Beaten Leverkusen hope to ‘find themselves’ in German Cup final

Bayer Leverkusen's Spanish head coach Xabi Alonso, left, with UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin after the UEFA Europa League final between Atalanta and Bayer Leverkusen at the Dublin Arena stadium, in Dublin, on May 22, 2024. Atalanta won 3-0. (AFP)
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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.”


Energized Austria win and put Lewandowski’s Poland at risk of elimination from Euro 2024

Updated 21 June 2024
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Energized Austria win and put Lewandowski’s Poland at risk of elimination from Euro 2024

  • Gernot Trauner, Christoph Baumgartner and Marko Arnautovic scored for Austria while Krzysztof Piatek had Poland’s first-half equalizer
  • Robert Lewandowski came on in the second half but failed to make an impact

BERLIN: Austria picked up a crucial win at Euro 2024 by defeating Poland 3-1 in their second group match and leaving the Poles on the brink of elimination on Friday.
Gernot Trauner, Christoph Baumgartner and Marko Arnautovic scored for Austria while Krzysztof Piatek had Poland’s first-half equalizer.
To avoid a group stage exit, Poland need the Netherlands to beat France in a later Group D match on Friday.
Robert Lewandowski, who missed Poland’s first match against the Netherlands due to an injury, came on in the second half but failed to make an impact, and was booked after just five minutes on the pitch.
Austria came out blazing and took the lead within 10 minutes when Trauner headed in a cross from Philipp Mwene.
The Poles clawed their way back and levelled just before the half-hour mark, with Piatek slotting in a rebound from close range.
Polish fans roared as their record goal-scorer Lewandowski rose from the bench 15 minutes into the second half to make his Euro 2024 debut, replacing Adam Buksa in the attack. However, the captain had a disappointing evening in Berlin, receiving a yellow card almost immediately after a tough challenge on Philipp Lienhart.
Baumgartner picked up an excellent pass from Alexander Prass to make it 2-1, and this time Poland didn’t have the energy to reply.
Arnautovic sealed the win for Austria from the penalty spot after Poland goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny brought down Marcel Sabitzer in the penalty area in the 77th.
Austria, after a loss and a win, next face the Netherlands on Tuesday.
France await two-loss Poland in the final round of the group stage.


Iordanescu challenges Romania to make ‘history’ at Euro 2024

Updated 21 June 2024
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Iordanescu challenges Romania to make ‘history’ at Euro 2024

  • Romania powered to a 3-0 win against Ukraine in their Group E opener on Monday
  • The Belgians slumped to a shock 1-0 loss at the hands of Slovakia

COLOGNE, Germany: Romania boss Edward Iordanescu urged his team to make “history” at Euro 2024 as they bid to seal a place in the last 16 with a victory over Belgium.
Iordanescu’s side will be guaranteed to reach the knockout stage if they follow their impressive win against Ukraine with an even more surprising success when they meet star-studded Belgium in Cologne on Saturday.
Romania powered to a 3-0 win against Ukraine in their Group E opener on Monday, while the Belgians slumped to a shock 1-0 loss at the hands of Slovakia.
Inspired by their first win in a major tournament since beating England at Euro 2000, the Romanians have their sights set on making the competition’s knockout stage for the first time in 24 years.
“It would mean history. It would be a fantastic example for what football and sport means in Romania,” Iordanescu said on Friday.
“After the first game, the whole country was behind our team. It really helped our people. I can feel happiness and hope for all Romanians. That motivates us even more.”
Belgium wasted a host of chances to score against Slovakia and were denied a late Romelu Lukaku equalizer by a controversial VAR decision.
Iordanescu knows Kevin De Bruyne and company will be desperate to make amends against Romania as the talented underachievers fight to avoid another flop at a major tournament.
“Obviously the opponent is amazing. But we are going into the game trying to win it. Why not get the points that would mean qualification?” he said.
“We have to keep the context in mind. They are number three in the world, with great players, and they really need to get a result.
“That is a really difficult challenge for us. We are waiting for it. This is the Euros, the best players and coaches. These are incredible experiences.
“We have to elevate to another level. We have to be very exact and very efficient.”
Ukraine’s 2-1 win against Slovakia on Friday raised the prospect of all four teams having three points heading into the final round of matches if Belgium beat Romania.
Iordanescu acknowledged a draw would be a good result against Belgium as he insisted his players would not lose focus after their memorable start to the tournament.
“The qualification is the most important thing for us. If a point would be enough, then we would take it,” he said.
“Of course we had euphoria on the pitch (after the Ukraine game). That needed to be enjoyed, then we relaxed and started preparing for tomorrow’s game. It is a new challenge.”


Ukraine beat Slovakia 2-1 for a comeback win at Euro 2024

Updated 21 June 2024
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Ukraine beat Slovakia 2-1 for a comeback win at Euro 2024

  • The win got Ukraine back on track after losing 3-0 to Romania in their opening game

DUESSELDORF, Germany: Roman Yaremchuk scored as Ukraine came back from a goal down to beat Slovakia 2-1 on Friday and strengthen their hopes of reaching the Euro 2024 knockout stages.
The win got Ukraine back on track after losing 3-0 to Romania in their opening game.
Slovakia took the lead in the 17th minute with a header from Ivan Schranz, who also scored the only goal in their surprise 1-0 win over Belgium four days earlier.
Oleksandr Zinchenko crossed low for Mykola Shaparenko to score Ukraine’s first goal of the tournament in the 54th.
Shaparenko played his part in the second goal, too, sending a long pass over the top for Yaremchuk, who controlled the ball with his first touch and then prodded it past goalkeeper Martin Dubravka.


Georgia and the Czech Republic desperate to get off the mark in Group F

Updated 21 June 2024
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Georgia and the Czech Republic desperate to get off the mark in Group F

  • Türkiye and Portugal are the other two teams in Group F and play later Saturday
  • Georgians and the Czechs were praised for fighting hard in their opening games

HAMBURG: Georgia and the Czech Republic are desperately seeking a win as they meet in their second game of Euro 2024 in Hamburg.
Kickoff is at 3 p.m. local time (1300 GMT) on Saturday.
Türkiye and Portugal are the other two teams in Group F and play later Saturday.
Georgians and the Czechs were praised for fighting hard in their opening games but didn't get any points as Türkiye beat Georgia 3-1 and Portugal beat the Czechs 2-1 on a stoppage-time goal from Francisco Conceicao.
A win for either team would boost their chances of qualifying for the knockout rounds. The losing team wouldn't be eliminated for sure just yet because of the rule that some third-place teams can qualify.
A draw would leave Georgia needing an upset win over Portugal in their last game, and the Czech team needing the same against Türkiye.
Meanwhile, Georgian fans were involved in a brawl in the stadium ahead of the Türkiye game.
Georgia’s midfielder Otar Kiteishvili has been on an individual training program separate from the rest of the squad and was an unused substitute in the loss to Türkiye.
Moreover, Czech coach Ivan Hasek played down fitness concerns around captain and midfielder Tomas Soucek, saying he has been in full training. “I think everybody will be ready to start tomorrow,” he said.
Striker Patrik Schick, of Czech Republic, is set to play his 40th game for his country and his next goal will be his 20th. Five of his international goals to date came at the last European Championship.
"Getting out of the group should be the goal, but the most important thing now is to put on a good show. We are still in the development phase and this tournament will help us to become even stronger in the future,” said Georgia’s coach Willy Sagnol.
“I’m not nervous because football has given me everything and hard moments are something that I enjoy...Tomorrow is a great opportunity for me,” said Czech midfielder Antonin Barak.


Fulfilling dreams and finding new friends: fans camp out at Euro 2024

Updated 21 June 2024
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Fulfilling dreams and finding new friends: fans camp out at Euro 2024

  • “In 1990 I was with some friends in Italy at the World Cup there and it was so funny and I said at that time, okay, I will do it again,” Harald Goerz, a Germany fan from Aachen told Reuters

STUTTGART: International rivalries have been put to one side in a campsite in Stuttgart as fans from various nations live in motorhomes next to one another and share the common joy of following their team at Euro 2024.
While the action intensifies on the pitch, the fans are making new friends, sharing drinks and creating a festival atmosphere in a unique holiday that could end next week or next month.
“In 1990 I was with some friends in Italy at the World Cup there and it was so funny and I said at that time, okay, I will do it again,” Harald Goerz, a Germany fan from Aachen told Reuters outside his rented motor home.
“In that time I met my wife, we have been married for 32 years. And last year we had the idea to start this traveling with the German team around Germany to all their games.
“That was ever my dream, I said to her if any time a new European Championship or World Cup is in Germany, then we will do that.”
Harald’s wife Martina, sitting beside him in her Germany jersey, said they would make a photo album of their journey across the country that has taken in Munich and Stuttgart so far and then on to Frankfurt next to show their family.
“We want to have a photo album... for our grandchildren to show them: Look. When I tell our daughter about it, she watches it herself, she lives in Cologne, and she will say: ‘That’s amazing, it’s a shame I couldn’t come with you’. She is crazy about football too.”
Germany have two wins from their opening two matches, the second a 2-0 victory over Hungary at the Stuttgart Arena, which is a five minute walk from the campsite.
However, there was no animosity from Hungarian fans also were camping out.
“It’s amazing. That’s the word... after the game we came here and we just sit in the ‘pub’ and drink with the Scottish fans and they are the best,” Hungary fan Tamas Szucs said, camping with his friend Zsolt Kiraly who he met five years ago and now travels with for international matches.
“We had some German fans here, we said to them well done, good job.
“Everyone is friendly,” he added.

’NO SCOTLAND, NO PARTY’
The Scottish fans are proving to be popular at this tournament with thousands having made the journey. At the Stuttgart campsite, groups made their way separately on the long journey from Scotland but are already one big family.
“We left Glasgow 10 days ago and drove 24 hours solid to get here. And the three guys here, they fell right out the bus. They didn’t stop drinking for 24 hours. 80 cans of beer in 24 hours,” Scotland fan John Gilmour said as his fellow fans cheered and raised fresh bottles of beer.
Scotland were part of the last Euros but that one had COVID restrictions, so for some fans it has been their first real chance to see their team at a European Championship since 1996.
“This was my dream,” said Tony, a Scotland fan who lives in Blackpool, England.
“When I was younger I can remember the football but I was too busy with children. So this time was my dream. I wasn’t missing it. And I brought my son. He was born during Euro 96, so I managed to get him here as well.”
There will be more Scottish arrivals in Stuttgart ahead of their crucial Group A match against Hungary on Sunday, with both teams needing a win to be in with a shout of reaching the next stage.
The chant of “No Scotland, no party” will be heard right across the campsite and the city this weekend.