Barcelona rally to top Madrid, move closer to league title

Barcelona's Franck Kessie, center, celebrates with teammates after scoring his team's second goal during their Spanish La Liga match against Real Madrid at Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on March 19, 2023. (AP)
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Updated 20 March 2023
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Barcelona rally to top Madrid, move closer to league title

  • Franck Kessie scored in stoppage time to give Barcelona the home victory and a 12-point lead

MADRID: Barcelona took a major step toward winning their first Spanish league title since 2019 after coming from behind to beat Real Madrid 2-1 on Sunday.

Franck Kessie scored in stoppage time to give Barcelona the home victory and a 12-point lead over second-place Madrid with 12 matches to go.

Barcelona’s players huddled and celebrated on the field after the final whistle at Camp Nou.

The Catalan club was saved by the VAR for the second consecutive game, as Madrid had a potential go-ahead goal by Marco Asensio called back in the 81st minute because of offside. Last week, they edged Athletic Bilbao when an 87th-minute equalizer by Athletic forward Iñaki Williams was disallowed by video review.

Barcelona went into the match still facing criticism over their payments of several millions of dollars over several years to the former vice president of the country’s refereeing committee. Prosecutors have formally accused Barcelona of alleged corruption, fraudulent management and falsification of documentation. Madrid are among the clubs siding against Barcelona in the legal proceedings, as is the Spanish government, the league and the soccer federation. Barcelona have consistently denied any wrongdoing or conflict of interest, saying it paid for technical reports on referees but never tried to influence their decisions in games.

Madrid needed a win in the last league “clasico” of the season to give theselves a realistic chance of catching Barcelona and defending their title.

Barcelona won eight league titles in 11 seasons through 2019. They finished second to Madrid in 2020, then third — behind Madrid and champion Atletico Madrid — in 2021, and second to Madrid again last season. They are seeking their 27th league title, which would leave them eight behind Madrid.

Barcelona were in control for much of the match on Sunday, creating most of the significant chances.

But the visitors opened the scoring in the ninth minute with a fortunate own-goal by Barcelona defender Ronald Araujo, who redirected the ball into the net with a header after a cross by Madrid forward Vinicius Junior from the left side of the area.

Sergi Roberto equalized after picking up a loose ball inside the area in the 45th, and Kessie netted the winner from the middle of the box after a late breakaway as Madrid made a final push for the victory.

Madrid had thought it went ahead when Asensio found the net from near the penalty spot after a pass by Dani Carvajal, but video review determined the goal couldn’t count because of offside in a tight call.

It was the second match between the rivals in less than three weeks. Barcelona won 1-0 at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium on March 3 in the first leg of the Copa del Rey semifinals. The return leg at Camp Nou is on April 5.

Madrid won the first league “clasico” 3-1 at the Bernabeu.

Barcelona was without playmaker Pedri and forward Ousmane Dembele because of injuries, while Madrid’s only absence was defender David Alaba, also because of an injury. Barcelona players wore the logo of international singer Rosalia instead of Spotify’s brand as part of its strategic agreement with the music streaming service. Rosalia was selected as she celebrates the one-year release of her hit album Motomami.

Elsewhere,Takefusa Kubo scored as Real Sociedad beat last-place Elche 2-0 to end their winless streak and regain sole possession of fourth place in the league.

Ander Barrenetxea also scored in the second half for Sociedad, who hadn’t won in six games in all competitions, including four straight in the league. They were coming off elimination against Roma in the Europa League on Thursday.

The win gave the Basque Country club a three-point gap over fifth-place Real Betis in the fight for the Champions League places.

Playmaker David Silva led Sociedad over Elche, who have won only two of its last 11 league games. It sits 14 points from safety.

Sociedad’s last league win had been at Espanyol in February.

Betis ended their four-game winless streak in all competitions with Borja Iglesias scoring a second-half goal in a 1-0 victory over midtable Mallorca at home. Betis had been eliminated by Manchester United in the Europa League.

Villarreal, another Spanish club that failed to advance in European competition after losing to Anderlecht, rebounded in the Spanish league with a 3-0 win at Osasuna.

Villarreal were coming off a three-game winless streak. They stayed in sixth place, four points behind Betis and seven from Sociedad.

Getafe left the relegation zone with a 2-0 home win over Sevilla, who stayed two points from the danger area. Sevilla have won only one of their last five league games, but were the only Spanish team to advance in the Europa League after eliminating Fenerbahce on Thursday.


Miami’s Messi, Suarez out for MLS All-Star Game

Updated 23 July 2024
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Miami’s Messi, Suarez out for MLS All-Star Game

MIAMI: Argentina star Lionel Messi and Inter Miami teammate Luis Suarez will miss Wednesday’s Major League Soccer All-Star Game with injuries, the league and team announced Monday.

An updated MLS roster for the match-up against Mexico’s Liga MX All-Stars at Columbus, Ohio, listed Messi and Uruguayan striker Suarez among those who would not play.

Inter Miami detailed the injuries, with Messi still sidelined after missing two MLS matches last week with a right ankle injury suffered in Argentina’s Copa America final triumph over Colombia.

“Messi will miss the All-Star Game due to an ankle injury while Luis Suarez, who recently returned from international duty after over 40 days away from the club, will miss the All-Star Game due to knee discomfort,” Inter Miami said.

It would have been the first MLS All-Star appearance for 37-year-old Messi, who joined Inter Miami last July.

Eight-time Ballon d’Or winner Messi, who helped spark Argentina to the 2022 World Cup title, led Miami to last year’s inaugural Leagues Cup crown in a tournament of MLS and Mexican league squads.

But Miami said Messi’s status and that of Suarez remain in doubt for Saturday’s home match against Mexico’s Puebla, Inter’s first step in defending the Leagues Cup title.

The availability of Messi and Suarez will be determined by their “daily recovery process” according to the team statement.


Diogo Jota says Riyadh Esports World Cup ‘a truly amazing experience’

Updated 22 July 2024
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Diogo Jota says Riyadh Esports World Cup ‘a truly amazing experience’

  • Liverpool and Portugal star, an avid gamer and investor, watched all the ‘Dota2 Riyadh Masters’ and ‘Counter-Strike 2’ action, and met esports players

RIYADH: Diogo Jota, the Liverpool and Portugal footballer, who attended the Esports World Cup in Riyadh on Sunday, has declared the globe’s largest gaming festival “a truly amazing experience.”

Jota, an avid gamer and investor in multinational esports organization Galaxy Racer, watched all the action at Boulevard Riyadh City as teams contested the finals of the “Dota2 Riyadh Masters” and “Counter-Strike 2” competitions.

The eight-week Esports World Cup features a unique cross-game structure pitting the top clubs and players against one another across 22 competitions in 21 leading games.

Held within the 8,000-capacity Saudi Esports Federation Arena at Boulevard Riyadh City, it runs until Aug. 25 and has a tournament prize pool of $60 million, the largest in the history of the sport.

The attacker, who has 42 caps and played for Portugal at the UEFA Euro 2024 this summer, met participating stars, including from Saudi Arabia’s Team Falcons, and happily swapped gaming and esports stories.

Jota said: “Being here at the inaugural Esports World Cup is a truly amazing experience. The organization and scale behind this event are truly impressive, even more than I anticipated.

“I’ve always believed in the potential of esports, even before starting my own team, and EWC is proof that this scene is evolving rapidly. This level of investment and infrastructure is exactly what esports needs to grow and reach a wider audience.

“I’m excited to see how EWC continues to evolve and push the boundaries of competitive gaming.”

Jota, who wears the No. 20 for Liverpool, was ranked world No. 1 in FIFA 21’s Champions Leaderboard. A regular streamer on Twitch, he also won an invitational series of FIFA matches, run by the Premier League, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Then a Wolverhampton Wanderers player, Jota defeated future Liverpool team-mate Trent Alexander-Arnold in the final.

Last year, Jota’s own esports organization, Diogo Jota Esports, was rebranded to Luna Galaxy — coming under the Galaxy Racer umbrella.

Prior to this, Diogo Jota Esports participated in the FIFAe Finals at Gamers8, organized by the Saudi Esports Federation, at Boulevard Riyadh City last summer, with Daniel “DFernandes” Fernandes finishing in the top 16.

More than 1,500 players, of over 60 nationalities, are battling it out at the inaugural Esports World Cup. Week three of the competition features action in the “Dota2 Riyadh Masters,” “Counter Strike 2,” and “PUBG Mobile” contests.


SAFF launches first edition of Regional Under-13 Championship in Taif

Updated 21 July 2024
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SAFF launches first edition of Regional Under-13 Championship in Taif

  • Top talents from academies across 14 cities, provinces, and regions are featuring in the tournament
  • The competition will provide valuable experience for young up-and-coming referees who have been selected from SAFF Referees’ Academy

RIYADH: The Saudi Arabian Football Federation has launched the first edition of the Regional Under-13 Championship in Taif, running from July 18–30.

Currently in its third day, the 12-day tournament features 14 regional teams, showcasing top talents from academies across 14 cities, provinces, and regions.

The 14 regional teams competing in the championship are from Al-Ahsa, Jazan, Najran, Jouf, Hail, Al-Qassim, the Eastern Province, Riyadh, Jeddah, Asir, Madinah, Makkah, Hafar Al-Batin, and Tabuk.

SAFF’s Technical Director Nasser Larguet said: “The championship represents the result of the significant work supported by the Saudi Arabian Football Federation, and the outcome is the creation of the Regional Under-13 League. Clear goals and strategic plans have been set to discover and support young talents.”

Additionally, the tournament will provide valuable experience for young up-and-coming referees, who have been selected from the SAFF Referees’ Academy, further contributing to the development of skilled officials in the sport.

Manuel Navarro, president of the SAFF Referees Committee, said: “The Regional Under-13 Championship is an opportunity to develop promising referees, especially since it will witness the participation of 32 young referees. The committee aims to increase their refereeing hours and enhance their experience.”

This tournament is a significant part of SAFF’s strategy to scout and develop over 4,000 young talents by 2025, supporting the growth and future of Saudi football.


Al-Ittihad unveils new kit for 2024-25 season

Updated 20 July 2024
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Al-Ittihad unveils new kit for 2024-25 season

  • The classic striped design in yellow and black is based on the Nike shirt, with its authentic heritage
  • The kit’s new design represents the architectural style “Rawashin”

JEDDAH: Al-Ittihad FC has unveiled its kit for the 2024/25 season in collaboration with Nike.

Al-Ittihad presented its distinctive new kit in photo sessions in the center of historic Jeddah, among its alleys and ancient buildings, in cooperation with Al-Balad Development Company, the club’s official sponsor.

The classic striped design in yellow and black is based on the Nike shirt, with its authentic heritage, which fans have loved and celebrated for 97 years.

The kit’s new design represents the architectural style, “Rawashin,” the prominent traditional wooden panels used to cover windows and external openings at the old houses of Jeddah — considered an icon of the city’s heritage.

Domingos De Oliveira, CEO of Al-Ittihad Club, described the new kit as a symbol of the club’s history: “We worked closely with Nike in order to ensure access to the best that can be presented in the new kit, while preserving the established values of the basic kit, which represents a unique identity, after maintaining it for nearly a century.

“In the new kit, we worked to blend the heritage of Al-Ittihad Club with the history of the region from which it started, with a modern spirit that creates innovation in order to emerge with a product that reflects the club’s vision of starting from the base of its great history toward more glory and development in the current era and the future.

“Attention was paid to all the details in terms of the degree of color and their overlapping in the dividing line between them in the same way that the wooden columns in the Rawashin buildings of Jeddah are intertwined.”

For the first time, the home kit will be presented in three categories — the official home kit, which the players will wear, the stadium category, and the fans category.


Argentina apologizes to France in football-chant row

Updated 20 July 2024
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Argentina apologizes to France in football-chant row

BUENOS AIRES: Buenos Aires apologized to France after Argentina’s vice president called the European country “colonialist” and its people “hypocrites” in an argument over alleged racist chants by Argentine footballers.
President Javier Milei’s office said Friday it had sent a senior official to the French embassy to explain that Victoria Villarruel’s angry statement on social media was made in her personal capacity.
FIFA has announced an investigation into the chants sung by Argentina players, including Chelsea and Argentina midfielder Enzo Fernandez, 23, after they won the Copa America.
The chants were heard on a live video posted on social media by Fernandez from the team bus in the wake of the Copa victory over Colombia in Miami on Sunday.
The song targets France’s star striker Kylian Mbappe among others and includes racist and homophobic insults.
Fernandez has apologized, but Chelsea have launched an internal disciplinary procedure against him. The French Football Federation (FFF) has complained to FIFA.
On Wednesday, Villarruel expressed support for Fernandez on X, saying: “No colonialist country is going to intimidate us because of a stadium chant nor for speaking truths that they do not want to admit. Enough with feigned outrage, hypocrites.”
The diplomatic incident came just days before Milei is due to travel to Paris to attend the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games.
“Diplomatic relations with France are intact,” presidential spokesman Manuel Adorni said Friday.
Argentina’s under secretary for sports, Julio Garro, was dismissed from his post this week after saying captain Lionel Messi and the Argentine Football Association should apologize for the chants.