Barcelona can clinch first Spanish league title since Messi adiós

Betis’ goalkeeper Rui Silva clears the ball in front Barcelona’s Robert Lewandowski during their Spanish La Liga match at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on Apr. 29, 2023. (AP/File)
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Updated 11 May 2023
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Barcelona can clinch first Spanish league title since Messi adiós

  • The club need only two of the remaining 15 points in play to win their first domestic league since 2019
  • Their first chance at securing the title is on Sunday when they visit Espanyol

BARCELONA, Spain: Barcelona can clinch the Spanish league title this weekend and finally start moving past the exit of Lionel Messi three years ago.
The club need only two of the remaining 15 points in play to win their first domestic league since 2019. Their first chance at securing the title is on Sunday when they visit Espanyol.
Barcelona are 13 points ahead of Atletico Madrid, and Xavi Hernández’s team hold the head-to-head tiebreaker. Real Madrid, last year’s champion, are 14 points back in third and solely focused on their Champions League semifinal with Manchester City.
The last time Barcelona lifted the Liga trophy Messi was still the leader of a feared European powerhouse then coached by Ernesto Valverde. That capped a run of eight league titles in 11 seasons, among other trophies including three European Cups.
Since then, Barcelona have suffered a crippling financial crisis that led to the loss of the world’s best player and a subsequent decline on the field.
Barcelona managed to win the 2021 Copa del Rey – Messi’s last title before leaving for Paris Saint-Germain – under Ronald Koeman, but the 2019-20 and the 2021-22 campaigns ended with no silverware.
To turn this around this season, the club leadership made the controversial decision to sell off part of their future television revenues, as well as other assets, in order to inject new talent such as star striker Robert Lewandowski, winger Raphinha, and defenders Jules Koundé and Andreas Christensen.
Sergio Busquets is set to add to his 32 titles with Barcelona, including eight Spanish leagues, before he ends his career at his boyhood club come season’s end. The 34-year-old midfielder announced on Wednesday he will leave Camp Nou this summer.
LIKE A FINAL
Barcelona face a derby at a rival in desperate need of pulling off an upset.
Espanyol are in danger of joining the already relegated Elche in the second division next season. In second-to-last place, Espanyol are three points behind Getafe, also in danger, and Valencia, which are clinging to safety.
“We know that this is a life-or-death game,” Espanyol midfielder Nico Melamed said. “We will treat this like a final.”
The game will feature a duel between Lewandowski, who leads the league with 19 goals, and the competition’s third-top scorer in Espanyol striker Joselu Mato with 14.
A second-half penalty earned and converted by Joselu snatched Espanyol a 1-1 draw at Barcelona in December.
But Espanyol’s last win over Barcelona in any competition came in the 2018 Copa del Rey. Their last win over their mightier opponent in the league was in 2009.
Barcelona have been in control of the title race for almost two months, since beating Madrid 2-1.
If it slips against Espanyol, it will have four more chances starting against Real Sociedad in the following round.
Barcelona have 26 Spanish league titles, second to Real Madrid’s 35.


Real Madrid back to winning ways as Girona go top after their 6th straight victory in Spanish league

Updated 28 September 2023
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Real Madrid back to winning ways as Girona go top after their 6th straight victory in Spanish league

  • The win at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium moved Madrid to second place, one point behind Girona, which came from behind to win 2-1 at Villarreal
  • Girona are two points ahead of fellow Catalan club Barcelona, the defending champions that had their five-game winning streak halted by a 2-2 draw at Mallorca on Tuesday

MADRID: Real Madrid got back to winning ways by beating Las Palmas 2-0 on Wednesday while Girona are top of the Spanish league after their sixth straight victory.

Brahim Díaz and Joselu scored for Madrid, who were coming off a 3-1 loss at city rivals Atletico Madrid after opening the season with five straight league victories.

The win at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium moved Madrid to second place, one point behind Girona, which came from behind to win 2-1 at Villarreal.

Girona, who are enjoying their best-ever start to the league with six wins and a draw in seven games, host Madrid on Saturday.

“It’s not easy to win six in a row in the first division,” Girona coach Michel said. “We have to enjoy this moment. The game against Madrid will be precious, against one of the best teams in the world.”

Girona are two points ahead of fellow Catalan club Barcelona, the defending champions that had their five-game winning streak halted by a 2-2 draw at Mallorca on Tuesday.

Madrid were in control from the start at the Bernabeu and missed chance after chance until Díaz finally opened the scoring with a high shot from near the penalty spot three minutes into first-half stoppage time.

The hosts had 18 attempts in the first half alone, with eight of them on target. Las Palmas had no shots on target until after halftime.

Newly arrived striker Joselu grew increasingly frustrated after failing to capitalize on several good scoring opportunities until finally finding the net with a header in the 54th.

Díaz started in place of new signing Jude Bellingham. The 20-year-old England midfielder started on the bench for the first time this season after scoring six goals in his first seven matches with Madrid in all competitions.

Forward Vinícius Junior, returning from injury, also started on the bench. He replaced Joselu early in the second half.

“The players are well aware how important it is to rotate,” Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti said. “I try to manage the squad and we have to do that the best we can in the coming games. That will be the case until the next international break because fatigue does play a big part and there are lots of injuries in this period.”

Madrid endured yet another injury setback when defender David Alaba was substituted in the first half because of an apparent muscle problem. The club has been playing without goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and defender Éder Militão because of long-term knee injuries.

It was the fourth loss for promoted Las Palmas, who beat Granada in the previous round for their first win of the season.

GIRONA KEEPS WINNING

Girona rallied to beat Villarreal and extend their stunning start to the season.

Dani Parejo put the hosts ahead by converting a 49th-minute penalty kick, but Artem Dovbyk and Eric García gave Girona the lead with goals in the 56th and 61st minutes.

Girona, controlled by City Football Group, the parent company of Manchester City, opened the season with a 1-1 draw at Real Sociedad.

Villarreal are winless in three matches in all competitions.

OTHER RESULTS

Fourth-place Athletic Bilbao drew 2-2 against Getafe at home, while Cadiz and Rayo Vallecano finished 0-0.

Valencia lost 1-0 to visiting Real Sociedad.


Inter crash to first defeat as Osimhen boosts Napoli past Udinese

Updated 28 September 2023
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Inter crash to first defeat as Osimhen boosts Napoli past Udinese

  • Domenico Berardi hit the winner as Sassuolo claimed all three points to follow up last week’s win over Juventus
  • After a defeat and two draws, champions Napoli returned to winning ways with Osimhen playing a starring role in a 4-1 win over Udinese

MILAN: Inter Milan crashed to their first defeat of the Serie A season on Wednesday, going down 2-1 at home to Sassuolo as controversial striker Victor Osimhen starred for Napoli despite an apparent rift with the champions.

Inter went into the game with a perfect record of five wins in five and looked in control at 1-0 ahead thanks to a Denzel Dumfries goal on the stroke of halftime at the San Siro.

Sassuolo leveled in the 54th minute when Nedim Bajrami scored with a long-range effort which caught out goalkeeper Yann Sommer.

Domenico Berardi hit the winner 10 minutes later as Sassuolo claimed all three points to follow up last week’s win over Juventus.

Inter remain top of the table on goal difference ahead of AC Milan who earlier defeated Cagliari 3-1.

“After a good first period where we should have scored more than one goal, but we lost our focus especially after the equalizer,” said Inter coach Simone Inzaghi.

“Losing in front of our home crowd hurts us, we have to understand what happened, even if the schedule, with our next match on Saturday, doesn’t really give us time to take a step back.”

After a defeat and two draws, champions Napoli returned to winning ways with Osimhen playing a starring role in a 4-1 win over Udinese.

The Nigerian striker scored his fourth goal of the season after 39 minutes with Khvicha Kvaratskhelia ending a long goal drought by finding the net in the second half.

Osimhen, top scorer in Serie A last season, had cut a controversial figure at the weekend when he showed his displeasure at being taken off by coach Rudy Garcia in the 0-0 draw with Bologna.

On Tuesday, his agent threatened Napoli with legal action for having published a video on the club’s TikTok account, since deleted, mocking the striker for missing a penalty in that game.

Osimhen removed photos of himself in Napoli colors from his own social media, fueling speculation that he will demand a move in the next transfer window.

“I have a very good relationship with Victor,” insisted Garcia.

“I am happy for him because he scored tonight. After the match in Bologna, we were all frustrated, angry, Victor in particular, because he missed the penalty.

“On the sporting aspect and on other levels, especially on TikTok, there have been a lot of things to manage in recent days,” smiled Garcia.

“But I can assure you that Victor loves this jersey and that he is invested in 100 percent in our project.”

Napoli are now fifth in the table with 11 points, four points behind the two Milan clubs.

AC Milan fought back from a goal down to defeat Cagliari.

Milan were without injured goalkeeper Mike Maignan as well as strikers Olivier Giroud and Rafael Leao.

Cagliari, searching for a first win of the campaign, grabbed a shock 29th-minute lead through Angolan winger Zito Luvumbo who capitalized on a mix-up in the Milan defense to shoot past Marco Sportiello.

Milan, however, hit back with Noah Okafor levelling in the 40th minute when he beat goalkeeper Boris Radunovic from a cross by Christian Pulisic.

In first-half injury-time, Fikayo Tomori added Milan’s second thanks to the work of Yacine Adli who was starting a game for only the second time since his arrival at the club in July 2022.

Stefano Pioli’s side made sure of the three points on the hour mark when Ruben Loftus-Cheek hit the target.

The win was a fifth in six matches for AC Milan who are level on 15 points with Inter.

“We deserved our victory in a match which was not a formality,” said Pioli who celebrated his 200th win as a coach in Serie A.

However, he admitted there had been “naivety” over the goal Milan conceded.

“We know that it is the matches against our direct rivals for the title which will impact our place in the table, but these matches which, on paper, seem simple will be very important at the end of the season,” he added.

Empoli, who sacked coach Paolo Zanetti last week after a 7-0 thrashing at the hands of Roma, celebrated their first win of the season.

Tommaso Baldanzi scored the only goal in a 1-0 win over Salernitana.


Newcastle send Man City packing in League Cup; Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea advance

Updated 28 September 2023
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Newcastle send Man City packing in League Cup; Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea advance

  • Newcastle’s reward in the fourth-round draw made 30 minutes after the final whistle is a trip to Manchester in the fourth round to face United
  • Liverpool are making a habit of conceding the first goal in games but are still unbeaten this season after beating Leicester 3-1

LONDON: Manchester City seem to win every competition they enter these days except the English League Cup.

Newcastle beat Man City 1-0 on Wednesday in the third round of the League Cup who also eluded Pep Guardiola’s team during their storied treble last season. Guardiola’s agitation showed by getting a yellow card in the closing minutes for dissent to the match officials.

“No problem, I accept everything,” Guardiola told the BBC of his booking. “Congratulations to Newcastle for the victory.”

Newcastle’s reward in the fourth-round draw made 30 minutes after the final whistle is a trip to Manchester in the fourth round to face United. It’s a rematch of last season’s final won by Man United.

Guardiola left star starters Erling Haaland, Kyle Walker and Phil Foden on the bench, yet Man City still dominated the first half without making their possession count with a goal.

Alexander Isak struck in the 53rd for Newcastle who also made sweeping lineup changes to rest key players for another midweek fixture sandwiched between two Champions League challenges.

The goal was created by Joelinton’s dribble into and across the penalty area past four City defenders before squaring a pass that found Isak alone at the far post.

Foden and Jeremy Doku came on in the second half but could not find a leveler as Haaland stayed on the bench among the unused substitutes.

Man City won the League Cup five times in six seasons through 2021 and now have been eliminated in three straight seasons.

Guardiola’s team already won the UEFA Super Cup last month, still have Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup trophies to defend, and there is a first Club World Cup to play for in December in Saudi Arabia.

Liverpool comebacks

Liverpool are making a habit of conceding the first goal in games but are still unbeaten this season after beating Leicester 3-1 with three second-half goals.

A third-minute goal by Leicester’s Kasey McAteer made it five times in eight games that Liverpool trailed 1-0, and the second time it fell behind in the opening minutes at Anfield.

It would be Leicester’s only shot on target as Liverpool rallied with 29 goal attempts, 10 of them on target, and goals for Cody Gakpo, Dominik Szoboszlai and Diogo Jota.

Szoboszlai’s was the pick in the 70th, a rifled shot from 20 meters that glanced off the underside of the crossbar on its way to the net.

Arsenal, Chelsea advance

Arsenal and Chelsea came through games against Premier League opposition as all nine matches on Wednesday were won in regulation time and did not go directly to a penalty shootout.

Arsenal won 1-0 at Brentford thanks to Reiss Nelson’s goal in the eighth minutes after poor passing in the home defense.

At Stamford Bridge, Chelsea fielded three players — Marc Cucurella, Robert Sanchez, Moises Caicedo — who were signed from Brighton in a 1-0 win over their old club.

Nicolas Jackson scored in the 50th for the Senegal forward’s second goal of the season.

Top-tier teams win

Everton reversed a 4-0 loss at Aston Villa in the Premier League last month to take a 2-1 win at Villa Park. James Garner scored in the 15th and Dominic Calvert-Lewin in the 50th for Everton, which now has two away wins in five days after a troubled start to the season.

There were routine wins for Fulham and Bournemouth at home to second-tier teams.

Fulham’s foundation for a 2-1 win over Norwich was a 12th-minute goal by Carlos Vinícius. Bournemouth struck twice in a three-minute spell early in the second half to beat Stoke 2-0.

West Ham needed a 70th-minute goal by Tomas Soucek in a 1-0 win at third-tier Lincoln.

The highest scoring game saw Blackburn beat Cardiff 5-2 in a clash of second-tier teams.

Fourth-round draw

In a draw stacked with all-Premier League matchups, Liverpool will go to Bournemouth and Arsenal is at West Ham. Chelsea got a favorable game hosting Blackburn.

Everton coach Sean Dyche will welcome his long-time former club Burnley, and Fulham must go to improving second-tier side Ipswich.

Fourth-tier Mansfield will host third-tier Port Vale to ensure at least one underdog will be in the quarterfinals. Third-tier Exeter hosts second-tier Middlesbrough.


Morocco picked 2025 Africa Cup of Nations host

Updated 27 September 2023
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Morocco picked 2025 Africa Cup of Nations host

  • The 2027 tournament was awarded to East African neighbors Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania
  • Morocco’s bid opponents were a Benin-Nigeria co-host plan and Zambia after Algeria this week withdrew

CAIRO: Morocco being picked Wednesday to host soccer’s Africa Cup of Nations in 2025 was expected.
It was a surprise, however, that the 2027 tournament was awarded to East African neighbors Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania when its bid rivals included soccer powers Senegal and Egypt.
The Confederation of African Football’s president Patrice Motsepe announced the winners after votes by its executive committee.
Morocco was heavily favored to get the 2025 AFCON, when the 2022 World Cup semifinalist is also currently part of an innovative Europe-led joint bid for the 2030 tournament with Spain and Portugal, and possibly Ukraine.
Morocco’s bid opponents were a Benin-Nigeria co-host plan and Zambia after Algeria this week withdrew its candidacy from both the 2025 and ‘27 contests. Guinea previously was picked for 2025 but was stripped of hosting by CAF.
East Africa has not staged the biennial tournament since Ethiopia was the 1976 host.
The delayed 2023 edition of the 24-team tournament kicks off in January in Ivory Coast.


As UEFA works on return for Russian youth teams, Ukraine promises boycott and urges others to join

Updated 27 September 2023
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As UEFA works on return for Russian youth teams, Ukraine promises boycott and urges others to join

  • Ukraine soccer officials also urged other UEFA member countries late Tuesday to refuse to play Russia
  • “UAF confirms that we will not take part in any competitions with the participation of Russian teams,” the Ukraine federation said

GENEVA: The Ukraine soccer federation said it will boycott any European youth competition that includes Russia as UEFA works on easing a blanket ban imposed since the war started.
Ukraine soccer officials also urged other UEFA member countries late Tuesday to refuse to play Russia, a stance that England reiterated within hours of the European soccer body announcing a new policy of trying to reintegrate Russian Under-17 teams.
Qualifying groups are played in October and November for the Under-17 European Championship for boys and girls, which have finals tournaments next year.
“UAF confirms that we will not take part in any competitions with the participation of Russian teams,” the Ukraine federation said, “and appeal to other UEFA member associations to boycott possible matches with the participation of teams from the Russian Federation.”
“We strongly urge UEFA to review this decision and leave in force the previous decision on the complete exclusion of any teams from the Russian Federation from participation in international competitions.”
Latvia also pledged Wednesday to refuse to play Russia, with other British, Baltic and Scandinavian countries likely to follow.
The Kyiv-based Ukraine federation said letting teams return during the conflict “tolerates Russia’s aggressive policy.”
Ukraine soccer leader Andriy Pavelko is a member of the policy-setting UEFA executive committee and so is Alexander Dyukov, his Russian counterpart. Dyukov did attend the committee meeting Tuesday in Cyprus that shaped the new policy and Pavelko did not, UEFA said.
UEFA and FIFA moved within days of the military invasion of Ukraine starting in February 2022 to remove and ban all Russian national and club teams.
Even before those decisions were made, Poland and their men’s team captain Robert Lewandowski said they would not play Russia in a 2022 World Cup qualifying playoff scheduled in Moscow a month later.
Switzerland’s soccer federation also said its women’s team would not play Russia at the Euro 2022 tournament hosted by England.
Now 19 months into a war that shows no sign of ending, UEFA signaled Tuesday that it wants to restore Russian teams into its youth competitions, though without their flag, anthem, national colors and playing in only away games.
UEFA said “children should not be punished for actions whose responsibility lies exclusively with adults,” and its staff will look at finding groups that Russian Under-17 teams can play in.
Ukraine’s Under-17 girls’ teams are scheduled to play three games in Germany from Oct. 14-20 in a group that also includes Austria and Romania.
The Under-17 boys are due in Liechtenstein to play games from Oct. 15-21 against the host, Germany and Finland.
Russian youth players plus their coaches and officials would face issues getting visas and flights to travel for UEFA games. Serbia is a traditional ally of Russia that will host qualifying groups for Under-17 boys and girls in the weeks ahead.
The English Football Association defied UEFA’s new policy despite having vice presidents of UEFA and FIFA, David Gill and Debbie Hewitt, respectively, and likely being confirmed in two weeks’ time by UEFA as the men’s Euro 2028 co-host with its British and Irish neighbors.
“We do not support the position of readmitting Russia to UEFA age grade competitions,” the English FA said, “and our position remains that England teams won’t play against Russia.”