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.
 


Argentina begin Copa title defense with 2-0 win over Canada

Updated 21 June 2024
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Argentina begin Copa title defense with 2-0 win over Canada

  • Messi produced another clinical, defense-splitting pass and this time Lautaro made no mistake, slipping past the advancing Crepeau to make it 2-0

ATLANTA: World champions Argentina opened their bid for back-to-back Copa America titles with a 2-0 win over Canada in front of a crowd of 70,564 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Thursday.
Julian Alvarez put Argentina ahead in the 49th minute but a combination of inspired goalkeeping from Canada’s Max Crepeau and Lionel Messi’s surprising lack of precision in front of goal ensured that the underdogs were in the game until Lautaro Martinez settled the contest in the 88th minute.
Backed by a huge support decked out in light blue and white striped shirts, Argentina fully deserved their victory but Canada, ranked 48th in the world, can take plenty of credit for the way they fought with the 15-time Copa America winners.
Alvarez, preferred to Lautaro as Messi’s strike partners in attack, had the first opportunity when he charged down an attempted clearance from Ismael Kone and broke away.
But the Manchester City striker took a heavy touch as he bore down on Canada keeper Max Crepeau, who was able to smother the ball.
Messi, who became the most capped player in Copa America history, making his 35th appearance in what is his seventh tournament, then went close to an opener himself but his angled shot from the left flashed just wide of the far post.
While the Argentines were exploiting gaps in the Canadian defense, Jesse Marsch’s team were nonetheless competing in midfield and creating some half-chances for themselves.
Alphonso Davies and Liam Millar both had shots blocked inside the box and Tajon Buchanan screwed an effort from a tight angle wide in the 30th minute.
The first true save of the game came in the 40th minute, though, when Alexis Mac Allister’s stooping header from an Angel Di Maria cross was well dealt with by Crepeau.
But Argentina needed their goalkeeper, Emiliano Martinez, to be at his very best to ensure they went in on level terms at the interval.
Cyle Larin’s cross from the right wing was met with a powerful header from close-range from Stephen Eustaquio but Martinez’s sharp reaction save kept the game goalless.
But it took less than four minutes of the second half for Argentina to break the deadlock — Messi threaded a pass through to Mac Allister, who was brought down by Crepeau, but before the referee could blow his whistle Alvarez had slotted home the loose ball.
Within moments, there was another chance for Alvarez, but this time denied by the diving Crepeau and Canada could live to fight on.
They did so with more urgency and a little more risk after coach Jesse Marsch introduced winger Jacob Shaffelburg and switched to an attacking 4-3-3 formation.
Suddenly the Argentine defense was under pressure and didn’t look at all comfortable as Canada got men forward and exploited the wide areas.
But they were almost caught out with a classic counter-attack as Martinez launched a quick long ball toward Messi, who broke way goalwards but with the crowd expecting to see the eight-time Ballon d’Or winner on target he made a hash of the chance.
His initial effort was parried by Crepeau and although Messi latched on to the loose ball and sought to go round the keeper, his shot was easily cleared by the covering Derek Cornelius.
Incredibly there was another great opportunity for the former Barcelona star to find the target and again he was unable to convert — cutting in from the right with only Crepeau to beat, Messi opened up his body but slid his shot wide of the post.
Crepeau was at his best again to keep out substitute Lautaro as Argentina struggled to put the game to bed but with two minutes of normal time remaining they did just that.
Messi produced another clinical, defense-splitting pass and this time Lautaro made no mistake, slipping past the advancing Crepeau to make it 2-0.


Dominant Spain brush past Italy to reach Euro 2024 knockouts

Updated 21 June 2024
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Dominant Spain brush past Italy to reach Euro 2024 knockouts

  • For Italy Thursday’s deserved defeat was a reality check as vibrant Spain peppered the brilliant Gianliugi Donnarumma’s goal throughout the match while the Azzurri failed to have a single attempt on target

GELSENKIRCHEN, Germany: Spain qualified for the last 16 of Euro 2024 with a match to spare on Thursday after beating Italy 1-0 in a dominant display which ensured that La Roja would go through as Group B winners.
Riccardo Calafiori’s own goal nine minutes after half-time was the difference between the two sides at Gelsenkirchen in the biggest match to date at the tournament in Germany.
But the slender margin of victory didn’t reflect a statement performance from Spain who completely nullified Italy and should have had the game won by half-time, as they did in their opening round thumping of Croatia.
Nico Williams was the star for Spain as he ran Napoli right-back Giovanni Di Lorenzo ragged and supplied the cross from which the unfortunate Calafiori poked the winning goal into his own net.
Luis de la Fuente’s team have a perfect six points at the top of the group and take on Albania on Monday knowing that they are already in the knockout rounds and playing like potential champions.
For Italy Thursday’s deserved defeat was a reality check as vibrant Spain peppered the brilliant Gianliugi Donnarumma’s goal throughout the match while the Azzurri failed to have a single attempt on target.
It was a performance reminiscent of the Euro 2012 final between the two teams when Spain crushed Italy 4-0 in the last international hurrah for tiki-taka football.
However all is not lost for Luciano Spalletti’s team, who are second on three points, as a draw with Croatia on Monday will be enough to guarantee qualification behind Spain.
Spain could have been ahead twice in the first 10 minutes but squandered two great headed chances.
Less than two minutes were on the clock when an unmarked Pedri nodded Williams’ pinpoint cross straight at Donnarumma.
And then Williams, who had a field day against Di Lorenzo, was the guilty party by somehow heading wide Alvaro Morata’s superbly delivered, inswinging ball from the left flank.
Spain were clearly on top as Italy struggled to get out of their half, Gianluca Scamacca toiling on his own up front with little support and wasting possession when it did come his way.
Donnarumma had to be at his best twice within a matter of seconds when he first stuck out a foot to deny Morata and then pulled off a superb fingertip save which kept out Fabian Ruiz’s powerful drive from distance.
Meanwhile at the other end of the pitch Spain goalkeeper Unai Simon was a virtual spectator as Italy’s sole shot in the first half came just before the break when Federico Chiesa blazed a poor effort over from a difficult position.
The same pattern of Spanish possession and Italian defending continued after half-time and Pedri again wasted a great chance in the 51st minute, slamming wide after Marc Cucurella pulled back a perfect low cross.
But Spain got the breakthrough soon after and it came through more sensational play from Williams on the left, who made mincemeat of Di Lorenzo before fizzing across a ball which Calafiori couldn’t help but divert into his own goal.
La Roja went close to doubling their lead with two distance strikes from Morata and teen sensation Lamine Yamal, before the superb Williams smashed an effort past Donnarumma which came crashing out off the crossbar in the 71st minute.
Italy pushed forward in hope of an equalizer after Mattia Zaccagni and Mateo Retegui replaced the ineffective Chiesa and Scamacca.
But in the dying moments Donnarumma again made two superb saves to twice stop Ayoze Perez making the scoreline better reflect a one-sided contest.


Lacklustre England held by Denmark at Euro 2024

Updated 20 June 2024
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Lacklustre England held by Denmark at Euro 2024

  • Harry Kane had given the Three Lions an early lead as England pounced on a Danish defensive error
  • Hjulmand’s rocket from outside the box levelled before half-time and Denmark were left to rue missing late chances to secure a famous victory

FRANKFURT: England failed to guarantee their place in the knockout stages of Euro 2024 after Morten Hjulmand’s spectacular strike earned Denmark a 1-1 draw on Thursday.
A point was the least the Danes deserved as England again flattered to deceive in Frankfurt after an underwhelming 1-0 win over Serbia to open their tournament.
Harry Kane had given the Three Lions an early lead as England pounced on a Danish defensive error.
Hjulmand’s rocket from outside the box levelled before half-time and Denmark were left to rue missing late chances to secure a famous victory.
England remain on top of Group C, two points clear of Slovenia, who they face in Cologne on Tuesday, and Denmark.
Serbia’s late equalizer in a 1-1 draw with Slovenia earlier on Thursday also keeps their destiny in their own hands.
England boss Gareth Southgate said on Wednesday that he avoids media coverage during tournaments to escape negative stories.
But will be braced for more criticism after another flat display from one of the pre-tournament favorites.
Denmark coach Kasper Hjulmand and goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel claimed on the eve of the game they would not be fueled by revenge for their Euro 2020 semifinal heartbreak to England three years ago.
However, the Danes were a different beast from the side that disappointed at the 2022 World Cup and in drawing against Slovenia to open their tournament in Germany.
Denmark had made the brighter start as both sides struggled to cope with a bobbly pitch in Frankfurt that cut up badly in just its second game of five at Euro 2024.
Yet, England capitalized on a howler from Hjulmand’s men to take the lead on 18 minutes.
Victor Kristiansen was caught unaware of Kyle Walker’s run down the right and his deflected low cross fell perfectly for Kane to roll in his 13th goal at major tournaments.
Failing to build on early 1-0 leads has been a consistent criticism of England under Southgate.
In the 2018 World Cup semifinal and final of Euro 2020, Croatia and Italy were able to wrestle away momentum from the Three Lions.
This time Denmark were not deterred by conceding, although it took a spectacular strike to bring them level.
Hjulmand was given far too much room by the England midfield to take aim but he took full advantage form long range with a blistering shot that clipped the inside of the post on its way in.
Southgate made no changes at the break, but the future of his experiment of playing Liverpool right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold in a midfield role is in doubt after he was hooked for Conor Gallagher on 55 minutes.
Phil Foden’s form for England had been a source of much debate after he again failed to shine at international level against Serbia.
The Manchester City playmaker looked much more like the man that won Premier League player of the year awards this season and was inches away from restoring England’s lead with a low drive that came crashing back off the post.
Southgate’s caution has been criticized in the past, but he was bold with his changes in the search for a winner as Kane, Foden and Bukayo Saka were sacrificed for Eberechi Eze, Ollie Watkins and Jarrod Bowen.
Watkins nearly made an immediate impact as he was denied by Schmeichel after a brilliant through ball from Jude Bellingham.
Yet, it was Denmark who had the better chances to take all three points in the closing stages.
Andreas Christensen spooned over when unmarked from a corner before Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg curled inches wide.


Ukraine seek to bounce back against Slovakia after surprise opening loss

Updated 20 June 2024
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Ukraine seek to bounce back against Slovakia after surprise opening loss

  • Ukraine had a shock 3-0 loss to Romania that included costly errors from Real Madrid goalkeeper Andriy Lunin
  • Another loss could mean elimination for Ukraine, which were a quarterfinalist in 2021

DUESSELDORF, Germany: Slovakia face Ukraine on Friday in Duesseldorf in their second Group E match at the European Championship.

Slovakia are second to Romania on goal difference, and Ukraine are last. Romania and Belgium play on Saturday.
Ukraine had a shock 3-0 loss to Romania that included costly errors from Real Madrid goalkeeper Andriy Lunin. Another loss could mean elimination for Ukraine, which were a quarterfinalist in 2021.
Ukrainian players apologized to their fans for the Romania loss, and held a team meeting in the locker room after that game without coach Serhiy Rebrov present to work out what went wrong. That was “absolutely normal,” the coach said Thursday.
Slovakia are riding high after surprising Belgium 1-0 but needed two video reviews to overturn Belgium goals. One was deemed offside and a sensor in the ball detected a handball on the second.
The Slovakians know not to get too excited by an opening win. At the last European Championship they beat Poland but then lost to Sweden and Spain and didn’t advance. That meant there was only “a bit of euphoria for a few short hours” when Slovakia beat Belgium this time, coach Francesco Calzona said.
Ukraine coach Rebrov indicated he will make changes to the lineup which lost to Romania and said some unnamed players were carrying “micro-injuries.”
Defender Vitaliy Mykolenko sustained severe bruising in a pre-tournament friendly with Moldova and was an unused substitute against Romania but was expected to train with the team Thursday evening, Rebrov said.
One option for Rebrov could be to replace 34-year-old captain Taras Stepanenko with the 22-year-old Volodymyr Brazhko in defensive midfield. Brazhko debuted for the team only in March as Ukraine qualified for Euro 2024 through the playoffs.
Slovakia coach Calzona says his players are all available but he has yet to decide on his starting lineup.
The average age of Slovakia’s starting lineup in the win over Belgium was over 30 as the team relied on the experience of two 37-year-olds, defender Peter Pekarik and Juraj Kucka, and the 35-year-old goalkeeper Martin Dubravka. Ukraine’s players against Romania were on average four and a half years younger.
The teams have a fairly even record, with three wins for Slovakia, two for Ukraine and three draws. Slovakia won their last game 4-1 in 2018.
A second win would make history for Slovakia, which have never won more than one game in any tournament they’ve played as an independent nation. As part of Czechoslovakia, they did win the 1976 European Championship, though.
“We want to turn the page and concentrate 100 percent on the Slovakia game... (The Romania game) is a very painful result for us but we need to learn the lessons and get ready for tomorrow’s game,” said Ukraine left back Oleksandr Zinchenko.
“I think our greatest quality is humility. We know that we always need to give 110 percent because we’re a small nation and we always want to put a big smile on the faces of our fans and our people,” said Calzona.
Slovak defender David Hancko said: “Ukraine has wonderful, young, talented players. They have a good system, they’re strong on the ball. ... We must play to the best of our abilities to be able to beat them.”


France coach says team doing all to ensure Mbappé available for Netherlands match at Euro 2024

Updated 20 June 2024
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France coach says team doing all to ensure Mbappé available for Netherlands match at Euro 2024

  • “He was able to take part in some light exercises yesterday,″ Deschamps said

LEIPZIG, Germany: France coach Didier Deschamps says his team are doing all “to ensure” Kylian Mbappé is available for the Euro 2024 clash against the Netherlands on Friday.
“Everything is going well, after the shock we had. He was able to take part in some light exercises yesterday and that will be the same this evening″ Deschamps said Thursday. “We’ll do all we can to ensure that he’ll be available tomorrow.”
Mbappé broke his nose in France’s opening 1-0 win over Austria on Monday when his face collided with Austria defender Kevin Danso’s shoulder. Blood stained his white France jersey. If he plays, he’ll need to wear a mask. But it remains uncertain.
Mbappé returned to light training on Wednesday and was expected to continue preparations on Thursday.