Six of the Champions League best for City, Liverpool edge Milan thriller, PSG held by Brugge

Jack Grealish (L) scored and set up City's first goal; Mohamed Salah levelled the scores at 2-2 for Liverpool (Top, R) while Lionel Messi finally made his first start for PSG. (Reuters/AFP)
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Updated 16 September 2021
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Six of the Champions League best for City, Liverpool edge Milan thriller, PSG held by Brugge

LONDON: Jack Grealish scored a superb first Champions League goal as Manchester City survived Christopher Nkunku's hat-trick to beat RB Leipzig 6-3 in a pulsating Group A opener on Wednesday.
Grealish admits the lure of playing on the Champions League stage convinced him to leave his boyhood club Aston Villa to join City in a club record £100 million ($138 million) move in the close-season.
The England winger made the most of his first taste of the tournament's bright lights with a brilliant solo effort in the second half at the Etihad Stadium.
Grealish also set up City's first goal for Nathan Ake with a pin-point corner.
While City were snubbed by Cristiano Ronaldo when the Portugal superstar opted to join Manchester United, Pep Guardiola believes the younger Grealish is more than ample compensation and this influential display underlined why.
Nordi Mukiele's own goal had doubled City's lead before Nkunku got one back on a memorable personal evening for the French winger.
Riyad Mahrez's penalty made it 3-1 and Nkunku netted again before Grealish's moment of magic.
Nkunku's third was followed by Joao Cancelo's rocket and a red card for Leipzig's former City defender Angelino.
Gabriel Jesus rounded off the goal-spree as City celebrated Guardiola's 300th game in charge in fitting style.
There was more good news for Guardiola as Kevin De Bruyne impressed in his first game back from the ankle injury which had sidelined him since August 15.
Guardiola led City to their first Champions League final last season, but the Premier League champions were denied a maiden European Cup crown in a limp 1-0 loss against Chelsea.
Guardiola insists that defeat will serve as the "motor" driving City's challenge this term and they wasted little time seizing pole position in Group A.

SALAH STRIKE

Jordan Henderson's stunning strike ensured Liverpool came from behind to beat AC Milan once more with a pulsating 3-2 victory at Anfield to get their Champions League campaign off to a winning start.
The Reds famously came from 3-0 down to beat the Italian giants on penalties in the 2005 Champions League final in Istanbul, but should have made far easier work of disposing of Stefano Pioli's men on their return to top level European football.
Seven-time winners, Milan were playing their first Champions League match for seven years and were given a rude awakening to the step up in class but for a two-minute spell before half-time that threatened to take the game away from Liverpool.
Fikayo Tomori's early only goal was scant reward for the home side's early dominance as Mike Maignan saved Mohamed Salah's penalty.
But goals from Ante Rebic and Brahim Diaz turned the game on its head completely against the run of play.
Salah levelled the scores once more before Henderson's thunderous finish proved a deserving winner 21 minutes from time.

MISFIRING MESSI AND PSG HELD

Lionel Messi finally made his first start for Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday but the French giants had to settle for a 1-1 draw with Club Brugge in Belgium to start their Champions League campaign.
Ander Herrera gave PSG an early lead at the Jan Breydel Stadium only for Hans Vanaken to equalise for the home side, who were excellent and thoroughly deserved their point.
Messi — who had played just 24 minutes as a substitute prior to this game — is still looking for his first goal for his new club although he hit the bar in the first half and tested Brugge goalkeeper Simon Mignolet after the break before picking up a yellow card for a foul on Mats Rits.
However it was not a convincing performance from the Parisians as coach Mauricio Pochettino lined up his star attacking trio of Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe together for the first time.
Mbappe came off hurt in the second half and PSG, despite building a team with the aim of winning the Champions League for the first time, have already complicated their chances just of making it out of a difficult Group A.

LATE SHOW FROM MADRID

Inter Milan were made to pay for their profligacy as a late goal from substitute Rodrygo saw Real Madrid snatch a 1-0 win in their Champions League opener on Wednesday.
Rodrygo scored in the 89th minute with what was only Madrid's second shot on target. Inter had peppered their opponents' goal but were denied by a string of fantastic saves and some wayward finishing.
It was a first Champions League match back in front of their fans for Inter with more than 37,000 at San Siro, which is allowed to be at 50% capacity for games.
Sheriff Tiraspol lead Group D after beating Shakhtar Donetsk 2-0 on their Champions League group-stage debut earlier.

* With AFP and AP


Southgate and England team under fire after lackluster display at Euro 2024

Updated 6 sec ago
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Southgate and England team under fire after lackluster display at Euro 2024

After Thursday’s uninspiring 1-1 draw with Denmark, the coach acknowledged “we understand what that will mean for the next few days”
former England captain Gary Lineker said: “I can’t imagine anybody, who is English, that would have enjoyed England’s performance because it was lethargic, it was dour...”

GELSENKIRCHEN, Germany: Gareth Southgate said he knew it was coming. He was right.
Negativity surrounds the England team — despite leading their group after two games at Euro 2024 and likely to advance to the knockout phase.
After Thursday’s uninspiring 1-1 draw with Denmark, the coach acknowledged “we understand what that will mean for the next few days.”
Indeed, it has fueled concern among fans, English media and former players.
“We have to reflect the mood of the nation,” former England captain Gary Lineker said on his podcast, The Rest is Football. “I can’t imagine anybody, who is English, that would have enjoyed England’s performance because it was lethargic, it was dour...
“You can think of all sorts of words and expletives if you like,” he added, before using one himself.
Lineker’s political opinions have upset the UK government in the recent past — now he has delivered a brutal assessment of the England team.
His comments about England appear to have summed up the mood of many fans.
Southgate’s team were a pre-tournament favorite and beaten finalists at the last Euros.
BBC pundit Alan Shearer described the second half against Denmark as “awful.”
Southgate’s handling of a squad that includes Harry Kane, Jude Bellingham and Phil Foden has been brought into question.
“We have world class players so it’s the manager’s job to get the best out of those players,” said Shearer, a former England striker.
Southgate has transformed England’s fortunes since he was appointed in 2016 — leading the country to the semifinals of the World Cup in 2018.
England missed out on a first trophy since winning the 1966 World Cup when they lost on penalties to Italy in the final of the last Euros three years ago.
The 2022 World Cup was England’s worst performance under Southgate when they lost to defending champion France in the quarterfinals.
England were unconvincing in their opener — a 1-0 win over Serbia — and have a few days off before their final Group C game Tuesday against Slovenia.
So, what has gone wrong in Germany?
Expectation
It has been a longstanding complaint that too much is expected of England at international tournaments. Despite having the most popular league in the world — the Premier League — and some of the most successful clubs, England’s sole success on the international stage remains the World Cup it won in 1966. The last Euros was England’s best performance at any tournament since then when finishing runner-up.
Southgate
Ahead of the tournament, Southgate said this would likely be his last in charge of England if he failed to deliver a trophy.
“I’ve been here for almost eight years now and we’ve come close. So, I know that you can’t keep standing in front of the public and saying ‘please do a little more’, because at some point people will lose faith in your message,” he said before the Euros began.
No left side
The England team are looking unbalanced because they essentially have no left side. Luke Shaw is the only designated left back in the squad, but he is still not fully fit after a long-term injury, leaving Kieran Trippier — a right back — to play on the left. Foden is playing as a nominal left winger, but he prefers to drift inside. England are essentially attacking down the right or down the middle, hugely restricting their options and making the team easier to defend against.
Midfield dilemma
England’s longtime midfield issue has not gone away. In fact, it might be worse than ever. Southgate has admitted to doing an “experiment” by selecting right back Trent Alexander-Arnold as a central midfielder alongside Declan Rice. Alexander-Arnold was substituted early in both games. Quite apart from the oddness of Southgate experimenting in such a key position at a major tournament, he is also overlooking three midfielders who finished the English domestic season strongly — Kobbie Mainoo, Adam Wharton and Conor Gallagher.

Georgia get their 1st point but miss a win in 1-1 draw with Czech Republic at Euro 2024

Updated 22 June 2024
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Georgia get their 1st point but miss a win in 1-1 draw with Czech Republic at Euro 2024

  • Georgia took the lead with a Georges Mikautadze penalty given for handball by Czech defender Robin Hranec
  • The Czech team got back into the game when a header rebounded off the post and Patrik Schick scored with his chest

HAMBURG: Georgia earned their first-ever point at a major tournament in a 1-1 draw with the Czech Republic at Euro 2024 on Saturday. It was nearly a win.
Midfielder Saba Lobjanidze fired his shot narrowly over the bar with the last kick of the game as Georgia’s promising three-on-one counterattack came to nothing.
Lobjanidze — who plays for Atlanta United in the US state of Georgia — seemed to be in tears after the final whistle and was comforted by coach Willy Sagnol.
Earlier, video reviews were in the spotlight.
The Czech team dominated the opening stages and celebrated the opening goal in the 23rd minute when Adam Hlozek bundled the ball into the net at the far post off a long throw.
Replays, however, showed Hlozek’s shot had bounced back off goalkeeper Giorgi Mamardashvili and in off the Czech forward’s face and arm.
The situation was reversed when Georgia defender Guram Kashia shot straight at the goalkeeper just before halftime. Georgia’s fans rued the missed chance but celebrated when a video review found the ball had come off Czech defender Robin Hranac’s arm a couple of seconds earlier.
Georgia, the only team making their debut at Euro 2024, then took the lead with a Georges Mikautadze penalty given for handball by Czech defender Robin Hranec.
The Czech team got back into the game when a header rebounded off the post and Patrik Schick scored with his chest for his sixth career goal at the European Championships, ranking him joint-sixth on the all-time list.
Schick limped off soon after and applied ice to his calf, potentially a major concern for the Czech Republic given the Bayer Leverkusen striker’s importance to the team and his long record of previous injuries.
VAR didn’t intervene later in the game when the Czech team appealed for players being pushed by Georgian defenders in the penalty area, perhaps because the contact on both occasions was relatively slight.
The draw means that both teams almost certainly require a win in their last group games to qualify for the knockout stages.
Türkiye and Portugal are the other two teams in Group F. They play later Saturday.


Norris shrugs off McLaren fire to nab Spanish pole after ‘best ever lap’

Updated 37 min 23 sec ago
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Norris shrugs off McLaren fire to nab Spanish pole after ‘best ever lap’

  • Lewis Hamilton will start on the second row alongside his Mercedes teammate George Russell
  • Norris produced his one minute 11.383 seconds of magic after a “stressful” day when the McLaren hospitality unit caught fire before third practice

BARCELONA: Lando Norris brushed aside the drama of his McLaren team’s hospitality unit catching fire to produce “the best lap of my life” and deprive Max Verstappen of pole for the Spanish Grand Prix in qualifying on Saturday.
Lewis Hamilton will start on the second row alongside his Mercedes teammate George Russell.
Verstappen looked sure to set off for Sunday’s 10th round of the season from the front of the grid.
But in the last throw of the top-10 shoot-out Norris denied the Red Bull ace by a mere two hundredths of a second.
“Today was the perfect lap,” said Norris after only his second career pole.
“My best lap by a long way, I knew I had to do something perfect, it was probably my best lap ever.”
Norris produced his one minute 11.383 seconds of magic after a “stressful” day when the McLaren hospitality unit caught fire before third practice.
McLaren team boss Zak Brown told Sky Sports one staff member had to go to hospital but had been discharged, adding: “Happy to report everyone is fine.”
“I lost my shoes. It’s all been a bit messy,” said Norris.
“I like to listen to my music loud beforehand, but didn’t have that this time. But it’s not the end of the world. I’m not going to complain about it.”
Turning back to a vintage qualifying session, Norris, whose only other pole came in Russia in 2021, reflected: “It’s been a while since Sochi!
“Max seemed a bit stronger today, but we made some changes,” added the Briton who won his maiden Grand Prix in May in Miami.
“I’m super happy to be on pole, it’s going to be tough but we’re here to win!“
Verstappen, targeting a fourth straight world title, leads the championship by 56 points from Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, who starts Sunday’s race in fifth, with Norris seven points back in third.
“I think the whole of qualifying was better than practice for me,” said Verstappen, who won his maiden Grand Prix in Barcelona in 2016 and is on a hat-trick after wins in Catalonia in 2022 and 2023.
“It all clicked much better. The other teams are catching up, we need to bring more performance to the car.”
Ferrari-bound Hamilton was happy to be toward the front of the grid as he out-qualified his teammate Russell for only the second time this year.
“It’s good to be back up here, great to see we are progressing,” he said.
“We are slowly climbing closer to the guys in front, it’s really on a knife edge.
“I’m really happy to be in P3 with that long straight to turn one.”
Joining Leclerc on the third row will be his Ferrari teammate and home favorite Carlos Sainz.
Next came the Alpine of Pierre Gasly, the second Red Bull of Sergio Perez, who has a three-place grid penalty from Canada, Esteban Ocon in the other Alpine and Oscar Piastri in the second McLaren.
After only a tenth of a second had covered the top four in final practice earlier the stage was set for an intriguing pole battle.
Complicating matters was a sizeable drop in temperature, with morning sunshine giving way to heavy cloud cover with the wind picking up.
The action on track though was anything but cool, as drivers scrambled to eke out every last ounce of performance for a Grand Prix won from pole in 24 of 33 races run at the circuit.
After clipping the McLaren of Norris at the end of final practice Leclerc tuned up for qualifying with a trip to the FIA’s headmaster’s study as the race stewards investigated the incident.
Leclerc was arguably fortunate to escape with only a reprimand rather than a grid penalty, announced just before qualifying got under way.
Hamilton grabbed the honors in the first qualifying run, jumping from 14th to first, with Verstappen leading the Mercedes duo after the second session.
Verstappen came alive when it counted most — after a quietish time in the three practice sessions he led Q3 after the first flurry of laps.
All the drivers pitted to prepare for one last attempt at depriving the Red Bull ace from Sunday’s pole, with Norris nailing it to end a trying day on a high.
This is the 10th round of the 24-race season and the first of a triple header with Austria and Silverstone coming up over the next two weekends.


Germany face Switzerland with both teams unbeaten and eyeing top spot in Group A

Updated 22 June 2024
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Germany face Switzerland with both teams unbeaten and eyeing top spot in Group A

  • Both teams impressed in their first games as Germany routed Scotland 5-1 and Switzerland beat Hungary 3-1
  • The Euro 2024 host have already reached the round of 16 and with just a draw will finish top of Group A

FRANKFURT: Germany go for a third straight win in Group A against a Switzerland team that also are unbeaten. Germany have advanced to the knockout stage and Switzerland look sure to confirm their place Sunday.
The kickoff in Frankfurt, at the same time as group rivals Hungary and Scotland meet in Stuttgart, is 9 p.m. local (1900 GMT).
Both teams impressed in their first games as Germany routed Scotland 5-1 and Switzerland beat Hungary 3-1. Germany sustained their form by beating Hungary 2-0, while the Swiss less so in a 1-1 draw with Scotland.
The Euro 2024 host have already reached the round of 16 and with just a draw will finish top of Group A. That would send Germany to Dortmund for a knockout game next Saturday against the runner-up of Group C, which is currently Denmark.
Switzerland will top the group if they win. Thereafter that would send Germany to Berlin to play the runner-up in Group B, which likely will be Italy or Croatia.
Only freakish results could drop Switzerland to third place in the standings. The Swiss start Sunday three points ahead of Scotland, which play Hungary also at 9 p.m. local time in Stuttgart. Switzerland have a huge goal-difference advantage over Scotland.
The rain-soaked Frankfurt field have been a problem, even with a stadium roof that has been closed to protect the turf from the worst of persistent downpours this week.
Moreover, the Germans had a full squad of 26 players in training Saturday morning. Coach Julian Nagelsmann has picked the same starting lineup for both games so far.
Switzerland’s coach Murat Yakin is making changes in style and tactics. Though Kwadwo Duah scored against Hungary, he was dropped to face Scotland in favor of veteran Xherdan Shaqiri on the left side of attack, who duly delivered a standout goal.
Kylian Mbappe’s nose is not the only damaged one at Euro 2024, as Swiss defender Fabian Schär also got a bloodied and fractured nose, though he played on against Scotland and should be available.
The two team captains at Euro 2024, Granit Xhaka and Ilkay Gundogan, both played in a strange game 12 years ago. In a warmup for Euro 2012, which Germany qualified for and Switzerland didn’t, the Swiss gave their neighbors a beating in Basel. It was a rough debut for a 20-year-old German goalkeeper, Marc-André ter Stegen, then as now the backup to Manuel Neuer.
Teams that win all three games in a Euros group have an up-and-down history. At the last edition, Italy swept through their group in Rome en route to the title. At Euro 2008 a vibrant Netherlands team romped through a tough group then lost next in the quarterfinals to Russia. Germany won all three group games in 2012 before losing in the semifinals to Italy and Mario Balotelli.
“It’s often been the case that the grass there isn’t so firm and that players have had problems with it,” said Germany and Stuttgart midfielder Chris Führich on the Frankfurt playing surface.
Fellow midfielder Toni Kroos said: “We’re happy that we’re in the round of 16. Nevertheless, it will be about finishing first in the group.”


Ons Jabeur, Aryna Sabalenka join Berlin injury list

Updated 22 June 2024
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Ons Jabeur, Aryna Sabalenka join Berlin injury list

  • Injured stars lose their delayed quarterfinals in the Wimbledon warm-up event

BERLIN: Aryna Sabalenka and Ons Jabeur joined the procession of injured stars limping off the Berlin grass as they retired Saturday while losing their delayed quarterfinals in the Wimbledon warm-up event.
Second-seeded Belarusian Sabalenka retired against unseeded Russian Anna Kalinskaya trailing 5-1 in the first set, in one of the quarterfinals pushed back to Saturday morning by rain on Friday.
Eighth-seeded Jabeur had gone toe-to-toe with top seed Coco Gauff before losing a one-hour 14 minute first set tiebreak 11/9 before packing her rackets in her bag and walking off.
“It doesn’t feel like a win,” said Gauff on court. “Especially as we had such a great first set.”
“It’s not the way you want to finish a match, especially with someone who is so nice on and off the court.”
Gauff said the Tunisian had indicated she was not seriously injured.
“I know she’s going to feel better tomorrow and should be fine for Wimbledon.”
Trailing 4-1, Sabalenka called a medical timeout to have her shoulder and neck treated. She played on for one game before stopping. It was the first time the Belarusian had retired injured in a WTA tournament, said the women’s tennis body.
“I played really good. I had a good start. I’m happy to be in the semifinals,” Kalinskaya said. “I’m happy to have three matches (here), fourth one on grass. That gives me confidence.”
On Thursday, reigning Wimbledon champion Marketa Vondrousova retired with a right hip injury from her second-round match, also against Kalinskaya.
On Friday, former Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina pulled out while trailing Victoria Azarenka in the quarter-finals.
Azarenka will play Kalinskaya in one semifinal later on Saturday.
Gauff will face compatriot Jessica Pegula who beat Czech Katerina Siniakova 7-6 (7/2), 3-6, 6-3 on Saturday. The fourth-seeded American had led 4-2 in the third set when rain halted play on Friday.
Gauff said her training regime prepared her to play twice in one day.
“I’ll be ready for later today,” said Gauff.