Barca coach Xavi hails rivals Madrid ahead of Clasico

Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti with FC Barcelona coach Xavi before their Copa del Rey — Semi Final — Second Leg match at Camp Nou, Barcelona, on Apr. 5, 2023. (Reuters/File)
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Updated 20 April 2024
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Barca coach Xavi hails rivals Madrid ahead of Clasico

  • “When you have won so many times you play with more calm, less desperation, more confidence, they are a very good team,” Xavi said
  • “In the end people say it’s luck, I don’t believe much in luck — I think it’s effort, defensive work, the solidarity they showed, everyone working so hard”

MADRID: Barcelona coach Xavi Hernandez praised rivals Real Madrid ahead of their Clasico showdown in La Liga on Sunday.
Los Blancos lead the Spanish top flight by eight points with champions Barcelona needing a victory at the Santiago Bernabeu on Sunday to stand any chance of retaining the trophy.
After Barcelona crashed out of the Champions League against Paris Saint-Germain and Madrid beat holders Manchester City in midweek, Xavi acknowledged the record 14-time winners’ quality.
“When you have won so many times you play with more calm, less desperation, more confidence, they are a very good team,” Xavi told a news conference Saturday.
“In the end people say it’s luck, I don’t believe much in luck — I think it’s effort, defensive work, the solidarity they showed, everyone working so hard.
“The three up front worked harder than ever, Man City missed some clear chances but that’s football, it’s not luck that Madrid have knocked out the best team in the world twice in three years.”
Xavi said he was not throwing in the towel in La Liga despite Madrid’s significant advantage.
“For us it’s the most important game of the season, we have to win to put pressure on the leader,” he added.
“We have enormous respect for Real Madrid, they’ve lost just one game out of 31, their numbers are extraordinary.
“We don’t have bad numbers in La Liga, we’ve got four points less than when we were leaders last season (at this stage).”
Xavi’s counterpart at Madrid, Carlo Ancelotti, said his team could strike a killer blow in the title race.
“It’s a great chance for us to get closer to winning La Liga, but we know it’s hard because Barcelona are a very competitive side,” said the Italian.
“We are very close if we are capable of winning ... it will be the usual Clasico, a hard-fought, equal game.”
Ancelotti said defender Ferland Mendy was tired after the win over City and was given an extra day of rest, but the rest of his squad was fit, beyond the long-term absentees.
Madrid are aiming to win a league and Champions League double for the fifth time in their history.
“The cake is prepared and we have to put the cherry on top this month,” said Ancelotti. “We’re very well positioned.”


Albania dent Croatia’s Euro 2024 hopes with dramatic draw

Updated 19 June 2024
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Albania dent Croatia’s Euro 2024 hopes with dramatic draw

  • Klaus Gjasula put through his own net and then became the last-gasp hero by slotting into the bottom corner in the fifth minute of injury time to snatch the draw
  • Albania have won plenty of plaudits with their performances against both Italy, in a 2-1 defeat, and Croatia, but will probably have to beat Spain to keep their last-16 hopes alive

HAMBURG: Albania left Croatia in danger of a group-stage exit from Euro 2024 after a thrilling 2-2 draw on Wednesday as Albania’s Klaus Gjasula scored at both ends, including a dramatic injury-time equalizer.
After a disappointing 3-0 loss to Spain in their opener, Croatia were behind again when Qazim Laci gave Albania an early lead in Hamburg.
But Croatia improved after making two half-time substitutions and Andrej Kramaric levelled with 16 minutes remaining, before Gjasula put through his own net.
The Albania midfielder became the last-gasp hero, though, slotting into the bottom corner in the fifth minute of injury time to snatch his team a point.
Croatia, World Cup semifinalists in 2022, will now likely need to win their final Group B match against holders Italy on June 24 to reach the knockout phase for a fifth straight major tournament.
Albania have won plenty of plaudits with their performances against both Italy, in a 2-1 defeat, and Croatia, but could not hold a lead in either game and will probably have to beat Spain to keep their last-16 hopes alive.
Croatia’s ‘golden generation’ were ultimately made to pay for a poor first-half display and are in danger of bowing out from major tournament football in limp fashion.
Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic opted against a change in formation from the Spain defeat, sticking with his midfield trio of Luka Modric, Mateo Kovacic and Marcelo Brozovic.
But he brought in Ivan Perisic at left-back, moving Manchester City’s Josko Gvardiol into central defense.
The smell of smoke from flares filled the air outside the stadium as the supporters of both teams created one of the best atmospheres of the tournament so far.
Albania scored the fastest goal in European Championship history after just 23 seconds against Italy and they made another quick start.
It took until only the 11th minute for Sylvinho’s men to break the deadlock this time, as Sparta Prague midfielder Laci ghosted into the area unmarked to nod home an inch-perfect, inswinging cross from Jasir Asani.
Croatia tried to impose their passing game, but Albania were constantly in their faces and continued to look the more dangerous side, with right-back Elseid Hysaj firing off target.
The underdogs could have doubled their advantage just after the half-hour mark, but Kristjan Asllani was denied by Dominik Livakovic when face-to-face with the Croatia goalkeeper.
Albania striker Rey Manaj passed up another excellent opportunity, failing to get enough purchase on his free header in first-half added time to seriously trouble Livakovic.
Dalic responded by making two changes at the interval, bringing on 21-year-old Luka Sucic and Mario Pasalic for the ineffective Lovro Majer and Brozovic.
Those substitutions brought about a quick improvement from Croatia, as Albania goalkeeper Thomas Strakosha made a good save to keep out Sucic’s left-footed shot, before Pasalic headed over seconds later.
Albania continued to threaten on the counter-attack, though, with Nedim Bajrami drilling wide of the near post in the 67th minute.
But Croatia finally found a way through in the 74th minute as substitute Ante Budimir picked out Kramaric inside the box and the forward cut inside before sending a composed finish inside Strakosha’s near post.
The turnaround appeared to be complete two minutes later as Sucic’s close-range effort was blocked, but only against the unfortunate Gjasula and into an empty net.
Albania did not give up, missing a series of chances as it appeared Croatia would cling on.
Gjasula had other ideas though, sweeping a loose ball home before a chaotic denouement that saw both sides throw bodies forward in search of a winner, to no avail.


Germany and Hungary fans bask in Stuttgart sunshine ahead of crunch clash

Updated 19 June 2024
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Germany and Hungary fans bask in Stuttgart sunshine ahead of crunch clash

  • Hosts Germany will be looking to reach the knockout stage with a second successive win in Group A
  • Hungary coach Marco Rossi said on Tuesday his side needed to play a perfect game to get at least a point against the three-time European champions

STUTTGART: Overnight storms cleared and the sun was shining on Stuttgart on Wednesday as thousands of fans arrived in the city center ahead of one of the most anticipated matches of Euro 2024’s group stage between Germany and Hungary.
Hosts Germany will be looking to reach the knockout stage with a second successive win in Group A while Hungary need at least a point to have any real hope of extending their stay at the tournament.
The game, a rematch of the 1954 World Cup final when Germany won their first international title, was designated high risk by security services and Stuttgart police had prepared a large presence to deal with any possible disturbances.
However, there were no signs of animosity at the city’s main fan park in Schlossplatz with supporters from both nations drinking in the sun, waving huge flags and exchanging chants in a friendly fashion hours ahead of kickoff.
Many Hungarian fans sported national team shirts with the name of their young captain Dominik Szoboszlai on the back, with the 23-year-old already have drawn comparisons as a team leader to the great Ferenc Puskas.
As supporters made their way to the stadium, the focus quickly turned to who would come out on top.
“There is no other option. We believe in this. We traveled 1,000 kilometers. We’re here. We have to win,” Hungary fan Istvan, from near the northern city of Eger, told Reuters.
Hungary coach Marco Rossi said on Tuesday his side needed to play a perfect game to get at least a point against the three-time European champions and supporter Lajos agreed.
“We wish that we will win, (but) the Germans are a lot better,” he said. “The Hungarians started badly against Switzerland (but) there is a chance here, if they want to go further, only victory or a draw is acceptable.”
Germany fans who saw their side smash Scotland 5-1 in the opener could afford to settle back, perhaps with a few steins of beer, and be a little more relaxed about the match.
“We all have a very good feeling. I hope Germany is the winner,” supporter Juergen said.


Conceição scores in stoppage time to get Portugal off to winning start at Euro 2024

Updated 19 June 2024
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Conceição scores in stoppage time to get Portugal off to winning start at Euro 2024

  • Conceição, who only made his entrance in the 90th minute, fired the ball home in the 92nd after Robin Hranac’s attempted block of Pedro Neto’s shot fell kindly for the Porto winger to shoot inside the left post

LEIPZIG, Germany: Portugal substitute Francisco Conceição scored in stoppage time for a 2-1 win over the Czech Republic in their European Championship opening game on Tuesday.
Conceição, who only made his entrance in the 90th minute, fired the ball home in the 92nd after Robin Hranac’s attempted block of Pedro Neto’s shot fell kindly for the Porto winger to shoot inside the left post.
Conceição wheeled away in delight and was booked for taking off his jersey.
It comes almost 24 years to the day since Conceição’s father, Sérgio Conceição, scored a hat trick to knock defending champion Germany out of Euro 2000.
Czech Republic goalkeeper Jindrich Stanek had thwarted Cristiano Ronaldo as the Portugal star became the first to play at six European Championship tournaments. The 39-year-old Ronaldo was unable to add to his record 14 goals in his record-extending 26th appearance at the tournament.
Portugal’s 41-year-old defender Pepe became the oldest player to play at the tournament, though he had little to do as the 2016 champions dominated ball possession and chances.
It came as a shock when Lukas Provod broke the deadlock at the other end with a fierce strike inside the far post after Vladimir Coufal laid the ball back in the 62nd minute.
Portugal drew level in the 70th when Stanek’s save of Nuno Mendes’ header rebounded off Hranac’s shin and in.
Turkiye defeated tournament debutant Georgia 3-1 in the other Group F game earlier.


Guler enhances burgeoning reputation with goal for Turkiye in win over debutant Georgia at Euro 2024

Updated 18 June 2024
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Guler enhances burgeoning reputation with goal for Turkiye in win over debutant Georgia at Euro 2024

  • Substitute Kerem Aktürkoğlu scored a breakaway goal in the final seconds of stoppage time for Türkiye’s third
  • Georgia’s players dealt well with an intimidating atmosphere created by Türkiye’s fans

DORTMUND: Arda Guler enhanced his reputation as one of Europe’s brightest young stars by curling home a brilliant second-half goal to help Türkiye to a 3-1 win over tournament debutant Georgia at the European Championship on Tuesday.
The 19-year-old forward brought a strong end to his first season at Real Madrid to the Euros by cutting in from the right and bending a fierce shot into the top corner in the 65th minute, regaining the lead for Turkiye at 2-1 in a Group F match played in a febrile and intense atmosphere in Dortmund.
Substitute Kerem Aktürkoğlu scored a breakaway goal in the final seconds of stoppage time for Turkiye’s third.
This was a nation-stopping moment for Georgia, a South Caucasus country of 3.7 million people that are making their debut in an international soccer tournament since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, amid protests and political turmoil back home.
Georgia’s players dealt well with an intimidating atmosphere created by Turkiye’s fans and responded to Mert Muldur’s volleyed finish for the Turks in the 25th with an equalizer by Georges Mikautadze in the 32nd.
Guler’s intervention was crucial, though, and it was the latest in a string of outside-of-the-area strikes at these Euros. It also was another demonstration of his talent that was on display when he scored five goals in five games to finish a Spanish league season that he mostly missed because of injury. He was an unused substitute in the Champions League final that Madrid won.
He’ll likely find game time even harder to come by next season following the arrival of Kylian Mbappé and Endrick, even if Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti is aware he has a gem on his hands in Guler.
Georgia, at No. 75 the lowest-ranked nation at Euro 2024, could easily have snatched a point from a game played at a frenetic pace.
In stoppage time and with their goalkeeper Giorgi Mamardashvili upfield in search of a goal, Georgia whipped in a free kick that struck the post before a shot from the rebound was cleared off the line.
The resulting corner — sent in with Mamardashvili still up in the box — was cleared and Aktürkoğlu had the freedom of Westfalenstadion to run through unchallenged to sidefoot the ball into an empty net.


Germany’s Turks give ‘host nation’ welcome to Turkiye

Updated 18 June 2024
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Germany’s Turks give ‘host nation’ welcome to Turkiye

  • Ozcan has said the team needs to capitalize on the large Turkish population and passionate support in Germany
  • “Our hearts beat for Turkiye, for home. Of course, Germany is also home for us, but we are Turks,” said fan Cengiz Catalpinar

DORTMUND/MUNICH: Tens of thousands of Turkiye fans draped in the country’s red flag celebrated ahead of the country’s first match of Euro 2024 against neighbor Georgia in Dortmund on Tuesday, creating a festival atmosphere akin to a host nation to welcome the team.
Almost 3 million people with Turkish roots live in Germany, following a wave of official migration that began in the 1960s. The close ties are reflected in both the German and Turkish football teams. Germany captain Ilkay Gundogan has Turkish roots, while Turkiye’s midfielder Salih Ozcan, was born in Cologne and plays for Borussia Dortmund.
Ozcan has said the team needs to capitalize on the large Turkish population and passionate support in Germany.
Heavy rain and forecasts of thunderstorms closed Dortmund’s 25,000 capacity fan zone and other giant viewing spots in the cities of North Rhine Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state, but fans en route to the stadium made good on their promise to make some noise. Berlin’s two fan zones were also closed due to bad weather.
“Our hearts beat for Turkiye, for home. Of course, Germany is also home for us, but we are Turks,” said fan Cengiz Catalpinar.
Mehmet Guelcicek had driven for two days from Zurich in Switzerland to reach Dortmund and watch the match.
“We are Turks and always there with the team.”
Many Turks were also celebrating the Muslim festival of Eid Al-Adha, when typically, animals such as sheep are sacrificed.
Ugur Aydin walked with an inflatable sheep.
“We saved him from the Eid sacrifice festival and are celebrating our own festival today with a 3 point win over Georgia. And hopefully the same again for the next two games, against Portugal and the Czech Republic,” he said.
Turkiye begin their Euro 2024 campaign against newcomers Georgia knowing a winning start in one of the tournament’s weaker groups would give them a great chance of making the knockout stages after disappointing last time around.
In hot sunshine in Munich in southern Germany fans began to stream into the city’s fan zone.
“This is a big deal for us and it is great to be in Germany for the tournament, to join with the Turkish community here. We are the second hosts,” said Erdem Sakinc, a 21-year-old student from Ankara studying in Germany.
Georgia, meanwhile, are playing in their first ever major tournament and are the clear underdogs
Georgia fan Veronika Gogokhia said, “This is a historical moment for our country and our team. This is a debut and the whole of Georgia, all Georgians all over the world are really excited,” she said.
Later on Tuesday at the stadium around 40 fans from each set of supporters were involved in brief scuffles and police moved in between them, a Reuters reporter inside the stadium said.