Ukraine arrive at Euro 2024 to a patriotic welcome and vivid reminder of the war at home

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Ukraine’s fans attend a training session of the Ukrainian team in preparation of the upcoming UEFA Euro 2024 European Football Championship in Wiesbaden, on Jun. 13, 2024. (AFP)
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A girl waves small Ukrainian flags during a public training session of Ukraine’s national soccer team in Wiesbaden, Germany, on Jun. 13, 2024, ahead of their group E match against Romania at the Euro 2024 soccer tournament. (AP)
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Ukraine’s players stand lined up ahead a training session in preparation of the upcoming UEFA Euro 2024 European Football Championship in Wiesbaden, on Jun. 13, 2024. (AFP)
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Updated 13 June 2024
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Ukraine arrive at Euro 2024 to a patriotic welcome and vivid reminder of the war at home

  • “We need to talk about this,” coach Serhiy Rebrov said
  • This tournament is “100 percent” different and special, Zinchenko said

WIESBADEN, Germany: With patriotic songs broadcast and thousands of exiled Ukrainians in the stadium, the men’s national team was made to feel at home at their first training in Germany for the European Championship.
After the national anthem played, and before the warmups began, there was a vivid reminder of the war at home that is a constant and uniting force for this Ukraine squad.
Each player had a ball to give to a fan and Oleksandr Zinchenko presented his to a military veteran who had prosthetic legs below each knee.
Near the downtown stadium of Wehen Wiesbaden is the United States military headquarters in Germany which is coordinating the delivery of weapons and other aid from Ukraine’s allies to fight against the Russian invasion. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited Wiesbaden six months ago.
It is a subject the Ukraine team want to address, and hope Euro 2024 watched worldwide will help put on center stage.
“We need to talk about this,” coach Serhiy Rebrov said. “I know that some people are tired about the news of the war, but we are continuing to fight, and we need your support.”
“It’s very important that Ukraine is represented in the Euro because we, all Ukrainians, we want to be in (the) European family,” said the former national team star who also played in England and Russia, and coached in Hungary. “On the war we are fighting for all Europe.”
Zinchenko was in the Ukraine team that reached the quarterfinals of Euro 2021, the pandemic-delayed tournament. That was the last European summer before the Russians attacked.
This tournament is “100 percent” different and special, Zinchenko said.
“There are still people dying for no reason and we have to stick together,” said the Arsenal player, stressing that what the players have lived through does not compare to fighters on the front lines and their families.
“For them it is super difficult, for us it’s obviously extra motivation. We all know who is behind us. We need to show our best performance,” Zinchenko said.
Ukraine first play on Monday against Romania in Munich. Four days later, Ukraine play Slovakia in Duesseldorf then finish in Group F against favored Belgium on June 26 in Stuttgart.
Preparation for those games started in earnest on Thursday morning after a formal welcome on the field by politicians from the region where Wiesbaden is the state capital.
The 4,000 fans in the stadium gave standing ovations to greet different groups of players as they passed by doing light warmup runs in laps of the field.
“In Germany, the Ukrainian community is everywhere. We were very happy with everything here,” said Rebrov, one day after the squad arrived.
At home, the country is under constant threat of Russian bombs targeting the people and essential infrastructure for daily life like the power grid.
“I hope when we play the games,” midfielder Ruslan Malinovskyi said, “people in Ukraine have lights to watch the games on TV.”
For the past 10 years, Ukrainian champion Shakhtar Donetsk has been unable to play games in its home city because of the conflict in the country’s east involving Russian-backed separatists.
Ukraine midfielder Taras Stepanenko has stayed with Shakhtar through the whole decade, including playing Champions League ‘home’ games this season in Germany. He said on Thursday, “We deserve to be here for our people.
“Every day people die, cities destroyed. Every day when we wake up, we read the news about what the situation is in Ukraine,” said the 34-year-old player appearing at his third straight Euros.
“Every day, I see on my phone screen, messages about air (raids). So, every morning I phone my parents to ask if everything is OK,” Stepanenko added. “We live in this condition almost three years. It’s so difficult.”


Egypt and Dominican Republic grind out goalless draw in their Paris Olympics opener

Updated 1 min 37 sec ago
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Egypt and Dominican Republic grind out goalless draw in their Paris Olympics opener

  • Peter Gonzalez has the ball in the net for the Dominicans in the 13th minute but referee disallows it for a foul on Egyptian defender Hossam Abdelmajeed
  • Egypt are competing in the Olympics football contest for the 13th time, the most of any African nation, while the Dominican Republic are making their debut

PARIS: Egypt and the Dominican Republic battled their way to a scoreless draw on Wednesday in their opening Group C match on the first day of the men’s soccer tournament at the Paris Olympics.
The Dominicans, who are playing for the first time ever in the football competition at the Games, had the ball in their opponents’ net in the 13th minute, courtesy of Peter Gonzalez, but the referee ruled it out over a foul Egyptian defender Hossam Abdelmajeed.
Both teams had chances throughout the match, which took place at Nantes’ Stade de la Beaujoire, but goalkeepers Xavier Valdez and Hamza Alaa were not to be beaten on the day. Alaa made a great save to tip away a Gonzalez free-kick in the 70th minute, and his Egyptian teammates worked hard to grab a winner late on but the Dominican defense refused to yield.
Egypt are competing in the Olympics football contest for the 13th time, the most of any African nation, but has never finished higher than fourth place, which it achieved in Amsterdam in 1928 and Tokyo in 1964. The team made reached the quarter-finals at Tokyo 2020, losing 1-0 to Brazil.
It had been hoped that Mohammed Salah might join the Egyptian side as a senior player at the Olympics but he declined to do so, opting instead to focus on Liverpool’s preseason preparations. Former Arsenal midfielder Mohammed Elneny captained Egypt.
Earlier, Spain, silver medalists in Tokyo three years ago, kicked off their Group C campaign with a 2-1 victory over Uzbekistan at the Parc des Princes. Their squad included two members of their Euro 2024-winning squad: Alex Baena and Fermin Lopez.


IMG signs 5-year deal to become broadcast producer of Saudi soccer events

Updated 24 July 2024
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IMG signs 5-year deal to become broadcast producer of Saudi soccer events

  • The partnership with the Saudi Pro League and Saudi Arabian Football Federation will start next season and cover Roshn Saudi League, Saudi Super Cup and King Cup matches
  • ‘The SPL is poised to deliver an unparalleled football-viewing experience to fans around the world through technology, innovation and talent,’ says SPL CEO Omar Mugharbel

RIYADH: The Saudi Pro League and Saudi Arabian Football Federation have agreed a new five-year production-partnership deal with global sports, events and representation company IMG.
Beginning next season IMG will take the role of broadcast producer for the Roshn Saudi League, King Cup and Saudi Super Cup, with the aim of providing best-in-class production quality, innovation and consistency across the events.
The organizations said on Wednesday said that broadcasts in coming seasons will feature more dynamic storytelling and captivating content highlighting the excitement of the matches and celebrating the culture and passion that drive the sport.
This will enable partners to provide deeper insights and elevate the levels of engagement and entertainment, they added, to enhance the viewing experience for fans around the world and foster a deeper connection with the league.
SPL CEO Omar Mugharbel said the agreement represents a significant step forward for the league as its transformation and growth continues on and off the pitch.
“Our collaboration with IMG reflects our commitment to bringing world-class production standards to Saudi football, with the league the central host producer,” he added.
“By leveraging the expertise of IMG and maintaining strong partnerships with local and regional distributors, the SPL is poised to deliver an unparalleled football-viewing experience to fans around the world through technology, innovation and talent.”
Barney Francis, IMG’s executive vice president of studios, said: “The Saudi Pro League is one of the most exciting and fastest-growing leagues in global football, with fans around the world now tuning in to watch thrilling action between some of the game’s biggest stars.
“In today’s battle for attention, it’s critical for rights holders to take control of their narrative and innovate. We are excited to help SPL take its content offering and storytelling to the next level for viewers and broadcasters, and to provide opportunities for local broadcast and production talent to be part of the journey.”
The organizations said IMG will help the SPL and SAFF implement advanced remote-production technologies so that producers can oversee matches taking place in several cities on the same day and ensure the highest production standards are maintained regardless of location.
IMG produces content for some of the world’s biggest football leagues and other sporting events, including the English Premier League, Major League Soccer for Apple TV, CBS coverage of the UEFA Champions League and Europa League, Ultimate Fighting Championship, and golf events including The Open, Ryder Cup and the DP World Tour.


Morocco fans rush field during Olympic soccer opener vs Argentina. Game suspended, goal disallowed

Updated 24 July 2024
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Morocco fans rush field during Olympic soccer opener vs Argentina. Game suspended, goal disallowed

  • Moments before play resumed, the goal was disallowed by VAR for offside
  • Morocco held on for a 2-1 victory

SAINT-ETIENNE, France: Morocco fans crashed the pitch to protest a late goal by Argentina at the opening match of the Paris Olympics men’s soccer tournament, an angry and bizarre scene that left the game suspended for nearly two hours with only minutes remaining.
Moments before play resumed, the goal was disallowed by VAR for offside. Morocco held on for a 2-1 victory.
But not before a furious reaction from Morocco fans who thought they’d been denied a critical win.
Objects were thrown and invading Morocco fans were tackled by security on the field at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard in Saint-Etienne after Argentina tied it 2-2 with a goal from Cristian Medina the 16th minute of added time.
There were images of some Argentina players flinching when what appeared to be a flare was thrown. Bottles and cups were strewn over the field by the end.
It was initially thought that the full-time whistle had been blown. Even FIFA’s website declared the game over. Video boards informed fans the match was suspended and they had to leave the stadium.
About an hour after the incident, organizers at the venue said the match was not officially over and VAR was reviewing whether the goal would stand.
Players eventually re-entered the field after a long delay and began to warm up before the game could be concluded. After warmups, players from both teams stood on the field in the otherwise empty stadium while an official reviewed the video. He offered a brief explanation to Argentina’s players after the goal was overturned while players on Morocco’s bench celebrated.
Play went on for about three minutes after the resumption before the final whistle was blown.
Morocco had led the game 2-0 before Argentina’s fight back.
Giuliano Simeone scored in the 68th minute and Medina leveled the game deep into time added on.


‘We love life’: Gaza’s war-weary footballers play on

Updated 24 July 2024
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‘We love life’: Gaza’s war-weary footballers play on

  • Referee Rami Mustafa Abu Hashish told AFP that football helped “restore a semblance of life” to Jabalia
  • In the courtyard of a school-turned-shelter, the two sides vied for a trophy one player said was salvaged from the rubble

JABALIA, Palestinian Territories: On an improvised pitch in war-ravaged Gaza, a young player and goalkeeper block out the boisterous crowd and focus solely on the football as they square off.
The referee blows the whistle and the penalty-taker fires the ball into the makeshift goal, sparking wild celebrations as spectators swarm him.
For fans and players, Tuesday’s match in the Jabalia refugee camp was a welcome distraction from the pangs of hunger and exhaustion endured over nearly 300 days of the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip.
Referee Rami Mustafa Abu Hashish told AFP that football helped “restore a semblance of life” to Jabalia, devastated by Israeli bombardments and fighting which have laid waste to schools, stadiums and homes, and uprooted families many times over.
In the courtyard of a school-turned-shelter, the two sides vied for a trophy one player said was salvaged from the rubble.
The game created a festive atmosphere, with spectators pulling out chairs and leaning over the railings of the three-story compound to cheer.
A group of boys packed onto an empty lorry bed for a better view.
“We will play despite hunger and thirst, we will compete because we love life,” read one child’s sign in both English and Arabic.
Jabalia was hit particularly hard in an Israeli offensive launched in May, part of a fierce campaign sweeping northern Gaza — an area the military had previously said was out of the control of Hamas militants.
As fighting rages, humanitarian agencies struggle to deliver aid and warn of a looming famine.
Residents have told AFP there is barely any food left in the north, and what little reaches them comes at an astronomical cost.
For the footballers, the match offered a rare escape from concerns about food and water shortages.
They have been unable to play since the October 7 outbreak of the war triggered by Hamas’s attacks, which resulted in the deaths of 1,197 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
Militants also seized 251 hostages, 116 of whom remain in Gaza, including 44 the army says are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory campaign has killed at least 39,145 Palestinians, also mostly civilians, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory.
“Since the war on the Gaza Strip, we’ve stayed away from sports because all the clubs were destroyed, all the playgrounds were destroyed, but today, we made something out of nothing,” said Saif Abu Saif, one of the players.
The Gaza education ministry says 85 percent of educational facilities in the territory are out of service because of the war.
Many have been turned into shelters for war displaced as most of the besieged strip’s 2.4 million people have been uprooted multiple times.
Coach Wael Abu Saif said he was determined to attend Tuesday’s match despite still experiencing pain from wounds sustained in a February attack. Now in a wheelchair, he said he lost the use of both his legs.
“I’ve loved football since I was a child, I love tournaments, I love playing,” he told AFP.
“I want to prove to the whole world... that we continue to move forward with the most basic of our rights, which is to play football.”


Celtic edge Manchester City 4-3 in US pre-season friendly

Updated 24 July 2024
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Celtic edge Manchester City 4-3 in US pre-season friendly

Nicolas Kuhn scored twice and Luis Palma netted the decider in the 68th minute to give Celtic a 4-3 victory over Manchester City in a pre-season friendly on Tuesday.

Norway’s Erling Haaland, wearing the City captain’s armband for the first time, nodded home an equalizer in the 57th minute only for Honduran international Palma to tap in the winning goal on a breakaway at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan Memorial Stadium.

The match was a tuneup for next month’s start of the 2024-25 campaigns for Celtic, winner of the past three Scottish Premiership crowns, and four-time defending English Premier League champion Manchester City, which began a US tour.

With several top stars resting from the European Championships, City manager Pep Guardiola used the opportunity to analyze younger talent.

The match marked a Celtic debut for goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel, the 37-year-old Dane who began his career with City in 2006. He played the first half for the Hoops.

German right wing Kuhn netted a first-half brace for Celtic, playing in a fourth pre-season match.

Down 3-1 at half-time, City answered seconds into the second half on just-inserted 21-year-old Argentine substitute Maximo Perrone’s goal, a left-footed shot from the right side into the far corner on his first touch of the ball.

Haaland headed in a centering pass from countryman Oscar Bobb in the 57th minute to lift City level.

But Celtic scored the winner in the 68th minute as Palma, who entered three minutes earlier, finished a three-man breakaway as City’s defenders were caught flat-footed near midfield after pressing with the backline.

City substitute Ben Knight was denied an equalizer in the 76th minute when second-half Celtic keeper Viljami Sinisalo of Finland knocked the ball over the crossbar.

Kuhn opened the scoring in the 13th minute, taking a pass on the right side and charging in on City starting goalkeeper Stefan Ortega, then firing a left-footed shot just inside the far post.

Schmeichel denied Haaland in the 23rd minute with a right-hand save on a left-footed shot off a feed from James McAtee.

In the 31st, Schmeichel again denied Haaland, from the right side on a left-footed shot that Schmeichel swatted away with his left hand.

But Man City equalized in the 33rd minute as Haaland flicked the ball left to onrushing Bobb, who blasted a shot that deflected off Schmeichel and bounced into the goal.

Kuhn answered for Celtic in the 36th minute, rushing in from the right wing then pulling back the ball to evade a defender and curling a left-footed blast high into the goal.

Celtic stretched the edge to 3-1 in the 44th minute when Kuhn delivered a perfect centering pass to Japan’s fast-rushing Kyogo Furuhashi, who split two defenders, evaded Ortega and fired in a left-footed shot from a steep angle.

Man City’s US tour continues Saturday against AC Milan at New York’s Yankee Stadium, with other matches next week against Barcelona at Orlando and Chelsea in Columbus, Ohio.

Celtic will face Chelsea on Saturday in South Bend, Indiana.