Pedri earns subdued Barca nervy derby win at Girona

Barcelona’s Spanish midfielder Pedri celebrates scoring the opening goal next to teammate Ansu Fati during their Spanish League match against Girona FC at the Montilivi stadium in Girona on Jan. 28, 2023. (AFP)
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Updated 28 January 2023

Pedri earns subdued Barca nervy derby win at Girona

  • Pedri netted the only goal from close range after an hour at an icy Montilivi on his 100th appearance for Barcelona
  • Despite the narrow margin of victory, Xavi believes his team is significantly stronger than when he took over in November 2021

GIRONA, Spain: Barcelona midfielder Pedri Gonzalez earned his side a tense 1-0 Catalan derby victory at Girona on Saturday, opening a six-point gap ahead of Real Madrid at the top of La Liga.
With Carlo Ancelotti’s side hosting high-flying Real Sociedad on Sunday, Barca put their rivals under pressure to get a result and keep up with them in the title race.
Pedri netted the only goal from close range after an hour at an icy Montilivi on his 100th appearance for Barcelona, after replacing the injured Ousmane Dembele.
The French forward limped off in the first half, pulling up after a sprint and asking to be replaced, a blow for Barcelona considering his superb recent form.
Barca coach Xavi Hernandez said the winger appeared to have a quadriceps injury.
Despite the narrow margin of victory, Xavi believes his team is significantly stronger than when he took over in November 2021.
“We have to be self-critical and improve in many ways, but we are happy, we have to look at where we came from,” Xavi told reporters.
“The change to the team and a lot of players is big, we have many things to improve on, but we’re on the right path.
“I think the (biggest difference) is the confidence of the players — when we arrived their confidence was on the floor.”
Defensively the Catalans have been strong, conceding just six league goals this season and winning their last three matches 1-0 — they are unbeaten in 13 consecutive matches across all competitions.
“I think at grounds like this you have to win, however you do it,” Barcelona defender Jules Kounde told DAZN.
“We can play better, but in these away games, against opponents playing well, winning is vital.
“I think keeping a clean sheet is key. The whole team works defensively, not just the back four. Everyone is working well.”

The league leaders were still without suspended Polish striker Robert Lewandowski, missing his final game after a three-match ban.
Girona created the first chance after just three minutes, Rodrigo Riquelme’s smooth through ball feeding Yan Couto, whose shot was blocked.
Dembele also had an effort deflected away at the other end after Ansu Fati won the ball from goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga.
The French winger, who fired Barcelona into the Copa del Rey semifinals against Real Sociedad midweek, was forced off injured after 25 minutes.
Dembele’s first years at Barcelona were hampered by injuries but since Xavi’s arrival, the forward had been able to stay fit and firing.
Xavi brought on Jordi Alba for Marcos Alonso at the break and it made the difference for Barcelona, who had been sluggish.
The left-back set up Pedri’s opener with a cross from the left, tapped in by the Spaniard at the back post at the end of the first incisive move Barcelona had put together all game.
Pedri, whom Xavi had intended to rest, reached a century of appearances for Barca at just 20 years old and celebrated with his 15th goal for the club.
“I know I have to improve in front of goal (but) right now they are going in for me,” Pedri told DAZN.
Ronald Araujo headed a cross off his own goal line under pressure as Girona pushed for an equalizer, throwing men forward.
Ivan Martin missed a fine chance in stoppage time for the hosts as Barcelona lost all control of the game but survived a nervy finale to earn the win.
Girona also appealed for a penalty as Eric Garcia tangled with Cristhian Stuani in the area.
“There are situations in the box in which these tangles are given and sometimes not,” said Girona coach Michel, who was sent off in stoppage time for complaining about a foul by Frenkie de Jong.
“Today, the final result is not due to the refereeing performance, I prefer to say these games are won by the players.”
Earlier Cadiz climbed out of the relegation zone with a 2-0 win over Real Mallorca.


Stuttgart beat Hamburg 3-0 in 1st leg of Bundesliga playoff

Updated 02 June 2023

Stuttgart beat Hamburg 3-0 in 1st leg of Bundesliga playoff

  • The win puts Stuttgart, which finished third from bottom in the Bundesliga, on course to stay in the first division
  • Hamburg, the last remaining founding member of the Bundesliga, were relegated in 2018 and have been bidding for promotion since

STUTTGART: Hamburger SV’s five-year wait to rejoin the Bundesliga looks set to continue.

Serhou Guirassy helped to put Stuttgart in a commanding position to keep their place in Germany’s top division with a 3-0 win over Hamburg on Thursday in the first leg of their playoff.

Guirassy had failed to make the most of a one-on-one chance and had a penalty saved in the first half, but the Guinea forward grabbed Stuttgart’s third goal early in the second half.

Hamburg’s task was further complicated in the 69th minute when substitute Anssi Suhonen was sent off minutes after coming on for a studs-up lunge at Josha Vagnoman’s thigh.

The win puts Stuttgart, which finished third from bottom in the Bundesliga, on course to stay in the first division before the second leg of the playoff in Hamburg on Monday. Hamburg finished third in the second division.

There was a minute’s silence before Thursday’s game in tribute to the 15-year-old player who died after a post-match brawl at an international youth tournament in Frankfurt last weekend.

Stuttgart got off to a great start with Konstantinos Mavropanos heading the opener inside the first minute.

The visitors had Daniel Heuer Fernandes to thank for keeping the score down. The Hamburg goalkeeper saved from Chris Führich, then got the better of Guirassy in a one-on-one, and also saved Guirassy’s penalty in the 27th. Two minutes later he produced another save to deflect Führich’s effort away.

Fuhrich effectively created the second goal in the 51st when he eluded two Hamburg defenders and played a perfectly weighted pass for Enzo Millot, who crossed for the unmarked Vagnoman to score.

Guirassy finally scored with a header to a corner three minutes later.

Hamburg, the last remaining founding member of the Bundesliga, were relegated in 2018 and have been bidding for promotion since. They finished fourth in 2019, 2020 and 2021 before finishing third last year for a playoff against Hertha Berlin. Hertha prevailed on that occasion.
 


Spanish league reaches finish with 6 teams in danger of relegation

Updated 01 June 2023

Spanish league reaches finish with 6 teams in danger of relegation

  • Valladolid are currently in 18th place, the last spot that will tumble along with already demoted Espanyol and Elche
  • A victory by the team owned by former Brazil great Ronaldo would be enough to secure salvation

MADRID: Six teams are vying to avoid relegation to the second division as the Spanish league reaches its finish.
Cadiz, Getafe and Valencia each have 41 points, Almeria and Celta have 40, and Valladolid has 39 heading into the final round of games.
Valladolid are currently in 18th place, the last spot that will tumble along with already demoted Espanyol and Elche. But Valladolid have their fate in their hands because they host 14th-place Getafe on Sunday.
A victory by the team owned by former Brazil great Ronaldo would be enough to secure salvation, but a draw could do the trick depending on other results. A draw by Getafe would be enough for the modest Madrid-based club to stay up.
Cadiz, in 14th place, will play at Elche needing only a draw to ensure they survive.
Valencia, which eliminated Espanyol last weekend with a stoppage-time goal, need a draw from their trip to Real Betis, which have already secured a Europa League berth.
A draw would also suffice Almeria at Espanyol.
Celta, which have entered a nosedive in recent weeks, host champion Barcelona needing a victory to control their fate. A draw would leave them depending on other results. Fortunately for Celta, Barcelona have nothing to play for.
Nearer to the top of the standings, Osasuna and Athletic Bilbao are tied on points and both wanting to clinch the Conference League berth that goes with a seventh-place finish.
Osasuna host Girona, while Bilbao are at Real Madrid.
LAST GAMES
Barcelona veterans Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba, who have won multiple titles between them, will play their last game for the club.
But Madrid’s game at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium could potentially be the last appearances for the pillars of their multiple Champions Leagues over the past decade.
Karim Benzema and Luka Modric, both Ballon d’Or winners, along with Toni Kroos and Marco Asensio are all on contracts that expire at the end of June. The club and players have reportedly been in talks about their futures, but nothing has officially been decided.


Sevilla in seventh heaven after Europa League win

Updated 01 June 2023

Sevilla in seventh heaven after Europa League win

  • Gonzalo Montiel netted the decisive spot-kick after Mancini and Roger Ibanez had failed to convert for Roma
  • Sevilla made it seven wins in seven finals in Europe’s second-tier competition

BUDAPEST: Sevilla found their Europa League magic formula on Wednesday, beating Roma 4-1 on penalties after a 1-1 draw to make it seven wins in seven finals in Europe’s second-tier competition.

The Spanish side trailed after Paulo Dybala’s first-half opener in Budapest but pulled level in the second period when Roma defender Gianluca Mancini scored an own goal.

Extra-time could not separate the teams and the game went to penalties at the Puskas Arena.

Gonzalo Montiel, who scored the winning penalty in the 2022 World Cup final, netted the decisive spot-kick after Mancini and Roger Ibanez had failed to convert for Roma.

Earlier, Paulo Dybala put Jose Mourinho’s Roma in front in the 35th minute only for a revitalized Sevilla to drew level 10 minutes after the break through a Mancini own goal.

The fans created a crackling atmosphere before kickoff but the early stages of the game did not match the color in the stands.

The Italian side created the first opportunity of the match but Leonardo Spinazzola shot straight at Sevilla goalkeeper Yassine Bounou after neat build-up play involving Dybala and Zeki Celik.

Just after the half-hour, Roma appealed for a spot-kick after forward Tammy Abraham was caught on the head by a high boot from Nemanja Gudelj as the Sevilla defender was clearing the ball but VAR confirmed it was not a penalty.

But minutes later they were in front.

Dybala ran between two defenders and latched onto Mancini’s through ball from the center circle, coolly slotting his shot past Bounou.

Sevilla, finally finding some fluency, came agonizingly close to levelling deep into the seven minutes of added-on time when Ivan Rakitic drilled a fierce left-footed strike from distance that cannoned back off an upright.

Sevilla boss Jose Luis Mendilibar brought on forward Suso and Erik Lamela for Oliver Torres and Bryan Gil at the break and the Spanish side began the second period on the front foot.

They were level after 10 minutes when Mancini bundled a Jesus Navas cross from the right into his own net from close range.

Roma seemed certain to re-take the lead against the run of play midway through the second half but the Sevilla defenders somehow scrambled the ball away after several stabs at goal from close range.

Dybala, starting a match for the first time since mid-April, was withdrawn, with midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum coming on to replace him.

Sevilla thought they had a penalty with 15 minutes to go after referee Anthony Taylor ruled that Ibanez had brought down Lucas Ocampos but the decision was overturned by VAR.

The Italian side should have been ahead in the 83rd minute but substitute Andrea Belotti failed to keep his shot on target with only the goalkeeper to beat after captain Lorenzo Pellegrini found him with a clever dinked free-kick.

Extra time was largely uneventful as tempers flared between the two benches but Roma defender Chris Smalling almost snatched the win when he hit the woodwork with a looping header from a corner in the dying seconds.

Sevilla had the advantage in the shootout when Mancini’s penalty was saved and when Ibanez hit the post the Spanish side appeared certain winners.

But there was still more drama to come.

Montiel’s effort was saved by Rui Patricio but the kick was ordered to be re-taken after an encroachment by the goalkeeper and this time the Argentine made no mistake.


Brazil court seeks arrest of LA Galaxy’s Costa for failing to pay child support

Updated 31 May 2023

Brazil court seeks arrest of LA Galaxy’s Costa for failing to pay child support

  • The 32-year-old Costa cannot be arrested outside Brazil, according to the court’s ruling

SAO PAULO: A Brazilian court is seeking the arrest of L.A. Galaxy striker Douglas Costa for failing to pay for child support.
An attorney for the Brazilian striker said on Tuesday in a statement that he trusts the decision by a judge in the city of Porto Alegre will be reversed. Details of the case are sealed.
The 32-year-old Costa cannot be arrested outside Brazil, according to the court’s ruling, which was issued on Friday.
Costa has played for Brazil, Bayern Munich and Juventus. He signed a deal with the Major League Soccer team in February 2022, and it runs to December.


Forwards Nkunku, Dembélé recalled by France for Euro qualifiers

Updated 31 May 2023

Forwards Nkunku, Dembélé recalled by France for Euro qualifiers

  • The two strikers were included in coach Didier Deschamps’ squad for upcoming European Championship qualifiers against Gibraltar and Greece
  • France top the Group B standings in qualifying after back-to-back wins against the Netherlands and Ireland

PARIS: Christopher Nkunku and Ousmane Dembélé were recalled Wednesday to France’s national team.
The two strikers were included in coach Didier Deschamps’ squad for upcoming European Championship qualifiers against Gibraltar and Greece after missing Les Bleus’ previous games due to injury.
France top the Group B standings in qualifying after back-to-back wins against the Netherlands and Ireland. The two-time world champions take on Gibraltar in Portugal on June 16, then host Greece three days later at the Stade de France.
Nkunku, who plays for RB Leipzig in the Bundesliga, has been sidelined for months due to a knee injury while Barcelona’s Dembele missed a series of games due to a hamstring problem.
Deschamps will be without the injured Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kanté, with William Saliba also missing because of a back injury.
France squad:
Goalkeepers: Alphonse Areola (West Ham), Mike Maignan (AC Milan), Brice Samba (Lens)
Defenders: Axel Disasi (Monaco), Wesley Fofana (Chelsea), Theo Hernandez (AC Milan), Ibrahima Konaté (Liverpool), Jules Koundé (Barcelona), Ferland Mendy (Real Madrid), Benjamin Pavard (Bayern Munich), Dayot Upamecano (Bayern Munich)
Midfielders: Eduardo Camavinga (Real Madrid), Youssouf Fofana (Monaco), Antoine Griezmann (Atlético Madrid), Adrien Rabiot (Juventus), Aurélien Tchouaméni (Real Madrid),
Forwards: Kingsley Coman (Bayern Munich), Ousmane Dembélé (Barcelona), Olivier Giroud (AC Milan), Randal Kolo Muani (Eintracht Frankfurt), Kylian Mbappé (Paris Saint-Germain), Christopher Nkunku (RB Leipzig), Marcus Thuram (Borussia Mönchengladbach).