Lyon and Chelsea win first-leg matches in Women’s Champions League quarterfinals

Lyon's Sara Daebritz, top right, scores her side's second goal during the women's Champions League quarterfinals, first leg, soccer match between SL Benfica and Olympique Lyonnais at the Luz Stadium, in Lisbon, Tuesday. (AP)
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Updated 20 March 2024
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Lyon and Chelsea win first-leg matches in Women’s Champions League quarterfinals

  • Lyon, the record eight-time champion, came from behind to beat Benfica 2-1, while Chelsea ultimately eased to a 3-0 victory at Ajax
  • The quarterfinals continue Wednesday with defending champion Barcelona away to Norwegian team Brann and Hacken of Sweden hosting Paris Saint-Germain

LONDON: Lyon and Chelsea underlined their status as two of the favorites for the Women’s Champions League title by earning first-leg wins on the road in the quarterfinals on Tuesday.

Lyon, the record eight-time champion, came from behind to beat Benfica 2-1, while Chelsea ultimately eased to a 3-0 victory at Ajax to close in on a second straight appearance in the last four of Europe’s top competition.

The second legs are on March 27.

Lyon still have not lost in either the French league or the Champions League this season, but they needed a second-half comeback to maintain that record.

France forward Delphine Cascarino equalized in the 63rd and Germany midfielder Sara Dabritz headed home a cross from US captain Lindsay Horan for the winner in the 79th in Lisbon.

Benfica were making its debut in the quarterfinals, and Andreia Faria gave the hosts the lead in the 43rd after intercepting a stray pass on the halfway line and running through unchallenged.

Ajax are also competing in the knockout stage of the Champions League for the first time and caused plenty of problems for Chelsea early on at Johan Cruyff Arena in Amsterdam, only to concede goals from the visitors’ only two shots of the first half.

England forward Lauren James rounded the goalkeeper and slotted home in the 19th minute for a goal that stood after a VAR check for offside, before Sjoeke Nusken slid in to convert the second in the 44th.

Nusken headed in the third goal in the 83rd to leave Chelsea in total control ahead of the return match at Stamford Bridge, where the club’s men’s team plays.

Chelsea are bidding to win the Champions League for the first time and also are chasing a quadruple of major trophies in coach Emma Hayes’ final season in charge before she takes the helm of the US’ women’s national team.

Hayes’ team lead the Women’s Super League, are into the final of the English League Cup and have reached the quarterfinals of the FA Cup.

The quarterfinals continue Wednesday with defending champion Barcelona away to Norwegian team Brann and Hacken of Sweden hosting Paris Saint-Germain.


Portugal breeze past Turkiye and into Euro 2024 knockout stage

Updated 1 min 6 sec ago
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Portugal breeze past Turkiye and into Euro 2024 knockout stage

  • Portugal looked every inch a team aiming to win their second European Championship
  • Cristiano Ronaldo will have at least two more tries to become the oldest goalscorer at a European Championship

DORTMUND: Portugal swept into the last 16 of Euro 2024 on Saturday after comfortably seeing off Turkiye 3-0 and guaranteeing first place in Group F.
Bernardo Silva’s fine finish in the 21st minute, a comical Samet Akaydin own goal shortly afterwards and Bruno Fernandes’s second-half tap-in gave Portugal a straightforward win in front of swathes of passionate Turkish fans in Dortmund.
Portugal looked every inch a team aiming to win their second European Championship after triumphing in 2016, their star-studded line-up easily dealing with Vincenzo Montella’s enthusiastic but limited Turkiye team.
Cristiano Ronaldo will have at least two more tries to become the oldest goalscorer at a European Championship as Martinez said on Friday that the 39-year-old is in the right shape to play every four days.
It was Ronaldo who unselfishly set up Fernandes for a simple goal in the 56th minute after springing through Turkiye’s offside trap, and he then had time to pose for a selfie with a child fan who invaded the pitch midway through the second half.
Martinez’s side, on a perfect six points, will face one of the four best third-place finishers in the next round and go into their final group game against Georgia without any pressure for a result.
The same cannot be said for Turkiye who need a draw against the Czech Republic on Wednesday to ensure second place.
Turkiye’s passionate support again flocked to the Westfalenstadion in huge numbers, with long tailbacks on the roads leading to the ground several hours before the 6:00 p.m. (1600 GMT) kick-off.
Some fans sat on the top of cars leading chants among the thousands of supporters who crawled toward their destination.
Once inside what was effectively a home crowd let out a deafening chorus of whistles and jeers when Portugal jogged out for their pre-match warm-up.
However, once the match got underway there was a clear gap in class between the two sides and Portugal went deservedly ahead through Silva as the Manchester City midfielder confidently smashed in Nuno Mendes’s deflected low cross.
Soon after, Akaydin gifted Portugal a two-goal lead with his sloppy backpass which turned into an own goal as Zeki Celik and goalkeeper Altay Bayindir tried in vain to prevent the ball crossing the line.
Those two goals and the dominance of the Portuguese players quietened down the partisan crowd and the result was sealed when Fernandes stroked home his former Manchester United teammate Ronaldo’s present of a pass.
The Portugal fans then turned up the volume to celebrate their country reaching the last 16.
And cheers then rang around the ground from both sets of supporters as a pint-sized fan ran onto the pitch midway through the second half, just as the game was stopped to allow Nelson Semedo to replace Joao Cancelo for Portugal.
The youngster was cool enough to grab an amused Ronaldo for a photo and then dashed off on a mazy run his hero would have been proud of, dropping his shoulder on security staff before eventually being carted away from the pitch.
Ronaldo was less amused when five much larger fans then made copycat bids for selfies, only to be showered with boos and refused a photo before annoyed stewards reached them.


Southgate and England team under fire after lackluster display at Euro 2024

Updated 51 min 37 sec ago
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Southgate and England team under fire after lackluster display at Euro 2024

  • After Thursday’s uninspiring 1-1 draw with Denmark, the coach acknowledged “we understand what that will mean for the next few days”
  • former England captain Gary Lineker said: “I can’t imagine anybody, who is English, that would have enjoyed England’s performance because it was lethargic, it was dour...”

GELSENKIRCHEN, Germany: Gareth Southgate said he knew it was coming. He was right.
Negativity surrounds the England team — despite leading their group after two games at Euro 2024 and likely to advance to the knockout phase.
After Thursday’s uninspiring 1-1 draw with Denmark, the coach acknowledged “we understand what that will mean for the next few days.”
Indeed, it has fueled concern among fans, English media and former players.
“We have to reflect the mood of the nation,” former England captain Gary Lineker said on his podcast, The Rest is Football. “I can’t imagine anybody, who is English, that would have enjoyed England’s performance because it was lethargic, it was dour...
“You can think of all sorts of words and expletives if you like,” he added, before using one himself.
Lineker’s political opinions have upset the UK government in the recent past — now he has delivered a brutal assessment of the England team.
His comments about England appear to have summed up the mood of many fans.
Southgate’s team were a pre-tournament favorite and beaten finalists at the last Euros.
BBC pundit Alan Shearer described the second half against Denmark as “awful.”
Southgate’s handling of a squad that includes Harry Kane, Jude Bellingham and Phil Foden has been brought into question.
“We have world class players so it’s the manager’s job to get the best out of those players,” said Shearer, a former England striker.
Southgate has transformed England’s fortunes since he was appointed in 2016 — leading the country to the semifinals of the World Cup in 2018.
England missed out on a first trophy since winning the 1966 World Cup when they lost on penalties to Italy in the final of the last Euros three years ago.
The 2022 World Cup was England’s worst performance under Southgate when they lost to defending champion France in the quarterfinals.
England were unconvincing in their opener — a 1-0 win over Serbia — and have a few days off before their final Group C game Tuesday against Slovenia.
So, what has gone wrong in Germany?
Expectation
It has been a longstanding complaint that too much is expected of England at international tournaments. Despite having the most popular league in the world — the Premier League — and some of the most successful clubs, England’s sole success on the international stage remains the World Cup it won in 1966. The last Euros was England’s best performance at any tournament since then when finishing runner-up.
Southgate
Ahead of the tournament, Southgate said this would likely be his last in charge of England if he failed to deliver a trophy.
“I’ve been here for almost eight years now and we’ve come close. So, I know that you can’t keep standing in front of the public and saying ‘please do a little more’, because at some point people will lose faith in your message,” he said before the Euros began.
No left side
The England team are looking unbalanced because they essentially have no left side. Luke Shaw is the only designated left back in the squad, but he is still not fully fit after a long-term injury, leaving Kieran Trippier — a right back — to play on the left. Foden is playing as a nominal left winger, but he prefers to drift inside. England are essentially attacking down the right or down the middle, hugely restricting their options and making the team easier to defend against.
Midfield dilemma
England’s longtime midfield issue has not gone away. In fact, it might be worse than ever. Southgate has admitted to doing an “experiment” by selecting right back Trent Alexander-Arnold as a central midfielder alongside Declan Rice. Alexander-Arnold was substituted early in both games. Quite apart from the oddness of Southgate experimenting in such a key position at a major tournament, he is also overlooking three midfielders who finished the English domestic season strongly — Kobbie Mainoo, Adam Wharton and Conor Gallagher.


Georgia get their 1st point but miss a win in 1-1 draw with Czech Republic at Euro 2024

Updated 22 June 2024
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Georgia get their 1st point but miss a win in 1-1 draw with Czech Republic at Euro 2024

  • Georgia took the lead with a Georges Mikautadze penalty given for handball by Czech defender Robin Hranec
  • The Czech team got back into the game when a header rebounded off the post and Patrik Schick scored with his chest

HAMBURG: Georgia earned their first-ever point at a major tournament in a 1-1 draw with the Czech Republic at Euro 2024 on Saturday. It was nearly a win.
Midfielder Saba Lobjanidze fired his shot narrowly over the bar with the last kick of the game as Georgia’s promising three-on-one counterattack came to nothing.
Lobjanidze — who plays for Atlanta United in the US state of Georgia — seemed to be in tears after the final whistle and was comforted by coach Willy Sagnol.
Earlier, video reviews were in the spotlight.
The Czech team dominated the opening stages and celebrated the opening goal in the 23rd minute when Adam Hlozek bundled the ball into the net at the far post off a long throw.
Replays, however, showed Hlozek’s shot had bounced back off goalkeeper Giorgi Mamardashvili and in off the Czech forward’s face and arm.
The situation was reversed when Georgia defender Guram Kashia shot straight at the goalkeeper just before halftime. Georgia’s fans rued the missed chance but celebrated when a video review found the ball had come off Czech defender Robin Hranac’s arm a couple of seconds earlier.
Georgia, the only team making their debut at Euro 2024, then took the lead with a Georges Mikautadze penalty given for handball by Czech defender Robin Hranec.
The Czech team got back into the game when a header rebounded off the post and Patrik Schick scored with his chest for his sixth career goal at the European Championships, ranking him joint-sixth on the all-time list.
Schick limped off soon after and applied ice to his calf, potentially a major concern for the Czech Republic given the Bayer Leverkusen striker’s importance to the team and his long record of previous injuries.
VAR didn’t intervene later in the game when the Czech team appealed for players being pushed by Georgian defenders in the penalty area, perhaps because the contact on both occasions was relatively slight.
The draw means that both teams almost certainly require a win in their last group games to qualify for the knockout stages.
Türkiye and Portugal are the other two teams in Group F. They play later Saturday.


Germany face Switzerland with both teams unbeaten and eyeing top spot in Group A

Updated 22 June 2024
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Germany face Switzerland with both teams unbeaten and eyeing top spot in Group A

  • Both teams impressed in their first games as Germany routed Scotland 5-1 and Switzerland beat Hungary 3-1
  • The Euro 2024 host have already reached the round of 16 and with just a draw will finish top of Group A

FRANKFURT: Germany go for a third straight win in Group A against a Switzerland team that also are unbeaten. Germany have advanced to the knockout stage and Switzerland look sure to confirm their place Sunday.
The kickoff in Frankfurt, at the same time as group rivals Hungary and Scotland meet in Stuttgart, is 9 p.m. local (1900 GMT).
Both teams impressed in their first games as Germany routed Scotland 5-1 and Switzerland beat Hungary 3-1. Germany sustained their form by beating Hungary 2-0, while the Swiss less so in a 1-1 draw with Scotland.
The Euro 2024 host have already reached the round of 16 and with just a draw will finish top of Group A. That would send Germany to Dortmund for a knockout game next Saturday against the runner-up of Group C, which is currently Denmark.
Switzerland will top the group if they win. Thereafter that would send Germany to Berlin to play the runner-up in Group B, which likely will be Italy or Croatia.
Only freakish results could drop Switzerland to third place in the standings. The Swiss start Sunday three points ahead of Scotland, which play Hungary also at 9 p.m. local time in Stuttgart. Switzerland have a huge goal-difference advantage over Scotland.
The rain-soaked Frankfurt field have been a problem, even with a stadium roof that has been closed to protect the turf from the worst of persistent downpours this week.
Moreover, the Germans had a full squad of 26 players in training Saturday morning. Coach Julian Nagelsmann has picked the same starting lineup for both games so far.
Switzerland’s coach Murat Yakin is making changes in style and tactics. Though Kwadwo Duah scored against Hungary, he was dropped to face Scotland in favor of veteran Xherdan Shaqiri on the left side of attack, who duly delivered a standout goal.
Kylian Mbappe’s nose is not the only damaged one at Euro 2024, as Swiss defender Fabian Schär also got a bloodied and fractured nose, though he played on against Scotland and should be available.
The two team captains at Euro 2024, Granit Xhaka and Ilkay Gundogan, both played in a strange game 12 years ago. In a warmup for Euro 2012, which Germany qualified for and Switzerland didn’t, the Swiss gave their neighbors a beating in Basel. It was a rough debut for a 20-year-old German goalkeeper, Marc-André ter Stegen, then as now the backup to Manuel Neuer.
Teams that win all three games in a Euros group have an up-and-down history. At the last edition, Italy swept through their group in Rome en route to the title. At Euro 2008 a vibrant Netherlands team romped through a tough group then lost next in the quarterfinals to Russia. Germany won all three group games in 2012 before losing in the semifinals to Italy and Mario Balotelli.
“It’s often been the case that the grass there isn’t so firm and that players have had problems with it,” said Germany and Stuttgart midfielder Chris Führich on the Frankfurt playing surface.
Fellow midfielder Toni Kroos said: “We’re happy that we’re in the round of 16. Nevertheless, it will be about finishing first in the group.”


Laporte takes aim at critics after strong Spain Euros start

Updated 22 June 2024
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Laporte takes aim at critics after strong Spain Euros start

  • “They said everything, there was a lot of speculation and not enough information to come out with so many opinions,” Laporte told a news conference
  • “There’s a lot of bad information out there that generates more headlines... I prepared myself (to play at the Euros)“

DONAUESCHINGEN, Germany: Spain defender Aymeric Laporte fired a shot at his critics on Saturday after his fine display against Italy at Euro 2024.
The 30-year-old center-back, now playing for Al-Nassr in Saudi Arabia, started as Spain defeated the reigning champions 1-0 on Thursday to qualify for the last 16 top from Group B.
Laporte missed the opening 3-0 win against Croatia with a muscular problem and some Spanish media speculated over whether he was at the right level to play for La Roja after a year in the Saudi league.
“They said everything, there was a lot of speculation and not enough information to come out with so many opinions,” Laporte told a news conference ahead of the third group match against Albania on Monday.
“There’s a lot of bad information out there that generates more headlines... I prepared myself (to play at the Euros).”
Laporte arrived in Germany after his team-mates, and coach Luis de la Fuente said although the former Manchester City player could have featured against Croatia, it was better not to take risks.
“I played 90 minutes against Italy and I feel good,” added Laporte.
“I spoke with the (Spain) coach before taking the decision to go to Saudi Arabia.
“For me the national team is very important, it’s one of the most important things in my career.
“I’m proud of representing Spain, each time I wear the shirt I feel very proud and like I identify.”
Laporte, born in the French Basque region, became a naturalized Spaniard in 2021.
The defender played alongside Robin Le Normand, another French-born player, against Italy.
“I speak (to him) a lot on the pitch, we have fluid communication,” said Laporte.
“On and off the pitch we’re constantly talking, we played well against Italy.”
In January Laporte said many new players in the Saudi league coming from Europe were not happy, but defended the competition on Friday.
“I think people are prejudiced about it,” he explained.
“It’s also true that it’s a young league, in terms of marketing it’s evolving bit by bit and maybe in the future it will be seen as a more competitive league.
“But I also have to say that the player of the match in both of France’s games was (Al-Ittihad player N’Golo) Kante, and that shows something.”