Bellingham scores late and Madrid moves closer to league title after ‘clasico’ win over Barcelona

Real Madrid's Jude Bellingham, center, celebrates with teammates after scoring his side's third goal during the Spanish La Liga soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid Sunday. (AP)
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Updated 22 April 2024
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Bellingham scores late and Madrid moves closer to league title after ‘clasico’ win over Barcelona

  • Madrid are unbeaten in 26 league games, since losing at Atletico Madrid in September
  • Atletico Madrid followed up their Champions League elimination with a 2-0 loss at Alaves in the Spanish league

MADRID: Real Madrid took a huge step toward winning the Spanish league title after beating Barcelona 3-2 with a stoppage-time goal by Jude Bellingham in the final “clasico” of the season on Sunday.

Barcelona twice took the lead at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium but Madrid came back to win for a comfortable 11-point cushion over their second-place rival entering the final six rounds.

Bellingham scored the winning goal from a difficult angle one minute into stoppage time with a left-footed strike into the top of the net after a cross toward the far post by Lucas Vazquez, who also scored and set up a goal by Vinícius Júnior.

It was the third straight win for Madrid over Barcelona this season. Madrid are unbeaten in 26 league games, since losing at Atletico Madrid in September.

The clasico came four days after Madrid eliminated Manchester City on penalties in England to advance to the Champions League semifinals. Barcelona had been eliminated a day earlier by Paris Saint-Germain after a loss at home, leaving the league as the Catalan team’s only title opportunity for the season.

Goalkeeper Andriy Lunin, the hero for Madrid in the shootout against City, miscalculated a cross into the area in Barcelona’s first goal and failed to fully clear a ball in front of the goal in the second.

Barcelona, the defending league champions, came to the Spanish capital looking to revive their title chances and took an early lead with a header by Andreas Christensen six minutes into the match.

The hosts equalized with Vinicius converting an 18th-minute penalty kick before Barcelona went ahead again with Fermín Lopez’s goal from close range in the 69th. Vazquez, who was fouled after a run inside the area to prompt the penalty converted by Vinícius, evened the match again after a cross by the Brazil forward in the 73rd.

Vazquez was one of the changes made to the squad by Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti after the match against City. He also used Luka Modric alongside Toni Kroos in midfield, and Aurélien Tchouaméni in the defense.

Barcelona loudly complained about the penalty awarded to Madrid and wanted one for themselves after a challenge on López in the second half. They also complained over a potential goal in the first half when it wasn’t clear if the ball crossed the goal line before Lunin batted it away. It took several moments before video review determined that it was not a goal.

It was likely the last clasico for Barcelona coach Xavi Hernandez, who earlier this season said he will leave the club at the end of the season.

Barcelona midfielder Frenkie De Jong left the field on a stretcher late in the first half after hurting his right leg in a clash with Madrid midfielder Federico Valverde.

The match marked the debut of the new state-of-the-art video screens at the renovated Bernabeu.

ATLETICO STRUGGLE

Atletico Madrid followed up their Champions League elimination with a 2-0 loss at Alaves in the Spanish league, missing a chance to strengthen its hold on fourth place.

The defeat against 13th-place Alaves kept Atletico only three points ahead of fifth-place Athletic Bilbao in the fight for a Champions League spot next season. Athletic had been held to a 1-1 draw against relegation-threatened Granada at home on Friday.

Atletico failed to advance in the Champions League after losing to Borussia Dortmund 5-4 on aggregate following a 4-2 loss in Germany on Tuesday.

Alaves, which had lost three league matches in a row, won with goals by Carlos Benavídez in the 15th minute and Luis Rioja in second-half stoppage time.

In other results, sixth-place Real Sociedad were held 1-1 at midtable Getafe, while ninth-place Villarreal won 2-1 at last-place Almeria.


Still plenty of fear for Real Madrid coach Ancelotti despite Champions League final successes

Updated 29 May 2024
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Still plenty of fear for Real Madrid coach Ancelotti despite Champions League final successes

  • Ancelotti: First there is the joy of being here, then the concerns will come and the fear will come
  • Madrid, who also won the Spanish league and the Spanish Super Cup, are trying to win their sixth European Cup in 10 seasons, matching a feat the club also achieved from 1955-65

MADRID: Carlo Ancelotti is going into his eighth Champions League final, having won all but one of them.

He is the most successful coach in the competition thanks to four titles. He also lifted two European trophies as a player.

There is no lack of experience for the veteran Italian manager. But there is still plenty of anxiety and fear for Ancelotti ahead of yet another big game.

“It’s the same as it was the first time,” the 64-year-old Ancelotti said as Real Madrid entered the final week of preparations ahead of Saturday’s final against Borussia Dortmund in London.

“First there is the joy of being here, then the concerns will come and the fear will come,” he said. “But before they come we have to enjoy this week and I’m going to enjoy it. The cold sweat will arrive Saturday afternoon, it’s normal, I’m already prepared for it. And this team gives me a lot of confidence, I see them focused on the match, they are in Champions (League) mode.”

Ancelotti won the Champions League with Madrid in 2022 and 2014, and with AC Milan in 2003 and 2007. He lost the 2005 edition with AC Milan in a final in a penalty shootout against Liverpool after squandering a 3-0 lead.

His European triumphs as a player came with Milan in 1989 and 1990. He was also in the squad with Roma when it reached the 1984 final but he sat out injured.

Ancelotti said he will stick to his routine before the final at Wembley Stadium.

“I’m a bit superstitious but it’s very normal. I was told that it’s bad luck not to be superstitious,” he said. “I like to eat broccoli, salmon and pasta, and that’s what I’ll eat. Then I’ll have an hour’s nap, if I’m able to. And then I’ll start thinking about the match. Before the talk with the players, my heart will start to rise to 110 or 120 beats. It’ll stay up there until the start of the game, and when it starts it will go back to its normal rhythm.”

Ancelotti said some of his most memorable Champions League highlights are linked to his time with Madrid, including the incredible run in 2022, when it had to rally several times to make it to the final. He also mentioned the late comeback in the semifinal against Bayern Munich a few weeks ago, when Joselu scored in the 88th minute and in stoppage time.

Ancelotti said this season was especially difficult because of the long list of injuries to some of the team’s key players, including serious knee problems to Thibaut Courtois, Eder Militão and David Alaba. Also missing time because of injuries were Vinicius Junior, Jude Bellingham, Eduardo Camavinga and Aurelien Tchouameni.

“Attitude and commitment have been the key to overcoming all the problems we’ve had,” Ancelotti said. “That’s what allowed us to have a fantastic season.”

Madrid, who also won the Spanish league and the Spanish Super Cup, are trying to win their sixth European Cup in 10 seasons, matching a feat the club also achieved from 1955-65.

Ancelotti said he prides himself more about the way he has managed his locker rooms than his teams’ tactics over the years.

“Personal relationships are more important than professional relationships,” he said. “I’m not a psychologist but I’m experienced as I’ve worked for many years in locker rooms. I try to treat people with respect not only in tactical aspects but also in personal aspects. I’m in an environment with 50 people and I spend more time with them than with my wife and children. So if there are not good relationships and there is not a good atmosphere, then I’m not doing my job.”


FA doing ‘all we can’ to prevent repeat of Euro 2020 Wembley chaos in Champions League final

Updated 28 May 2024
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FA doing ‘all we can’ to prevent repeat of Euro 2020 Wembley chaos in Champions League final

  • There was also trouble at venues for the 2022 and 2023 Champions League finals, in Paris and Istanbul
  • The FA’s director of tournaments and events said: “We are doing all we can to ensure fans have a smooth arrival process and nice experience as they come to the stadium“

LONDON: England’s governing Football Association said Tuesday it had invested £5 million ($7 million) in improving safety and infrastructure at Wembley in an attempt to prevent a repeat of the violence that marred the climax of the Euro 2020 showpiece when the London ground stages this weekend’s Champions League final.
An independent review identified more than 20 “near-misses” that could have led to serious injury or death as a consequence of ticketless individuals trying to gain entry, and in some cases succeeding, for the England v Italy match in July 2021.
There was also trouble at venues for the 2022 and 2023 Champions League finals, in Paris and Istanbul.
Germany’s Borussia Dortmund and Spanish giants Real Madrid will meet in this season’s final at Wembley on Saturday, with officials promising they will have a “robust and comprehensive testing plan” in place for digital ticketing and safety checks.
Chris Bryant, the FA’s director of tournaments and events, said: “We are doing all we can to ensure fans have a smooth arrival process and nice experience as they come to the stadium.”
The FA, which has tested new methods at the League Cup and FA Cup finals, said fans would be able to enter Wembley four hours before Saturday’s kick-off, rather than two, with Transport for London running extra services to help manage the flow of fans to and from the ground.
Bryant accepted that, following the coronavirus pandemic, the supply of stewards was a major issue at the Euro 2020 final, insisting Saturday’s match would see “the highest ever stewarding deployment in Wembley Stadium history.”
“One thing in the Euros final was very much the supply of stewarding, which I can say was at a low point off the back of Covid,” he said. “We’re very confident the supply of stewarding which you’ve seen in the industry has bounced back.”
He added: “We’ve increased the strength of all the doors because at the Euros final people tried to rip the doors. Those doors are locked with a magnetic lock system and we’ve put a further lock system on every door around the stadium.
“We never foresaw events like that for the Euros final and I’m not sure we will again but we’ve learned lessons and additional measures have been implemented.”


Top Saudi clubs expanding into community-building programs

Updated 28 May 2024
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Top Saudi clubs expanding into community-building programs

  • Al-Hilal FC, Al-Nassr, Ittihad and Ahli are leading the push in corporate social responsibility

Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development announced this month the launch of its first Corporate Social Responsibility Awards 2024, marking a new age of sustainable development and community involvement in the Kingdom.

The CSR initiative recognizes and inspires private-sector firms corresponding to Saudi Vision 2030’s social responsibility objectives. It promotes local initiatives to implement international standards, encourage competition, and set exemplary corporate practices.
Saudi Arabia’s sports clubs, traditionally focused on sports, entertainment, and culture, are now expanding to include community-building programs. The CSR Awards 2024 will focus on these efforts, recognizing initiatives that promote social development and local progress outside of sports.
Teams including Al-Hilal, Al-Nassr, Ittihad and Ahli are leading the push in CSR. They are making significant progress in youth development, health promotion, and environmental sustainability. From grassroots football programs for poor children to scholarships for promising young players from disadvantaged backgrounds, these efforts are consistent with Vision 2030’s emphasis on economic diversification and social transformation.
Furthermore, European and Asian examples demonstrate how sports clubs advocate sustainability programs with broad reach and impact. Forest Green Rovers of England is the world’s first UN-certified carbon-neutral football team. Their environmentally friendly methods, such as an organic pitch and solar-powered facilities, have spurred others to pursue greener strategies.

FC Bayern Munich in Germany exemplifies how clubs may incorporate sustainability into their operations, with efforts such as the Allianz Arena’s energy-efficient architecture and recycling programs setting a high bar for environmental care.
Japan’s Kashima Antlers have introduced innovative sustainability techniques, such as rainwater harvesting and LED lighting systems, to reduce their environmental imprint in Asia.

Also, China’s Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao FC has conducted large tree-planting projects to help with reforestation and ecological conservation.
The ministry hopes to develop a culture in which social impact is synonymous with financial success, resulting in a more socially responsible economic landscape in Saudi Arabia.
The award criteria include community engagement, environmental sustainability, and ethical governance, emphasizing the organizational benefit of CSR activities. Sports clubs, as role models for other businesses, have a unique power to promote social ideals and effect constructive change.
Furthermore, communication and social media are essential in promoting CSR efforts, raising awareness, and mobilizing support. Platforms such as X, Instagram, and Facebook let clubs promote their sustainability efforts, communicate with followers, and increase their impact, resulting in a more inclusive and sustainable future.
With good communication, CSR programs in sports teams can indirectly enhance profitability by improving brand recognition, increasing fan engagement, attracting sponsorship, and lowering costs through energy efficiency and regulatory compliance.

All while offering access to funds and grants, these additional financial resources can help the club’s operations and allow for more investment in CSR efforts, promoting long-term sustainability.
Embracing Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia’s sports clubs are helping to reshape the country and pave the road for a more socially responsible and sustainable society.

These clubs demonstrate sports’ transformative ability to generate positive social change through their persistent dedication to CSR activities. As they continue on this journey, they will inspire others and set new standards for CSR excellence, paving the way for future generations.


Ronaldo sets Saudi Pro League season scoring record while Al-Hilal finishes unbeaten

Updated 28 May 2024
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Ronaldo sets Saudi Pro League season scoring record while Al-Hilal finishes unbeaten

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia: Cristiano Ronaldo finished the Saudi Pro League by setting the season goal-scoring record on Monday.
Ronaldo scored twice in Riyadh as Al-Nassr defeated Al-Ittihad 4-2 and lifted his league tally to 35, one more than the record in 2019 by Abderrazak Hamdallah.
In the final seconds of the first half, Ronaldo, who had already had two goals ruled out for offside, chested down a long pass from Mohammed Al-Fatil and opened the scoring with a low shot from the left side of the area.
With 21 minutes remaining, the five-time Ballon d’Or winner celebrated wildly after heading home a corner from Marcelo Brozovic. He was substituted off the field five minutes later to a standing ovation from the home fans.
It ended an action-packed season for Ronaldo, who scored four hat tricks and collected one red card. He was also suspended for an obscene gesture in February at Al-Shabab fans who had been chanting the name of Lionel Messi, Ronaldo’s longstanding soccer rival.
Al-Nassr finished second in the league, 14 points behind local rival Al-Hilal, which won the championship more than two weeks ago and completed the 34-round league unbeaten on Monday.
Al-Hilal was too strong even without Neymar, who joined the club in August from Paris Saint-Germain but suffered a season-ending ACL injury in October.
Aleksandar Mitrovic stepped in and ended the season with a goal in the final seconds to clinch a 2-1 win over Al-Wehda. The Serbian striker, signed from London club Fulham last summer, reached 27 league goals, second only to Ronaldo.
On its way to the title, Al-Hilal went on a 34-game winning streak in all competitions, a new world record for a top tier team.
“This season has been truly exceptional for the team, arguably our best ever,” coach Jorge Jesus said. “The credit goes to the immense talent within the squad and the incredible sense of unity that transcends both on and off-field interactions.”
Al-Ittihad’s defeat at Al-Nassr ended a disappointing season for the defending champion. Karim Benzema, signed from Real Madrid, struggled with injuries and even with N’Golo Kante and Fabinho in midfield, signed from Chelsea and Liverpool respectively, the team from Jeddah could manage only fifth place.
Poor results cost Nuno Santo his job as coach in November, and the Portuguese tactician returned to the English Premier League a month later to take over Nottingham Forest.
Al-Ahli, the fourth of the ‘Big Four’ clubs taken over by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund last June, finished third, 17 points behind Al-Nassr. Al-Ahli beat Al-Fayha 1-0 thanks to a late goal — his ninth of the season — from former Liverpool forward Roberto Firmino.
Ronaldo took the headlines, however, and the 39-year-old still had one more chance to end the season with a trophy when Al-Nassr meets Al-Hilal in the King’s Cup final on Friday.


Ancelotti has ‘really difficult’ decision to make in goal for Madrid ahead of Champions League final

Updated 27 May 2024
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Ancelotti has ‘really difficult’ decision to make in goal for Madrid ahead of Champions League final

  • Lunin was nursing a fever and was the only Madrid player who didn’t train on Monday as Madrid began its final week of preparations

MADRID: Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti knows he will have a tough decision to make in goal for the Champions League final against Borussia Dortmund on Saturday.
Will he pick Andriy Lunin, who has played in goal nearly the entire season, or Thibaut Courtois, the veteran who has won the Champions League before but has just returned from injury?
“It’s really difficult,” Ancelotti said Monday. “Of course it’s really difficult, because both of them deserve to play this final. Lunin because he did a fantastic season, and Courtois because he is back from his injury and everyone knows the quality of Courtois. It’s a difficult decision but I think I’m going to take into the game this decision, no doubt.”
Lunin was nursing a fever and was the only Madrid player who didn’t train on Monday as Madrid began its final week of preparations. But Ancelotti said the 25-year-old Ukrainian was expected to be available for Saturday’s final in London.
The illness surely doesn’t help Lunin’s chances, though, and many had already expected Ancelotti to go with the more experienced Courtois despite his lack of minutes this season.
Courtois ruptured a left-knee ligament in August, just two days before the start of the season. The 32-year-old Belgian then also ruptured the meniscus in his right knee in March, when he was close to making a comeback.
He was sidelined until the beginning of this month, when he started in a 3-0 win over Cadiz, a victory that secured Madrid’s 36th Spanish league title.
Lunin was back in goal as Madrid beat Bayern Munich in the Champions League semifinals. He had saved two penalties in the decisive shootout win over Manchester City in the quarterfinals.
Lunin had earned the starting position over Kepa Arrizabalaga, the former Chelsea player who is Madrid’s other reserve goalkeeper. Ancelotti said Lunin was the best goalkeeper in the world right now.
Courtois has proven experience in finals, though, having won the 2022 Champions League with Madrid, the FA Cup with Chelsea, the Europa League with Atletico Madrid, and two Copa del Rey titles (one for Madrid, one for Atletico), among several other titles.
“Both deserve to play for various reasons,” Ancelotti said.
Ancelotti joked that he will wait as long as possible to announce the starting goalkeeper because otherwise the debate would be over, and “I like the debate.”