Grim future: Loss to Bayern exposes Barcelona’s new reality

Bayern Munich’s German forward Thomas Mueller celebrates his goal with teammate midfielder Leroy Sane during the UEFA Champions League first round group E match against Barcelona at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona. (AFP)
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Updated 15 September 2021

Grim future: Loss to Bayern exposes Barcelona’s new reality

  • Barcelona couldn’t get a single shot on goal the entire match and saw Bayern constantly threaten the other way
  • “Poor Barça,” read a front-page headline from sports daily Marca on Wednesday and “The sad reality,” said the daily Sport

MADRID : Barcelona needs to brace for some tough times ahead while adjusting to the post-Lionel Messi era.
That message was clear after the 3-0 loss at home to Bayern Munich in the Champions League on Tuesday, the team’s first defeat since Messi left amid the club’s financial struggles.
“It is what it is, we are what we are now,” veteran Barcelona captain Gerard Piqué said after the Catalan club was outplayed from the start at the Camp Nou. “It’s a complicated season.”
Looking nothing like the team that used to thrive when Messi was on the field, Barcelona couldn’t get a single shot on goal the entire match and saw Bayern constantly threaten the other way.
“We would like to have competed better, but this is what we have right now,” Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman said. “I can’t complain about our attitude, we tried our best. But there is a difference in talent and a difference between a team that has played a long time together and our team with lots of young players. It is difficult to accept, but we have to keep working.”
The loss came more than a year after the embarrassing 8-2 debacle against Bayern in the quarterfinals of the Champions League two seasons ago, a defeat that began exposing Barcelona’s struggles on and off the field.
“Poor Barça,” read a front-page headline from sports daily Marca on Wednesday.
“The sad reality,” said the daily Sport.
Koeman, who was hired shortly after the rout against Bayern, said it will take time for Barcelona to return to a top level.
“Our young players have a lot of potential, in two or three years they will be playing much better,” Koeman said. “But right now, it is what it is.”
Koeman also lost Antoine Griezmann in the transfer window last month, when the team’s main addition was Netherlands forward Memphis Depay. The club added veteran Sergio Aguero but he is among the several players recovering from injury, along with youngsters Ousmane Dembélé, Sergiño Dest and Ansu Fati. Koeman used 18-year-old Yusuf Demir and 17-year-old Gavi on Tuesday. Pedri González, also 18, was a starter.
“I look at the positive fact that we had some 18-year-old players coming into the match,” Piqué said. “It’s our reality now.”
Barcelona will have to rely a lot on its youngsters as it tries to recover from dire financial conditions caused by the pandemic and poor management. The Catalan club wasn’t able to hand Messi a new contract and saw him leave for free to Paris Saint-Germain, one of the main contenders for the Champions League title this season.
President Joan Laporta asked fans to keep supporting Barcelona and said he needs time to get the club back on track.
“I am upset and disappointed as all of you are,” he said in a video message. “I need to tell you that what is happening is one of the situations that we expected. And I ask for your patience, and that you continue supporting our team. I also ask for your trust in us, the people who are managing the club. We need your trust and time, and do not doubt that we will solve this situation.”
There were signs Barcelona fans weren’t too optimistic when they failed to buy all tickets available for Tuesday’s match, something that rarely happened when Messi was still around, especially in a big Champions League match.
Piqué said it was “hurtful” to hear jeers from the Camp Nou crowd for Sergi Roberto, who was singled out for his poor performance while playing improvised on the right flank.
To make things worse, Pedri and Jordi Alba sustained muscle injuries during the match and are expected to be sidelined for a while.
Piqué said the next few weeks will be key for Barcelona, a five-time champion in Europe’s top competition.
“We need to win our next matches in the Champions League and stay among the leaders in the Spanish league,” Piqué said. “Right now we are not considered favorites but we will see what happens at the end of the season. Chelsea also wasn’t the favorite to win the Champions League last season.”
Barcelona’s next match in Group E will be at Benfica later this month. Benfica opened with a 1-1 draw at Dynamo Kyiv on Tuesday.


FIFA intensifies push to stage men’s World Cup every 2 years

Updated 16 September 2021

FIFA intensifies push to stage men’s World Cup every 2 years

  • In its latest survey, FIFA players all agreed it was a good idea to double the number of men’s World Cups in each four-year period
  • Staging more tournaments would increase opportunities and enthusiasm in most of the 211 member countries, says FIFA chief

GENEVA: FIFA intensified its push for hosting the men’s World Cup every two years on Thursday by garnering support from soccer fans around the world to help combat resistance from Europe and South America.
The latest public relations tactic came in the form of an online survey commissioned by FIFA. The Associated Press does not routinely report the claims of opinion polls conducted over the Internet.
FIFA claimed its findings from more than 15,000 respondents aged at least 18 identified in 23 countries showed “considerable differences between the so-called traditional markets and the developing football markets” and younger fans more enthusiastic than older ones.
A follow-up survey involving 100,000 people in more than 100 countries is now being done, FIFA said.
European soccer body UEFA and South American counterpart CONMEBOL oppose FIFA’s plan and have threatened to boycott additional World Cups. Europe and South America combine for 65 of the 211 FIFA members — fewer than the one-third total likely needed to block any proposal.
The governing bodies of the six continental soccer federations all stage their own championships, with Europe hosting its tournament every four years halfway between the World Cups. Adding an extra World Cup in every four-year cycle would likely cut into the European event’s revenue stream.
The women already have two major world tournaments in every four-year cycle because the top teams and best players compete at the Olympics as well as the Women’s World Cup.
FIFA’s latest survey follows one week after it hosted about 80 former international players, including several World Cup winners, for a two-day meeting in Qatar — the 2022 World Cup host country.
The players reported they all agreed it was a good idea to double the number of men’s World Cups in each four-year period.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino believes staging more tournaments would increase opportunities and enthusiasm in most of the 211 member countries, many of which never qualify to play at the World Cup.
Expanding the World Cup from 32 teams to 48 starting at the 2026 tournament in North America was one of the biggest early decisions of Infantino’s presidency, which began in 2016. FIFA also wants to distribute extra World Cup revenue to improve talent development and help national teams globally close the gap on Europe.
European teams have won the past four World Cups and filled 13 of the 16 semifinal slots. The other three semifinalists from 2006-18 were from South America.
The UEFA-backed Football Supporters Europe group also opposed the biennial World Cup plan, claiming it would distort the balance between domestic and international soccer, and club and national teams.
Global players’ union FIFPRO has also warned of burnout in the increasingly congested soccer schedule.


PSG coach Pochettino must work on weaknesses as stars flop

Updated 16 September 2021

PSG coach Pochettino must work on weaknesses as stars flop

  • “Fantomatique” — or "Ghost-like — was the headline in French sports daily L’Equipe on Thursday
  • PSG's performance highlighted that the team still has glaring shortcomings despite being able to field three of the world's best forwards

PARIS: Paris Saint-Germain was able to start its superstar attacking trio of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe for the first time on Wednesday in the Champions League.
Instead of fireworks, though, they only produced a big thud as PSG drew 1-1 draw against modest Belgian side Club Brugge.
“Fantomatique” — or “Ghost-like — was the headline in French sports daily L’Equipe on Thursday.
While 2020 champion Bayern Munich and last season’s runner-up Manchester City won and scored freely, PSG’s performance highlighted that the team still has glaring shortcomings despite being able to field three of the world’s best forward.
The fact that Keylor Navas was the busier goalkeeper on the night — and PSG’s best player — should be of concern to coach Mauricio Pochettino ahead of playing much tougher teams in the competition.
“We’ve got a magnificent squad, but we need to find balance,” Pochettino said.
But given PSG’s remarkable summer recruitment drive, Pochettino knows he has little room for error in a season where the Qatari-backed club has been touted by many observers as the favorite to win the Champions League.
Behind the veneer of Messi’s arrival, the reality is that the midfield and defense still look very vulnerable, and allowed a modest side like Brugge to muster 16 shots at goal.
That is alarming considering that City is PSG’s next opponent in the group stage. Pep Guardiola’s side visits Parc des Princes on Sept. 28, giving Pochettino little time to make his team more solid.
PSG has a home game against Lyon in the French league on Sunday followed by a midweek trip to Metz before hosting Montpellier.
Pochettino also has a thorny goalkeeping dilemma to resolve — whether to stick with Navas or start Italy’s European Championship star Gianluigi Donnarumma.
Last season, Navas rescued PSG with outstanding performances against Barcelona and Bayern in the knockout stages before PSG’s limitations were exposed by City in the semifinals.
PSG would likely have lost against Brugge without Navas who, through no fault of his own, now finds himself fighting for the No. 1 jersey. Pochettino sounded evasive when asked after the Brugge game if Donnarumma would play against Lyon.
“Anything’s possible,” Pochettino said. “Decisions will be made game after game with regards to the performances.”
But rotation could also work against Pochettino, for he needs a settled goalie to take command of a brittle defense that was too easily exposed by Brugge.
Even the signing of Netherlands midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum and Italian league champion Achraf Hakimi at right back did little to stop the waves of Brugge attacks.
Wijnaldum lost a surprising number of tackles and was not helped by Leandro Paredes, who failed to control a simple pass early on as it rolled under his foot and led to a yellow card as he then fouled a Brugge player breaking through.
Wijnaldum and Paredes were both replaced by Pochettino, whose midfield clearly struggles when Marco Verratti is absent. The Italy star’s ball retention and distribution is superior and takes pressure off his teammates.
With Messi and Neymar up front, PSG also has a forward line that isn’t known for tracking back to defend, which can lead to the midfield getting overrun and the defense being exposed as a result.
Central defenders Marquinhos and Presnel Kimpembe looked exhausted at the end on Wednesday, as they often did last season when PSG lost eight games and the league title to Lille.
Messi’s positioning on the right of the three-man attack offers little protection to the midfield or to Hakimi, who by nature is a very attacking player and leaves space behind him where the opposition is free to counter.


Boateng appeals assault verdict, 1.8 million euros fine

Updated 16 September 2021

Boateng appeals assault verdict, 1.8 million euros fine

  • A Munich regional court’s spokesperson said Boateng's lawyer and state prosecutor have contested the verdict
  • Boateng looked last week visibly shocked after being found guilty of assaulting and insulting his former

BERLIN: Germany’s 2014 World Cup winner Jerome Boateng has filed an appeal against his conviction for assault and 1.8 million euros ($2 million) fine, a court official in Munich confirmed Thursday.
A spokesperson for Munich regional court told AFP subsidiary SID that both Boateng’s lawyer and the state prosecutor have contested the verdict.
A week ago, Boateng looked visibly shocked after being found guilty of assaulting and insulting his former partner, the mother of his twin daughters, during a Caribbean holiday in 2018.
The prosecutor had asked the court to give Boateng a suspended 18-month prison sentence and a fine of 1.5 million euros, but the former Bayern Munich defender avoided a custodial sentence when the judge gave his verdict last Thursday.
The 33-year-old Boateng, who left Bayern Munich to sign for French club Lyon at the start of the month and made his debut off the bench last Sunday, denied the allegations.


Haaland scores as Dortmund beats Beşiktaş 2-1 away in opener

Updated 15 September 2021

Haaland scores as Dortmund beats Beşiktaş 2-1 away in opener

  • Jude Bellingham was outstanding as he scored the opener and set up Haaland for the Norwegian’s 9th goal in 6 games across all competitions
  • Haaland scored 10 in eight Champions League games for Dortmund last season

ISTANBUL: Erling Haaland scored again to help Borussia Dortmund to a 2-1 win at Turkish champion Beşiktaş in their Champions League opening game on Wednesday.
The 18-year-old Jude Bellingham was outstanding as he scored the opener and set up Haaland for the Norwegian’s ninth goal in six games across all competitions this season. Haaland scored 10 in eight Champions League games for Dortmund last season.
Beşiktaş made the much better start, roared on by vocal supporters, while the visitors seemed to struggle with the soft playing surface.
Former Dortmund forward Michy Batshuayi almost scored in the sixth minute when he drew a good save from Gregor Kobel.
It took 17 minutes before the visitors first showed a threatening sign, but the move between Marco Reus, Julian Brandt and Haaland lacked precision and broke down.
Bellingham scored three minutes later when he took Thomas Meunier’s cross on his chest before firing the ball through goalkeeper Ersin Destanoğlu’s legs.
From then on it was all Dortmund, though the visitors had to wait before Bellingham set up Haaland for the second just before the break. The England midfielder moved past a defender by switching the ball from his right foot to his left before he picked out Haaland for an easy finish.
Destanoğlu stopped a central shot from Bellingham early in the second half, before Kobel did well to deny Batshuayi again at the other end.
Dortmund coach Marco Rose made three substitutions at once with 20 minutes remaining, with Bellingham among those to go off, before Destanoğlu saved another good chance from Haaland.
Ansgar Knauff came on for Haaland with five minutes of normal time remaining and grazed the crossbar in injury time.
Francisco Montero scored Beşiktaş’ consolation goal in the fourth minute of injury time with a header off Miralem Pjanic’s free kick.


Pakistan take fresh guard for first home New Zealand series in 18 years

Updated 16 September 2021

Pakistan take fresh guard for first home New Zealand series in 18 years

  • Conditions in Pakistan will be a new challenge for New Zealand, who last toured Pakistan 18 years ago 
  • Heavy security surrounds the first of three one-day internationals in Rawalpindi on Friday

RAWALPINDI: Pakistan’s new backroom team are seeking an immediate impact when their one-day international team face a largely second-string New Zealand in a home series for the first time since 2003 this week. 
International cricket in Pakistan was suspended in the aftermath of terror attacks on the Sri Lanka side in 2009 and heavy security surrounds the first of three one-day internationals in Rawalpindi on Friday.
Former captain Ramiz Raja has vowed to transform the sixth-ranked ODI team after being appointed chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board on Monday after a shake-up in the team’s backroom staff.
His elevation came just a week after head coach Misbah-ul-Haq and bowling coach Waqar Younis stepped down for personal reasons.
Former off-spinner Saqlain Mushtaq replaced Misbah while former all-rounder Abdul Razzaq was appointed his assistant.
Raja also announced that Australian great Matthew Hayden and South African Vernon Philander have been recruited as batting and bowling coaching consultants ahead of the Twenty20 World Cup next month.
Top-ranked New Zealand are without many of their top players — who are instead heading to the UAE for the Indian Premier League — including captain and leading batsman Kane Williamson, and pace bowling trio Trent Boult, Tim Southee and Kyle Jamieson.
But Pakistan skipper Babar Azam is not taking his opponents lightly, despite the raft of missing star names.
“It would have been nicer had their best team come,” said Babar, who scored a brilliant hundred in the last ODI between the two teams in the 2019 World Cup at Edgbaston.
“But whatever the composition of their team we will play to our best and win the series.”

New Zealand have won 12 of their last 15 ODIs against Pakistan, but their inexperienced side has just suffered a 3-2 Twenty20 series defeat in Bangladesh under stand-in skipper Tom Latham.
Conditions in Pakistan will be a new challenge for New Zealand, who last toured Pakistan 18 years ago. 
Pakistan did host series against the Black Caps in the UAE in 2009, 2014 and 2018 but improved security has gradually seen the country over the past six years be able to welcome international teams to their country again. 
“It’s obviously very pleasing for Pakistan as a nation to have international cricket back,” said Latham. 
“They’ve had a couple of series in recent times and obviously this is another one. 
“So, for us, it’s just about trying to adapt to conditions like we did in Bangladesh and see what we get. So, another opportunity for the group and they’re all looking forward to it.” 
Apart from the heavy security presence in Rawalpindi, teams are also having to endure life inside a bio-secure bubble because of the coronavirus pandemic. 
Crowds of fully vaccinated spectators up to 25 percent capacity will be allowed in Rawalpindi for the ODIs and in Lahore, where five Twenty20 internationals will be played. 
The series will not count toward the ICC World Cup Super League, which will decide qualification for the 2023 50-over World Cup, because there is no umpire decision review system in operation. 
The second and third ODIs will be played in Rawalpindi on Sunday and Tuesday with the five-match Twenty20 international series beginning in Lahore on Saturday, September 25.