kick find Alvarez, who saw a low shot diverted over by Dier’s thigh.
It sparked a frantic spell with Romero blocking Manuel Akanji’s shot and, seconds later, Ivan Perisic’s cross agonizingly evaded the Argentina defender and Kane at the back post.
Kane was in the thick of the action minutes later, sending one effort wide before Ederson denied him after the striker surged between Kyle Walker and Akanji.
More drama was to follow with referee Andrew Madley showing Romero a second yellow card for a foul on Grealish before five minutes of stoppage time was added on.
Despite plenty of City possession, Tottenham held firm to move a point off the top four and do rivals Arsenal a big favor in the title race.


Quetta rejoices as cricket returns to city after 26 long years

Updated 05 February 2023

Quetta rejoices as cricket returns to city after 26 long years

  • Quetta Gladiators defeat Peshawar Zalmi at home venue in last-ball exhibition match
  • Quetta last saw cricket when Pakistan beat Zimbabwe in 1997by three wickets

QUETTA: Thousands of fans cheered at the Nawab Akbar Bugti Cricket Stadium on Sunday, as Peshawar Zalmi locked horns with the Quetta Gladiators in an exhibition match in the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta, marking the return of cricket to the city after 26 years. 

Amid tight security measures, thousands of cricket lovers, including women and children from across Pakistan's southwestern Balochistan province, thronged the stadium in the provincial capital of Quetta to catch the action live as the Gladiators faced Zalmi. 

Cricket has largely stayed away from Quetta owing to security fears as the city as the impoverished province has seen plenty of attacks and sectarian violence by separatist groups and militants. The last time the city saw a cricket match was in the same stadium 26 years ago, when Pakistan beat Zimbabwe in an ODI by three wickets on October 30, 1996.

Peshawar Zalmi fans practice ahead of their match with Quetta Gladiators at the Nawab Akbar Bugti Cricket Stadium in Quetta on February 5, 2023. (AN photo by Saadullah Akhter)

Spectators were particularly thrilled to see Zalmi skipper Babar Azam and Gladiators' captain Sarfaraz Ahmed lead the two teams onto the ground. Excited fans could hardly keep from screaming throughout the four-hour match.

Other cricket stars who performed in front of a live audience were Shahid Afridi, Wahab Riaz, Umar Akmal, Naseem Shah, Mohammad Hasnain, Iftikhar Ahmed, and others. 

Muhammad Saddam, 25, said he traveled to Quetta from Dalbandin, a remote town near the Pakistan-Iran border, to catch a glimpse of the stars. Saddam said he waited for over two hours outside the stadium in a long line of spectators to witness the action. 

“We are very happy that our national players have come to play the PSL exhibition match in Quetta,” he told Arab News.

Jahangir Khan, a cricket lover from Pakistan's northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, said he traveled to Quetta to support Peshawar Zalmi and watch Afridi, a former Pakistan captain, play.

“I came to Quetta on January 27 to support my team here. I didn’t receive the ticket [initially] but fortunately, got one yesterday for the exhibition match”, he enthused.

The provincial sports department also arranged food stalls outside the stadium, for the public to savor snacks while they enjoyed the game. One of the stalls sold the traditional Balochi Sajji as the action continued.

Azam and Afridi, both superstars in their own right, couldn't stand till the end to see their team defeat the Gladiators on their home turf. With four runs needed at the last ball after a special half-century from Muhammad Haris (53 off 35), the crowd sighed with relief as Quetta pulled off a three-run victory.

Chief Minister of Pakistan's Balochistan province Abdul Quddus Bizenjo, left, handing over the trophy to Quetta Gladiators' captain Sarfaraz Ahmed after they defeated Peshawar Zalmi in an exhibition match in Quetta on February 5, 2023. (Photo courtesy: @TeamQuetta/Twitter)

Chief Minister of Balochistan Mir Abdul Qudus Bizenjo appreciated both franchises and the chair of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) managing committee, Najam Sethi, for bringing the action to the cricket-starved city.

Bizenjo praised security forces during the prize distribution ceremony for maintaining law and order during the match. He said the “successful conclusion of Pakistan’s Super League (PSL)’s exhibition match in Quetta was a loud and clear message for our enemies”.

“This event has proven that peace has been restored in Balochistan and people will not tolerate terrorists [that are] spoiling law and order in the province,” he said.

Al-Ahly’s late goal ends Seattle debut 1-0 in Club World Cup

Updated 04 February 2023

Al-Ahly’s late goal ends Seattle debut 1-0 in Club World Cup

  • Afsha scored after coming on as a substitute in the 63rd
  • He lifted Al-Ahly into the semifinals for the third straight year

TANGIER, Morocco: Mohammed Afsha scored on a deflected shot in the 88th minute and sent Al-Ahly into the Club World Cup semifinals by beating the Seattle Sounders 1-0 on Saturday.
Afsha scored after coming on as a substitute in the 63rd. He lifted Al-Ahly into the semifinals for the third straight year, and brought an abrupt end to the first appearance by a team from the United States in the competition.
His initial shot from outside the penalty area hit the crossbar. Seattle were unable to clear the danger and Afsha’s second attempt deflected off defender Alex Roldan and bounded past goalkeeper Stefan Frei.
It was the only shot on target by the Egyptian club as both sides played a heavily defensive game where chances at goal were limited.
Al-Ahly will face Real Madrid in the semifinals next Wednesday in Rabat. Al-Ahly have not lost a match in any competition since Aug. 27 in the Egyptian Premier League.
Al-Ahly have finished third in each of the past two Club World Cups but have never made the final.
Seattle were the first club from Major League Soccer to take part in the Club World Cup after winning the CONCACAF Champions League last May. The Sounders carried hopes of advancing through their first match and playing at least three matches at the event.
But while Seattle were excellent defensively, they lacked quality chances on attack. Seattle finished with just one shot on goal, a speculative attempt from defensive midfielder Josh Atencio early in the second half.
“I thought we were good. I thought we were evenly matched. A couple of chances. But the deflection on the goal, it’s unfortunate,” Seattle coach Brian Schmetzer said.
Seattle were playing their first competitive match in 3 ½ months while the rest of MLS was going through preseason preparations. The Sounders’ previous match was last October and the team gathered for MLS preseason camp in early January.
“They put everything into the game. They put everything into preseason,” Schmetzer said.


Klopp at a loss to explain ‘unacceptable’ Liverpool form

Updated 04 February 2023

Klopp at a loss to explain ‘unacceptable’ Liverpool form

  • The Reds have taken just one point from their last four Premier League games to all
  • "Conceding early goals is not unfamiliar to us but the way we conceded them today was not acceptable," said Klopp

WOLVERHAMPTON, United Kingdom: Jurgen Klopp branded the goals Liverpool conceded in a 3-0 defeat to Wolves as “horrible” with the German admitting to being at a loss to explain his side’s disastrous form.
The Reds have taken just one point from their last four Premier League games to all but end any hope of catching the top four for a place in next season’s Champions League.
Klopp’s men trailed 2-0 inside 12 minutes at Molineux as Joel Matip’s own goal and Craig Dawson’s strike on his debut put Wolves on course to climb out of the relegation zone.
Ruben Neves added a third 19 minutes from time after Liverpool had dominated the early stages of the second half without reward.
“Conceding early goals is not unfamiliar to us but the way we conceded them today was not acceptable,” said Klopp.
“When you see the whole game, throughout the game in moments we played an outstanding game without scoring and a good away game without scoring.
“The third goal I don’t count because it was the first time they passed the halfway line in the second half. The other two goals, going into a game with all the things we said during the week and before the game, then this is the start, is horrible.”
Already out of both domestic cups, Liverpool sit 10th in the Premier League.
The Champions League appears to be their last chance of salvaging their season with a last 16 tie against Real Madrid to come later this month in a repeat of last season’s final.
Klopp’s side came close to winning an unprecedented quadruple of trophies last season.
But he appears incapable of stopping the rot as for the third consecutive away league game, Liverpool conceded three times.
“We better change it. That’s true, 100 percent. I have no words for it really, I’m sorry,” he added.
“You do yourself no favors in these moments, giving easy balls away.
“We were passive in the (first) two goals, everything we wanted to do was be compact and active but we were compact and passive. I can’t explain it. I think why would you do that? But they did it anyway.”