Bellingham leads youth movement at Real Madrid as Modric takes a diminished role

Real Madrid’s Jude Bellingha, Federico Valverde and Toni Kroos celebrate after Vinicius Junior scored their first goal during their Champions League Group C match against Napoli at Stadio Diego Armando Maradona, Naples on Oct. 3, 2023. (Reuters)
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Updated 04 October 2023
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Bellingham leads youth movement at Real Madrid as Modric takes a diminished role

  • All three of Madrid’s players who helped produce goals in their 3-2 comeback at Napoli in the Champions League group stage on Tuesday were 25 years old or younger
  • Bellingham, Vinícius and Valverde were accompanied by other younger players

BARCELONA, Spain: Led by Jude Bellingham playing with a style and self-confidence far beyond his 20 years, a new generation of Real Madrid players has stepped forward at the 14-time European Cup winners.
All three of Madrid’s players who helped produce goals in their 3-2 comeback at Napoli in the Champions League group stage on Tuesday were 25 years old or younger. And they did so with their veteran teammates now providing supporting roles.
Bellingham set up 23-year-old Vinícius Júnior to cancel out Napoli’s opener before the England midfielder made a spectacular solo run to put the visitors ahead in the 34th minute.
After Napoli had pulled level, Madrid’s 25-year-old midfielder Federico Valverde unleashed a rocket of a shot that ricocheted off the bar and Napoli goalkeeper Alex Meret before eventually going in for the 78th-minute winner.
Bellingham had scored several big goals already for Madrid this season, but his overall performance at Napoli’s Stadio Diego Armando Maradona was his best so far.
He started by robbing the ball from Napoli captain Giovanni Di Lorenzo and sliding it to Vinícius for the Brazil winger to slot home the equalizer from an angle. Bellingham topped that by slaloming past two defenders as he dribbled into the area.
Bellingham said that the victory was about decision-making, including when he saw Napoli’s defenders giving him that small bit of space he needed.
“As I was getting closer and closer to the goal I was trying to look for (Vinícius or Rodrygo), and when I saw the gap open I just decided to keep running with it,” Bellingham said. “I am always confident that I can go around (defenders) and find a yard. I managed to do it for that one and found the corner.”
Bellingham, Vinícius and Valverde were accompanied by other younger players. Eduardo Camavinga, a versatile workman in the midfield is only 20; forward Rodrygo is 22; and holding midfielder Aurélien Tchouameni is 23. Éder Militão (25), who is out for several months with a serious leg injury, is Madrid’s best central defender.
The victory at the Italian champions came after a summer when veteran striker Karim Benzema, Madrid's most prolific scorer since Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure five years ago, was lured away to the Saudi Arabian league.
Nor were most of the other pillars of Madrid’s most recent European successes on the field in Napoli. Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois is injured, while Luka Modric, now 38, was again left on the bench by Ancelotti until he went on as a late substitute. The only long-time veterans to start were Toni Kroos and Dani Carvajal.
Ancelotti acknowledged that Modric, who signed for another season this summer with Madrid, was upset about not playing more. Ancelotti had benched him at halftime during a recent 3-1 loss at Atletico Madrid and did not use the former Ballon d’Or winner at all in the following two matches.
“He did what we asked him to do. He went on and showed his experience and gave us control of the game,” Ancelotti said about Modric’s steadying hand in the second half at Napoli. “He can contribute. That is what I ask of a player who is not playing and is a little angry.”
While Vinícius and Valverde have been starters for several seasons now and played key roles in helping Madrid win their most recent Champions League title in 2022, Bellingham’s impact on the team since his arrival this summer has surprised everyone, including his coach.
“I’m surprised he’s only 20 years old because he looks like he’s 30 because of his character and attitude,” Ancelotti said. “He is always focused on the game and knows what he has to do. It’s unusual for a 20-year-old. He has a lot of quality, physical strength and skill.”
Bellingham has scored eight goals in nine games overall so far with Madrid. That includes a Spanish league-leading six goals to help keep Madrid in first place and a late winner to edge Union Berlin 1-0 in their Champions League opener last month.
Compare that to his 14 goals in 42 appearances for Borussia Dortmund in Germany and it is clear that Bellingham has taken his game to a new level in Spain.
Vinícius' goal was only his second of the season after he missed several games with a leg injury. Once he is back to full form and fitness, his alliance with Bellingham promises to be lethal.
“Bellingham linked up well with (Vinícius) and they both have a lot of creativity,” Ancelotti said. "Having both of them positioned on our left flank certainly creates a lot of danger.”
Madrid face Spanish league games against Osasuna and Sevilla before they visit Portuguese side Braga in the Champions League on Oct. 24. Four days after that, Bellingham will get his first taste of a league “classico” at Barcelona.


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.


Real Madrid exact revenge on Man City to reach Champions League semifinals

Updated 18 April 2024
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Real Madrid exact revenge on Man City to reach Champions League semifinals

  • City had not lost at home in the Champions League since 2018 but the holders were held at bay by a heroic defensive effort by the 14-time European champions
  • City’s defense of the competition came to an end after Bernardo Silva and Mateo Kovacic saw spot-kicks saved by Madrid’s unlikely hero Andriy Lunin

MANCHESTER, United Kingdom: Real Madrid exacted revenge on Manchester City to reach the Champions League semifinals 4-3 on penalties after withstanding a barrage at the Etihad on Wednesday.

Rodrygo gave the visitors an early lead before Kevin De Bruyne hit back for the holders to leave the match level at 1-1 on the night and 4-4 on aggregate.

However, City’s defense of the competition came to an end after Bernardo Silva and Mateo Kovacic saw spot-kicks saved by Madrid’s unlikely hero Andriy Lunin.

The Ukrainian, who has deputized this season for the injured Thibaut Courtois, had been at fault for City’s early opener in a thrilling first leg but more than made amends.

City had not lost at home in the Champions League since 2018 but the holders were held at bay by a heroic defensive effort by the 14-time European champions despite having 34 attempts on goal.

Madrid were blown away by an early City blitz in a 4-0 defeat at the Etihad 11 months ago as Pep Guardiola’s men went on to win the competition for the first time.

City also edged a semifinal first leg thriller 4-3 on home soil two years ago only to be stunned by a late Madrid fightback in the return leg.

This time Carlo Ancelotti’s men flipped the script with an assured start that was rewarded in the opening goal.

Jude Bellingham plucked the ball out of the sky with an immaculate touch to set Real roaming down the right.

Vinicius Junior picked out the unmarked Rodrygo and he tapped in the rebound after his first effort was parried by Brazilian international teammate Ederson.

If City were slow to warm to their task they quickly had Madrid penned against the ropes but failed to land a telling blow for 76 minutes.

Erling Haaland failed to score for a fourth consecutive clash between the sides but has rarely come up closer than when his looping header came back off the crossbar and left Bernardo Silva no time to adjust to turn in the rebound.

Lunin was forced to turn behind De Bruyne’s shot from outside the box and the tenacious Antonio Rudiger deflected Jack Grealish’s effort into the side-netting.

The Madrid goalkeeper saved two more from Grealish at the start of the second half before Guardiola sacrificed the England international for the extra pace of Jeremy Doku.

That proved an inspired change as Rudiger failed to deal with a Doku cross and presented the ball perfectly for De Bruyne to smash into the roof of the net 14 minutes from time.

De Bruyne should have turned the tie around single-handedly as he then blazed a glorious chance over.

However, City’s dominance of the ball and territory did serve to sap Madrid’s energy as their lethal counter-attack was largely subdued after the first half.

Guardiola made another big call as Julian Alvarez replaced Haaland for extra-time.

But the Argentine was no more effective at picking holes in the mass ranks of Madrid defense as it was Real who had the best chance of the extra 30 minutes.

Rudiger sliced over with a clear sight of goal after staying forward from a rare Madrid corner.

But the German defender was still to have the decisive say as he slotted in the final penalty of the shootout.


Saudi beat Tajikistan 4-2 in AFC U-23 Asian Cup group opener

Updated 17 April 2024
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Saudi beat Tajikistan 4-2 in AFC U-23 Asian Cup group opener

  • The Green Falcons lead Group C on goal difference as Thailand beat Iraq

DOHA: Saudi Arabia kicked off their 2024 AFC U-23 Asian Cup campaign in style with a 4-2 win over Tajikistan on Tuesday at Khalifa International Stadium in Al-Rayyan.

In the other Group C match, Thailand defeated Iraq 2-0 at Al-Janoub in Al-Wakrah.

The Green Falcons now have three points and lead their group ahead of Thailand on goal difference. Tajikistan and Iraq are third and fourth respectively with zero points.

Saudi Arabia took the lead on seven minutes through Rayane Hamidou, but Tajikistan struck back through Ruslan Khayloev after 23 minutes. Deep into stoppage time at the end of the first period, Saudi regained the advantage thanks to Haitham Asiri.

Saad Al-Shehri’s men looked to have put the game to bed with goals by Ayman Yahya on 55 and 61 minutes, before Rustam Soirov gave Tajikistan a glimmer of hope nine minutes later to make it 4-2.

Earlier in the day, Japan beat China 1-0 in the opening match in Group B at Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium, before South Korea defeated the UAE team at Abdullah bin Khalifa Stadium.

Saudi Arabia’s next game is against Thailand on Friday. They will then face Iraq on April 22. 

The 2024 AFC U-23 Asian Cup, which sees 16 nations split into four groups of four, also acts as a route to the Olympic Games in Paris this summer.

The top two teams from each group progress to the quarterfinals, with the winners of both semifinals automatically qualifying for the Olympics.

The losing semifinalists will contest third place, with the winner also booking a spot in Paris. The fourth-place finishers have one final chance to secure a place at the Games through a play-off against an African qualifier.