President, fan support key in decision to stay: Barca coach Xavi

Barcelona’s Sports Director Anderson de Souza “Deco,” President Joan Laporta and coach Xavi pose for pictures before a press conference at the Joan Gamper training ground in Sant Joan Despi, near Barcelona, on Apr. 25, 2024. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 25 April 2024
Follow

President, fan support key in decision to stay: Barca coach Xavi

  • This week, after a meeting with president Joan Laporta and the board, Xavi pulled off a dramatic U-turn and decided to stay
  • “It was a not a simple decision, in January I said (I would leave) because I thought it was best for the club,” Xavi told a news conference

BARCELONA: Xavi Hernandez said Thursday he has decided to stay on as Barcelona coach for a “cocktail of reasons,” including support from key figures at the club and supporters.
In January, with Barcelona on a miserable run of form, Xavi said he would walk away from his post in the summer despite having a year left on his contract.
However, this week, after a meeting with president Joan Laporta and the board, Xavi pulled off a dramatic U-turn and decided to stay, despite the club poised to end the season trophyless.
Barcelona were knocked out of the Champions League by Paris Saint-Germain last week and lost against Real Madrid in the Clasico, trailing their rivals by 11 points in La Liga.
“It was a not a simple decision, in January I said (I would leave) because I thought it was best for the club,” Xavi told a news conference.
“I am full of hope, these three months have made me change, the players believe in it, and wise people are willing to rectify, here I am.
“It’s not about ego, or money, I have energy, I see the fans are happy and proud — it’s a cocktail of reasons, above all the confidence of the president and (sporting director) Deco.”
Xavi said although the team he took to La Liga glory last season have failed to achieve their objectives, they have now proved they can equal Europe’s best sides.
“Above all I said yesterday to Deco, the president... that the team has improved a lot,” explained Xavi.
“Two years ago we went to Bayern (Munich) and I had the feeling that we weren’t up to it. Now I think we’re in shape to compete with the biggest teams in Europe.
“I have the feeling that this year (the Champions League) escaped us by just a couple of small things, we will try again, I’m excited to — now it’s in our hands.”
Xavi said reports he was only staying because of money were designed to “hurt” him.
In January he claimed coaching Barcelona was “unpleasant” and “cruel,” and Xavi said he did not expect that to change.
“Coaching here is very hard, but I see myself with the energy to keep leading the project,” he added.
Barcelona president Joan Laporta said he was glad Xavi was staying and that it was good for the stability of the club.
“It’s great news that Xavi is staying,” said Laporta.
“The team we have, that is (still) consolidating, with very young players, needs that stability.
“Xavi is a reference for young players and we can see that — today I’m especially pleased, and the board have unanimously supported this decision.”


Late leveler by Serbia denies Slovenia first Euros win

Updated 1 min 45 sec ago
Follow

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
Follow

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
Follow

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
Follow

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.


Lionel Messi could be playing in his final tournament with Argentina at Copa America

Updated 20 June 2024
Follow

Lionel Messi could be playing in his final tournament with Argentina at Copa America

  • “The moment I feel that I am not going to help my team, I will retire,” Messi said in March in an interview with Saudi broadcaster Riyadh Season
  • He spends time with his three children, starts new businesses and lives as if soccer is slowly becoming a smaller part of his life

BUENOS AIRES: It’s sad but true, Copa America could mark Lionel Messi’s final chapter with Argentina’s national soccer team.

The World Cup winner will turn 37 during the tournament in the US, which kicks off Thursday. He’s clearly past his peak at Inter Miami after two decades of playing at the highest level in Europe.

Messi has not set a date for his retirement and has kept the door open to playing in a sixth World Cup in 2026 to defend his title from Qatar. But he already recognizes his shortcomings.

“I don’t think about that yet. The moment I feel that I am not going to help my team, I will retire,” Messi said in March in an interview with Saudi broadcaster Riyadh Season. “I always ate well, trained. But as I grew I became aware that the physical effort we make is getting harder. As you grow old, things become more difficult.”

Last year, the eight-time Ballon d’Or winner struggled with muscular injuries while playing in MLS and for Argentina. That didn’t change much in 2024.

Messi has shown he enjoys going out at night with his wife, Antonella, and his friends in Miami. He spends time with his three children, starts new businesses and lives as if soccer is slowly becoming a smaller part of his life.

Still, he has 12 goals and 13 assists for Inter Miami this season.

“I have a good time at the club. I am lucky to have teammates and friends (Luis Suarez, Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba, all former Barcelona players) by my side,” Messi told ESPN. ”I have a good time in the national team, where I have teammates and friends, too. And I enjoy the little details that I know that when I don’t play anymore, I’m going to miss.”

Angel di Maria, a 36-year-old winger who has played alongside Messi for years with the national team, is sure to bid farewell to international soccer after the Copa America. That has also brought more questions about whether the team’s biggest star will remain on the squad.

“As long as I feel like I’m fine and I can continue contributing, I’m going to do it. Today, the only thing I think about is getting to the Copa America well and being able to compete in it,” Messi told the Star Plus platform in December. “Fighting for it again, as we always did, trying to be champions.”

Argentina’s all-time top scorer and the national team’s leader with 26 World Cup appearances is also seeking records in the continental competition.

Messi, who won the South American championship in 2021, wants to become the Copa America’s leading scorer. He has 13 goals in six editions, four behind Norberto Méndez of Argentina and Zizinho of Brazil with 17.

He also wants to be the player with most appearances in the Copa America, a record he currently shares with former Chile goalkeeper Sergio Livingston, both with 34 games.

Messi’s teammates don’t want to see him go.

“We’ll see how long, but while he’s here we’re going to enjoy it to the fullest,” Argentina defender Cristian Romero said. “We grew up watching him. We are part of those tournaments.”