Great debuts for De la Fuente, Joselu as Spain beat Norway

Spain's Joselu celebrates scoring his side's third goal during the Euro 2024 group A qualifying soccer match between Spain and Norway at La Rosaleda stadium in Malaga, Spain, on March 25, 2023. (AP)
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Updated 26 March 2023

Great debuts for De la Fuente, Joselu as Spain beat Norway

  • The Germany-born Espanyol striker became the first Spain player to score twice on his debut since Fernando Morientes in 1998

MALAGA, Spain: A winning debut for coach Luis de la Fuente with Spain. And a magical one for striker Joselu.

Joselu scored in the 84th and 85th minutes — shortly after coming off the bench — to help seal Spain’s 3-0 win over Norway on Saturday in De la Fuente’s first game in charge.

Dani Olmo had scored early as Spain opened their qualifying campaign for the 2024 European Championship with the victory over a Norway squad that was without star forward Erling Haaland because of a groin injury.

“I still don’t believe it. I scored twice in my debut,” the 32-year-old Joselu said. “This is everything a player can ask for. Hard work has its rewards. I feel like an 18-year-old kid.”

Before entering the match in the 81st, Joselu kissed his shin guards, which have a picture of his late father on one of them and his wife, kids and mother on the other.

“They all give me strength,” he said.

The Germany-born Espanyol striker became the first Spain player to score twice on his debut since Fernando Morientes in 1998.

“It’s our job to know the players, but all credit goes to Joselu,” De la Fuente said. “We gave him the opportunity and I’m happy for him and for all the players.”

It was Spain’s 23rd straight win in a European qualifier at home.

Norway, trying to make it to a major tournament for the first time since Euro 2000, remains with only one win in nine matches against Spain.

La Roja arrived with a squad overhauled by coach De la Fuente after he was promoted from Spain’s under-21 team to replace Luis Enrique in December following the team’s elimination against Morocco in the round of 16 of the World Cup.

De la Fuente made it a priority to solve the scoring problems of a squad that managed only one win in Qatar after dominating possession in most games but failing to create many significant scoring opportunities.

Spain again struggled against Norway, though, and was unable to capitalize on their chances during most of the match as the visitors played solidly from the start.

“It’s normal to suffer in matches at this level,” De la Fuente said. “I’m happy with the attitude that we showed, it gives me reason to be very optimistic. We will keep improving.”

Olmo put Spain ahead in the 13th minute by redirecting Alejandro Balde’s low cross. Joselu, who replaced starting striker Alvaro Morata, sealed the victory with a header and a close-range shot.

One of Norway’s best opportunities to equalize had gone to Real Sociedad striker Alexander Sorloth. His volley from inside the area went just wide in the 80th.

Spain has won four of its last five games against Norway. The sides are paired together in Euro qualifying for the second tournament in a row.

Spain’s next match is on Tuesday at Scotland. Norway will be at Georgia. Group A also includes Cyprus. The top two teams in each group advance.

Newcastle United end-of-season awards: winners and losers from historic 2022/23 campaign

Updated 06 June 2023

Newcastle United end-of-season awards: winners and losers from historic 2022/23 campaign

NEWCASTLE: The wait for silverware goes on at St. James’ Park, but Champions League football has returned.

Having suffered the seemingly endless pain of one relegation battle after the next, this season has proven a welcome distraction for Newcastle United.

Under Eddie Howe, and with PIF at the helm, the days of feeding on scraps at the foot of the Premier League seem long gone. This very much feels like the era of progress and positivity on Tyneside.

The season that was full of highs, with the odd low along the way, but it all ended in success with a top-four finish in the bag and trips to Barcelona and Madrid in the offing, rather than fears of Preston and Barnsley.

Looking back, here’s our take on the highlights, lowlights and the standout performers across the season.

Player of the season
You know it’s been a remarkable campaign when you find it impossible to mention your 18-goal, Premier League fourth top-scorer for the season, Callum Wilson, in your top three players for the season. In fact, he might not even make the top five, such has been the competition at the top.

Honourable mentions must go to the likes of Bruno Guimaraes, Fabian Schar, Kieran Trippier and Nick Pope, who have all more than proven their value over the course of the season, but in my opinion, it is very difficult to look past the talents of last season’s official POTY, Joelinton. He’s a player who just keeps getting better and better.

Signed as a forward and used in a back-to-goal, central role on arrival, the big Brazilian looked like a fish out of water in the Premier League. It is easy to forget that it must have been hard to settle during the COVID-19 lockdown, not speaking the language, playing in a new country, new environment and being asked to perform a role that you had never played.

Those days, though, seem long gone. And while the shoots of recovery were evident in the latter days of the previous manager, Howe sprinkled some magic on the player in his opening weeks, dropping him into a deeper midfield role, with the switch paying instant dividends. From then, Joelinton has been used as a left forward or to the left side of a central midfield three, bursting forward to score goals and also provide cover to the backline with his physical, commanding style.

This season, playing largely in midfield, Joelinton had his most successful season in front of goal, netting eight — and from his deepest starting slot yet. Bigger than any Arab News player of the year gong, Joelinton received his maiden Brazil call last week, just reward for his outstanding form and growth under Howe.

Most improved player
Sean Longstaff. Always undervalued, never by Howe and his coaches, though.

In the space of a year, Longstaff transformed from a player who appeared to have lost his way under previous boss Steve Bruce and was heading for the Newcastle exit door. The North Shields native — a city suburb on the banks of the Tyne — never wanted to leave his boyhood heroes. However, his breakthrough under Rafa Benitez and big money links to Manchester United seemed a million miles away from the reality of this time last year.

And even after penning a new deal, one which saw his chronic underpayment readjusted, things in the garden weren’t exactly rosy for Longstaff, with Jonjo Shelvey ahead of him in the midfield pecking order, as well as usual suspects Joelinton, Joe Willock and Bruno Guimaraes. But a knock to Shelvey in pre-season in Portugal opened the door to the Geordie, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Makeshift left-back Dan Burn could easily make a case for unsung hero, too.

Young player of the year
Elliot Anderson had a brilliant breakthrough year, and bigger and better things are expected of the youngster next season, but this one is really a two-way shootout.

Sven Botman and Alexander Isak, both signed last summer, enjoyed sensational first seasons at the club, the latter despite a long, frustrating spell on the sidelines.

Isak, signed for a club record fee, broke on the scene with a flawless display on debut at Liverpool and looked set for great things, only for an injury, sustained while away with Sweden, to keep him out until the new year. But after his return, Isak displaced top-scorer Wilson as the club’s central striker and netted 10 goals in total himself. His most memorable contribution probably came on the blue half of Merseyside when he weaved in and out on the left to tee up Jacob Murphy. It was every bit a throwback to Thierry Henry at Arsenal. Rumour has it, Everton’s Michael Keane is still twisting and turning to this day.

Botman, on the other hand, has been Newcastle’s Mr. Consistent, a rock alongside Schar at the heart of the Magpies’ backline. And while he hasn’t put in the flashy shows like Isak, his solidity, in his debut campaign in the joint best defense in the division, means he gets the nod for me.

Underperformer for 2022/23
This one isn’t difficult. Allan Saint-Maximin. He started the campaign like a house on fire, but injury curtailed his blistering start, which saw Kyle Walker turned inside-out in a 3-3 draw with Manchester City as never seen before. It was a flash of the old Maxi. Sadly, flashes are all we get these days.

When fit — and that was rarely this season — Saint-Maximin struggled for gametime even though he showed a willingness to bend to Howe’s more disciplined tactical approach. It has never quite felt like enough, though. And even though more flashes were shown on the final day at Chelsea, you’d have to feel his time on Tyneside may well be up.

The player himself took to Instagram to post this very cryptic message on Monday. It read: “When I joined @nufc in 2019, nobody understood my choice. I always believed in this club, as soon as I step onto the pitch, the fans directly adopted me. Since then there has been highs and lows, when we were in the relegation zone, but I always believed in the team and trusted the project even if it was hard to stay in the PL, I knew that the club deserved much better and we had to prove it. I gave everything on the pitch to keep the team at the highest level. I am grateful that some people remember that.”

It continued: “I am now entering a turning point in my career and I will give everything until the end to achieve my dreams. It’s often said that human beings forget quickly, but me I won’t be able to forget everyone that love me for who I am and believe in me in difficult moments, it’s in these hard situations that we see the real supporters. Thanks to everyone for the support, whatever happens, I will always give everything when I have the chance to step onto the pitch. Thanks, God, for everything.”

It’s fair to say that message has got fans guessing.

Goal of the season
Newcastle had two contenders in the Premier League’s goal of the season competition, and both deserve a special mention.

Miguel Almiron’s cracker of a volley, which was stroked in at Fulham as it dropped over his shoulder, is up there with the best the league was graced with in the past 12 months, however, you would have to go a long way to see a better strike than the one produced by Saint-Maximin at Wolves.

The goal meant a lot, it rescued a point for Newcastle in their first real struggle of the season, but the technique in itself was worthy of winning any competition. Hit with such velocity, having dropped from so high, first time, in the 90th minute from 1-0 down, it was the pinnacle of the Frenchman’s ultimately disappointing season.

Result of the season
Spurs. It had to be: 21 minutes of unbridled mayhem, five goals and a team decimated without getting out of second gear.

This was one of the finest, most brutal, Premier League performances I’ve ever seen. Easily the most impressive period of play, in those opening exchanges, ever produced in the Premier League by a team in black and white.

Sitting in the St. James’ Park press box, we were swamped by fans falling off their seats and jumping with joy, time and time again that day. Jacob Murphy’s face told the story of the masses — no one could believe their eyes, particularly those furnished in sky blue. It was a long trip back, no doubt. Final score, Newcastle United 6, Tottenham Hotspur (Harry Kane alone) 1.

Moment of the campaign
In a campaign of many moments, for me, one stands above all. The final whistle at the end of the first leg of the Carabao Cup semifinal.

Newcastle United dominated their struggling opponents from near minute one to 90, and with just 20 minutes to go, edged themselves in front via Joelinton. The job wasn’t done yet, but still, at the halfway point, playing a side who’d go on to finish bottom of the top-flight last season, it felt the groundwork had been laid.

I was at Wembley — the old pre-development one — as a fan in 2000, the last time Newcastle played there in a cup competition. And as the whistle sounded, for the first time, a wave of realization swept over me that a return was on the cards.

That being said, the win over Brighton, which all but sealed a Champions League spot, was also up there in a close second. The outpouring of emotion that night, on and off the field, was a joy to behold.

The one big regret...
At almost any given time this season, Newcastle would have bettered Manchester United. But in front of 87,306 people on Feb. 28, they barely laid a glove on them. Sadly, for Howe and Newcastle, it was the most meaningful afternoon of the whole campaign.

Losing the Carabao Cup final was not really something alien to the club; they’ve lost final after final before. However, there was something a whole lot different this time around, yet so much remained the same.

This was not the Man United treble-chasing side of 1999, nor was it Arsene Wenger’s pre-Invincible, but near untouchable Gunners of 1998 — the last two teams to beat the Magpies in a showpiece finale. This was the fallible, very beatable Man United, one in transition, moving toward glory of old, but lacking belief that a win was an inevitability. That’s why losing it felt so painful.

The thing to take from this moment, though, and the whole season, is that these times will come again for Newcastle — but next time, they’ll be in a stronger position to grasp the opportunity — and silverware — with both hands.


Ibrahimovic announces retirement from football

Updated 05 June 2023

Ibrahimovic announces retirement from football

  • Veteran striker Ibrahimovic revealed his decision to quit the game during an on-pitch ceremony following AC Milan’s 3-1 win over Verona

MILAN: Zlatan Ibrahimovic brought the curtain down on a long, trophy-packed career on Sunday when he unexpectedly announced his retirement from football.
Veteran striker Ibrahimovic revealed his decision to quit the game during an on-pitch ceremony following AC Milan’s 3-1 win over Verona.
“It’s the moment to say goodbye to football, not just to you,” said Ibrahimovic on the San Siro pitch.
“There are too many emotions for me right now. Forza Milan and goodbye.”
The 41-year-old had been expected to simply bid farewell to Milan fans after his departure from the seven-time European champions was announced on Saturday.
He returned to Milan in late 2019 for a second spell after a previous two-year period in which he won the Serie A title in 2011.
Ibrahimovic was a key figure in Milan’s resurgence to the top of Italian football after his return to the club, helping to bring them back from the doldrums and eventually win the Scudetto last season.
“The first time I came here you gave me happiness, the second time you gave me love,” said Ibrahimovic.
“You welcomed me with open arms, you made me feel at home, I will be a Milanista for the rest of my life.”
Over the course of his career Ibrahimovic won league titles in the Netherlands, Italy, Spain and France, although his only major European trophy was the 2017 Europa League with Manchester United.
He has hardly featured for Stefano Pioli’s side this term after being plagued with injuries, returning in February following surgery on his left knee in May.
In July he signed a deal which netted him around one million euros ($1.02 million) in fixed salary, with large bonuses linked to appearances and achievements.
But the 41-year-old only started one match and netted once for Milan this season, a 3-1 win at Udinese in March in which he became the oldest goal scorer in Serie A history.
He then picked up a calf injury in a pre-match warm up in April and ended his career sidelined before scotching rumors that he was set to move to Monza and targeting Euro 2024 with Sweden.

Mbappe wins record 5th French golden boot, Rennes earn Europa League spot, Auxerre relegated

Updated 04 June 2023

Mbappe wins record 5th French golden boot, Rennes earn Europa League spot, Auxerre relegated

  • Mbappe celebrated by holding up a shirt with seriously injured backup goalkeeper Sergio Rico’s name on it
  • French champions PSG and second-placed Lens qualified for the group stage of the Champions League next season

PARIS: Paris Saint-Germain striker Kylian Mbappe won a record fifth straight French golden boot on Saturday while Rennes clinched a Europa League spot and Auxerre were relegated.

Mbappe’s goal in a 3-2 loss to Clermont finished his league tally on 29 and made him the top scorer for the fifth time, tied with French great Jean-Pierre Papin and retired Argentine strikers Carlos Bianchi and Delio Onnis.

French champions PSG and second-placed Lens qualified for the group stage of the Champions League next season and third-placed Marseille earned a spot in the third qualifying round of the lucrative European competition.

Rennes edged Brest 2-1 with first-half goals from Benjamin Bourigeaud to leapfrog Lille into fourth place.

Lille booked a playoff spot for the Europa Conference League after drawing with Troyes 1-1. Bafode Diakite opened the scoring for Lille in the second half and Troyes winger Rony Lopes equalized.

Monaco were third in the previous two seasons but missed out on European football after losing to Toulouse 2-1 to finish sixth. Toulouse substitute Rhys Healey scored the winner in stoppage time. After 34 rounds, Monaco had a five-point lead over Lille and were eight points clear of Rennes. But Monaco collapsed during the run-in with just one point from the last four games.

PSG finished only one point clear of Lens after the home loss to Clermont, which also marked Lionel Messi’s farewell match for the club. Messi was booed before kickoff.

PSG led 2-0 after a header from the departing Sergio Ramos and a penalty from Mbappe. Mbappe celebrated by holding up a shirt with Sergio Rico’s name on it. Rico, the PSG backup goalkeeper, was seriously injured after getting hit by a loose horse in Spain last Sunday.

Clermont leveled before halftime with goals from Johan Gatien and Mehdi Zeffane. Grejohn Kyei scored the winner by converting a cross in the 63rd.

Cameroon forward Ignatius Ganago helped former powerhouse Nantes stay up by netting the lone goal in a 1-0 win over Angers.

Nantes snapped a 14-game winless streak in the league to leapfrog Auxerre into 16th place.

Auxerre lost to Lens 3-1 and will be demoted to the second division alongside Angers, Ajaccio and Troyes. Four teams are relegated because the league will shrink from 20 clubs to 18 next season. Lens midfielder Alexis Claude-Maurice scored twice before Belgium international Lois Openda sealed the win.

Elsewhere, Clement Vidal scored in Ajaccio’s 1-0 win over Marseille.

Lyon striker Alexandre Lacazette failed to find the net in a 3-1 loss at Nice, finishing with 27 goals as the second best scorer.

Montpellier beat Reims 3-1. Reims striker Folarin Balogun scored a consolation to raise his tally to 21 in his breakthrough season. Born in New York, Balogun played for England at youth level but opted to play for the United States at senior level in May.

Also Lorient beat Strasbourg 2-1.

Nkunku helps Leipzig defend German Cup title

Updated 03 June 2023

Nkunku helps Leipzig defend German Cup title

  • A year after scoring a second-half goal which sent the 2022 final to penalties, Nkunku broke the deadlock after 71 minutes
  • "When you win something like this, then you just have to celebrate -- and that's what we'll do," Leipzig midfielder Konrad Laimer told Germany's ZDF network

BERLIN: A Christopher Nkunku-inspired RB Leipzig won their second straight German Cup title on Saturday, beating Eintracht Frankfurt 2-0 in Berlin.
A year after scoring a second-half goal which sent the 2022 final to penalties, Nkunku broke the deadlock after 71 minutes, his low shot taking a deflection and into the goal against the run of play.
A shellshocked Frankfurt, who had the better of the second half looked to equalize but Leipzig scored again, Dominik Szoboszlai sweeping in an Nkunku pass on the counter.
After featuring in four of the past five German Cup finals, Leipzig’s second title in two years firmly establishes themselves alongside Borussia Dortmund as challengers to Bayern Munich’s throne.
“When you win something like this, then you just have to celebrate — and that’s what we’ll do,” Leipzig midfielder Konrad Laimer told Germany’s ZDF network.
Frankfurt captain Sebastian Rode said Nkunku’s goal was the turning point, telling ZDF “we just didn’t have the power in behind” after the strike.
The victory spoiled Frankfurt manager Oliver Glasner’s farewell, with the Austrian leaving the club at the end of the season, one year after taking them to the Europa League title.
Despite the victory, the immediate future is uncertain for Leipzig, who could lose several stars including Nkunku, Szoboszlai and Laimer in the summer.
Sporting director Max Eberl confirmed a possible exit for Nkunku, telling German TV “it could be” the France striker’s last match for Leipzig.
Pre-game, the match had been billed as a clash of conflicting ideologies in German football.
In one corner, nouveau riche Leipzig, playing in just their 14th season, against the tradition of Frankfurt, one of only four clubs remaining from the first Bundesliga season in 1963-64 guaranteed to play in next year’s top division.
The Frankfurt stadium announcer played into the conflict just before kickoff, saying “tradition can’t be bought,” a direct jab at the Red Bull-owned Leipzig.
Unbeaten in their last 11 cup games, Leipzig burst out of the blocks, Werner latching onto a Dominik Szoboszlai pass just four minutes in before blasting straight at the ‘keeper.
Leipzig dominated possession but Frankfurt caused problems on the counter, France striker Kolo Muani probing a defense missing the commanding presence of the suspended Josko Gvardiol.
The best chance of the first half fell to Nkunku in the shadows of halftime, the France striker cannoning the ball into the side netting past the outstretched fingers of Frankfurt goalie Kevin Trapp.
Fresh from extending his deal in Frankfurt by one year until 2026 on Friday, 2014 World Cup winner Goetze grabbed control of the game early in the second stanza.
The veteran of four German Cup final wins, two with Dortmund and two with Bayern, put Kolo Muani through on goal with a perfect threaded path before forcing a desperate close range save from Janis Blaswich.
With a Frankfurt opener looking likely, Leipzig scored against the run of play, Nkunku’s shot from the edge of the box taking a sharp deflection of defender Evan Ndicka and into the net.
Frankfurt made multiple changes pushing for an equalizer but Leipzig scored again, Szoboszlai hammering in after a sweeping counterattack with five minutes remaining to seal the win.

Barcelona win Women’s Champions League with stunning comeback against Wolfsburg

Updated 03 June 2023

Barcelona win Women’s Champions League with stunning comeback against Wolfsburg

  • “We didn't make it easy for ourselves,” Barcelona and England defender Lucy Bronze said in a pitchside interview after securing her fourth Champions League crown
  • Fridolina Rolfö capped the fightback by calmly firing the winner into the far corner of the net after a mix-up in the Wolfsburg defense in the 70th minute

EINDHOVEN, Netherlands: Midfielder Patricia Guijarro ignited a stunning second-half comeback as Barcelona overturned a 2-0 deficit to beat Wolfsburg 3-2 and win their second Women’s Champions League title on Saturday.
“We didn’t make it easy for ourselves,” Barcelona and England defender Lucy Bronze said in a pitchside interview after securing her fourth Champions League crown.
She won it three years in a row with Lyon.
Fridolina Rolfö capped the fightback by calmly firing the winner into the far corner of the net after a mix-up in the Wolfsburg defense in the 70th minute.
Guijarro is one of 15 Spanish players, including Bonmati and four other Barcelona teammates, who renounced playing for Spain last year, citing differences with their coach. They have not played since their participation in this summer’s Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand are in serious doubt.
Wolfsburg led 2-0 at the break thanks to goals from Ewa Pajor and Alexandra Popp.
But Barcelona kept believing they could win, easing the pain of last year’s final when the Catalan team never recovered after Lyon scored three times in the first 35 minutes. Barcelona lost 3-1.
“We have grown up. We didn’t break down,” Guijarro. “We have improved from last year.”
Bronze added: “We were never worried about scoring three goals.”
Barcelona earned their second league crown — the first was in 2021 — from their fourth final since 2019 in front of 33,147 fans at PSV Stadium, a record crowd for a women’s game in the Netherlands.
Guijarro’s double in the 48th and 50th minutes swiftly overturned a first half in which Wolfsburg’s pressing play and clinical counterattacking earned two goals.
First, the Barcelona midfielder slammed the ball into the roof of the net in the 48th. Aitana Bonmatí then made room for herself on the right before crossing for Guijarro to head past Merle Frohms for the equalizer. Guijarro was named player of the match but wasn’t satisfied until Rolfö sealed the win.
“I thought, two goals, we needed more. We needed to keep going,” she said.
It was a remarkable turnaround for coach Jonatan Giráldez’s Barcelona in a thrilling match.
Wolfsburg took the lead inside three minutes when tournament top scorer Ewa Pajor robbed Bronze of the ball close to the Barcelona penalty area and fired a powerful shot that goalkeeper Sandra Paños touched but could not stop from flying in. The goal improved Pajor’s tally in the competition to nine.
It was a rocky start for Bronze, who returned to the Barcelona lineup for the first time since she was injured in the semifinal first leg against Chelsea and underwent knee surgery.
Wolfsburg doubled their lead when veteran forward Alexandra Popp ran into space between two defenders and headed a cross from the left by Pajor past Paños from close range in the 37th. Popp equaled Ada Hegerberg’s record of scoring in four finals.
Wolfsburg goalkeeper Merle Frohms made sure her team went into the break without conceding by racing off her line in stoppage time to smother an effort by Salma Paralluelo.
But she couldn’t stop Barcelona’s onslaught after the break.
“It really hurt,” Wolfsburg coach Tommy Stroot said. “We did so many things right. We were so close to have a big sensation here tonight, to win the title.”
With Barcelona leading and the minutes ticking down, Giráldez brought on two-time Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas, who has recently recovered from an ACL injury. Barcelona’s vocal fans in Eindhoven roared as Putellas replaced Bonmatí.
It was Putellas who accepted the trophy from England coach Sarina Wiegman after Wolfsburg players formed a guard of honor for their opponents as they walked up to collect their medals.