Manchester City take top spot in Champions League group, PSG through despite defeat

Paris Saint-Germain’s Argentinian striker Lionel Messi (L), French striker Kylian Mbappe (C) and Brazilian striker Neymar (R) react after City equalize during the UEFA Champions League Group match between City and Paris Saint-Germain. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 25 November 2021

Manchester City take top spot in Champions League group, PSG through despite defeat

  • RB Leipzig’s 5-0 thrashing of Club Brugge means PSG are also guaranteed to go through in second place

MANCHESTER: Manchester City came from behind to secure top spot in Group A with a 2-1 win over Paris Saint-Germain as both sides qualified for the Champions League last 16 on Wednesday.
Kylian Mbappe put the French giants in front against the run of play five minutes into the second half.
But PSG run the risk of being drawn against the likes of Bayern Munich, Chelsea or Liverpool in the last 16 after Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus turned the game around for the English champions.
PSG boss Mauricio Pochettino had to fend off questions in his pre-match press conference over whether he may be making a permanent move to Manchester to take over the vacant managerial role at United.
The Argentine’s first year in the French capital has been far from plain sailing despite a 11-point lead at the top of Ligue 1.
Lionel Messi’s arrival to form a fearsome front three alongside Mbappe and Neymar has heaped expectation upon Pochettino to deliver a first Champions League crown to Paris.
The blessing and curse of that richly-talented trio was in evidence as the visitors were largely overrun but suddenly clicked to create the opening goal.
City’s collective cohesion had the better of the clash of styles, but lacked the clinical edge offered by PSG’s Galacticos.
Presnel Kimpembe cleared Rodri’s goalbound header off the line before Achraf Hakimi did likewise to turn Riyad Mahrez’s shot that was destined for the top corner over the bar.
Despite missing the midfield trio of Kevin De Bruyne, Jack Grealish and Phil Foden, City were still creating chances at will as Messi, Neymar and Mbappe did little to help their teammates defend.
Ilkay Gundogan had the hosts’ best chance before the break, but his curling effort came crashing back off the post.
Mbappe wasted the one opportunity PSG did muster in the first half as he pounced on a John Stones mistake, but fired over.
The Frenchman was not so wasteful five minutes after the break as he drilled low through Ederson’s legs from Messi’s deflected cross.
But the pattern of the game remained unchanged as City charged forward and finally found a way through.
Kyle Walker’s cross escaped Jesus, but rolled kindly for Sterling to prod in just his fourth goal of the season at the back post.
Keylor Navas then produced a stunning finger-tip save to deny Jesus.
Pochettino responded by introducing Angel Di Maria to add to his attacking trident and he teed up Neymar with a great chance to restore PSG’s lead, only for the Brazilian to slot wide with just his international teammate Ederson to beat.
Moments later another slick team move from City created a deserved winner.
Mahrez’s cross to the back post picked out Bernardo Silva, who nonchalantly turned the ball back into the path of Jesus to calmly slot home.
Victory gives City an unassailable four-point lead at the top of the section with just one game to go.
But RB Leipzig’s 5-0 thrashing of Club Brugge means PSG are also guaranteed to go through in second place.


Japan aims for World Cup knockout stage against Costa Rica

Updated 55 min 19 sec ago

Japan aims for World Cup knockout stage against Costa Rica

  • Japan has never reached the quarterfinals at a World Cup, and that’s the aim this time
  • This is Japan’s seventh straight appearance, and it has reached the round of 16 on three occasions

DOHA, Qatar: How big was Japan’s 2-1 upset of Germany in the opening round of the World Cup?
Newspapers in Japan used the term “Daikimboshi” from sumo wrestling to describe the magnitude of the surprise: when a low-ranked wrestler overpowers a grand champion.
The victory has also been compared to Japan’s 34-32 upset of powerful South Africa in the 2015 rugby World Cup in England.
Japan was the underdog against four-time champion Germany, but it will be a strong favorite in its next Group E match against Costa Rica, where a victory could move Japan into the knockout stage with a game to spare.
A loss by Costa Rica on Sunday would eliminate it from advancing. Costa Rica faces Germany in its final match and Japan goes against Spain.
Costa Rica is reeling from a 7-0 thrashing against Spain in its opener, and it’s anyone’s guess how the Ticos will respond. With a population of just over 5 million, the tiny Central American country is appearing in its sixth World Cup. It reached the quarterfinals in 2014 in Brazil.
Japan has never reached the quarterfinals at a World Cup, and that’s the aim this time. This is Japan’s seventh straight appearance, and it has reached the round of 16 on three occasions, including in Russia in 2018. It lost 3-2 in stoppage time to Belgium after leading 2-0.
It was eliminated by Paraguay on penalties in 2010, and lost to Turkiye 1-0 in 2002 when the country co-hosted the event with South Korea.
Japan coach Hajjime Moriyasu has spoken often about going farther this time and breaking the “final-16 hex.”
Substitutes Ritsu Doan and Takuma Asano scored late goals against Germany — they both play in Germany’s Bundesliga — to lead Japan to the upset. Asano got the winner in the 83rd minute, squeezing the ball behind German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer from a very sharp angle.
Costa Rica was overwhelmed by Spain with only 28 percent of the possession. It would also face the same problem against Japan, which is able to hold the ball for long spells, and is also a quick, counterattacking threat.
“We couldn’t complete three or four passes,” Costa Rica coach Luis Fernando Suarez said of the Spain loss.
The Ticos will have to do much more against Japan.


Green Falcons all set for Poland clash at the World Cup

Updated 26 November 2022

Green Falcons all set for Poland clash at the World Cup

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia have concluded their preparations to face Poland on Saturday in the second game of the World Cup in Qatar.
The Saudi players conducted a training session at the Celine Resort Stadium, under the supervision of their head coach Herve Renard.
The training comes after the Green Falcons produced the World Cup’s shock win against Argentina 2-1 at Lusail Stadium in Doha on Tuesday.


The exercise started with a warm-up training then squares’ exercise before they split into two groups and played against each other.
Meanwhile, captain Salman Al-Faraj and Riyad Sharahili have continued their treatment programs with medical staff for injuries suffered in the Argentina game.
The Saudi Arabian Football Federation said that the Green Falcon’s delegation will travel to Doha on Friday night to prepare for Saturday’s match at Education City Stadium.
Argentina’s defeat to Saudi Arabia was their first against an Arab or Asian team in the World Cup finals.
Argentina took the lead after only 10 minutes through a Lionel Messi penalty. Saudi Arabia however fought back in the second half with strikes by Saleh Al-Shehri in the 48th minute and star man Salem Al-Dawsari five minutes later.
Solid defending and a man-of-the-match performance by goalkeeper Mohammed Al-Owais saw the Green Falcons secure a historic win in their opening Group C fixture.


Hosts Qatar crash out of World Cup after Senegal loss

Updated 26 November 2022

Hosts Qatar crash out of World Cup after Senegal loss

  • Draw between Ecuador, Netherlands left hosts at bottom of Group A with no chance of progressing
  • Qatar’s opening-night nerves were nowhere to be seen as they quickly got to grips with Senegal

DOHA: The World Cup hopes of Qatar were dashed after a 3-1 loss to Senegal and a draw between Ecuador and Netherlands left them bottom of Group A with no chance of progressing, just five days after they opened the tournament with a 2-0 loss to Ecuador.

The Qataris needed Ecuador to win but they fell behind to an early Cody Gapko goal, and though they equalized it wasn’t enough to prevent Qatar from becoming the first side mathematically eliminated from a final they have spent a reported $200 billion to host.

Qatar showed some flashes of exciting attacking play, but the reigning Asian champions were undone by sloppy defending that was harshly punished by a Senegalese side that was just that little bit better in every department.

The Senegal fans brought color and noise with rhythmic drumming throughout, while the home supporters turned out in maroon shirts, with many of the men opting for the traditional Middle Eastern thobe, a pristine white ankle-length tunic.

Qatar’s opening-night nerves were nowhere to be seen as they quickly got to grips with Senegal and should have had a penalty when Ismaila Sarr bundled over Akram Afif, but Spanish referee Antonio Mateu waved away their pleas and VAR did not intervene.

With Qatar defending well, it was going to take either a moment of magic or a catastrophic mistake for Senegal to break the deadlock and unfortunately for Qatar defender Boualem Khoukhi it turned out to be the latter.

His attempt to clear a routine low pass into the box by Krepin Diatta went disastrously wrong as he fluffed his clearance, allowing Boulaye Dia to pounce, and he rattled home the opening goal just before the break.

With the Qatari crowd thinned out somewhat at the start of the second half, Famara Diedhou doubled Senegal’s advantage with a brilliant glancing header from an Ismail Jakobs corner in the 48th minute.

QATAR SCORE

The missing home fans were soon back in their seats and rewarded with some superb attacking play as the hosts registered their first efforts on target in the tournament, with Ismail Mohamad forcing a superb reflex save from Edouard Mendy.

Muntari reduced the deficit in the 78th with a bullet header from Mohamad’s cross for Qatar’s first ever goal at a World Cup in their debut tournament but Senegal were unruffled as they continued to out-muscle their opponents in midfield.

Six minutes after Muntari’s strike, Bamba Dieng swept home a pass from fellow substitute Iliman Ndiaye for the African side’s third to consign Qatar to the bottom of Group A with no points, while Netherlands and Ecuador have four points and the Senegalese three.

Qatar coach Felix Sanchez told reporters that he and his team had never expected to set the world on fire, despite being at home.

“Expectations were set to give a good performance and organize a good World Cup, and that is the case,” he told a news conference, praising his players for their efforts.

“We wanted to show what we could do on the pitch — most of our opponents are ahead of us in many ways, but we managed to show what we can do.”

The 46-year-old Spaniard pointed out how being a small country with a small population had hindered the national team, and said that qualifying for the tournament for a second time would prove hugely beneficial.

First, though, they must meet the Netherlands in what will be their final game at this event.

“We have to prepare for the Netherlands, and we know it’s going to be an even tougher game against them — a great opponent, with some great players,” Sanchez said.


Sluggish England frustrated in US stalemate

Updated 26 November 2022

Sluggish England frustrated in US stalemate

  • Southgate's men would have been guaranteed to advance from Group B with a victory in their second game
  • Having thrashed Iran 6-2 on Monday, England lacked the urgency they showed in their opening game and were booed off at full-time

AL KHOR, Qatar: England missed a chance to book their place in the World Cup last 16 as Gareth Southgate’s side produced a limp display in their 0-0 draw against the United States on Friday.
Southgate’s men would have been guaranteed to advance from Group B with a victory in their second game of the tournament, but they rarely troubled a determined US team.
Having thrashed Iran 6-2 on Monday, England lacked the urgency they showed in their opening game and were booed off at full-time.
They managed just one shot on target and could easily have conceded in the first half when the US were in control for long periods at the Al Bayt Stadium.
For the third time in three World Cup meetings with the US, England failed to live up to their status as favorites.
After a shocking defeat in the 1950 tournament and a 1-1 draw in 2010, this was another defiant American effort against England, cooling some of the hype around the Three Lions following the Iran rout.
Although it was an extremely underwhelming performance from England, they are still in control of their own destiny.
A draw in their final group game against Wales on November 29 would ensure England progress to the knockout stages, while a victory would seal first place.
The US, who have drawn their first two games, play Iran on the same day knowing a win would send them into last 16.
Gregg Berhalter’s group are the second youngest team at the World Cup, but a day after America celebrated Thanksgiving they left sluggish England looking like they were the ones who had indulged in too much turkey.
With Harry Kane and Harry Maguire recovered from an ankle injury and illness respectively, England named an unchanged team for the first time since the 2018 World Cup semifinal defeat against Croatia.
But, whereas England dominated possession against timid Iran from the opening moments, they found the US far more willing to press higher up the pitch.
The US desire to engage England briefly left space in behind them and Jude Bellingham’s buccaneering run and pass freed Bukayo Saka down the right side of the US area.
Saka’s cross reached Kane, whose goalbound shot was blocked by Walker Zimmerman.
That near-miss proved a mirage in the desert for England as Hajji Wright, a surprise selection in place of Josh Sargent, had the Americans’ first sight of goal with a well-timed run into the area for a header that whistled wide.
It was a warning that the US could trouble England and moments later Weston McKennie should have put them ahead.
Timothy Weah’s cross from wide on the right eluded the flat-footed England defense and the unmarked McKennie pulled the trigger from 10 yards, only to fire just wide of the relieved Pickford’s goal.
Showing no signs of being intimidated by England, Berhalter’s side were inches away from turning the enterprising display into a stunning lead when Christian Pulisic jinked into space and lashed a rising drive against the crossbar from just inside the area.
Giving the ball away far too easily and labored in their build-up play, England looked rattled and Pulisic tested their fraying nerves with a header that glanced wide.
In a rare moment of menace from England, Saka’s pass found Mason Mount and the Chelsea’s midfielder low drive from 20 yards brought a first save from US keeper Matt Turner.
Epitomising the US spirit that was such a contrast to England’s lethargy, Tyler Adams crunched into a tackle on Saka, winning the ball and roaring in delight afterwards.
England remained stuck in first gear yet Kane nearly snatched an undeserved winner in stoppage time when he headed wide from Luke Shaw’s free-kick.


Germany face Spain with spectre of early World Cup exit looming

Updated 26 November 2022

Germany face Spain with spectre of early World Cup exit looming

  • Germans were hammered by some observers for losing focus on the football when they should be concentrating on avoiding a second successive group stage exit in a World Cup
  • “Really, our focus is 100 percent on football, nothing else,” Havertz said in a pre-match press conference

DOHA: Just one match into the Qatar World Cup, Germany face what amounts to a must-win clash against Spain on Sunday, a team they have not beaten in a competitive fixture since 1988.
Before Germany were stunned 2-1 by Japan in their opening match, the team faced heavy criticism for backtracking on a promise to wear a rainbow “OneLove” armband in support of diversity and human rights.
Their response was powerful — a team photo before the Japan match in which all 11 players covered their mouths, suggesting they had been silenced by FIFA, who had threatened on-field sanctions for anyone wearing the armband.
But after Japan scored two late goals to beat Hansi Flick’s team, the Germans were hammered by some observers for losing focus on the football when they should be concentrating on avoiding a second successive group stage exit in a World Cup.
On Friday, Chelsea striker Kai Havertz said the players were holding onto their beliefs but knew the challenge ahead, especially against a Spain team that steamrollered Costa Rica 7-0 in their opening game.
“Everyone knows our point of view and how we think,” Havertz said in a pre-match press conference.
“Really, our focus is 100 percent on football, nothing else. We just said what we think, what our point of view is, everyone knows that, and now it is about playing football.”
With supermarket chain Rewe pulling their sponsorship and with TV ratings for the Japan game the lowest in Germany for a World Cup in more than 30 years, Havertz recognized that the challenges were not just on the field, saying: “I know not everyone is behind us.”
Havertz revealed the squad and Flick held a wide-ranging team meeting on Thursday, admitting “it was time to tell ourselves the truth.”
Havertz said “everyone left the meeting knowing what’s going on.”
Sitting alongside Havertz, midfielder Julian Brandt said “we had a very good exchange. All of us left the conversation feeling like we had the determination to win the game.”
The importance of the Spain match at the Al Bayt Stadium cannot be underestimated — national squad manager and 1996 Euros winner Oliver Bierhoff has asked what another early exit would mean for the future of football in Germany.
Speaking with Germany TV network ARD on Friday, Bierhoff said losing “our first final” in Qatar would have widespread ramifications for the sport.
“What does it mean for German football? For the further development?” Bierhoff asked.
“And if you go a little deeper: (what does it mean) for the investment we have to make to stay competitive (and) to have new players in eight or ten years?“
Far from being haunted by the ghosts of their early exit in Russia however, Havertz said the match could represent “a turnaround” for the under-fire side, saying “we all dreamed of playing these games.”
“Now we are in a bad moment, but I think that can switch around quite fast — if we win the game on Sunday.”
Captain Manuel Neuer on Friday said Sunday’s match was “a huge chance,” emphasising the side could learn from Russia “we blew it once and now we know how not to do it.”
Brandt agreed.
“Spain come to the stadium on Sunday on the back of a 7-0 victory but it is a chance, on Sunday, a chance to change the atmosphere.”