Aston Villa stay ahead of fellow winners Tottenham in Premier League; Chelsea and Man United held

Aston Villa’s Ezri Konsa celebrates scoring their second goal with teammates during the Premier League match between Aston Villa and Wolverhampton Wanderers at Villa Park, Birmingham, Britain on March 30, 2024. (Reuters)
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Updated 31 March 2024
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Aston Villa stay ahead of fellow winners Tottenham in Premier League; Chelsea and Man United held

  • Sixth-placed Manchester United delivered yet another mediocre display and were lucky to escape from Brentford with a 1-1 draw after a dramatic finish
  • Chelsea winger Cole Palmer became the fifth player to reach 20 goal involvements in his first Premier League

LONDON: Aston Villa and Tottenham didn’t give up an inch in their fight for fourth place in the English Premier League on Saturday.

Battling for Champions League soccer next season, both clubs won their respective games as the league resumed following the international break. Villa in fourth and Spurs in fifth remain separated by just three points.

Tottenham, who have a match in hand, kept the pressure on Villa early in the afternoon when a late goal from Son Heung-min sealed a 2-1 win over struggling Luton.

Villa restored their lead barely two hours later by defeating Wolverhampton Wanderers 2-0.

Villa did not play particularly well in a scrappy match that lacked intensity. A great first half strike by Frenchman Moussa Diaby for his first league goal this year put the hosts in the lead. Ezri Konsa, assisted by Diaby, capped an excellent buildup to make it 2-0 with 25 minutes remaining.

Third-placed Manchester City and leaders Arsenal meet on Sunday with just one point separating them. Second-placed Liverpool host Brighton on the same day.

Lethargic Spurs

Spurs came close to conceding their first home draw against a Luton side locked in the relegation battle, but captain Son decided otherwise in the 86th after a quick break, concluding the move with a shot that took a deflection.

Tottenham were lethargic in the first half and were made to pay for it when Tahith Chong finished a fine collective move from the visitors. Spurs equalized in the 49th after defender Issa Kabore, under pressure from Timo Werner, put the ball into his own net.

Kabore made up for his mistake with decisive blocks in the second half as Tottenham pressed for a winner that finally came five minutes from time.

Man United held

Eight points behind Tottenham, sixth-placed Manchester United delivered yet another mediocre display and were lucky to escape from Brentford with a 1-1 draw after a dramatic finish.

The Bees kept United goalkeeper Andre Onana busy — he made four saves — and hit the woodwork four times.

Totally against the run of the play, United took the lead in stoppage time through substitute Mason Mount’s effort past Mark Flekken. With victory in sight, United conceded three minutes later when Ivan Toney cut the ball back inside the area for the unmarked Kristoffer Ajer, who bagged his second goal in two matches to level.

Palmers Panenka

Chelsea winger Cole Palmer became the fifth player to reach 20 goal involvements in his first Premier League. Palmer’s brace at Stamford Bridge could help Chelsea only draw 2-2 with 10-man Burnley.

Chelsea was wasteful in the first half and had a goal ruled out after 20 minutes. The Blues took the lead from the spot when Palmer scored with a Panenka kick, chipping the ball down the middle.

The decision after a VAR check to award the penalty to Chelsea for a foul on Mykhailo Mudryk in the box left Burnley coach Vincent Kompany fuming. Kompany was issued a red card for his vehement protest. Lorenz Assignon, who received a second yellow card for dragging down Mudryk, was also sent off.

Burnley pushed back and leveled when Josh Cullen volleyed home from 25 meters.

Palmer restored Chelsea’s lead in the 78th from Raheem Sterling’s backheel pass.

Dara O’Shea snatched the equalizer with a header badly handled by Djordje Petrovic.

From 3-1 down to victory

Newcastle edged a seven-goal thriller against West Ham, coming back from 3-1 down with just 13 minutes remaining to win 4-3 at St. James’ Park.

Substitute Harvey Barnes scored twice for the home side, including a beautiful winner in added time from outside the box into the bottom right corner that left goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski no chance.

“Today’s a day we’ll never forget,” Barnes said. “It’s been a tough season for me. I’ve missed that feeling so much, it’s what you want as a player, it’s amazing.”

Newcastle also got two goals from Alexander Isak from the penalty spot.

Mohammed Kudus, Michail Antonio and Jarrod Bowen scored for West Ham. The London side remained one point above Newcastle, which moved up to eighth in the standings.

In a spectacular game that was goalless at the break, Sheffield United and Fulham drew 3-3 after the host blew a 3-1 lead. Nottingham Forest left the bottom three after drawing with Crystal Palace 1-1.
 


Tickets for Pakistan-Saudi Arabia football World Cup qualifier go up for sale

Updated 24 May 2024
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Tickets for Pakistan-Saudi Arabia football World Cup qualifier go up for sale

  • Pakistan and Saudi Arabia will play against each other in Islamabad on June 6 for round two of World Cup qualifier
  • Saudi Arabia beat Pakistan 4-0 in November 2023 when the two sides met each other for first round of qualifiers

ISLAMABAD: Tickets for Pakistan’s upcoming FIFA World Cup 2026 Qualifier Round 2 home-leg match against Saudi Arabia are officially on sale, the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) announced on Thursday. 

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia will lock horns at the Jinnah Football Stadium in Islamabad on June 6, with the match scheduled to kick off at 8:30 p.m. Pakistan Standard Time. 

Pakistan is in Group G of the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers with Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Tajikistan. The South Asian country will face Tajikistan on June 11 in an away fixture. 

A total of 36 football squads have been split into nine groups with four teams each in the second round of qualifiers. The winners and runners-up from each group would progress through to the third round.

“In a bid to make the event accessible to all football enthusiasts, ticket prices have been thoughtfully set at budget-friendly rates,” the PFF said in a media release, adding that tickets were available at Bookme.pk website. 

It said tickets for the Premium Plus enclosures were set at Rs4,000 [$14.37] while the Premium enclosure tickets were priced at Rs1,500 [$5.39]. The General enclosure tickets are being sold for Rs750 [$2.69]. 

Saudi Arabia thrashed Pakistan 4-0 when the two sides met in November 2023 for their first clash of the FIFA World Cup qualifiers in Al Ahsa. 

Preliminary Pakistan squad

Goalkeepers: Hassan Ali and Tanveer

Defenders: Haseeb Khan, Mamoon Moosa Khan, Huzaifa, Waqar Ihtisham, Abdul Rehman, Umar Hayat, Muhammad Adeel, Muhammad Saddam and Zain ul Abideen

Midfielders: Yasir Arafat, Alamgir Ghazi, Ali Uzair, Rajab Ali, Moin Ali, Junaid Ahmed and Fahim

Forwards: Adeel Younas, Shayak Dost, Ali Zafar and Fareedullah

The PFF said the names of diaspora players joining the national training camp later would be included in the final squad.


Yokohama take a 2-1 lead into the 2nd leg of the Asian Champions League final against Al-Ain

Updated 24 May 2024
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Yokohama take a 2-1 lead into the 2nd leg of the Asian Champions League final against Al-Ain

  • If the Japanese team win they will participate in the 2025 FIFA Club World Cup where they could face their English stablemate as the English team qualified for the tournament
  • Despite the first-leg lead from the opener in Japan, getting past Al-Ain won’t be easy. The 2003 Asian champions also reached the final in 2005 and 2016

DUBAI: There will be celebrations in the UAE on Saturday regardless of whether Yokohama F. Marinos can protect their 2-1 lead in the second leg of the Asian Champions League final or Al-Ain come back to take the title.

Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayad is not only president of UAE but has been club president of Al-Ain, based near the country’s border with Oman, since 1979.

His vice president Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed is the owner of Manchester City, the founding member of the City Football Group, a worldwide stable of 13 clubs which became a minority shareholder in Yokohama in 2014.

If the Japanese team win they will participate in the 2025 FIFA Club World Cup where they could face their English stablemate as the English team qualified for the tournament, which will be expanded from seven to 32 teams, after becoming European champions in 2023.

Despite the first-leg lead from the opener in Japan, getting past Al-Ain won’t be easy. The 2003 Asian champions also reached the final in 2005 and 2016. The second loss is still fresh in the memory and serves as motivation.

“That’s why everybody wants this trophy so bad,” Al-Ain defender Khalid Al Hashemi said on the Asian Football Confederation’s official website. “I hope from the bottom of my heart that we can give happiness to everybody in our country.”

Al-Ain, coached by former Argentina striker Hernan Crespo, took an early lead through Mohammed Al-Baloushi at the Nissan Stadium on May 11 only for two late goals from Asahi Uenaka and Kota Watanabe to give Yokohama a slender advantage.

“We lost against great opponents who played very well but we did have chances which we didn’t put away,” Crespo said. “We have another opportunity at home and I hope it will be different,” said the ex-Milan, Inter and Chelsea forward.

“What we need is a little bit more quality in front to be dangerous. We had some chances, but it wasn’t enough and that is credit to Yokohama as they didn’t give us much space.”

Neither finalist has been able to transfer strong Asian form into domestic results. Al-Ain are in third in the league, 16 points behind leader Al-Wasl. Yokohama have won the J-League five times but currently sit 13th in the standings. The Japanese team have never been in the Champions League final.

Harry Kewell has been in charge since December and the former Leeds and Liverpool winger is close to achieving something that neither of his Australian predecessors Ange Postecoglou and Kevin Muscat managed at Yokohama.

“I’ve never been afraid of a challenge and I’m going to make sure my team’s not afraid of this challenge,” Kewell said. “It’s going to be tough . . . nothing’s given for free, you have to pay for it, you have to work for it. We have to suffer if we want to pick up this title.”


Beaten Leverkusen hope to ‘find themselves’ in German Cup final

Updated 24 May 2024
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Beaten Leverkusen hope to ‘find themselves’ in German Cup final

  • A loss will recall the club’s infamous ‘Neverkusen’ season in 2002, when they somehow emerged empty-handed
  • Leverkusen were without a trophy despite being five points clear in the league with three games remaining, while also qualifying for the German Cup and Champions League finals

BERLIN: Bayer Leverkusen face second-division Kaiserslautern in Saturday’s German Cup final licking their wounds after a first loss in almost a year.

Xabi Alonso’s side were thoroughly outclassed in a 3-0 loss to Atalanta in the Europa League final on Wednesday, their first defeat in any competition since May 2023 — a run of 51 games.

Energetic and dynamic this season with a taste for late goals, Leverkusen looked a shadow of the team which thundered past Bayern Munich to win their first ever Bundesliga title this season.

In a year when Alonso pledged to stick around with the club despite reported interest from Liverpool and Bayern, Leverkusen looked on track for a remarkable three trophies.

Now they need to rebound to stop their underdog opponents, who flirted with relegation to the third division for much of the campaign, spoiling what has been an incredible season.

A loss will recall the club’s infamous ‘Neverkusen’ season in 2002, when they somehow emerged empty-handed despite being five points clear in the league with three games remaining, while also qualifying for the German Cup and Champions League finals.

Leverkusen’s unbeaten run, which broke a 59-year-old record set by Portuguese giants Benfica in 1965, was bound to end sometime but it was the manner in which the club capitulated which will concern Alonso the most.

The Germans were outmuscled by a determined Atalanta, with the reliable Florian Wirtz and Granit Xhaka, so important this season, having off nights.

Winger Jonas Hofmann summed up the club’s struggles on Wednesday night, lamenting “many mistakes, individual mistakes, bad passes and simple technical errors,” saying the performance was “not Bayer-like.”

“We weren’t confident in the buildup,” Hofmann said, explaining Leverkusen had given Atalanta the feeling “they could stand up to us and win the title.”

For a side which has made a habit of scoring late goals — they have scored 15 times after the 90-minute mark this season — Leverkusen were not able to turn the tide.

Alonso was self-critical after the match, saying “we weren’t at our best, including me” and explained the system he chose “did not work,” urging his side to “transform our pain into positive energy.”

Despite the disappointment, beating Kaiserslautern would make Leverkusen just the sixth side in German football history to do the double — an incredible achievement for a team which had two major trophies to their name before this season started.

Xhaka told reporters on Wednesday the result was “not easy” but “we will not let it destroy us.”

“If we don’t win the triple, then we will win the double.”

Center-back Jonathan Tah, captain on Wednesday night, said “the show must go on.”

“We’ve got a very important game ahead of us — we can’t afford to talk ourselves down too much.”

Their opponents may now face a wounded Leverkusen hoping to make amends, but also understand Alonso’s side are vulnerable after Wednesday’s surprise loss.

Despite their run to the final, Kaiserslautern only played one top-division side in the Cup — beating Cologne, who were relegated to the second division at the end of the season.

Kaiserslautern striker Ragnar Ache told AFP he had been cheering for Leverkusen in Wednesday’s final in the hope Alonso’s side “would maybe party a little bit” into the night.

Ache however said Leverkusen “have a very big squad with high quality players — and they’re used to it.”

“It’s still not going to be easy for us. We have to look at ourselves and what we are going to do.”


Saudi squad announced for the upcoming World Cup, Asian Cup qualifiers

Updated 24 May 2024
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Saudi squad announced for the upcoming World Cup, Asian Cup qualifiers

RIYADH: Saudi national team boss Roberto Mancini announced the 31-player list in preparation for the fifth and sixth games of the 2026 World Cup and the 2027 Asian Cup qualifiers.


The Green Falcons will play Pakistan on June 6 in Islamabad and host Jordan on June 11 in Riyadh.

A preparation camp will be held in Riyadh next Thursday, except for Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr players, who will join their teammates on June 2, after the King’s Cup final between the two Riyadh giants.

Saudi National Team Squad for World Cup & Asian Cup Qualifiers

Goalkeepers: Mohammed Al-Owais, Ahmed Al-Kassar, Raghed Najjar, Mohammed Al-Yami, and Mohammed Al-Absi.

Defenders: Mutib Al-Harbi, Hassan Kadesh, Ali Al-Bulaihi, Aoun Al-Saluli, Ali Lagami, Hassan Al-Tumbakti, Saud Abdulhamid, and Mohammed Al-Buraik.

Midfielders: Mukhtar Ali, Abdullah Al-Khaibari, Musab Al-Juwair, Mohammed Kanno, Rayan Hamed, Sultan Al-Ghannam, Nasser Al-Dawsari, Faisal Al-Ghamdi, and Abbas Al-Hassan.

Attackers: Salem Al-Dawsari, Sami Al-Najai, Ayman Yahya, Marwan Al-Sahafi, Abdulrahman Gharib, Ahmed Al-Ghamdi, Abdullah Radif, Abdullah Al-Hamdan, and Firas Al-Burikan.

Al-Nassr’s Sultan Al-Ghannam returns to the squad after he and five other Saudi internationals were hit with punishments for disciplinary violations before the AFC Asian Cup held in Qatar.

The wing-back took to X and said he was happy to return to the squad.

“Representing the national team is an unparalleled honor. I thank those in charge of the team, including the administrative and technical bodies, and I hope that I, along with the rest of my teammates, will provide a level that is worthy of the reputation of Saudi football,” he added.


Ten Hag vows to save Man Utd project by winning FA Cup

Updated 23 May 2024
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Ten Hag vows to save Man Utd project by winning FA Cup

  • Ten Hag is battling to save his job amid mounting speculation that United’s new co-owner Jim Ratcliffe plans to axe him after a turbulent season
  • Asked on Thursday if the final could be his last match as United manager, Ten Hag laughed and told reporters: “I have nothing to say. I’m just focusing on the job I have to do”

LONDON: Erik ten Hag has vowed to win the FA Cup and carry on with his Manchester United project as the under-fire boss prepares for Saturday’s final against Manchester City.
Ten Hag is battling to save his job amid mounting speculation that United’s new co-owner Jim Ratcliffe plans to axe him after a turbulent season.
United finished eighth in the Premier League — their lowest final position since 1990 — and crashed out of the Champions League in the group stage.
The Dutch coach, who led United to their first trophy in six years when they won the League Cup last season, also clashed with Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford, reportedly creating a rift in the dressing room.
United have been linked with England boss Gareth Southgate, former Chelsea manager Mauricio Pochettino, departing Bayern Munich boss Thomas Tuchel and Ipswich chief Kieran McKenna.
But Ten Hag is convinced he can turn the tide by securing United’s first FA Cup triumph since 2016, in the process avenging last season’s loss to City at the same stage of the competition and ensuring his club qualify for Europe.
Asked on Thursday if the final could be his last match as United manager, Ten Hag laughed and told reporters: “I have nothing to say. I’m just focusing on the job I have to do.
“That is first to win the game on Saturday and then we are in the project. Keep going in the project.
“After every season you review it and see where you are in the project and what things may need to change.
“We spoke lately about it. There are players developing and values going up.”
City were crowned Premier League champions for an unprecedented fourth successive season last weekend, giving them six titles in seven years.
Pep Guardiola’s men have beaten United twice already this season and Ten Hag knows a surprise win for underdogs United would be a well-timed feather in his cap.
“It’s all about trophies. We have a huge opportunity to win a trophy. In the last 10 years there has not been so many trophies at the club but we have the opportunity to win two in two years,” he said.
“The FA Cup final, it’s a big event. Even in a season that is not in our way, we are there. We know we have an opportunity.
“It won’t be easy but we must go for it. We have to believe it. We know often against good opposition we play our best football and that must be the same on Saturday.”
Ten Hag has been hampered by injuries to key players throughout the season, but his fitness issues have eased ahead of the final.
Lisandro Martinez and Raphael Varane have returned, with Victor Lindelof, Mason Mount and Anthony Martial pictured in training this week, although Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw will be sidelined.
Ten Hag insisted Maguire, who has been named in England’s provisional Euro 2024 squad despite his muscle injury, had not suffered a setback.
“I don’t think so, no. It’s just he didn’t make it, didn’t heal as we expected,” he said.
Marcus Rashford was left out of England’s Euro squad after a poor campaign and Ten Hag challenged the United forward to prove his worth in the final.
“He looks good and that is a career, ups and downs,” Ten Hag said.
“So, a down can also be fuel, that is what I see in training. He will be highly motivated. Speak with your feet, he is highly talented.”