De Bruyne feels the love of Guardiola by sparking Man City’s comeback in 4-2 win over Crystal Palace

Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne celebrates with teammates after scoring his side’s first goal during their English Premier League match against Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park stadium in London on Apr. 6, 2024.(AP)
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Updated 06 April 2024
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De Bruyne feels the love of Guardiola by sparking Man City’s comeback in 4-2 win over Crystal Palace

  • De Bruyne equalized 10 minutes later and it was one for the season highlight reel
  • The excitable Guardiola responded by placing his fingers to his lips and blowing kisses to De Bruyne

LONDON: A stunning strike by Kevin De Bruyne elicited kisses from the sideline from Pep Guardiola and launched title-chasing Manchester City’s comeback in a 4-2 win at Crystal Palace in the Premier League on Saturday.
City’s four-month unbeaten streak in all competitions was placed in jeopardy almost immediately after kickoff at Selhurst Park when Jean-Philippe Mateta gave Palace a third-minute lead with a goal on a breakaway.
In the end, there was nothing for City to worry about.
De Bruyne equalized 10 minutes later and it was one for the season highlight reel as the Belgium playmaker cut inside from the left and curled a right-footed shot from the corner of the area into the top corner of the net.
The excitable Guardiola responded by placing his fingers to his lips and blowing kisses to De Bruyne, and the manager also enjoyed a strike by Rico Lewis two minutes into the second half that put City in front for the first time.
Erling Haaland scored for the first time in four City matches by tapping in De Bruyne’s cross in the 66th for his league-leading 19th goal of the campaign.
De Bruyne sealed City’s impressive recovery in the 70th by ramming home a left-footed shot off Rodri’s layoff for his second goal of the game, taking him to 100 for the club since joining from Wolfsburg in 2015.
“It has been a very untypical season with the injuries and coming back,” said De Bruyne, who was injured in the first game of the season and missed the next five months. “Sometimes I feel good, sometimes I feel a little bit off with my body.
“I have tried to prepare myself as best as possible. I try to do the job as good as possible and today I did well.”
Substitute Odsonne Edouard grabbed a consolation for Palace.
City joined first-place Liverpool on 70 points ahead of the Reds’ match at fierce rival Manchester United on Sunday. Third-place Arsenal, which play Brighton later Saturday, are two points back.
“It’s just like every other title race — we have to win every game,” Lewis said. “There’s three teams in it and we have to be the strongest team.”
City next play Tuesday at Real Madrid in the first leg of the Champions League quarterfinals.


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.”