Lewandowski scores late penalty in Barcelona’s 2-1 win at Osasuna

Barcelona's Polish forward Robert Lewandowski celebrates scoring his team's second goal scored from the penalty spot during the Spanish Liga football match between CA Osasuna and FC Barcelona at El Sadar stadium in Pamplona on Sunday. (AFP)
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Updated 04 September 2023
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Lewandowski scores late penalty in Barcelona’s 2-1 win at Osasuna

  • Lewandowski’s winner came 10 minutes after substitute Chimy Ávila equalized for Osasuna
  • Cristian “Portu” Portugues scored an 88th-minute winner to give Girona a 1-0 win over Las Palmas in his first game since returning to his former club

BARCELONA: For a second straight game, Robert Lewandowski came to Barcelona’s rescue after he earned and converted an 86th-minute penalty to grab a 2-1 win for Barcelona at Osasuna on Sunday.

Lewandowski’s winner came 10 minutes after substitute Chimy Ávila equalized for Osasuna. Barcelona defender Jules Koundé headed in the opening goal in first-half injury time.

Barcelona’s win kept them two points behind Spanish league leaders Real Madrid after four rounds.

Lewandowski also scored the winner for Barcelona in a 4-3 thriller at Villarreal last weekend.

“He is a natural-born scorer,” coach Xavi Hernández said about Lewandowski, who helped Barcelona recover the league title last year after he arrived from Bayern Munich.

“Maybe he didn’t have that many touches today, but even if he hadn’t scored, it would have been a great game by him,” Xavi said. “His goals have given us back-to-back wins.”

The game in Pamplona included the debuts of João Cancelo and João Felix as second-half substitutes. The Portugal players joined Barcelona on loan deals just before the close of the summer transfer window on Friday night.

Osasuna played the final minutes with 10 men after Alejandro Catena earned a red card for his foul on Lewandowski with only goalkeeper Aitor Fernández to beat. Lewandowski’s goal from the resulting penalty was his second of the season.

For Xavi, the win was not pretty but it was well earned at Osasuna, a team which reached the Copa del Rey final last season and whose physical style puts most visitors to the test.

“We didn’t play our best game, and in some stages we weren’t patient enough or able to create scoring chances,” Xavi said. “(But) the truth is the team worked hard. Today we put on our work clothes. We knew how to dig in and get the win.”

Koundé broke through in first-half injury time when he brushed off his marker and headed a corner kick by Ilkay Gundogan inside the far post and out of reach of Fernández.

Cancelo made his first appearance as a substitute just two days after he joined Barcelona on loan from Manchester City. The right back replaced Sergi Roberto with just over half an hour to go.

Shortly after, Osasuna coach Jagoba Arrasate renewed his entire attack, sending on Chimy, Ante Budimir and Kike Barja. The hosts soon pressed Barcelona into defending its area.

Chimy’s equalizer was similar to so many goals scored by fellow Argentine Lionel Messi for Barcelona. Apparently well marked by Alejandro Balde outside the area, Chimy sped from right to left along the edge of the box before unleashing a left-footed strike that curled around a group of defenders and went in off the post.

After Chimy’s goal, Félix, who arrived from Atletico Madrid, went on with 10-plus minutes remaining.

Lewandowski and Frenkie de Jong linked up in time to pull out the win. De Jong, who had started the game with a shot off the post, met a run by Lewandowski with a long ball that the Poland striker used one touch to control — just before he tumbled when Catena yanked his arm.

“We played a great game,” Arrasate said. “It is too bad that we can’t show anything for it. But this is the way forward.”

Central defender Iñigo Martínez also made his Barcelona debut in the final moments of the game. The former Athletic Bilbao player had been injured since signing for Barcelona this summer as a free agent.

Sixteen-year-old Yamine Lamal made a third consecutive start for Barcelona. On Friday the teenager was called up for Spain’s national team for the first time for upcoming European Championship qualifiers.

ATLETICO GAME POSTPONED

Atletico Madrid’s home game against Sevilla scheduled for Sunday was postponed ahead of forecasts of heavy rain in central Spain, the Spanish league said.

The Spanish league said it postponed the match after considering the warnings from Spain’s national weather service and the recommendation of Madrid’s municipal government.

WELCOME BACK

Cristian “Portu” Portugues scored an 88th-minute winner to give Girona a 1-0 win over Las Palmas in his first game since returning to his former club.

The forward, who signed for Girona on Friday, had played for the Catalan club from 2016 to 2019 before stints with Real Sociedad and Getafe.

The undefeated Girona is the early surprise of the league and is level on points with Barcelona. Besides Las Palmas, Girona beat Sevilla and Getafe, and drew against Sociedad.

Also, Athletic Bilbao drew 0-0 at Mallorca.


Ten Hag urges Man Utd to keep calm in Galatasaray cauldron

Updated 28 November 2023
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Ten Hag urges Man Utd to keep calm in Galatasaray cauldron

  • United are bottom of Group A and will be eliminated if they lose in Turkiye in their penultimate group fixture on Wednesday
  • Ten Hag insisted his men would travel with confidence despite their predicament and the hostile reception awaiting them in Istanbul

LONDON: Erik ten Hag has urged his Manchester United players to keep calm in the Galatasaray cauldron as they fight for their lives in the Champions League.
United are bottom of Group A and will be eliminated if they lose in Turkiye in their penultimate group fixture on Wednesday.
Even if they beat Galatasaray and defeat group winners Bayern Munich at Old Trafford in their final game, two wins for Copenhagen would send the Danish side through instead of Ten Hag’s team.
United, three-time European champions, have never won at Galatasaray — drawing twice and losing once.
They were famously greeted by Turkish fans in 1993 holding a banner that read “Welcome to Hell,” while others threw missiles and menacingly drew their fingers across their throats.
That game finished in a 0-0 draw, which sent United crashing out of Europe on the away goals rule after a 3-3 draw in the first leg.
Speaking at a pre-match press conference on Tuesday, Ten Hag insisted his men would travel with confidence despite their predicament and the hostile reception awaiting them in Istanbul.
“We know how to deal with it and I’m sure tomorrow it will be a confident team on the pitch,” said the Dutch manager.
“You have to stay calm in your head and don’t get too emotional. You need emotion but you have to control it. Don’t give them anything, or the referee as well.
“You have to stay away from such moments. We know how to deal with it. You have to play confident and you have to make it your game so it’s not that important how the opponent is playing, it’s important how we are playing.”
Ten Hag was asked what his plans were “to get out of hell.”
“We have to make it our game and it’s the history,” he said.
“Obviously Manchester United has a great history, but you can’t take any guarantee from it in the future, so we have to make our own future.
“It’s the past, so tomorrow, it’s about the future. It’s on us.”
The United boss said his side had improved since their shock 3-2 defeat to Galatasaray at Old Trafford early last month despite their inconsistent results.
They beat Everton 3-0 on Sunday to record their fifth Premier League win in six games.
“It’s good progress,” he said. “We are stepping up, we are more stable, we are winning games, so definitely there is a big difference from the first time we played them.”
United captain Bruno Fernandes said he was looking forward to playing in Galatasaray’s “intense” atmosphere.
“The atmosphere will be intense but I think everyone, as a kid, you enjoy and you want to be in these big stadiums with a big atmosphere so you just have to enjoy the challenge,” he said.
Well aware of the prestige that comes from playing in Europe’s elite club competition, Fernandes acknowledged the importance of United avoiding elimination on Wednesday.
“It’s really important to be in the competition, we want to be in the middle of the best clubs in Europe,” the Portugal midfielder said.
“It’s disappointing if we don’t go through but I’m not thinking about that at the moment.
“I’m just focused on the game against Galatasaray because the only way we can go through is winning against Galatasaray and going to the last game with a chance to go through.”
Rasmus Hojlund and Antony are in the squad after recovering from injuries, providing attacking options for a United side that will be without Marcus Rashford due to suspension.


Henry Onyekuru targeting Al-Fayha progress in ‘tight’ AFC Champions League group

Updated 28 November 2023
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Henry Onyekuru targeting Al-Fayha progress in ‘tight’ AFC Champions League group

  • From Aspire Academy, UEFA Champions League football with Anderlecht, Nigerian flourishing in new Saudi home

RIYADH: It has been a challenging AFC Champions League debut for Al-Fayha. The 2022 King’s Cup winners, who beat Al-Hilal on penalties to lift their first ever major trophy 18 months ago, have lost three of their first four games and face a must-win clash with Turkmenistan’s Ahal in Riyadh on Tuesday.

Realistically, Al-Fayha need to beat both Ahal and reigning Uzbekistan champions Pakhtakor to stand a chance of qualifying for the knockout stage.

Aiming to help them advance is Nigeria forward Henry Onyekuru, who has impressed for Vuk Rasovic’s side since arriving from Turkish club Adana Demirspor in August.

Onyekuru told Arab News: “It’s a little tight for us, we know, but we know we need to just win on Tuesday, that is the most important thing. Then we will have to wait for the other results to see, and yes, we might have a lesser chance, but it can happen. This is football and of course we hope we can play in the next round.”

The 26-year-old has plenty of experience of elite-level continental competition to call upon, having played every game of Anderlecht’s 2017 to 2018 UEFA Champions League campaign in a tough group that included PSG, Bayern Munich, and Celtic. The fleet-footed player also featured in several games for Galatasaray in the competition.

He is not alone at Al-Fayha, with teammates Fashion Sakala and Anthony Nwakaeme having represented Rangers in the Champions League and Trabzonspor in the Europa League, respectively. The three African players have forged a valuable friendship at Al-Fayha and Onyekuru has been happy to have them alongside him.

He said: “It is always a little bit difficult at the beginning when you move to a new country, but they helped me adapt very fast.

“We have really bonded and apart from football, they are such great guys. They are there for me on the pitch and outside it,” he added.

Al-Fayha go into their crunch AFC Champions League encounter after a morale-boosting 1-0 Saudi Pro League victory over Al-Fateh but it has been a frustrating season for Onyekuru and his teammates, who have a league-high seven draws so far. While there were positive ties with Al-Hilal and Al-Ittihad, there have also been many opportunities missed.

Onyekuru said: “We threw a lot of points away, games we should have won, but we ended up drawing 0-0 or 1-1. We feel good as a team so it hasn’t been easy but there is a lot of the season left so I think we can definitely climb higher.

“Our coach is the kind of guy who really understands his players — he knows when you’re tired, he knows when you’re worried, and he’s open with everybody, which is very important. He is always very clear — if you work, you play; if you don’t work, you don’t play.

“I think we’re on a good track at this moment; we just have to keep working and the results will start coming.

“This is a very tough league now and it has surprised me how good it has been. There has been a big increase in quality, and you see that every team has better players who can make a difference. It will only get better, and it is great to be a part of Saudi football right now,” he added.

Onyekuru’s move to Al-Fayha has been a return to the Gulf of sorts. As a teenager, he was selected for the Aspire Academy’s Football Dreams initiative, an African talent identification process that saw him make it through a series of trials to be one of just three Nigerians selected.

“I feel lucky to have been among these players. It was a five-year scholarship of football and school. We travelled to play the Barcelona and Real Madrid youth teams and many others in tournaments — it was a great experience,” he said.

Onyekuru travelled regularly to the Aspire Academy in Qatar and represented the institution in competitions around the world before signing for their pathway club Eupen in the Belgian Second Division.

“When I got there, it was really difficult for me because I arrived in winter, and it was very cold in Belgium. We were down the bottom of the league and we only just avoided relegation.

“But the next season was great. The coach Jordi Condom was the first to move me from a No. 9 to the wing – the team played well, and we were promoted.”

Onyekuru’s performances led to interest from Arsenal, the club at which his childhood hero Nwankwo Kanu made his name, though the young winger eventually signed for Everton. Hampered by visa issues, he failed to make a Premier League appearance for the Toffees, though impressed on loan at Anderlecht and Galatasaray before moving on to Monaco.

“I remember very well I spoke to Arsene Wenger, and my dream was to play Premier League. I always wanted to be there. Eupen were also talking to PSG because of the Qatar connection but then they wanted to focus on (Kylian) Mbappe.

“I spoke to some people like (ex-Inter Milan and Nigeria striker) Obafemi Martins and decided in the end on Everton. It was a shame that things didn’t work out because I hadn’t played enough games for Nigeria,” he added.

While Onyekuru’s move to Saudi Arabia has generally been a positive experience, it has been tempered by him falling out of favor with the Nigeria national team.

Onyekuru, whose mother named him after 1980 Africa Cup of Nations-winning player Henry Nwosu, noted that the SPL deserved to be more respected by those selecting the squad. He hoped that he may still be able to represent the Super Eagles at the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations in Ivory Coast.

He said: “I was there at the last AFCON in Cameroon, and I am really pushing to be there again. In Nigerian football there is still this negative mentality about the Saudi league – they don’t think it is as intense.

“But I think they should be able to see that now, the players who play here make it competitive. I am not giving up and anything can happen.”


Athletic draw prevents Girona from returning to top spot in La Liga

Updated 28 November 2023
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Athletic draw prevents Girona from returning to top spot in La Liga

  • Girona trail league leaders Real Madrid on goal difference after dropping points for just the third time this season, while Athletic climbed to fifth spot
  • Williams, who started on the opposite wing from his brother Nico, equalized from a counter-attacking move that started in Athletic’s own box

MADRID: Surprise package Girona failed to return to the top of La Liga on Monday after they were held to a 1-1 draw at home by Athletic Bilbao.

Winger Viktor Tsygankov put the hosts ahead 10 minutes after half time but Inaki Williams scored 12 minutes later to claim a point for the away side.

Girona trail league leaders Real Madrid on goal difference after dropping points for just the third time this season, while Athletic climbed to fifth spot.

Athletic had the better of the first half and their best chance fell to Gorka Guruzeta but the striker poked his shot straight at Girona goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga.

Girona had early chances of their own including an Aleix Garcia volley, which he skied over the crossbar, but did not find the rhythm they have found so often this season.

After the break, the hosts broke the deadlock when Tsygankov rifled home.

Williams, who started on the opposite wing from his brother Nico, equalized from a counter-attacking move that started in Athletic’s own box.

The wide man finished smoothly for his sixth league goal of the season as the Basques went looking for their third straight win.

With 10 minutes left Inaki Williams came close to finding the winner as he cut in from the left but his shot was parried by Gazzaniga.

Inaki Williams was replaced in the final minute of normal time for youngster Adu Ares, but both sides were forced to settle for a point.

On Sunday, Rodrygo sent Real Madrid top with a double in 3-0 win at Cadiz.

Carlo Ancelotti’s Madrid are four points clear of fourth-placed Barcelona, who drew 1-1 at Rayo Vallecano on Saturday.


Man City boss Guardiola salutes ‘incredible’ Venables

Updated 28 November 2023
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Man City boss Guardiola salutes ‘incredible’ Venables

  • Venables led Barcelona to their first La Liga title in 11 years in 1985 and took them to the European Cup final a year later before a shock defeat to Steaua Bucharest on penalties
  • Guardiola might not have played for Venables, who went on to manage Tottenham and England, but he is well aware of the charismatic coach’s impact on his old club

MANCHESTER: Pep Guardiola paid tribute to “incredible” Terry Venables on Monday as the Manchester City manager responded to the death of the boss responsible for revitalizing his former club Barcelona.

After Venables died on Sunday aged 80, a picture emerged on social media showing Guardiola gazing up in admiration at him on the pitch at Barcelona’s Camp Nou.

Guardiola was a wide-eyed 15-year-old learning his trade in Barca’s youth academy back then, with the photo capturing him during his role as a ball boy for his club’s European Cup semi=final victory over Gothenburg in 1986.

Guardiola has his arms raised in celebration while Venables soaks in the acclaim of the crowd as he is carried on the shoulders of two Barca players.

“As a Barcelona fan he gave us first La Liga after 11 years. His impact there was incredible,” Guardiola told reporters on Monday.

“He introduced something that had never been before, especially a certain type of pressing and the set pieces. I remember how many goals our central defender scored. It’s a big loss to English football.”

Guardiola went on to captain Barca and is regarded one of their greatest managers, but the Spanish giants were not so dominant when Venables took charge in 1984.

Venables led Barcelona to their first La Liga title in 11 years in 1985 and took them to the European Cup final a year later before a shock defeat to Steaua Bucharest on penalties.

Guardiola might not have played for Venables, who went on to manage Tottenham and England, but he is well aware of the charismatic coach’s impact on his old club.

“I was only a ballboy but the impact in that time on the way they played. I remember talking to friends of mine who played with him and their words for him not just as a manager but as a person,” Guardiola said.

“He was so funny, singing Frank Sinatra on Catalan shows. He was a proper, proper man.”

Guardiola was speaking on the eve of City’s Champions League clash with RB Leipzig at the Etihad Stadium on Tuesday.

City need just one point from their last two games to be sure of finishing top of Group G, which allows them the advantage of playing their last 16 second leg at home.

The holders won their first four group matches and have already secured a place in the knockout stages, as have Leipzig.

“It is important to finish first We believe that when we play the last 16, having the second leg at home is not decisive but is a little bit of an advantage and we have to take it,” Guardiola said.

After winning the treble last season, successive draws against Chelsea and Liverpool have seen Arsenal knock City off the top of the Premier League, but Guardiola is happy with his players’ hunger.

“We are performing really well, we must continue that. I’m very pleased with our performances in general,” he said.

“The only game we conceded a lot of chances and goals was Chelsea. Our averages in other games are similar to last season.”

Asked if City’s relentless appetite for success would persuade him to extend his stay at the club beyond his current contract, which expires in 2025, Guardiola said: “I have energy. Of course it’s a possibility.

“One year and a half is a long time in football. I arrived eight years ago with hair and look what happened!“

City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne, who has been out since hamstring surgery in August, said over the weekend he hopes to return to action early in the new year.

“He has had a tough injury and surgery. He has to recover well,” Guardiola said.

“He’s said end of December, new year, so it will be a happy new year for everyone.”


Willian converts two penalties including stoppage-time winner as Fulham win amid VAR controversy

Updated 28 November 2023
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Willian converts two penalties including stoppage-time winner as Fulham win amid VAR controversy

  • After a long video review, the on-field decision to not award a penalty was changed and Willian stepped up to send his kick into the bottom-left corner, giving Fulham a third league win
  • It was only the second time a league game has had three second-half penalties scored — after Everton vs. Newcastle in September 2003 — and all three calls were up for debate

LONDON: Willian converted two of the game’s three second-half penalties — including the winner in the fourth minute of stoppage time — to help Fulham defeat Wolverhampton 3-2 in another English Premier League match dominated by VAR calls on Monday.

The former Brazil winger’s first spot kick in the 59th minute made it 2-1, only for Hwang Hee-chan to win and then convert his own penalty in the 75th to leave an end-to-end game at Craven Cottage heading for a draw.

There was a late twist as Wolves midfielder Joao Gomes miscontrolled the ball in his own area and stuck out his leg, which brushed against Fulham substitute Harry Wilson as he nipped in to take possession.

After a long video review, the on-field decision to not award a penalty was changed and Willian stepped up to send his kick into the bottom-left corner, giving Fulham a third league win.

Fulham held the lead three times in the match, firstly after Alex Iwobi steered in a cross by Antonee Robinson in the seventh minute. That was canceled out by Brazil striker Matheus Cunha’s header in the 22nd.

It was only a second loss in their last eight games for Wolves, whose other defeat in that period — at struggling Sheffield United — also came after conceding a contentious stoppage-time penalty.

Wolves manager Gary O’Neil has lamented his team’s misfortune from refereeing decisions this season, starting in the first round in August when Wolves was denied a late penalty against Manchester United for what appeared to be a clear foul by goalkeeper Andre Onana. O’Neil received an apology on that occasion and has been aggrieved at penalties given against his team in draws against Newcastle and Luton.

His post-match media duties at Fulham were delayed while he spoke to the match officials. When he did emerge, O’Neil said referee Michael Salisbury “pretty much admitted that they made a mistake” in awarding the first penalty.

“It’s six-to-seven points now that’s gone against us,” O’Neil said. “The difference (refereeing decisions) are making to my reputation, the club’s progression up the league, people’s livelihoods, is huge.

“Things need to get better, because I can’t accept us being on the wrong end of decisions as much as we are.”

The relegation picture in the league has been made more interesting this season by Everton getting docked a league-record 10 points for financial mismanagement, plunging the Merseyside team into next-to-last place just as it was picking up wins and potentially ready to enjoy a rare nerve-free campaign.

Fulham have benefitted from that ruling, which is under appeal, and are 10 points clear of the bottom three after a first win in five matches.

“We showed very good spirit, a winning spirit to score for 2-1 and then for 3-2,” Fulham manager Marco Silva said. “It was a close game — we were trying to win the game more than Wolves.”

It was only the second time a league game has had three second-half penalties scored — after Everton vs. Newcastle in September 2003 — and all three calls were up for debate.

The first one was the most contentious, with replays showing little contact as Wolves right back Nelson Semedo planted his foot near that of Tom Cairney.

Willian displayed calmness with both of his spot kicks. He is yet to miss any of the seven he has taken in the Premier League.