Qatari club agrees to let Xavi become Barcelona coach

Xavi Hernández is set to replace Ronald Koeman, who was fired last week following a series of losses for a club that failed to re-sign Lionel Messi. (Reuters file photo)
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Updated 05 November 2021

Qatari club agrees to let Xavi become Barcelona coach

  • Xavi’s current employer, Qatari club Al-Sadd, says that the former midfielder would be freed from his coaching contract once his release clause is paid

BARCELONA: Xavi Hernández, the player who personified the attacking style popularized by Barcelona and Spain’s national team, is close to returning to Camp Nou as coach.
Xavi’s current employer, Qatari club Al-Sadd, said Friday that the former midfielder would be freed from his coaching contract once his release clause is paid. His current contract runs into 2023.
Barcelona declined to comment on the cost, but Spanish media reports say Xavi’s buyout clause is 5 million euros ($5.7 million).
“Xavi informed us a few days ago of his desire to go to Barcelona at this particular time, because of the critical stage his hometown club is going through, and we understand this and decided not to stand in his way,” Al-Sadd CEO Turki Al-Ali said in a posting on the club’s Twitter account. “We’ve agreed on cooperation with Barcelona in the future. Xavi is an important part of Al-Sadd’s history and we wish him success.”
Xavi is set to replace Ronald Koeman, who was fired last week following a series of losses for a club that failed to re-sign Lionel Messi. Sergi Barjuan has been coaching Barcelona since, overseeing a draw in the Spanish league and a victory in the Champions League. He will return to coaching the reserve team.
Faced with a barrage of questions about Xavi in a regular pre-match news conference, Barjuan repeated that Barcelona had yet to announce the signing of a new coach. Even so, he spoke of Saturday’s match at Celta Vigo as his last in the dugout.
“Barcelona has not made anything official, but we all hope this can be worked out,” Barjuan said. “If Xavi comes, I will be happy to help him in any way I can.”
The 41-year-old Xavi left Barcelona in 2015 after helping the club win 25 titles, including four Champions Leagues and eight Spanish leagues in 17 seasons. He was also key to Spain’s streak of titles when it won the 2010 World Cup and European Championships in 2008 and 2012.
He has been at Al-Sadd since leaving Barcelona, first as a player and then as coach.
Xavi’s vision, passing and ability to maintain the ball under pressure made him critical to leading both Barcelona and Spain’s national team to their most successful eras.
Barcelona club president Joan Laporta now hopes that, as coach, Xavi can rekindle Barcelona’s beloved attacking style based on suffocating ball possession and intricate passing moves.
But Xavi will arrive with no experience coaching in a major league and will face the same daunting challenge that led to Koeman’s downfall: Barcelona is no longer the Barcelona he left behind as a player.
The team’s depleted finances have stripped it of Messi and other top players like Antoine Griezmann and Luis Suárez, and limited it to signing free agents in the offseason.
Xavi will inherit a team that is struggling in the Spanish league and has yet to guarantee that it will get through the group stage of the Champions League.
It will also be seen if Xavi’s personal relationship with veterans Sergio Busquets, Gerard Pique and Jordi Alba, all former teammates, will help or hurt him as he continues the necessary rebuild started by Koeman.
In his favor, Xavi can benefit from the work started by Koeman, who brought several young players into his starting lineup. Above all, Pedri González, who has also had a superb year with Spain, and Gavi Páez seem perfect to fit Xavi’s playing style. Striker Ansu Fati has also emerged as a possible star.
Xavi turned down the chance to coach Barcelona in January 2020 when Laporta’s predecessor fired Ernesto Valverde in the middle of the season.
“When they offered me (the job), it had barely been three months since I was coaching,” Xavi said recently. “But now it is different. I have more experience and I am learning a lot here (with Al-Sadd).”


Portugal hammer Switzerland 6-1 to reach World Cup quarters

Updated 14 sec ago

Portugal hammer Switzerland 6-1 to reach World Cup quarters

DOHA: Portugal hammer Switzerland 6-1 to reach World Cup quarters.

Morocco players celebrate with Palestinian flag after Spain upset

Updated 06 December 2022

Morocco players celebrate with Palestinian flag after Spain upset

  • The Palestinian flag -- which has been fluttering widely across Qatar during the finals -- was seen being held aloft by Moroccan players

DOHA: Morocco’s players unfurled a Palestinian flag during their on-pitch celebrations after the team’s stunning World Cup upset victory against Spain on Tuesday.
The Palestinian flag — which has been fluttering widely across Qatar during the finals — was seen being held aloft by Moroccan players following the dramatic penalty shoot-out win over the Spaniards.
FIFA regulations prohibit the display of banners, flags and fliers that are deemed to be “political, offensive and/or discriminatory nature.” In the past, football’s governing bodies have issued fines for displays of the Palestinian flag inside stadia.
Morocco’s players also displayed the Palestinian flag after the team’s win against Canada during the group stage last week.
World Cup host Qatar has no relations with Israel and remains a supporter of the decades-long Palestinian cause for statehood.
Israel has occupied the Palestinian territories of east Jerusalem and the West Bank since the 1967 Six-Day War fought with Arab nations.
About 250,000 Palestinians live in Qatar which has a population of around 2.9 million, most of them foreigners.


Ronaldo benched for Portugal’s last 16 tie with Switzerland

Updated 06 December 2022

Ronaldo benched for Portugal’s last 16 tie with Switzerland

  • Ronaldo, 37, is the only man to score at five World Cups
  • He angered Portugal coach Fernando Santos with his reaction to being substituted in the last group game

DOHA: Cristiano Ronaldo was left out of Portugal’s starting line-up for their World Cup last 16 clash against Switzerland on Tuesday, with Goncalo Ramos selected up front at his expense.
Ronaldo, 37, is the only man to score at five World Cups, but he angered Portugal coach Fernando Santos with his reaction to being substituted in the last group game.
Bruno Fernandes and Joao Felix return for Portugal after they were rested in the 2-1 loss to South Korea, as does Bernardo Silva who made a brief appearance off the bench in that game.
Joao Cancelo drops out, with Diogo Dalot keeping his spot at right-back and Raphael Guerreiro restored at left-back.
Otavio starts in midfield after recovering from an injury in Portugal’s opening match.
Switzerland welcome back goalkeeper Yann Sommer from illness and Fabian Schaer retains his place in defense having filled in for Nico Elvedi in the 3-2 win over Serbia.
Edmilson Fernandes comes in for the absent Silvan Widmer at right-back.

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Eto’o sorry for fan ‘altercation’ but slams Algeria ‘provocation’

Updated 06 December 2022

Eto’o sorry for fan ‘altercation’ but slams Algeria ‘provocation’

  • Eto'o released a statement in which he admitted being involved in a "violent altercation"
  • He only addressed his apology to "the public" however and made no gesture to the fan

DOHA: Former Cameroon star Samuel Eto’o apologized Tuesday for kneeing an Algeria supporter in the face but insisted he was the target of “relentless provocation” by the North African state’s supporters since a controversial World Cup qualifier this year.
The 41-year-old Cameroon federation president and ambassador for the Qatar World Cup flew into a rage after being approached as he left Brazil’s 4-1 win over South Korea in Doha on Monday night.
A video widely shown on social media showed the four-time African player of the year breaking free from people seeking to restrain him and kneeing the face of a blogger named as Sadouni SM.
The man fell back after being struck but has not reported any serious injury.
Eto’o released a statement in which he admitted being involved in a “violent altercation.”
“I would like to apologize for losing my temper and reacting in a way that does not match my personality,” said the former Barcelona, Inter Milan and Chelsea striker.
Eto’o only addressed his apology to “the public” however and made no gesture to the fan.
Eto’o lashed out at Algeria’s supporters for their behavior since Cameroon beat Algeria on away goals in a World Cup qualifying playoff in March.
Algeria later complained to FIFA about the referee and initially demanded a replay.
“I pledge to continue to resist the relentless provocation and daily harassment of some Algerian supporters,” Eto’o said.
“I have been the target of insults and allegations of cheating without any evidence,” he added.
He said Cameroon fans at the World Cup had also been “harassed and pestered” by Algerians.
“The scenario of Algeria’s defeat was cruel but perfectly in line with the rules and ethics of our sport,” Eto’o insisted.
All of Algeria’s appeals have been rejected and Eto’s said that Algerian authorities must now act to halt “this unhealthy climate before a more serious tragedy occurs.”
The African football legend was surrounded as soon as he left the 974 Stadium where the round of 16 match was played.
Wearing a blue baseball cap, he is seen allowing selfies with some fans before he was approached by the Algerian.
Eto’o handed his mobile phone to a man before surging at the blogger to deliver the blow with his knee.
Sadouni SM said in a video posted online Tuesday that his camera and microphone had been “smashed” in the incident.
“He hit me,” the man adds, pointing to his chin.
“I did all that for Algeria,” Sadouni SM says in the video.
“I am at the police station now for the inquiry.
“This video must be shared. As Eto’o is a celebrity I am afraid they will cover up the inquiry, but I trust the Qatari police,” he added.
Qatar’s World Cup organizing committee has not commented on the incident. Eto’o toured Senegal, Cameroon and Ghana in August to promote the World Cup.
The former international has a history of fiery outbursts, receiving a three-match ban in 2010 for headbutting an opponent while playing for Inter.

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Dutch flier Dumfries dazzles ahead of Argentina World Cup showdown

Updated 06 December 2022

Dutch flier Dumfries dazzles ahead of Argentina World Cup showdown

  • The Inter Milan defender provided two assists and scored the third goal in a 3-1 win to help set up Friday's quarter-final clash with Argentina
  • The Dutch will need to find a way of stopping Lionel Messi

DOHA: Denzel Dumfries had a slow start at the World Cup but the Netherlands wing-back hit his stride in spectacular style in the last-16 match against the United States.
The Inter Milan defender — one of the breakout stars at last year’s Euro 2020 — provided two assists and scored the third goal in a 3-1 win to help set up Friday’s quarter-final clash with Argentina.
The Dutch will need to find a way of stopping Lionel Messi as the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner continues his quest for a maiden World Cup title.
But coach Louis van Gaal will be hoping that his side can expose gaps behind the Argentina defense on the counter-attack, for which Dumfries and fellow wing-back Daley Blind will be crucial.
The pair assisted each other’s goals in the victory over the Americans as Van Gaal’s 3-4-1-2 formation paid dividends.
“He is (important). He got a lot of criticism in the first games but we know what he can do and he showed it today,” midfielder Davy Klaassen said after the last-16 tie.
“In this system the wing-backs are really important and if you see them assisting each other today, this is what you want.”
Kylian Mbappe is the tournament’s leading scorer with five goals, while other wingers to impress include England pair Marcus Rashford and Bukayo Saka and Brazil’s Vinicius Junior.
Wide players have been more important than usual in Qatar, according to Arsene Wenger, now FIFA’s football development chief.
“The sides with the best wingers are those who have the best chances to win because the game is changing toward the wings,” said Wenger.
“Teams are blocking the center, and attacks are going toward both sides.”
The Netherlands’ width comes from Blind and Dumfries, with Memphis Depay and Cody Gakpo starting in a narrower front two ahead of Klaassen.
The positives of that system were best shown by their opening goal when a sweeping 20-pass move was finished off by Depay from Dumfries’ cut-back.
“In that goal you see all the facets of the system that we play,” said Dumfries.
“We really attack the spaces and change sides really well. It was a fantastic team goal. This is where you see the core of the system being executed.”
The Netherlands labored at times in the first round but still finished top of Group A after wins over hosts Qatar and Senegal and a draw with Ecuador.
“We knew before that we could play better. In the group stage we didn’t lose but we felt that we could play better,” said Dumfries.
The three-time runners-up are hoping to peak at the right time in their bid to win the title for the first time.
“We’re growing in the tournament, we’re improving every game and this was another step,” said captain Virgil van Dijk.
“We came here with one goal and that’s to become world champions and we have to win every game and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Dumfries, who is named after US film star Denzel Washington, impressed at the Euros with his first two international goals in the group stage.
Those performances helped him earn a move from PSV Eindhoven to Inter Milan and he has often been linked with a switch to the Premier League.
“I play for a very beautiful club in Italy and I’m very proud that I can play for Inter,” said Dumfries.
“I’m not focused on anything other than the national team.”

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