Champions Ahly drop more points in pursuit of 12th title

CAF Champions League title-holders Al Ahly dropped points for the second successive weekend when held 0-0 at home by Chabab Belouizdad of Algeria on Friday. (X/@CAFCLCC)
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Updated 09 December 2023
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Champions Ahly drop more points in pursuit of 12th title

  • The record 11-time African champions were expected to collect maximum points from the Group D match in Alexandria The result was a major boost for Belouizdad, who conceded an added-time goal to lose away to Medeama of Ghana last weekend

JOHANNESBURG: CAF Champions League title-holders Al Ahly dropped points for the second successive weekend when held 0-0 at home by Chabab Belouizdad of Algeria on Friday.
After an away draw against Young Africans in Tanzania six days ago, the record 11-time African champions were expected to collect maximum points from the Group D match in Alexandria.
But a defiant Belouizdad defense, backed by former Algeria goalkeeper Rais M’Bolhi, contained an Ahly attack including Mahmoud Kahraba, Hussein el Shahat and South African Percy Tau.
The result was a major boost for Belouizdad, who conceded an added-time goal to lose away to Medeama of Ghana last weekend.
Medeama could not achieve back-to-back home victories, however, as they surrendered the lead in a 1-1 draw against Young Africans in Kumasi.
Jonathan Sowah, recalled after being ruled out of the Belouizdad match by suspension, converted a 27th-minute penalty for group debutants Medeama.
It was his third goal of the African campaign, and Ivorian Pacome Zouzoua also scored for a third time in the Champions League this season by equalising nine minutes later.
Ahly have five points, Medeama and Belouizdad four each and Young Africans two at the halfway stage of the mini-league. Group winners and runners-up qualify for the quarter-finals.
On a night when three matches produced only three goals, the best came from Cameroonian Jacques Mbe, which gave Etoile Sahel of Tunisia a 1-0 win over Al Hilal of Sudan in Rades near Tunis.
With just two minutes of regular time remaining, Mbe unleashed a thunderbolt past Ivorian goalkeeper Issa Fofana to earn Etoile their first points in Group C.
Petro Luanda of Angola, who play on Saturday, top the table with six points while Hilal, four-time champions Esperance of Tunisia and Etoile have three each.


Haaland scores five goals in Man City’s 6-2 rout of Luton in the FA Cup

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Haaland scores five goals in Man City’s 6-2 rout of Luton in the FA Cup

  • Haaland now has 27 goals in all competitions for the season after scoring 52 in his first year at the club

Erling Haaland looks determined to make up for lost time.
The Norway striker scored five goals to power Manchester City into the quarterfinals of the FA Cup in a 6-2 win against Luton on Tuesday.
It was his eighth hat trick in a season-and-a-half with City and the second time he has scored five in a single game for the club.
Perhaps more significantly, it was evidence that Haaland is fully back up to speed after recently returning from a foot injury that ruled him out for more than a month between December and January.
“My fitness is getting back to its best finally,” he said. “I feel good. It’s an amazing feeling.”
Haaland had scored only three goals in seven appearances since making his comeback on Jan. 31.
By his remarkable standards, that represented a relative drought, but he looked back to his devastating best at Kenilworth Road with a first-half hat trick and two more after the break. Four of those goals came from assists by Kevin De Bruyne, who has also missed large parts of the season through injury.
“It’s a pleasure playing with him,” Haaland said. “I think we know what we both want from each other, we look at each other and it clicks well.”
Mateo Kovacic added a sixth for City, while Jordan Clark struck twice for Luton.
Haaland was denied a possible double hat trick when he was replaced by Julian Alvarez in the 77th minute. It was the second time City manager Pep Guardiola substituted the striker after scoring five goals, having taken him off during the 7-0 rout of RB Leipzig in the Champions League last year.
Haaland now has 27 goals in all competitions for the season after scoring 52 in his first year at the club.
His performance and linkup play with De Bruyne will also fuel the belief City can emulate last season’s treble of trophies when it won the Premier League title, FA Cup and Champions League.
“We’re coming. Exciting times (are) ahead,” Haaland said.
The forward completed his hat trick after 40 minutes, having opened the scoring in the third and adding a second in the 18th.
Clark pulled one back for Luton in the 45th and made it 3-2 with another seven minutes after halftime.
But Haaland quickly extended City’s lead with further goals in the 55th and 58th.
Kovacic completed the scoring with a long range effort in the 72nd.


Liverpool's injury list worsens after Ryan Gravenberch is ruled out

Updated 28 February 2024
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Liverpool's injury list worsens after Ryan Gravenberch is ruled out

  • Gravenberch sustained an ankle injury in the first half of Sunday’s English League Cup final
  • Endo left Wembley Stadium on crutches and wearing a protective boot

LIVERPOOL, England: Liverpool's injury crisis keeps on getting worse.
Ryan Gravenberch is the latest name to be added to an ever-lengthening list of players unavailable to the Premier League leader, while Wataru Endo is a doubt for Wednesday's FA Cup fifth round match against Southampton.
Gravenberch sustained an ankle injury in the first half of Sunday’s English League Cup final triumph against Chelsea and was taken off on a stretcher.
Endo left Wembley Stadium on crutches and wearing a protective boot.
“We need miracles with a few players,” Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp said Tuesday. “I don’t want to rule them out for too long. But it is touch and go with a lot of players who were not available for the final: Darwin (Nunez), Mo (Salah), Dom (Szoboszlai) — we have to see what they can do."
Gravenberch has ligament damage that will keep him out for at least two games, Klopp said.
Trent Alexander-Arnold, Thiago Alcantara and goalkeeper Alisson Becker are other key players Klopp has had to do without in recent weeks.
Yet Liverpool remain in contention for a quadruple of trophies after Sunday's 1-0 win against Chelsea.
The Merseyside club are one point ahead of Manchester City at the top of the table and still competing for the FA Cup and the Europa League.


Bundesliga boss says rejection of investor deal ‘bad for the league’

Updated 28 February 2024
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Bundesliga boss says rejection of investor deal ‘bad for the league’

  • Fans had littered pitches with everything from tennis balls to chocolate coins in opposition to the plan
  • German football has a notable commitment to fan control and involvement via a “50+1” rule

BERLIN: Bundesliga boss Hans-Joachim Watzke said Tuesday the rejection of a planned investor deal, shelved after widespread fan protests, was “bad for the league.”
Last week the German Football Leagues (DFL) which runs the Bundesliga abandoned a planned billion-euro investment deal, which had previously been approved by the necessary two-thirds majority of clubs, due largely to fan protests resulting in long delays at matches.
Fans had littered pitches with everything from tennis balls to chocolate coins in opposition to the plan to swap a portion of the league’s future media revenues for an upfront cash injection.
DFL chairman Watzke told AFP and other journalists on Tuesday that fans “in Germany have a problem with investors.”
“Germans are traditional, perhaps even a bit old-fashioned.
“In Germany, investor is perhaps not the best word.”
German football has a notable commitment to fan control and involvement via a “50+1” rule which restricts the degree of influence an external investor can have over a club.
The rule remains enduringly popular among German fans, many of whom value it more than domestic or international competitiveness.
The DFL had promised the new deal would include supporter-friendly protections against changes in kick-off times or moving competitive fixtures abroad.
“Our contract with the investor had clear red lines that nothing could happen which would be a problem for the fans, but the problem was that fans didn’t believe us.
“It’s actually a problem in German society. Every idea that you tell the public, the public says ‘not good’.”
Watzke said the protests did not reflect the opinion of the average fan.
“Five percent of the fans — which is not so much, but they’re the organized fans — were against it.
“The average fans had no problem, but they did not tell anyone.
“Maybe 500 or 800 in the stadium, the organized fans, they had a clear position — no investor.”
The 64-year-old said the protests had changed the atmosphere around the deal, with clubs getting cold feet.
“As the boss of the Bundesliga, I always had the feeling that the clear majority of clubs supported it, but in the past weeks that changed.
“When I recognized that the majority was not there, then I stopped it.”
Watzke said the result will hit mid-table teams the hardest, rather than those at the top of the tree.
“You can be sure that there’s no problem for Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund.
“It’s a problem for the other clubs in the league. The money from the investor would be perfect to help the whole Bundesliga grow.
“Bayern and Dortmund will make our own way if it’s necessary.”
Watzke is also CEO of Bundesliga side Borussia Dortmund and he was speaking on Tuesday to announce the opening of Dortmund’s first office in New York, where fellow Bundesliga heavyweights Bayern Munich have had a presence for a decade.


Women’s World Cup holders Spain eye Nations League title

Updated 27 February 2024
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Women’s World Cup holders Spain eye Nations League title

  • Under new coach Montse Tome, Spain comfortably topped their Nations League group ahead of Italy, Sweden and Switzerland, and then defeated the Netherlands 3-0 in Seville in last Friday’s semifinal

SEVILLE, Spain: Reigning world champions Spain can claim another title on Wednesday when they face France in the final of the inaugural UEFA Women’s Nations League, while the Netherlands and Germany meet to decide who will join them in qualifying for the Paris Olympics.

Spain’s World Cup triumph in Sydney last August ended up being somewhat overshadowed by Spanish football federation boss Luis Rubiales’s forced kiss on midfielder Jenni Hermoso after the final against England.

Rubiales recently had a three-year ban from football upheld by FIFA and is also set to go in trial over the kiss, while the Spain team — led by Ballon d’Or winner Aitana Bonmati — have tried to keep the focus on football.

Under new coach Montse Tome, Spain comfortably topped their Nations League group ahead of Italy, Sweden and Switzerland, and then defeated the Netherlands 3-0 in Seville in last Friday’s semifinal.

Winning through to the final also allowed them to take one of two qualifying spots open to European nations for the women’s football tournament at the Olympics. It is the first time they have qualified for the Games.

However, star Barcelona midfielder Bonmati believes Spain’s World Cup success has not had the hoped-for impact on the women’s game in the country.

“Unfortunately I can’t say a lot of things have changed,” Bonmati said in an interview with French sports daily L’Equipe.

“We have the example of the English, when they won the Euro (in 2022). We saw a real change following their success at a nationwide level.

“It had repercussions, and there was more investment in the domestic league. The stadiums are full when England play. It makes me jealous because I can’t say the same thing has happened here.

“There are still so many things to do here and I have the impression that the World Cup has not served any purpose.”

She complained that the match against the Netherlands was moved at short notice from Cadiz to Seville, where the final will also be played.

“We were supposed to play in Cadiz and in the end we changed the venue to La Cartuja. That wouldn’t happen with the boys.”

France had already qualified for the Olympics automatically as the host country and Herve Renard’s team are now hoping to win a first international title in the Nations League to set them up for the Games.

The Netherlands entertain Germany in Heerenveen in the third-place play-off with the winner of that game also progressing to Paris 2024.

Germany lost 2-1 to France in Lyon in their semifinal last Friday and so must now overcome the Dutch if they are to go to the Olympics, in which they won the gold medal in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

After flopping at last year’s World Cup, in which they exited in the group stage, their form has improved under veteran interim coach Horst Hrubesch, who took Germany’s men to the final of the 2016 Olympics.

However, the Dutch — whose coach Andries Jonker used to manage Wolfsburg in the men’s German Bundesliga — are hoping to make the most of home advantage at the Abe Lenstra Stadion.

“We still have a chance,” of reaching the Olympics, said captain Sherida Spitse after the semifinal.

“We are very happy with that. We are playing at home with the crowd behind us.”


Embattled Bayern Munich appoint new sports director to oversee shakeup

Updated 27 February 2024
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Embattled Bayern Munich appoint new sports director to oversee shakeup

  • Bavarian powerhouse said the 50-year-old Eberl signed a contract through June 2027 and will begin on Friday
  • Eberl will be charged with rejuvenating a team that has lost its aura of dominance

BERLIN: Stung by the prospect of a first season without a major trophy for 12 years, Bayern Munich appointed Max Eberl as their new sporting director to oversee a major shakeup.

The Bavarian powerhouse said on Monday the 50-year-old Eberl signed a contract through June 2027 and will begin on Friday. He was to appear at a press conference with club president Herbert Hainer and chief executive Jan-Christian Dreesen on Tuesday.

Eberl will be charged with rejuvenating a team that has lost its aura of dominance and no longer demonstrates the assured belief it used to as the best in Germany.

“Not only does he have decades of experience in football management, but he also started playing football at FC Bayern and became a professional here,” Hainer said. “We are convinced that he will successfully form and shape the future of this club.”

Eberl, a former right back, made only one Bundesliga appearance for Bayern in October 1991, when he was substituted off at halftime in a 3-2 loss at Stuttgart.

He went to Bochum in January 1994, played for Greuther Fürth for 3½ seasons, then joined Borussia Mönchengladbach to start a 23-year association with the club.

After finishing his playing career, Eberl enjoyed success as the sporting director at Gladbach from 2008 until he quit abruptly in January 2022, citing burnout. He started at Leipzig in the same role eight months later but was fired last September for “his failure to commit to the club.”

At Leipzig, Eberl led a rebuild that saw established players like Josko Gvardiol and Dominik Szoboszlai depart for big sums, while young talents like Loïs Openda and Paris Saint-Germain loanee Xavi Simons arrived to star this season.

Eberl’s alleged lack of commitment to Leipzig likely had to do with the speculation linking him with Bayern, where his work in a managerial capacity at Gladbach had long been admired.

Eberl was already a target for Bayern before it appointed Hasan Salihamidzic as sporting director in 2017.

Salihamidzic was fired hours after Bayern clinched the league title last season, along with chief executive Oliver Kahn. Both men paid the price for the problems that Eberl will be expected to address.

Bayern won the Bundesliga last season only because Borussia Dortmund squandered their chance on the final day. The decision to axe Kahn and Salihamidzic was taken earlier, after a season in which the team’s decline had been plain to see.

Former chief financial officer Jan-Christian Dreesen took over as CEO and Bayern hired former Salzburg sporting director Christoph Freund to take over from Salihamidzic, though he didn’t start officially until Sept. 1, and wasn’t involved in the summer transfer business.

Eberl and Freund will be expected to work together, with a priority being the hiring of a new coach following Bayern’s decision not to continue with Thomas Tuchel next season after the team lost three games in a row.

Tuchel said on Friday he wasn’t the “only problem” at Bayern and his employers were unable to contradict him over the weekend.

“If FC Bayern loses three times in a row, then we all have to question ourselves; the team, the coach, we in management, we do it as well, it’s not in question at all,” Hainer said Saturday. “But you will see, we will draw the right analysis and conclusions and do the right thing.”

Asked why Bayern had worked their way through three highly regarded German coaches in Tuchel, Julian Nagelsmann and Hansi Flick since 2021, Hainer replied that the demands at Bayern were very high and there was constant pressure to do well.

“But I believe that at the end of the day, the formula for success at FC Bayern is that we are never satisfied with where we are, and then we continue to move forward,” Hainer said.

Bayer Leverkusen coach Xabi Alonso – a former Bayern player – is the favorite as Tuchel’s replacement, though former Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane and Stuttgart’s Sebastian Hoeneß have also been linked. The latter is the nephew of Bayern honorary president Uli Hoeneß and has led Stuttgart to third place in the Bundesliga after saving it from relegation last season.

Hainer placed the onus on the new coach for success by saying the Bayern squad is “not un-coachable.”

Eberl will be under pressure from the start.