Barca edge past Dynamo to revive Champions League hopes at half-empty Camp Nou

Dynamo Kyiv’s Georgiy Bushchan looks dejected after FC Barcelona’s Gerard Pique scored their first goal during their Champions League — Group E match at Camp Nou in Barcelona on Wednesday. (Reuters)
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Updated 20 October 2021

Barca edge past Dynamo to revive Champions League hopes at half-empty Camp Nou

  • The attendance was recorded at 45,968, with several blocks of seating filled by only a handful of supporters
  • Barcelona needed victory to resuscitate their chances of progress and avoid the embarrassment of going out in the group stage

BARCELONA: Gerard Pique sparked Barcelona’s flailing Champions League campaign into life on Wednesday by scoring the only goal in a 1-0 win over Dynamo Kiev, a victory that was witnessed by a half-empty Camp Nou.
The attendance was recorded at 45,968, with several blocks of seating filled by only a handful of supporters for a game coach Ronald Koeman said the team had to win to have any chance of reaching the last 16.
After losing both of their opening games in Group E 3-0 to Bayern Munich and Benfica, Barcelona needed victory to resuscitate their chances of progress and avoid the embarrassment of going out in the group stage for the first time since 2000.
Pique at least ensured the job was done in that regard, his close-range finish toward the end of a dreary first half enough to get Barca up and running, with a crucial game away in Kiev now to come in two weeks’ time.
Before then, they face Real Madrid in the first Classico of the season on Sunday, when another win would make it a hugely positive week for Koeman, whose future looked bleak when the team lost to Atletico Madrid before the international break.
That game will also be at Camp Nou and it remains to be seen if the number of Barcelona fans in attendance improves.
An early kick-off may well not have helped and there is undoubtedly still some nervousness lingering from the Covid-19 pandemic, both locally and among traveling supporters.
But it is hard not to conclude fans are also less enthused by a team that lost Lionel Messi in the close season and had lost their last three Champions League matches in a row at home, as many as they managed in the previous 74.
Pique’s goal made him Barcelona’s oldest ever Champions League goalscorer at 34 years and 260 days old but the most excitement these days surrounds the 18-year-old Ansu Fati, who is expected to ease fears around his future by signing a new contract on Thursday.
Fati, whose deal currently expires at the end of the season, is still being eased back into action after 11 months out with injury.
He came on as a substitute after starting against Valencia on Sunday and, presumably, with greater involvement planned against Real Madrid this weekend.
Barcelona could have been ahead inside two minutes but Sergino Dest, playing on the right of the front three instead of right-back, nodded over from a yard at the back post.
Luuk de Jong also headed over the kind of chance he is in the team to score but Barca hardly deserved the lead, their play stunted and hesitant, lacking any of the fizz expected of a side trying to stay in the competition.
The crowd were as flat as the team, neither one really encouraging the other, until the sight of Fati emerging down the touchline to warm up suddenly raised the fans from their stupor.
The players felt it too, the buzz reaching them on the pitch, and within moments Pique was left free at the back post to meet Jordi Alba’s cross on the half-volley, the ball flying in.
Fati came on with Philippe Coutinho at half-time and should have scored. He earned the chance by rushing Dynamo goalkeeper Georgiy Bushchan but had his back to goal when Memphis Depay hooked it back to him. Fati could have laid back to Coutinho but instead scooped the ball up and flicked wide.
The game drifted and without a second goal, Barcelona briefly grew anxious. A better opponent might have turned the screw in the latter stages but Dynamo never created the decisive chance and Barca sealed a much-needed win.


Watford hires Hodgson as manager in bid to avoid relegation

Updated 9 sec ago

Watford hires Hodgson as manager in bid to avoid relegation

WATFORD, England: Roy Hodgson is back in the Premier League at the age of 74.
The former England coach was hired by Watford on Tuesday and will be tasked with keeping the team in the top division following its descent into the relegation zone.
Claudio Ranieri, a 70-year-old Italian, was fired on Monday after 3 1/2 months in charge, just days after Watford slipped into the bottom three for the first time this season.
Watford’s board has turned to Hodgson, another of world soccer’s most experienced managers. He has been out of work since leaving Crystal Palace at the end of last season, when he said it was time to step away from “the rigors of top-flight Premier League football” after 45 years of coaching and to spend time with his family.
Turns out the league’s oldest-ever manager just couldn’t stay away.
Watford is in next-to-last place, two points from safety but with two games in hand over the team in fourth-to-last place, Norwich, which handed Ranieri’s team a 3-0 beating on Friday that proved to be the end for the Italian.
Watford is in its first season back in the Premier League after a year in the second-tier Championship.
Hodgson is Watford’s third manager of the season, continuing the revolving-door policy at the club under its owner, Italian businessman Gino Pozzo. Ranieri had been Watford’s 15th permanent manager in the last 10 years.
Hodgson has experience in staving off relegation. When he took charge of Palace in September 2017, the team was in last place in the Premier League after losing its opening four games. Palace ended the season in 11th place and never finished lower than 14th under Hodgson.

African football boss blames closed gate for Cup of Nations tragedy

Updated 25 January 2022

African football boss blames closed gate for Cup of Nations tragedy

  • "That gate was supposed to be open because if it was open they would have walked through, and for inexplicable reasons it was closed" CAF president said
  • The tragedy happened at gates where final ticket checks are supposed to take place

YAOUNDE: African football supremo Patrice Motsepe says an “inexplicable” decision to keep an entry gate closed was responsible for the deadly crush which killed eight people before an Africa Cup of Nations match in Cameroonian capital Yaounde on Monday.
“That gate was supposed to be open because if it was open they would have walked through, and for inexplicable reasons it was closed” the Confederation of African Football (CAF) president said at a press conference on Tuesday.
“If that gate was open as it was supposed to, we wouldn’t have had this problem we have now, this loss of life. Who closed that gate? Who is responsible for that gate?“
Eight people died and 38 were injured as fans attempted to enter the Olembe Stadium where the hosts Cameroon were playing the Comoros, according to figures released by the country’s health ministry.
“Eight deaths were recorded, two women in their 30s, four men in their 30s, one child, one body taken away by the family,” said a preliminary health ministry report obtained by AFP.
A baby was reportedly one of those trampled by the crowd and was in a “medically stable” condition, the health ministry added.
Communications Minister Rene Emmanuel Sadi said that of 38 people injured, seven were seriously hurt.
Motsepe called for a probe after Cameroon’s President Paul Biya earlier ordered an investigation “so that all light is shed on this tragic incident,” according to Sadi.
The tragedy happened at gates where final ticket checks are supposed to take place.
“It was when the police opened the gates that people fell and others trampled on top of them,” said Professor Andre Omgbwa Eballe, director of the Olembe district hospital who attended the match.
“I saw the bravery of the Cameroonian people. People were resuscitating others, doing mouth to mouth, otherwise there would have been more deaths,” he told AFP TV.
One man in his 30s who was caught in the crush told AFP that it was “complete chaos” at the entrance to the stadium as supporters without tickets tried to force their way in.
“I arrived a quarter of an hour before kick-off. I had my ticket, but all of a sudden a group of people without tickets arrived and tried to force their way through and we found ourselves pushed up against the fences,” said the supporter, who gave his name as Stephane.
“I was crushed up against a woman who said she couldn’t breathe. Eventually the gate gave in and I was able to get through, but it was complete chaos.”
Motsepe said the Cup of Nations quarter-final due to be played at the Olembe Stadium on Sunday will be switched to the Ahmadou Ahidjo stadium, also in Yaounde.
He added that CAF had not considered canceling the rest of the tournament but had contemplated the idea of postponing the last-16 ties scheduled for Tuesday.
Instead the tie between Senegal and Cape Verde and Morocco’s game against Malawi were both given the green light, with a minute’s silence observed before each match.
Although crowds at the 60,000-seat Olembe Stadium had been limited to 60 percent of capacity for the tournament because of the pandemic, the cap is raised to 80 percent when Cameroon’s Indomitable Lions play.
Mohamed Salah, the Liverpool star at the Cup of Nations with Egypt preparing for their quarter-final against the Ivory Coast in Douala on Wednesday, said his team’s thoughts were with the victims.
“We are sorry about what happened yesterday, and hopefully the injured people will come back home safe,” Salah said.
Cameroon was initially meant to host the Cup of Nations in 2019, but the event was moved to Egypt over concerns the country’s stadiums were not ready, as well as question marks over security.
Overcrowding at football matches around the world has resulted in scores of deaths.
Thousands of fans in the Egyptian capital Cairo in 2015 attempted to enter a stadium to watch a game, triggering panic as police fired tear gas and birdshot, resulting in 19 dead.
In April 2001, 43 people in a stampede at Johannesburg’s Ellis Park stadium during a game between Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs.
In chaotic scenes at last year’s European Championship final between England and Italy in London, some 2,000 ticketless fans gained access to Wembley, with an independent review finding that a tragedy was only narrowly averted.


Anthony Martial close to sealing move away from Man United

Updated 25 January 2022

Anthony Martial close to sealing move away from Man United

  • Martial is set to be loaned to Spanish team Sevilla until the end of the season

MANCHESTER: Anthony Martial is close to securing a move away from Manchester United.
The France forward is set to be loaned to Spanish team Sevilla until the end of the season. There will be no fee involved or option to buy.
United manager Ralf Rangnick said last month that the 26-year-old Martial wanted to leave after falling down the list of forward at the club, behind Cristiano Ronaldo, Marcus Rashford, Edinson Cavani, Jadon Sancho and Mason Greenwood.
Martial became the world’s most expensive teenage player when United signed him from Monaco in September 2015 for 36 million pounds (then $55.1 million) that could potentially rise to 58 million pounds ($78 million).


Rafael Nadal moves into Australian Open semifinals

Updated 25 January 2022

Rafael Nadal moves into Australian Open semifinals

  • Nadal is tied for most major singles titles by a male player with Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic

MELBOURNE: Rafael Nadal has stayed on track for a record-breaking 21st Grand Slam singles title with a topsy-turvy 6-3, 6-4, 4-6, 3-6, 6-3 win over Denis Shapovalov in the quarterfinals at Melbourne Park.
Nadal had several medical timeouts in the 4-hour match, appearing related to stomach issues.
Nadal is tied for most major singles titles by a male player with Roger Federer, who is not playing here due to continuing recovery from right knee surgery, and Novak Djokovic, who was deported before the tournament began over visa issues concerning his decision not to be vaccinated for COVID-19.
Nadal will play the winner of Tuesday’s later quarterfinal between Gael Monfils and Wimbledon finalist Matteo Berrettini. The men’s semifinals are set for Friday, so both winners on Tuesday will have an extra day to recover and prepare for their final-four showdown.
The men’s final is Sunday night.


AFCON hosts Cameroon labor to beat Comoros side deprived of goalkeeper

Updated 25 January 2022

AFCON hosts Cameroon labor to beat Comoros side deprived of goalkeeper

  • Comoros had to play left-back Chaker Alhadhur between the posts in Yaounde
  • To add to their woes, they had captain Nadjim Abdou sent off after just seven minutes

YAOUNDÉ: Hosts Cameroon are through to the quarter-finals of the Africa Cup of Nations but only after laboring to a 2-1 win over a Comoros side who were forced to start an outfield player in goal and played most of the game with 10 men.
The Comoros started with left-back Chaker Alhadhur between the posts in Yaounde after two of their three goalkeepers were ruled out due to Covid-19 while the other was missing due to injury.
They then had captain Nadjim Abdou sent off after just seven minutes, and Karl Toko-Ekambi put Cameroon in front before skipper Vincent Aboubakar netted his sixth goal of the tournament.
Despite that it was a heroic performance from the Comoros, who kept the tie alive until the end thanks to Youssouf M’Changama’s stunning late free-kick.
The Indomitable Lions keep their dream of winning the Cup of Nations on home soil alive as they advance to a last-eight tie against Gambia on Saturday, yet this was the Comoros’ night, despite the outcome.
The tiny Indian Ocean island nation qualified for the last 16 in their first ever appearance at the Cup of Nations after finishing as one of the best third-placed teams in the group stage.
However, their dream turned to a nightmare as a total of 12 players and staff tested positive for Covid-19 two days before the tie, including goalkeepers Ali Ahamada and Moyadh Ousseini.
Their other goalkeeper, Salim Ben Boina, was injured but they had hoped Ahamada would be able to start after he tested negative on the day of the game.
The 30-year-old Ahamada flew from Garoua, where he had been isolating, to Yaounde on Monday afternoon in the hope of being able to play, only for the Confederation of African Football (CAF) to decide otherwise as his positive result had come just two days earlier.
Alhadhur, a reserve left-back for French Ligue 2 side Ajaccio, wore the gloves, with tape used to mark out his number three on the back of his goalkeeper’s jersey.
It was a farcical scene, and the Comoros’ plight worsened when Abdou was shown a straight red card for a foul on Moumi Ngamaleu after the Ethiopian referee went to review images of his challenge.
Rather than give up, the Comoros kept going and they only fell behind in the 29th minute when Aboubakar teed up Toko-Ekambi to slot home.
The islanders, whose coach Amir Abdou was among those missing after testing positive, almost equalized shortly after as Ahmed Mogni forced Cameroon goalkeeper Andre Onana into a fine save.
Aboubakar had a second-half effort disallowed for offside before making it 2-0 with 20 minutes left, finishing excellently after being picked out by Martin Hongla.
Yet there was no collapse from the Comoros, who pulled one back courtesy of M’Changama’s piledriver from 35 meters and go out with their heads held high.