Italy recover from disastrous start to win Euro 2024 opener

Italy's Alessandro Bastoni, left, scores his side's opening goal during a Group B match between Italy and Albania at the Euro 2024 soccer tournament in Dortmund, Germany, Saturday, June 15, 2024. (AP)
Short Url
Updated 16 June 2024
Follow

Italy recover from disastrous start to win Euro 2024 opener

  • Italy are in some ways an unknown quantity coming into this tournament, with the reigning champions having also missed the last two World Cups and failed to fully convince during qualifying

DORTMUND, Germany: Italy recovered from conceding the fastest goal in the competition’s history to get their defense of the European Championship title off to a winning start on Saturday as they came back to beat Albania 2-1 in front of a partisan crowd.
Nedim Bajrami stunned the Italians and delighted a huge Albanian support in Dortmund as he smashed in the opener after just 23 seconds, his strike pulverising the previous record for the quickest goal at the Euros of 67 seconds by Dmitri Kirichenko of Russia in 2004.
Yet Italy’s response to falling behind was quick too, as Alessandro Bastoni headed the Azzurri level on 11 minutes and Nicolo Barella’s glorious effort put them ahead just past the quarter-hour mark.
From then on Luciano Spalletti’s team looked much more assured, although they really should have won by a greater margin rather than face an anxious finale as Albania pushed for an equalizer.
Their performance — the first 23 seconds apart — was largely encouraging before an enticing showdown with fellow heavyweights Spain in nearby Gelsenkirchen next Thursday.
Whatever happens in that match, Italy are already well-placed to advance to the knockout phase of Euro 2024 from Group B, in which Spain defeated Croatia 3-0 earlier on Saturday in Berlin.
Italy are in some ways an unknown quantity coming into this tournament, with the reigning champions having also missed the last two World Cups and failed to fully convince during qualifying.
Only five of Italy’s line-up at kick-off here started the final of the last Euros three years ago, with a new-look team featuring Bologna center-back Riccardo Calafiori winning just his third cap.
Albania, though, are appearing at just their second major tournament having also gone to Euro 2016.
The novelty of the experience for them helps explain why the home of Borussia Dortmund was a sea of excitable Albanian fans decked in red and black who made up the vast majority of the crowd.
They could hardly believe it when their team, coached by the Brazilian former Arsenal and Barcelona left-back Sylvinho, opened the scoring almost straight from kick-off.
Italy’s Federico Dimarco took a throw from the left-back position but played it loosely back into his own box. Bastoni was caught on the back foot, and Bajrami — who plays in Italy for Sassuolo — pounced to control and fire past Gianluigi Donnarumma at the goalkeeper’s near post.
It was a similar start to Italy’s last European Championship match, when Luke Shaw put England ahead inside two minutes in the final at Wembley in 2021 before the Azzurri came back to win on penalties.
This time they drew level when Dimarco and Lorenzo Pellegrini played a short corner routine on the left before the latter crossed for Inter Milan center-back Bastoni to head in at the back post.
Italy had regained their composure and soon went in front on 16 minutes, a Jasir Asani clearance dropping straight to another Inter player in Barella, who made the cleanest of contacts at the edge of the area to send a first-time shot past goalkeeper Thomas Strakosha.
They should have added to their lead before the interval, with Davide Frattesi hitting the post after meeting a lovely reverse pass by Gianluca Scamacca in the box.
Scamacca was then denied by Strakosha, while Fedrico Chiesa curled a shot just wide on the hour mark.
Italy then sat back, but Albania did not manage another attempt on target and the second-lowest ranked nation in the competition could not find an equalizer despite their best efforts late on.
Substitute Rey Manaj came closest after getting in behind in the 90th minute, but he could not beat Donnarumma.


Al-Ittihad unveils new kit for 2024-25 season

Updated 20 July 2024
Follow

Al-Ittihad unveils new kit for 2024-25 season

  • The classic striped design in yellow and black is based on the Nike shirt, with its authentic heritage
  • The kit’s new design represents the architectural style “Rawashin”

JEDDAH: Al-Ittihad FC has unveiled its kit for the 2024/25 season in collaboration with Nike.

Al-Ittihad presented its distinctive new kit in photo sessions in the center of historic Jeddah, among its alleys and ancient buildings, in cooperation with Al-Balad Development Company, the club’s official sponsor.

The classic striped design in yellow and black is based on the Nike shirt, with its authentic heritage, which fans have loved and celebrated for 97 years.

The kit’s new design represents the architectural style, “Rawashin,” the prominent traditional wooden panels used to cover windows and external openings at the old houses of Jeddah — considered an icon of the city’s heritage.

Domingos De Oliveira, CEO of Al-Ittihad Club, described the new kit as a symbol of the club’s history: “We worked closely with Nike in order to ensure access to the best that can be presented in the new kit, while preserving the established values of the basic kit, which represents a unique identity, after maintaining it for nearly a century.

“In the new kit, we worked to blend the heritage of Al-Ittihad Club with the history of the region from which it started, with a modern spirit that creates innovation in order to emerge with a product that reflects the club’s vision of starting from the base of its great history toward more glory and development in the current era and the future.

“Attention was paid to all the details in terms of the degree of color and their overlapping in the dividing line between them in the same way that the wooden columns in the Rawashin buildings of Jeddah are intertwined.”

For the first time, the home kit will be presented in three categories — the official home kit, which the players will wear, the stadium category, and the fans category.


Argentina apologizes to France in football-chant row

Updated 20 July 2024
Follow

Argentina apologizes to France in football-chant row

BUENOS AIRES: Buenos Aires apologized to France after Argentina’s vice president called the European country “colonialist” and its people “hypocrites” in an argument over alleged racist chants by Argentine footballers.
President Javier Milei’s office said Friday it had sent a senior official to the French embassy to explain that Victoria Villarruel’s angry statement on social media was made in her personal capacity.
FIFA has announced an investigation into the chants sung by Argentina players, including Chelsea and Argentina midfielder Enzo Fernandez, 23, after they won the Copa America.
The chants were heard on a live video posted on social media by Fernandez from the team bus in the wake of the Copa victory over Colombia in Miami on Sunday.
The song targets France’s star striker Kylian Mbappe among others and includes racist and homophobic insults.
Fernandez has apologized, but Chelsea have launched an internal disciplinary procedure against him. The French Football Federation (FFF) has complained to FIFA.
On Wednesday, Villarruel expressed support for Fernandez on X, saying: “No colonialist country is going to intimidate us because of a stadium chant nor for speaking truths that they do not want to admit. Enough with feigned outrage, hypocrites.”
The diplomatic incident came just days before Milei is due to travel to Paris to attend the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games.
“Diplomatic relations with France are intact,” presidential spokesman Manuel Adorni said Friday.
Argentina’s under secretary for sports, Julio Garro, was dismissed from his post this week after saying captain Lionel Messi and the Argentine Football Association should apologize for the chants.


Costa Rica keeps USA to 0-0 draw in Olympic sendoff game

Updated 17 July 2024
Follow

Costa Rica keeps USA to 0-0 draw in Olympic sendoff game

WASHINGTON: Costa Rica played the United States women’s national team to a goal-less draw on Tuesday in the Americans’ sendoff match before departing for the Paris Olympics.

US captain Lindsey Horan told a crowd of nearly 19,000 spectators they were undaunted about their chances in France despite the draw.

“We wish we would have gotten the win,” she said. “But we’re going to go out and do our thing at the Olympics. This team is amazing. We’re going to represent this country so well and we’ll do everything possible to being back a gold medal.”

Costa Rica goalkeeper Noelia Bermudez and a swarming defensive effort frustrated a patient US squad to earn the Ticas a draw after losses in their first 17 matches against the Americans.

The US women outshot Costa Rica 26-2, forcing 12 saves from Bermudez and taking all 16 corners in the match.

“It takes a lot of patience to play against a low block. Costa Rica did it really well,” US midfielder Sophia Smith said. “It was definitely challenging for us but it was a good test because we’re going to face that in the Olympics.

“I know we can create chances. We created I don’t know how many chances tonight. It’s getting one in the back of the net, no matter how that looks. That will come.”

While it was a disappointment against a defensive-minded squad for new coach Emma Hayes and her US team, it showed the Americans what they need to do before they start to play for gold next week in France.

“That was a big message from Emma at the end of the game — don’t be frustrated,” Smith said. “We wanted a result from this but these games are preparation for something bigger.

“We need to peak when we need to peak and that’s at the start of the Olympics. We’re calm about it. We’re not frustrated. We trust the process. We know things will go our way when we need them to.”

The American women begin Olympic Group B play on July 25 against Zambia at Nice and also face Germany and Australia in group matches at Marseille.

“I think it’s going to be amazing,” Smith said. “I’m so excited to be going with this group. I’m excited to get the ball rolling in France. This group has a lot of potential and good things in store.”

The United States have won four Olympic women’s football titles — in 1996 on home soil and three in a row in 2004, 2008 and 2012.

US midfielder Rose Lavelle, who helped win the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France, was a late scratch from the match due to leg tightness. Korbin Albert replaced her in the US starting lineup.

The Americans have three wins and a draw without surrendering a goal under England’s Hayes.

“I think we’ve made good, nice progress,” Hayes said. “When you take over a team and you’ve got to implement quite a lot, they have adapted to those ideas really well.

“We’re going into the Olympics with an idea of what we look to do most of our moments but now we’re starting to add some adaptations.”

Smith and Mallory Swanson were each denied on early chances by Bermudez while Trinity Rodman was offside on another US opportunity.

Bermudez and Rodman collided as the keeper denied Horan in the 24th minute. Bermudez also grabbed a Horan header in the 40th minute and thwarted Smith shortly before halftime.

Bermudez batted away a Smith chance in the 49th minute and deflected Horan’s kick in the 50th to keep Las Ticas level.

Horan found the net in the 55th minute only for the offside flag to be raised.

Bermudez deflected away a Rodman centering pass in extra time and Horan nodded a header over the crossbar in the final seconds.


Hard Rock Stadium hits back at CONMEBOL after Copa final chaos

Updated 17 July 2024
Follow

Hard Rock Stadium hits back at CONMEBOL after Copa final chaos

MIAMI:  Hard Rock Stadium defended the security measures in place for Sunday’s Copa America final after CONMEBOL accused the venue of ignoring advice that might have prevented the chaotic incidents that held up the game.

The showpiece final between Colombia and Argentina at the Miami venue was delayed by 82 minutes as overwhelmed security struggled to get fans inside after ticketless fans rushed the entry points.

CONMEBOL, the governing body for football in South America, suggested that local organizers had failed to follow suggested procedures such as setting up an outer perimeter to screen ticketless fans.

“We regret that the acts of violence produced by malicious people have tarnished a final that was ready to be a great celebration of sport,” CONMEBOL said in their statement, adding that CONMEBOL “was subject to the decisions made by the Hard Rock Stadium authorities, according to the contractual responsibilities established for security operations.”

Stadium officials said Tuesday that security measures were jointly decided by the venue, CONMEBOL and local law enforcement.

“Hard Rock Stadium has safely hosted hundreds of world-class events in its 37-year history, including Super Bowls, major international soccer matches, Formula 1, NFL and college football, headline concert tours and other global events,” management of the venue said in a statement.

“In each of those, security was a joint effort among the organizer, local law enforcement agencies and the venue.

“As we’ve previously said, Hard Rock Stadium worked collaboratively with CONMEBOL, CONCACAF and local law enforcement agencies on security both leading up to and during the Copa America tournament.

“The agencies met regularly, including daily security briefings throughout the month-long tournament. Hard Rock Stadium implemented, and in many cases exceeded, CONMEBOL’s security recommendations throughout the tournament and the Final.”

The disturbing scenes before the final, won 1-0 by Argentina, immediately raised concerns for the 2026 World Cup which will be co-hosted by the United States, Canada and Mexico.

Local police, overwhelmed by the situation despite the presence of 800 officers, said they detained 27 people and ejected 55 others from the venue.

It wasn’t the only concerning security incident during the tournament.

On Wednesday, Uruguay players were involved in a brawl with Colombian fans in the stands after their 1-0 semifinal defeat in Charlotte, North Carolina.


Gareth Southgate says it’s ‘time for change’ and announces he will step down as England manager

Updated 17 July 2024
Follow

Gareth Southgate says it’s ‘time for change’ and announces he will step down as England manager

  • Southgate’s contract was due to expire this year and his announcement comes after months of uncertainty surrounding his future
  • Southgate achieved what no other England manager has by leading his team to two finals, including a first on foreign soil

LONDON: After eight years, four major tournaments and two finals, Gareth Southgate announced he was stepping down as England manager on Tuesday, saying it was “time for change.”

Sunday’s 2-1 loss to Spain in the European Championship final proved to be his last game in charge of the national team.

“As a proud Englishman, it has been the honor of my life to play for England and to manage England. It has meant everything to me, and I have given it my all,” he said. “But it’s time for change, and for a new chapter.”

Southgate’s contract was due to expire this year and his announcement comes after months of uncertainty surrounding his future.

Mikel Oyarzabal’s 86th-minute winner in Berlin was a painful way to end his reign after he transformed the fortunes of England’s underperforming national team.

Hired in 2016, he led England to back-to-back finals at the Euros and to the semifinals of the World Cup in 2018.

But, ultimately, he was unable to end the nation’s decades-long wait for a first major trophy since the World Cup in 1966.

“Gareth, I want to thank you — not as the President of the FA, but as an England fan,” Prince William said on X. “Thank you for creating a team that stands shoulder to shoulder with the world’s finest in 2024. Thank you for showing humility, compassion, and true leadership under the most intense pressure and scrutiny. And thank you for being an all-round class act. You should be incredibly proud of what you’ve achieved. W.”

Southgate said before the European Championship that it would likely be his last tournament if England did not win.

During it, he faced fierce criticism for the team’s early performances and some fans threw plastic beer cups in his direction at the end of the 0-0 draw with Slovenia in the group phase.

But he achieved what no other England manager has by leading his team to two finals, including a first on foreign soil.

“Gareth has made the impossible job possible and laid strong foundations for future success. He is held in the highest regard by the players, the backroom team, by everyone at the FA and across the world of football,” said Mark Bullingham, chief executive of the English Football Association.

Before Southgate’s arrival England had won only seven knockout games at tournaments since 1966. The team won nine during his tenure.

England was also in the top five of FIFA’s rankings for six years under Southgate. Previously its longest run had been seven months.

Southgate was not an obvious choice to take over when hired after Sam Allardyce’s one-match reign came to an end after just 67 days in charge.

He didn’t have a stellar managerial career, with a three-year spell at Middlesbrough his only job in club soccer.

But he was well-respected within the FA for his work with England’s under-21 team and he exceeded all expectations with the senior job.

The World Cup semifinal in 2018 came after England had suffered the humiliation of being eliminated by Iceland at Euro 2016 and failed to advance beyond the group stage of the World Cup in 2014.

England had not advanced to a semifinal since Euro 96 and hadn’t reached that stage of a World Cup since 1990.

At the Euros in 2021, Southgate went one better by leading his team to the final, which it lost to Italy in a penalty shootout.

England were tied 1-1 with Spain in the final on Sunday before Oyarzabal’s late winner.

“We look back at Gareth’s tenure with huge pride — his contribution to the English game, including a significant role in player development, and in culture transformation has been unique. However, it is his record of winning tournament games which is most extraordinary,” Bullingham said.

Southgate was widely seen as a unifying figure during a period of political upheaval in English politics and society, taking over the national team shortly after a divisive referendum on leaving the European Union and seeing five different prime ministers during his time in charge.

“Gareth Southgate’s greatest achievement was not on the pitch, but in the standard that he has set for how a role model and representative of our country should conduct themselves,” Chief Rabbi Sir Ephraim Mirvis said on X. “His legacy will be a generation of young people who have learned from him that leadership is primarily about decency, integrity and bringing honor to others. That is worth more to our country than any trophy.”

Now thoughts will turn to finding Southgate’s successor and the FA said the process was already underway.

Jurgen Klopp stepped down as Liverpool manager at the end of last season, but the German has said he wants to take a break.

Former Tottenham, Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea boss Mauricio Pochettino is out of work, as well as former Bayern Munich coach Thomas Tuchel.

Sarina Wiegman has led the England Women’s team to success in the Euros and also to the final of the World Cup last year.

Leading English contenders could include Newcastle manager Eddie Howe, former Chelsea bosses Graham Potter and Frank Lampard and England Under-21 manager Lee Carsley.

England play Ireland in the Nations League on Sept. 7, but the FA said it was prepared to go into that match with an interim coach, rather than rush to a decision on its next manager.