After Champions League ‘fiasco’, UEFA probes what went wrong

Real Madrid’s Luka Modric, Casemiro and Toni Kroos pose for a photograph with the trophy after winning the Champions League final match against Liverpool at the Stade de France in Saint Denis near Paris. (AP)
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Updated 31 May 2022

After Champions League ‘fiasco’, UEFA probes what went wrong

  • UEFA is starting to gather evidence about issues outside the Stade de France that marred one of the world’s biggest games in sports on Saturday
  • Liverpool fans' leadership groups are already complaining about heavy-handed policing and poor organization

DUBAI: The French government is blaming Liverpool fans. The English club are enraged by the “irresponsible, unprofessional” rush to conclusions. European soccer’s governing body, UEFA, will now try to uncover what went wrong in the disorder and chaos in Paris at the Champions League final before Liverpool lost to Real Madrid.
UEFA is starting to gather evidence about issues outside the Stade de France that marred one of the world’s biggest games in sports on Saturday.
Liverpool fans’ leadership groups are already complaining about heavy-handed policing and poor organization on a troubling night that saw children and elderly people among those getting sprayed by tear gas.
Richard Bouigue, deputy mayor of the 12th arrondissement in Paris, said “the time for official denial is over, the time for apologies must be imposed” in a letter to a Liverpool supporters’ group.
“I deplore the dysfunctions in the organization of the game and the lack of maintenance of order that led to this real fiasco,” Bouigue wrote to the Spirit of Shankly group in a letter seen by AP.
There were also renewed concerns in Spain on Wednesday about the organizational failings.
“It was a pretty big mess,” said Madrid defender Dani Carvajal, whose family encountered safety issues. “They have to learn and fix the mistakes for the next events that may happen at this stadium and hopefully everything will be better. But yes, in the end there were people who suffered a lot.”
These are the key issues the UEFA review will need to take into consideration:
The challenges of staging the final with just three months’ notice — Paris was awarded the game in February after a decision was taken to strip Russia’s St. Petersburg of hosting rights — has been floated as a reason for the chaos that unfolded.
Having months, rather than years, to plan for the final was still enough time for hospitality facilities to be prepared and the stadium wrapped in special competition branding.
There was, though, a shortage of signage on streets leading to the stadium and on the subway and train lines. While private security was at stadium entrances, there were no volunteers deployed to help fans navigate unfamiliar streets and communicate as lines grew longer.
What was the reason behind the decision to herd fans — mostly from Liverpool — into a narrow passage on the walk up to the stadium from the metro, with police vans blocking much of the space? Why were there so few police officers in and around the stadium for such a big occasion?
The “late arrival of fans” was the initial reason given for the delay to kickoff for what proved to be 37 minutes. Yet there was clear evidence many fans had arrived near the stadium up to three hours before the scheduled start of the game and simply ended up stuck in lines that barely moved. Liverpool fans, pressed up against the railings and many fearful of their own safety, hadn’t even been told the match had been delayed. That appeared to add to the panic, as some thought they would miss the game.
UEFA seemed slow to realize the extent of the problems. Steve Rotheram, a mayor in Liverpool who attended the game, said he had his cell phone, money, bank cards and match ticket stolen outside the Stade de France. He said he saw UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin in the VIP section of the stadium later and explained his concerns. “He seemed oblivious to it,” Rotheram said of Ceferin.
Why did police use bottlenecks to control the flow of spectators? The review will need to look at the policing of the final, from how they planned the hazardous route to the stadium from the train station and metro stops, as well as the instances of heavy-handedness toward supporters in using tear gas and pepper spray indiscriminately in areas where there were kids and elderly people. There is footage of police deploying spray directly into the face of fans.
Repeated allegations of brutality have hit French police in recent years, notably during the Yellow Vests protests against the government, amid calls police should exercise greater restraint.
French police have struggled to get a grip on fan violence at domestic matches this season. Was that considered when the event was moved to Paris after direct talks between Ceferin and French President Emmanuel Macron?
This is likely to be a key focus of the review after French Interior minister Gérald Darmanin said there was “massive fraud at an industrial level,” claiming that “70 percent of the tickets were fake tickets coming into the Stade de France.” Those numbers have been received with skepticism. Past and present Liverpool players — including Andrew Robertson — have said tickets they had received through legitimate channels hadn’t been accepted at the gates. There were undoubtedly some fake tickets — the AP has been shown an example of one. But the AP is aware of malfunctioning scanners unable to validate genuine tickets. Were those considered to be fake at the turnstiles?
Just like at Wembley Stadium last year when there was violence and crowd chaos at the European Championship final, stewards bore the brunt of the disorder on Saturday as they were overwhelmed by large crowds at the gates. Low-paid and under-resourced, it seems unfair to expect stewards to resist aggression and force from both frustrated fans and other people trying to enter stadiums illegally by barging through checkpoints. Even as the chaos was unfolding, some private security officials turned their focus on media, ordering video footage to be deleted.
There are a growing number of testimonies from people who attended the final, detailing how they got mugged and attacked before and after the match at the Stade de France, which is located in an impoverished suburb of northern Paris. Local thugs appear to have exploited the chaos on the night. Some were seen fighting with police outside the stadium. Among those seen vaulting the fences to get into the stadium without tickets were people not wearing Liverpool or Madrid colors, potentially therefore locals taking advantage of overwhelmed security.
The sight of “bands of delinquents hitting and robbing” fans was recalled by Spanish professional tennis player Feliciano López.
“I saw how one person jumped over the fence to get into the stadium, the same one who tried to rob me wanted to sneak past the turnstile to get into the stadium,” López tweeted. “It was a complete shambles.”
According to some testimonies, the crowd management issues brought back disturbing memories of the Hillsborough Stadium disaster in 1989 that led to the deaths of 97 Liverpool fans. Hooliganism was rife in English football throughout the 1980s, and there were immediate attempts back then to falsely assign blame on the Liverpool fans and defend policing at the FA Cup match in Sheffield. A false narrative that blamed drunken, ticketless and rowdy Liverpool fans was created by police. It took decades of campaigning for Liverpool supporters to prove there was a cover-up by authorities who tried to blame them.
Now Liverpool fans are challenging the authorities again, this time in France. Darmanin, the French minister, claimed on Monday that “this kind of situation occurs” within certain clubs from Britain, stigmatizing Liverpool fans.
“All light must be shed,” said Bouigue, the Parisian politician, “the responsibilities identified, and improvements made so that this type of chaos, which must have revived the Hillsborough tragedy for many fans, never happens again.”

Cameron Smith has claret jug and now eyes No. 1 in the world

Updated 14 August 2022

Cameron Smith has claret jug and now eyes No. 1 in the world

  • Even as J.J. Spaun picked up a pair of late birdies and Will Zalatoris moved into contention for his first PGA Tour title, it was Smith who got everyone’s attention Saturday in the FedEx St. Jude Championship

MEMPHIS, Tennessee: British Open champion Cameron Smith has spent all week ignoring queries about reports he will be the latest to leave the PGA Tour for Saudi-backed LIV Golf. His only concern was try to win the FedEx Cup playoffs.

Now there’s another perk at stake: No. 1 in the world.

Even as J.J. Spaun picked up a pair of late birdies for a 2-under 68 to main a one-shot lead over Sepp Straka, and Will Zalatoris moved into contention for his first PGA Tour title, Smith is who got everyone’s attention Saturday in the FedEx St. Jude Championship.

He birdied his last hole for a 67, leaving him among those two shots out of the lead and fully aware that a win takes him to No. 1 in the world.

“That’s been one of my goals probably since the start of the year is to try to get to that top spot,” Smith said. “Try and chase it down.”

A week that began with a federal judge denying the request from three LIV Golf players to be part of the postseason could very well end with a new No. 1 that appears headed for the rival series.

Distractions don’t seem to be a problem for the Aussie, and there is no shortage of them.

“There’s definitely been a few more, but for me, I’m just trying to hit the best shot I can,” Smith said. That’s what I’m here to do is to hit good golf shots and make birdies.”

Spaun had a two-putt birdie on the par-5 16th and holed an 18-foot birdie putt on the next hole to claim the 54-hole lead a 13-under 197. Straka was right there with him until he failed to save par from the bunker on the 18th for a 68 that left him one shot behind.

Both are first-time winners on the PGA Tour this year, and a victory in a FedEx Cup playoffs even carries even more weight — $2.7 million to the winner and a guaranteed spot at East Lake for the FedEx Cup finale.

Zalatoris is just as hungry for a win. He has been a tough customer in the majors, losing in a playoff at the PGA Championship and finishing one back in the US Open. He is No. 14 in the world. And he has yet to win on the PGA Tour.

Zalatoris opened with a 71 that put him in such a hole that even his fiancee wanted to know their plans if he didn’t make it to the weekend.

“I told her, ‘Let’s cross that bridge when he get there,’” Zalatoris said with a smile. He decided to let his new caddie, Joel Stock, read putts in their second official round together. Zalatoris shot a 63 and followed with a 65 on Saturday.

He also was two behind, along with Trey Mullinax (66).

As for the chase to the next playoff event, consider Tyler Duncan. He is No. 118 in the FedEx Cup, and only the top 70 move on to the BMW Championship next week in Delaware. Duncan had a 67 and was tied for sixth. He was three behind, and even if he doesn’t win, he can move on if he can hold his position.

Ryan Palmer had a 32 on the back nine to salvage a 69 leaving him on the cusp of the top 70 that will advance.

There are 16 players separated by four shots, a group that includes Sam Burns and Tony Finau. A winner in his last two starts, Finau ended his streak of 11 rounds at 68 or lower. He made a bogey on the last hole gave him a 69, leaving him four behind.

No one stands out like Smith, for so many reasons. Not only is it his first start since being introduced at St. Andrews as the “champion golfer of the year,” the Daily Telegraph reported Tuesday that he had signed with LIV and would join the defectors outside Boston after the Tour Championship is over.

Smith has steadfastly refused to talk about it.

“I’m a man of my word and whenever you guys need to know anything, it’ll be said by me,” Smith said Tuesday. 


Brazil’s Haddad Maia to face Halep for Canadian WTA title

Updated 14 August 2022

Brazil’s Haddad Maia to face Halep for Canadian WTA title

  • The first Brazilian to get to the final of a WTA Masters event has now won 17 matches since June, when she won grasscourt titles in Birmingham and Nottingham

TORONTO: Simona Halep will bid for a third Canadian title at the WTA Toronto Masters on Sunday against determined Brazilian outsider Beatriz Haddad Maia.

Haddad Maia stunned 2021 finalist Karolina Pliskova 6-4, 7-6 (9/7) in the semifinals while Halep put years of big-match experience to good use in a 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory over seventh-seeded American Jessica Pegula.

Halep, the former world No. 1 from Romania who won 2016 and 2018 trophies in Canada, showed her definitive return to form with the victory after dropping from the top 10 in the rankings a year ago due to injury.

“We never played against each other,” Halep said. “So I didn’t really know what to expect.

“But it was a great fight. I’m really happy that I went through.

“Of course, I can improve,” Halep added. “But I’m building the confidence, I’m building the game, and I’m really happy that I’m in this position.”

Haddad Maia, who stunned world No. 1  Ita Swiatek in the third round, blunted the noted serving attack of Czech Pliskova, who fired nine aces in defeat.

The first Brazilian to get to the final of a WTA Masters event has now won 17 matches since June, when she won grasscourt titles in Birmingham and Nottingham.

The South American, ranked 24th in the world, is guaranteed to breach the Top 20 next week.

Her match was a rollercoaster, with Haddad Maia fighting off Pliskova while leading 5-1 in the opening set.

Pliskova then seized a 4-1 lead in the second only for Haddad Maia to claw her way back.

Halep, who will return to the top-10 thanks to her victory, needed two and a quarter hours to knock out American Pegula, who was the highest seed left in the field.

The 30-year-old winner of Roland Garros and Wimbledon titles could return to sixth in the world if she beats Haddad Maia on Sunday.

She will again have experience on her side as she competes in her 18th career Masters final in search of her ninth title at the elite level.

Halep lost the opening set against Pegula in 35 minutes but levelled at a set apiece thanks to an early break in the second.

Halep missed two match points on her opponent’s serve and swiped her racquet angrily on the cement as Pegula held for 4-5 in the third.

“The fire is back, it’s a good sign if I do that,” said the Romanian, who was supported by a sizeable number of compatriots in the stands.

Halep clinched the win on her third opportunity as Pegula hit the net with a return.

“I changed a little bit the tactics,” Halep said. “In the first set, it was a little bit too fast.

“She was hitting super strong and I didn’t feel the rhythm. Then I just calmed down and I tried to just push her back a little bit more.”

Halep saved 12 of the 17 break points she faced as she earned her 37th victory this season while playing in her seventh semifinal of 2022.

Popovici on top of the word after record-setting effort in 100m freestyle

Updated 14 August 2022

Popovici on top of the word after record-setting effort in 100m freestyle

  • The 17-year-old Romanian double world champion swam 46.86sec to slice 0.05sec off the old world record set by Brazilian Cesar Cielo in the 2009 World Championships, also in Rome, in the era of buoyant body suits

ROME: David Popovici reacted with “euphoria” after swimming the “best race I ever did” to break the men’s 100m freestyle world record at the European Championships in Rome on Saturday.

“It’s nice being able to say that I am the fastest to ever do it,” Popovici said.

The 17-year-old Romanian double world champion swam 46.86sec to slice 0.05sec off the old mark set by Brazilian Cesar Cielo in the 2009 World Championships, also in Rome, in the era of buoyant body suits.

“It was great and it’s very special to break this record that was set here in 2009 by Cesar Cielo,” Popovici added.

Popovici clearly enjoyed the moment.

“That was euphoria just kicking in. Simply that.”

“There’s not really a lot of adjectives I can give on how I’m feeling. I’m simply just happy,” said Popovici, who speaks faultless and exuberant English.

The fastest time in a textile suit had been 46.96 set by American Olympic champion Caeleb Dressel at the 2019 World Championships.

“I planned to go very fast and I planned to have fun and that was really about it,” said Popovici.

“It hurt, but it’s still worth it and I feel good now.”

Hungary’s Kristof Milak, the world record holder in the 200m butterfly, was second in 47.47 with Italy’s Alessandro Miressi third 47.63.

“Right now, I’m in the world record club,” Popovici said.

“Just after I finished, Kristof Milak said to me welcome to the club.”

Asked if he had swum the perfect race, Popovici replied: “I think so, yeah.”

But then he added: “Well my coach has to decide that but for the moment I think it’s probably the best race I ever did.

Popovici had eased into the final on Friday with a new European record of 46.98 seconds.

“Yesterday I said that the European record was just a step in the right direction, and I was right,” Popovici said.

In June, Popovici became the first man to complete the 100-200m freestyle double at the World Championships in nearly 50 years.

In Rome, he is also entered in the 200m which starts on Sunday and 400m which begins on Wednesday but refused to predict any more world records.

“I think I still like the 200 more but I have to get a little bit closer to the world record maybe not tomorrow, maybe not the day after tomorrow but I have a lot of time, so there is no rush,” said Popovici, who is expected to compete in the world junior championships in Peru starting at the end of August.

Another 17-year-old world champion also added European gold on Saturday.

Italian Benedetta Pilato won the women’s 100m breaststroke in 1:05.97, more than a second-and-half outside the world record set by American Lilly King in 2017.

Pilato was followed home by compatriot Lisa Angiolini and Lithuania’s Ruta Meilutyte, the 50m world champion.

Swedish veteran Sarah Sjostrom won the women’s 50m butterfly gold for the fifth time in 24.96. The 28-year-old is the only woman to go under 25 seconds in the event in a 50m pool.

France’s Marie Wattel won silver with Maaike de Waard of the Netherlands third.

Frenchman Yohann Ndoye Brouard won the opening final of the evening when he took the men’s 200m backstroke in 1 min 55.62 sec.

He beat Hungary’s Benedek Kovacs and England’s Luke Greenbank.

Viktoria Milhalyvari-Farkas, an 18-year-old, led a Hungarian one-two in the women’s 400m individual medley ahead of Zsuzsanna Jakabos with Freya Colbert of Britain third.

Italian Gregorio Paltrinieri dominated the men’s 800m freestyle ahead of German Lukas Martens and a second Italian Lorenzo Galossi.

The British ended the evening by edging the Swedes and the Dutch to win the women’s 400x100m freestyle relay.


New-look Barcelona held 0-0 by Rayo in Lewandowski’s debut

Updated 14 August 2022

New-look Barcelona held 0-0 by Rayo in Lewandowski’s debut

  • Fittingly, given their poor finish to the match, Barcelona ended with 10 men after Sergio Busquets got a second booking in stoppage time when he swung his arm into the face of Rayo substitute Radamel Falcao

BARCELONA, Spain: Barcelona mortgaged its financial future to give Xavi Hernández the talent he wanted.
But Rayo Vallecano showed Xavi he still has work to do to forge a winning team after his new-look Barcelona was held to a 0-0 draw on Saturday in their Spanish league opener.
The modest club from Madrid frustrated Robert Lewandowski and his fellow Barcelona newcomers by defending well and producing the most dangerous scoring threats. As the minutes ticked by, the energy drained from the 81,000-strong Camp Nou crowd that had turned out to cheer the team that was only made possible by the constroversial decision by club president Joan Laporta to sell off television rights and other assets in exchange for some much needed cash.
The biggest applause Lewandowski heard from the crowd was to show their appreciation for his hustle on defense late in the match with Barcelona stymied in attack. The closest the former Bayern Munich star went to scoring was a header flicked well over the bar in the first half.
Fittingly, given its poor finish to the match, Barcelona ended with 10 men after Sergio Busquets got a second booking in stoppage time when he swung his arm into the face of Rayo substitute Radamel Falcao. Busquets’ explusion will rule him out of Barcelona’s visit to Real Sociedad. Falcao then had what looked to be a winner waived away for offside as Rayo went close to claiming a third straight win over Barcelona after it stunned the Catalan club twice last season.
“It is too bad because we wanted to show our fans that we are on the right path,” Xavi said. “We had generated a lot of expectations, but this is just the beginning. Today is disappointing for every Barcelona supporter, but we have to keep our faith in this way of playing as being the right one to win titles.”
Lewandowski, winger Raphinha and defender Andreas Christensen, who also joined Barcelona this summer, all made Xavi’s starting 11. The three players along with fellow newcomer Franck Kessié and the recently re-signed Ousmane Dembélé and Sergi Roberto were only declared eligible to play by the Spanish league on Friday after Barcelona sold yet another stake in its in-house production company to improve its troubled financial balance.
The delicate state of Barcelona’s finances meant that it was unable to register Jules Koundé, its top defensive signing, in time for the season opener.
Xavi had said the demands placed on him and his team were higher this season because of the effort the club had made to give him a lot more talent after Barcelona won nothing last campaign following the exit of Lionel Messi.
But Xavi still has a way to go to create a team as well-honed as Andoni Iraola’s Rayo, which for a third meeting in a row held Barcelona without a goal. Iraola’s team, led by midfielders midfielders Isi Palazón and Óscar Trejo, erased all the passing lanes for Lewandowski. Barcelona was unable to find the answer through Raphinha and Dembélé, who both wasted the one good chance they each got.
Barcelona’s best chance came from late substitute Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, whose goal-bound shot was saved by defender Alejandro Catena in the 85th.
Previously, Barcelona had needed goalie Marc-Andre Ter Stegen to keep the game scoreless.
Ter Stegen closed out quickly to block Álvaro García’s point-blank shot after the forward had streaked away down the left flank and cut back past the sliding Ronald Araújo just before halftime.
Barcelona had another scare early in the second half when Sergio Camello pounced on a ball lost by Araújo. Again Ter Stegen came to the rescue, forcing Camello into taking a shot from a narrow angle that trickled just past the far post.
“My team played tense and with nerves. I had tried to tell them that the pressure was on me,” Xavi said. “But Rayo played well and closed off our passing game. They executed their game plan.”
Iraola, a former Athletic Bilbao player who has impressed as a coach, said his team played well enough to claim another victory at Camp Nou.
“I think we played a great match. I am not satisfied because we wanted a win. It is too bad we couldn’t take the three points,” he said. “Maybe they had more chances, but we had three or four clear opportunities. I am happy for the effort of my team and for having neutralized a great rival.”

Neymar nets 2 as PSG beats Montpellier 5-2 in French league

Updated 14 August 2022

Neymar nets 2 as PSG beats Montpellier 5-2 in French league

  • Neymar scored twice to take his tally to three goals in two league games for the defending champion on a night when Lionel Messi was held scoreless

PARIS: Neymar and Paris Saint-Germain’s high-powered attack put on another impressive display in a 5-2 win over Montpellier in the French league on Saturday as Kylian Mbappe opened his account but missed a penalty in his return from a groin injury.
Neymar scored twice to take his tally to three goals in two league games for the defending champion on a night when Lionel Messi was held scoreless. The Brazil striker was also PSG’s best player in preseason friendlies as he looks to find his peak form for the World Cup in Qatar, which starts in November.
PSG also netted five goals in its league opener and Montpellier opted for a low defensive block to deny space for the hosts. But the pressure was too much for center back Falaye Sacko, who diverted Mbappe’s off-target shot into his own net in the 39th minute.
Sacko then handled the ball in the 42nd when Lionel Messi juggled the ball on a dribbling run. Neymar wrongfooted Jonas Omlin to convert the subsequent penalty for a 2-0 lead.
PSG capitalized on another blunder to add a third goal in the 51st. Mbappe blocked Omlin’s pass and found Achraf Hakimi, whose deflected cross was headed home by Neymar.
Far from his best level, Mbappe still found the net with a flick from a corner in the 69th.
“(Mbappe) is a competitor, he wants to be good, and he wants to be good quickly,” PSG coach Christophe Galtier told Canal Plus. “He needs a bit of time to be 100 percent fit. He will make even more difference when he will be 100 percent fit.”
In his PSG debut, Portugal midfielder Renato Sanches rounded off the scoring with a first-time effort in the 88th.
Omlin pulled off some outstanding saves to frustrate PSG for more than 30 minutes. The Swiss goalkeeper saved a penalty from Mbappe in the 23rd after Jordan Ferri had handled the ball. He then turned around the post a curling free kick from Messi in the 26th.
Montpellier scored with a close-range effort from Wahbi Khazri in the 58th and a half-volley from Enzo Tchato in stoppage time.
Earlier, Rennes’ defensive issues were exposed as it squandered the lead to draw 1-1 with 10-man Monaco.
In a clash between two contenders for European spots, Monaco forward Breel Embolo pounced on a heavy touch from goalkeeper Dogan Alemdar to equalize with a sliding effort in the 73rd.
Rennes striker Gaetan Laborde opened the scoring by converting a rebound in the 59th.
Monaco was down to 10 men in the 15th when midfielder Youssouf Fofana was red-carded for a stamp on Martin Terrier’s ankle.
“We are extremely disappointed,” Laborde said. “When you play with 11 men against 10 almost the entire game, you must come away with three points. It was tense in the dressing room.”
Despite its numerical superiority, Rennes looked shaky at the back. Embolo proved a magnet for fouls and Joe Rodon and Arthur Theate were booked for holding the forward in the 21st and the 23rd, respectively.
Steve Mandanda also received a yellow card in the 31st for catching Embolo in the face while attempting to punch the ball away. The Rennes goalkeeper made amends by stopping the subsequent penalty taken by Axel Disasi before denying Krepin Diatta in the 36th.
However, Mandanda picked up a knock and was replaced by Alemdar at halftime.
Monaco goalkeeper Alexander Nubel helped salvage a point by turning Baptiste Santamaria’s long-range strike around the post in the 27th and parrying a close-range header from Terrier in the 28th.