Kewell’s Yokohama beat Ulsan to reach Asian Champions League final

Yokohama players celebrate their victory in a penalty shootout at the end of the AFC Champions League semifinal second leg football match between South Korea’s Ulsan Hyundai FC and Japan’s Yokohama F. Marinos at Nissan Stadium in Yokohama, Kanagawa prefecture, south of Tokyo, on Wednesday. (AFP)
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Updated 24 April 2024
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Kewell’s Yokohama beat Ulsan to reach Asian Champions League final

  • Yokohama will host Al Ain in the first leg of the final on May 11, with the return being held in the UAE on May 25

YOKOHAMA: Harry Kewell said his Yokohama F-Marinos players can “handle any pressure” after beating Ulsan Hyundai 5-4 on penalties on Wednesday to set up an Asian Champions League final against Al Ain.

Former Liverpool and Leeds forward Kewell’s side came through a pulsating semifinal that ended 3-3 on aggregate to reach the Champions League final for the first time.

Trailing 1-0 from last week’s first leg in South Korea, Yokohama scored three goals in the opening 30 minutes in Japan but then conceded twice and had a man sent off before halftime.

Goalkeeper William Popp saved from Ulsan’s Kim Min-woo in the shootout to hand Yokohama the advantage in constant driving rain, before Carlos Eduardo converted the decisive spot kick.

Kewell, who took over as Yokohama coach at the start of the year, said he told his players that “the hardest games you will play are semifinals.”

“I said: ‘Nothing easy in this game’,” said the Australian.

“You are going to get pushed to the limit where I believe you can handle it.

“I think it showed them tonight, they believe now they can handle any kind of pressure.”

Yokohama will host Al Ain in the first leg of the final on May 11, with the return being held in the UAE on May 25.

Al Ain beat Saudi Arabia’s Al-Hilal 5-4 on aggregate on Tuesday to reach the final.

Yokohama looked certain to join them after a barnstorming start to the second leg but two goals for Ulsan and a 39th-minute red card for defender Takumi Kamijima cranked up the tension.

Ulsan laid siege to the Yokohama goal but Kewell said his players grew in stature as the game went on.

“The players were composed, they were confident,” he said.

“They were getting stronger and stronger as they got closer to the final whistle.”

Ulsan, who had already booked their place in next year’s 32-team Club World Cup in the US by winning the semifinal first leg, were looking for their third Champions League title.

“My players kept going until the end,” said coach Hong Myung-bo.

“It’s unfortunate because we had a lot of chances to score in both the first and second legs.”

Yokohama took the lead in the 13th minute when a defensive mix-up between Kim Young-gwon and Hwang Seok-ho allowed Asahi Uenaka to streak through and score.

Anderson Lopes added a second in the 21st minute, firing home a left-foot shot from just inside the box.

The home side kept up the pressure and Uenaka notched his second of the game on the half-hour mark when he slipped his marker and curled a shot past goalkeeper Jo Hyeon-woo.

But just as it looked like turning into a rout, Ulsan hit back when Matheus Sales headed home direct from a corner in the 35th minute.

Moments later, Ulsan had a penalty and Yokohama were reduced to 10 men when Kamijima was red-carded for a handball as he slid in to make a tackle.

Substitute Darijan Bojanic, who had come on in the 34th minute, made no mistake from the spot.

Kewell admitted Yokohama “rode our luck at times” as they held off Ulsan but said his players “deserved everything they got.”

“We’re going to enjoy the final,” he said.

“You don’t get a chance to play many finals in your career so when you do, enjoy it and play the way that you’re born to play.”


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

Updated 6 sec ago
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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.


Late leveler by Serbia denies Slovenia first Euros win

Updated 30 min 24 sec ago
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Late leveler by Serbia denies Slovenia first Euros win

  • Žan Karničnik’s 69th-minute goal put Slovenia on the brink of a historic win until substitute Luka Jović levelled deep in stoppage time
  • The goal sent the Serbia fans into raucous joy but also saw them throw flares and other objects onto the field

MUNICH: A late strike denied Slovenia a first ever win in a European Championship as Serbia snatched a 1-1 draw on Thursday.
Žan Karničnik’s 69th-minute goal put Slovenia on the brink of a historic win until substitute Luka Jović levelled deep in stoppage time.
The goal sent the Serbia fans into raucous joy but also saw them throw flares and other objects onto the field.
The equalizer was virtually the last action as the referee blew fulltime immediately after the players restarted. The Slovenia players collapsed to the ground in disappointment.
It also would have been their first win in a major tournament since victory over Algeria in the 2010 World Cup.
Slovenia play England in their final group match on Tuesday, when Serbia face Denmark. Serbia lost to England in their opener.
With both teams needing a win to boost their chances of progressing, the match started at a fast pace and Serbia goalkeeper Predrag Rajković had to make two early saves.
Those two shots on target in the first eight minutes were as many as Slovenia had in total in their draw with Denmark.
Serbia withstood the waves of Slovenia attacks and had their first chance in the 27th minute but Dušan Vlahović’s header was straight at goalkeeper Jan Oblak.
Serbia went even closer moments later when Dušan Tadić whipped in a fabulous corner to the far post but Aleksandar Mitrović — who scored in his previous two matches against Slovenia — couldn’t get a proper touch.
The best chance of the half fell to Slovenia in somewhat fortunate circumstances. Timi Elšnik tried to pass to a teammate, but the ball came off a Serbia defender and fell kindly back to him for a thunderous effort which crashed off the right post. Benjamin Šeško fired the rebound woefully over.
Serbia started the second half with three great chances to break the deadlock inside the first five minutes, including Slovenia defender Jake Bijol almost scoring an own goal.
This tournament has seen plenty of stunning long-range goals and there was almost another in the 58th but Rajković did well to push Šeško’s strike over the bar.
Slovenia eventually broke the deadlock with a move started and finished by Žan Karničnik. The defender won the ball deep inside his own half and ran some 40 yards before picking out Elšnik on the left and racing into the box to collect the cross and tap home at the back post.
Serbia almost levelled immediately but Elšnik hit the crossbar.
Serbia threw everything at Slovenia in the final stages. Even Rajković came up for the final corner but it was Jović who leapt highest to head it past Oblak in the fifth minute of added time.


Serbia FA threatens to quit Euros if UEFA does not punish Croats and Albanians over chants

Updated 20 June 2024
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Serbia FA threatens to quit Euros if UEFA does not punish Croats and Albanians over chants

  • “We will ask UEFA for sanctions, even at the cost of not continuing the competition,” Serbia Football Association general secretary Jovan Surbatovic said
  • The Serbia FA condemned the “shameful racist behavior” of the Albanian and Croatian fans and said the match should have been suspended

BELGRADE: Serbia soccer officials threatened to quit the European Championship after they were offended by fan chants reportedly heard during the Albania-Croatia match.
The game on Wednesday ended 2-2 in Hamburg.
Serbia started their second group match against Slovenia on Thursday afternoon in Munich.
“What happened is scandalous and we will ask UEFA for sanctions, even at the cost of not continuing the competition,” Serbia Football Association general secretary Jovan Surbatovic said.
“We will request UEFA to punish the federations of both teams. We don’t want to participate in that, but if UEFA doesn’t punish them, we will think about how to proceed.”
In a separate statement on Thursday, the Serbia FA condemned the “shameful racist behavior” of the Albanian and Croatian fans and said the match should have been suspended as soon as the chants started.
“Such insulting of a nation with cries that they should be killed has not been seen at sports events for a long time,” the statement added.
UEFA was yet to react.
The animosity between Croatian and Albanian fans toward the Serbs, and vice versa, dates to the 1990s wars in the Balkans.
Serbian fans are notorious for their chants against the Croats and Albanians as well as racist shouts and vocal support of convicted war criminals responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands during the bloody breakup of the former Yugoslavia.
UEFA fined the Albanian and Serbian federations 10,000 euros ($10,700) each after their first group matches for fans displaying banners with nationalist maps.
Each federation is responsible for the conduct of its fans, and UEFA charged Serbia and Albania with “transmitting provocative messages not fit for a sports event.”
Albania fans displayed a banner with a map of their country extending its borders into the territory of neighboring countries. It was shown on Saturday during the 2-1 loss against Italy in Dortmund.
A Serbia fans banner included the territory of Kosovo, a former Serbian province that declared independence in 2008, and a slogan, “No Surrender,” in the 1-0 loss against England in Gelsenkirchen.
UEFA has also launched an investigation into claims of monkey chants aimed at England players during the clash.


New Asian champions to earn $12 million in prize money in club competition revamp

Updated 20 June 2024
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New Asian champions to earn $12 million in prize money in club competition revamp

HONG KONG: The winners of the new Asian Champions League Elite will pocket a minimum of $12 million, the Asian Football Confederation said on Wednesday in a major boost to club football in the region.

The competition, which kicks off with a preliminary round in August, is at the heart of a major revamp of club football across the continent and involves 27 clubs from 12 nations including Japan, South Korea, Australia and Saudi Arabia.


Shaqiri scores stunning goal in Switzerland’s 1-1 draw with Scotland at Euro 2024

Updated 20 June 2024
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Shaqiri scores stunning goal in Switzerland’s 1-1 draw with Scotland at Euro 2024

  • It is the sixth-straight major international tournament in which Shaqiri has scored, dating back to the World Cup in 2014

COLOGNE, Germany: “Shaq” did it again.
At the age of 32 and having left top-flight European soccer behind to play in MLS, Xherdan Shaqiri is back on the international stage and back scoring again.
His stunning first-half strike secured a 1-1 draw for Switzerland against Scotland at Euro 2024 on Wednesday.
It is the sixth-straight major international tournament in which Shaqiri has scored, dating back to the World Cup in 2014.
That’s three World Cups in a row and now three European Championships for the Chicago Fire forward.
“He proved tonight that he lives and breathes for moments like these,” Switzerland coach Murat Yakin said.
Shaqiri rolled back the years with a first-time curling effort from about 20 meters out at Cologne Stadium.
Scotland had led from the 13th minute when Scott McTominay’s shot took a wicked deflection off Fabian Schar to beat Switzerland goalkeeper Yann Sommer.
But Shaqiri pounced on Anthony Ralston’s loose pass in the 26th to even the match with a left-footed shot into the top corner and past Scotland keeper Angus Gunn.
“If that chance falls to any other player in the Swiss team, it’s not a goal,” Scotland manager Steve Clarke said. “You knew when it was rolling toward Shaqiri it was destined for the back of the net. He’s a top, top player, so you don’t give top, top players that kind of chance.”
Shaqiri’s career has seen him play for some of Europe’s most iconic teams, including Bayern Munich, Inter Milan and Liverpool. He joined Chicago Fire two years ago, but in that time has continued to produce for his country on the biggest stage.
“Shaq always gives everything in training,” Switzerland defender Manuel Akanji said. “I don’t know how many other players are able to score that goal.”
The draw leaves Switzerland on four points, second in Group A behind Germany and likely to advance to the round of 16.
Germany became the first nation to advance to the round of 16 after 2-0 win over Hungary.
Scotland’s hopes of making the knockout round depend on its final game against Hungary on Sunday and results elsewhere. No team has failed to advance from the group stage with four points.
Both teams had chances to win the game.
The Swiss should have taken the lead just before the hour mark when Dan Ndoye turned Kieran Tierney on the edge of the box. With just goalkeeper Angus Gunn to beat, Ndoye fired wide of goal.
Grant Hanley then headed against the post from a Scotland free kick and Switzerland’s Zeki Amdouni headed wide at the far post late on.
Scotland has never advanced beyond the group stage of a World Cup or Euros on 11 previous attempts.
But repeated disappointment doesn’t seem to dampen optimism among its fans, who filled Cologne’s square before the game.
Swiss fans were out in numbers, too, creating a raucous atmosphere in the stadium.
It was certainly a more enjoyable evening for Scotland’s fans than the opening game of the Euros — a 5-1 loss to Germany.
“It was what we expected. It was a good reaction to a disappointing night. We’re still alive in the tournament,” Clarke said.
Goals from Jamal Musiala and İlkay Gündoğan made it two wins from two for host Germany after victory against Hungary and ensured there would be no repeat of its group stage exit from the 2022 World Cup.
Albania substitute Klaus Gjasula scored in the fifth minute of stoppage time to hold World Cup semifinalist Croatia to a 2-2 draw in Group B. Gjasula’s own goal, just four minutes after entering the game in the second half, had looked like handing Croatia the win until his late strike.