Morocco hope to persuade 16-year-old Yamal to snub Spain

Barcelona’s Spanish forward Lamine Yamal celebrates after Barcelona’s Polish forward Robert Lewandowski scored during their Spanish Liga match against Villarreal CF at La Ceramica stadium in Vila-real on Aug. 27, 2023. (AFP)
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Updated 31 August 2023
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Morocco hope to persuade 16-year-old Yamal to snub Spain

  • Winger Yamal became the youngest player to feature in a La Liga game earlier in August in Barca’s 2-0 win over Cadiz
  • Now Morocco fans are desperate to see Yamal in the colors of his father’s country rather than Spain where he was born

RABAT: Morocco coach Walid Regragui on Thursday revealed he is trying to persuade 16-year-old Barcelona starlet Lamine Yamal to commit his international future to the Atlas Lions rather than Spain.
Winger Yamal became the youngest player to feature in a La Liga game earlier in August in Barca’s 2-0 win over Cadiz.
On Sunday, he played a starring role in a 4-3 win over Villarreal, hitting the woodwork twice and setting up the opening goal.
Now Morocco fans are desperate to see Yamal in the colors of his father’s country rather than Spain where he was born.
“He has just turned 16. He has a decision to make and it’s not easy,” Regragui told reporters.
“The president of the federation and I are working to get Lamine to join us. But it remains a personal choice which is not easy for a 16-year-old kid.
“I met him and we had a good chat. We presented our project. But the decision is up to him.”
Regragui said Yamal was already in his sights when he became Morocco coach last year.
“We did what was necessary for him to be with us, but then we can’t force a player to choose Morocco, especially since he was born abroad and he has played for Spain in their youth set-ups.”


Qatar beat Jordan to reach last eight of 2024 AFC U23 Asian Cup

Updated 19 April 2024
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Qatar beat Jordan to reach last eight of 2024 AFC U23 Asian Cup

  • A last-gasp 2-1 win leaves the hosts on six points from two matches in Group A of the tournament

DOHA: A stoppage time winner saw hosts Qatar defeat Jordan 2-1 on Thursday night to advance to the quarterfinals of the 2024 AFC U23 Asian Cup.

Qatar took the lead through Abdulla Al-Yazidi on 40 minutes, but Jordan equalized seven minutes into the second half thanks to Aref Al-Haj’s spot kick.

The match looked to be heading for a draw when Mohamed Al-Manai scored 14 minutes into stoppage time to break Jordanian hearts. The win Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium in Al-Rayyan made Qatar the first team to secure a spot in the last eight.

Qatar now sit top of Group A with a maximum six points from two matches. Earlier in the day, Indonesia beat Australia 1-0 at Abdullah Bin Khalifa Stadium in Doha and are currently second in the table with three points. Jordan and Australia are third and fourth respectively with one point apiece.

Saudi Arabia return to action against Thailand on Friday before facing Iraq in their final Group C match on Monday (April 22).

The U23 Asian Cup, which runs until May 3, is also a route to this summer’s Olympic Games in Paris.

The competition sees 16 nations split into four groups of four teams, with the top two from each progressing to the quarterfinals. The winners of both semifinals automatically qualify for the Olympics, regardless who wins the final.

The two losing semifinalists will contest third place, with the winners also booking a spot in Paris. The fourth-place finishers have one final chance with a play-off against an African qualifier.


Liverpool out of Europa League as Leverkusen advance to semis

Updated 19 April 2024
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Liverpool out of Europa League as Leverkusen advance to semis

LONDON: Liverpool crashed out of the Europa League after a 1-0 win against Atalanta that wasn’t enough to overturn their quarter-final deficit, while Bayer Leverkusen’s 1-1 draw at West Ham took the German champions into the last four on Thursday.
In Jurgen Klopp’s last season as Liverpool boss, the Reds were hoping to give the German a memorable farewell in the final in Dublin.
But Liverpool had suffered a stunning 3-0 loss in the first leg against Atalanta at Anfield last week.
And although Liverpool have authored some of European football’s greatest comebacks down the years against the likes of St. Etienne, AC Milan and Barcelona, there would be no miracle escape this time.
Mohamed Salah converted a seventh minute penalty in the second leg in Bergamo after Trent Alexander-Arnold’s cross hit Matteo Ruggeri’s arm.
However, Klopp’s men couldn’t breach the stubborn Atalanta defense again.
It has been a brutal week for Liverpool, whose Premier League title challenge was damaged by a shock home defeat against Crystal Palace on Sunday.
“It’s mixed emotions. We are out but I’m happy with the game,” Klopp said.
“It was clear we gave ourselves a massive hurdle. We wished we could have gone to Dublin but that hasn’t happened.”
While Klopp contemplates his failure to land the one major trophy to elude him during nine years with Liverpool, Atalanta can dream of winning the second silverware in their 116-year history after the 1963 Coppa Italia.
Bidding to reach their maiden European final, Gian Piero Gasperini’s team will face Marseille in their first European semifinal since the 1988 Cup Winners’ Cup.
Fresh from clinching their first Bundesliga title last weekend, Leverkusen survived a scare from West Ham before advancing 3-1 on aggregate.
In the semifinals, Xabi Alonso’s side will play Roma, who saw off Italian rivals AC Milan 3-1 on aggregate.
Leverkusen won the first leg 2-0 but West Ham made the perfect start in east London when Michail Antonio met Jarrod Bowen’s pin-point cross with a close-range header in the 13th minute.
West Ham eventually ran out of steam and Jeremie Frimpong struck in the 89th minute with a shot that deflected in off Aaron Cresswell.
“The momentum was with West Ham. To be honest, we were not at our best in the first half. I’m happy to go through. In the Europa League you always have tough moments,” Alonso said.
Leverkusen are into their second successive Europa League semifinal, while West Ham’s exit means for only the third time in the 21st century, England will have no teams in the Champions League and Europa League last four.
Leverkusen’s 44-game unbeaten run in all competitions has taken them to the brink of an incredible treble, finally ridding the club of the ‘Neverkusen’ tag that mocked their decades of underachievement.
Alonso’s team, who face second tier Kaiserslautern in the German Cup final on May 25, beat Werder Bremen 5-0 on Sunday to win the Bundesliga title.
At the Stadio Olimpico, Gianluca Mancini put Roma head from close-range in the 12th minute and Paulo Dybala doubled their advantage in the 22nd minute with a blistering strike.
Daniele De Rossi’s side were reduced to 10 men in the 31st minute when Zeki Celik was dismissed for a foul on Milan forward Rafael Leao.
Matteo Gabbia got one back in the 85th minute, but his header was little consolation for Milan.
After losing last season’s Europa League final against Sevilla, Roma are one step closer to finally winning the competition for the first time.
Roma, who won the Europa Conference League in 2022, are into their fifth European semifinal in the last seven seasons.
In the south of France, Marseille were 4-2 winners in a penalty shoot-out against Benfica following the French side’s 1-0 victory in a tie that finished 2-2 on aggregate.
Faris Moumbagna struck in the 79th minute, heading in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s cross to force extra-time.
In the shoot-out, Luis Henrique scored the winner for Jean-Louis Gasset’s side after Benfica duo Angel Di Maria and Antonio Silva missed their kicks.


Juventus ordered to pay Ronaldo $10.4 million in back salary

Cristiano Ronaldo was the world’s highest-paid sportsman in 2023. AFP
Updated 18 April 2024
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Juventus ordered to pay Ronaldo $10.4 million in back salary

  • The five-time Ballon d’Or winner was the world’s highest-paid sportsman in 2023, with $136 million, including $46 million in wages

Rome: Juventus must pay Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo 9.7 million euros ($10.4 million) in back wages for the 2020-21 season, the Italian courts announced on Wednesday.
The Court of Arbitration, to which Ronaldo appealed, “orders Juventus Turin to pay the sum of 9,774,166.66 euros,” plus interest and procedural costs, it stated in its decision.
The sum equates to the difference between the salary actually received by Ronaldo and that which he should have received after tax and other deductions.
Ronaldo, who spent three seasons in Italy with Juventus (2018-21) before joining Manchester United (2021-22) and then the Saudi club Al Nassr, was claiming 19.5 million euros but the arbitration panel reduced that by 50 percent.
Contacted by AFP, Juventus declined to comment, but said it would be issuing a statement “shortly.”
According to the rankings drawn up by the American business magazine Forbes, the five-time Ballon d’Or winner was the world’s highest-paid sportsman in 2023, with $136 million, including $46 million in wages.
Juventus, who are listed on the stock exchange, recorded losses of 123.7 million euros in the 2022-23 financial year, which ran to the end of June, it announced in October.
No provision has been made in the accounts of Italian football’s most successful club, currently third in Serie A, for the payment of this wages backlog.


Kuwait fall to Vietnam in 2024 AFC U-23 Asian Cup

Updated 18 April 2024
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Kuwait fall to Vietnam in 2024 AFC U-23 Asian Cup

  • Uzbekistan beat Malaysia 2-0 in the same group as the first round of matches concludes

DOHA: Vietnam defeated Kuwait 3-1 in the 2024 AFC U-23 Asian Cup as Group D games got underway in Qatar on Wednesday night.

The result meant Vietnam took the early lead in the fourth and final group of the 16-team tournament, with Uzbekistan, who beat Malaysia 2-0, sitting second in the table on goal difference. Kuwait and Malaysia, with zero points, are third and fourth respectively. 

The second round of matches kick off in Group A on Thursday (April 18), with hosts Qatar taking on Jordan and Indonesia facing Australia.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia will return to action against Thailand on Friday before facing Iraq in their final Group C match on Monday (April 22).

The 2024 AFC U-23 Asian Cup sees 16 nations split into four groups of four teams, with the top two from each progressing to the quarterfinals. The competition also serves as a route to the Olympic Games in Paris this summer, with the winners of the two semifinals both securing automatic qualification.

The two losing semifinalists will contest third place, with the winners also booking a place in Paris, while the fourth-place finishers have a final chance with a play-off against an African qualifier.


Kimmich header powers Bayern Munich past Arsenal and into Champions League final four

Updated 18 April 2024
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Kimmich header powers Bayern Munich past Arsenal and into Champions League final four

  • Bayern kept alive their hopes of finishing the season with a trophy three days after Bayer Leverkusen ended Bayern’s 11-year reign as German champion
  • Arsenal’s Champions League exit follows a heavy blow to its Premier League title ambitions in a 2-0 loss to Aston Villa on Sunday

MUNICH: Bayern Munich could yet crown a disappointing season with the Champions League title. Arsenal face the prospect of ending a promising season with no trophy.

Joshua Kimmich’s header powered Bayern to a 1-0 win over Arsenal on Wednesday to reach the Champions League semifinals with a 3-2 victory on aggregate.

With the score at 2-2 from the first leg in London, Kimmich’s header off Raphael Guerreiro’s pinpoint cross put Bayern ahead in the 63rd minute as Bayern largely neutralized the English team’s attack.

Arsenal’s players were “gutted,” manager Mikel Arteta told broadcaster TNT Sports. “I cannot find the right words to lift them.”

Bayern kept alive their hopes of finishing the season with a trophy three days after Bayer Leverkusen ended Bayern’s 11-year reign as German champion. Striker Harry Kane — who spoke Tuesday of being motivated by his release from Arsenal as a youth player — takes a step closer to what would be the first trophy of his career.

Tuchel said it meant “really a lot” to beat Arsenal. “The semifinals are an important step, the last four, that was fun,” he told broadcaster DAZN.

Bayern and Arsenal have been drawn together five times in the knockout stages of the Champions League since 2005 and the German team has eliminated Arsenal on each occasion.

Arsenal’s Champions League exit follows a heavy blow to its Premier League title ambitions in a 2-0 loss to Aston Villa on Sunday. Defeat also rules Arsenal out of next year’s Club World Cup in the US, in favor of Austrian team Salzburg.

Arsenal were left to rue the defensive errors that cost the team in the first leg.

“We gave them two goals, a big advantage to give away, and today you could see it was margin of error zero, we made a mistake defending the goal and we conceded,” Arteta said.

“Then it was difficult. We tried in many different ways but it’s difficult. It is the moment to stay next to the players, give them support, because they are the ones who have taken us on this journey.”

Tuchel — who is leaving at the end of the season — becomes a Champions League semifinalist as coach of three different teams, having led Paris Saint-Germain to the 2020 final before winning the competition with Chelsea a year later.

After a first half full of inconclusive midfield battles — Tuchel called it “a chess game” — the contest came to life after the break when Bayern hit the frame of the goal twice in a matter of seconds. Leon Goretzka sent a header against the bar and Guerreiro followed up with a shot that was deflected onto the post.

Arsenal struggled to make any headway against Bayern’s defense and sometimes looked disjointed at the back, especially when defender Takehiro Tomiyasu risked an own goal with a misjudged pass that went behind for a corner.

Kimmich darted into the box unmarked to score the only goal of the game after Guerreiro’s quick footwork on the touchline allowed him to cross past the onrushing Arsenal defender Ben White.

“I got a little lucky that no one seemed to really feel responsible for me,” Kimmich told DAZN.

Arsenal were awarded a free kick in a dangerous position with seconds of stoppage time left to play and opted to take it quickly. That approach yielded only a corner that was easily headed away as the final whistle blew and Bayern’s celebrations began.