France need own goal to edge Austria in Euro 2024 opener

Austria's goalkeeper Patrick Pentz catches the ball next to Kylian Mbappe of France during a Group D match between Austria and France at the Euro 2024 soccer tournament in Duesseldorf, Germany, Monday, June 17, 2024. (AP)
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Updated 18 June 2024

France need own goal to edge Austria in Euro 2024 opener

  • France and the Netherlands meet next in Leipzig on Friday, while Austria face Poland earlier the same day in Berlin

DÜSSELDORF, Germany: Maximilian Woeber’s own goal was enough to give France a winning start to their Euro 2024 campaign on Monday as they edged Austria 1-0 in their opening game but Kylian Mbappe came off late on with a bloodied nose.
Woeber diverted Mbappe’s cutback into his own net seven minutes before half-time in Duesseldorf to allow the French, one of the leading contenders to win the tournament, to come through a stiff test.
Austria have been much-improved under Ralf Rangnick and their pressing game often made life uncomfortable for the 2022 World Cup runners-up, who saw Mbappe leave the field near the end after being hurt in a collision.
He had earlier failed to convert a glorious chance that would have allowed France to win by a wider margin.
While Les Bleus were not at their best, they will be relieved to have emerged victorious from the game after a build-up overshadowed by talk of politics rather than football.
Mbappe and other French players had spent much of their time before the media in recent days answering questions about upcoming elections in the country which could see the far-right National Rally become the biggest party.
Any slip-up here would have led to suggestions their minds had not been fully focused on the competition, as France aim to become European champions for the third time, and first since 2000.
Instead, the result leaves Didier Deschamps’ team level on three points in Group D with the Netherlands, who defeated Poland 2-1 in Hamburg on Sunday.
France and the Netherlands meet next in Leipzig on Friday, while Austria face Poland earlier the same day in Berlin.
Austria had enjoyed some impressive results coming into the tournament on a seven-game unbeaten run and their team is on familiar ground during these Euros — their coach Rangnick is from Germany and eight of their starting line-up played in the German Bundesliga last season.

The French, however, are arguably the most talented team at the tournament, led by their captain Mbappe.
He endured a miserable time at his only previous Euros three years ago, failing to score and missing the decisive penalty in a shoot-out defeat by Switzerland in the last 16.
The new Real Madrid signing will wonder how he did not score in this game, with his first big opportunity arriving inside eight minutes.
Antoine Griezmann and Theo Hernandez combined to release Mbappe, who cut in from the left as he loves to do and shaped to curl a shot into the far corner before instead aiming for the near post.
However, Austria goalkeeper Patrick Pentz was able to make the save.
The Austrians settled into the contest and passed up a wonderful chance of their own to go ahead on 36 minutes.
Skipper Marcel Sabitzer touched down a Michael Gregoritsch cross from the left for Christoph Baumgartner, but he was foiled by goalkeeper Mike Maignan.
That proved crucial as France went ahead two minutes later.
Ousmane Dembele gave the ball to Mbappe on the right, and he produced a stepover to get to the byline before his cutback was nodded into the far corner of his own net by the unfortunate Woeber.
Mbappe was then thwarted by Pentz as he tried to go around the goalkeeper in first-half stoppage time, but that was nothing compared to the chance he squandered 10 minutes after the restart.
Adrien Rabiot sent Mbappe away, bounding in behind the Austrian defense, but he somehow put his shot wide with just the goalkeeper to beat.
That left the game in the balance, and Austria continued to push for a leveller, but without success.
Their fans were less than impressed by what they perceived as timewasting late on from Mbappe, who needed treatment after colliding with Kevin Danso in the box.
He left the pitch with his shirt stained by blood, only to then come back on and sit down, earning himself a yellow card before being replaced by Olivier Giroud.

Argentina snatch Morocco draw, Spain win Olympic men’s football opener

Updated 26 sec ago

Argentina snatch Morocco draw, Spain win Olympic men’s football opener

  • Argentina are looking to win men’s football gold in Paris for the third time after previous successes in 2004 and 2008
  • They trailed 2-0 in the Group B game to a Soufiane Rahimi brace for Morocco

PARIS: Cristian Medina scored the equalizer in the 16th added minute as Argentina came from two down to draw 2-2 with Morocco on the opening day of men’s Olympic football action on Wednesday, while Spain edged Uzbekistan 2-1.
Argentina are looking to win men’s football gold in Paris for the third time after previous successes in 2004 and 2008, but Javier Mascherano’s side looked set to get off to a losing start in Saint-Etienne.
They trailed 2-0 in the Group B game to a Soufiane Rahimi brace for Morocco but did pull one back through Giuliano Simeone before Medina finished off a crazy move right at the death.
Morocco captain Achraf Hakimi, the Paris Saint-Germain full-back who is one of the biggest names featuring in the tournament, set up forward Rahimi for the opener at the end of a fine move in first-half stoppage time.
The reigning African Under-23 champions doubled their lead six minutes into the second half from the penalty spot, UAE-based forward Rahimi stroking in the spot-kick after Ilias Akhomach was brought down.
Argentina coach Mascherano, who starred in the teams that won gold in Athens and Beijing, had at one point hoped to persuade Lionel Messi to feature among the three permitted overage players in his squad otherwise limited to those under 23.
Messi opted not to come to the Games, and the biggest names in their side here were Manchester City striker Julian Alvarez and captain Nicolas Otamendi, the Benfica defender.
Simeone, son of former Argentina star Diego, came off the bench to pull one back midway through the second half, and Medina saved a point in the 106th minute.
Otamendi’s shot was turned onto the bar by the goalkeeper and Bruno Amione headed the follow-up off the woodwork, but Medina was on hand to make it third time lucky and secure a draw.
Group B rivals Iraq and Ukraine meet later in Lyon.
Silver medallists in Tokyo three years ago, Spain were made to work hard to beat Uzbekistan in their Group C opener at the Parc des Princes in Paris.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino was among the spectators watching a Spain side featuring two members of their Euro 2024-winning squad in Alex Baena of Villarreal and Barcelona’s Fermin Lopez.
Spain went ahead just before the half-hour mark when Sergio Gomez’s free-kick was helped on by Abel Ruiz to the back post where Marc Pubill turned the ball in.
However, Uzbekistan had chances and drew level from the penalty spot in first-half added time.
Pau Cubarsi was penalized for a foul in the box following a VAR review, and Uzbekistan captain Eldor Shomurodov, the Roma forward, converted the penalty.
Cubarsi, the 17-year-old Barcelona prodigy, had been booked early in the game and did not reappear for the second half.
Spain got a penalty of their own for a foul on Aimar Oroz, but Gomez’s kick was saved by goalkeeper Abduvohid Nematov.
However, Gomez made up for that by grabbing what proved to be the winner just after the hour mark.
Juan Miranda cut the ball back from the byline for Gomez — who has just joined Real Sociedad from Manchester City — to fire in.
Spain are in Group C with Egypt and the Dominican Republic.
The pick of Wednesday’s later games will see hosts France face the United States in Marseille in Group A, with Thierry Henry’s team hoping to win a medal despite failing in their attempts to enrol the services of Kylian Mbappe.

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

Updated 24 July 2024

‘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

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.

Miami’s Messi, Suarez out for MLS All-Star Game

Updated 23 July 2024

Miami’s Messi, Suarez out for MLS All-Star Game

MIAMI: Argentina star Lionel Messi and Inter Miami teammate Luis Suarez will miss Wednesday’s Major League Soccer All-Star Game with injuries, the league and team announced Monday.

An updated MLS roster for the match-up against Mexico’s Liga MX All-Stars at Columbus, Ohio, listed Messi and Uruguayan striker Suarez among those who would not play.

Inter Miami detailed the injuries, with Messi still sidelined after missing two MLS matches last week with a right ankle injury suffered in Argentina’s Copa America final triumph over Colombia.

“Messi will miss the All-Star Game due to an ankle injury while Luis Suarez, who recently returned from international duty after over 40 days away from the club, will miss the All-Star Game due to knee discomfort,” Inter Miami said.

It would have been the first MLS All-Star appearance for 37-year-old Messi, who joined Inter Miami last July.

Eight-time Ballon d’Or winner Messi, who helped spark Argentina to the 2022 World Cup title, led Miami to last year’s inaugural Leagues Cup crown in a tournament of MLS and Mexican league squads.

But Miami said Messi’s status and that of Suarez remain in doubt for Saturday’s home match against Mexico’s Puebla, Inter’s first step in defending the Leagues Cup title.

The availability of Messi and Suarez will be determined by their “daily recovery process” according to the team statement.

Diogo Jota says Riyadh Esports World Cup ‘a truly amazing experience’

Updated 22 July 2024

Diogo Jota says Riyadh Esports World Cup ‘a truly amazing experience’

  • Liverpool and Portugal star, an avid gamer and investor, watched all the ‘Dota2 Riyadh Masters’ and ‘Counter-Strike 2’ action, and met esports players

RIYADH: Diogo Jota, the Liverpool and Portugal footballer, who attended the Esports World Cup in Riyadh on Sunday, has declared the globe’s largest gaming festival “a truly amazing experience.”

Jota, an avid gamer and investor in multinational esports organization Galaxy Racer, watched all the action at Boulevard Riyadh City as teams contested the finals of the “Dota2 Riyadh Masters” and “Counter-Strike 2” competitions.

The eight-week Esports World Cup features a unique cross-game structure pitting the top clubs and players against one another across 22 competitions in 21 leading games.

Held within the 8,000-capacity Saudi Esports Federation Arena at Boulevard Riyadh City, it runs until Aug. 25 and has a tournament prize pool of $60 million, the largest in the history of the sport.

The attacker, who has 42 caps and played for Portugal at the UEFA Euro 2024 this summer, met participating stars, including from Saudi Arabia’s Team Falcons, and happily swapped gaming and esports stories.

Jota said: “Being here at the inaugural Esports World Cup is a truly amazing experience. The organization and scale behind this event are truly impressive, even more than I anticipated.

“I’ve always believed in the potential of esports, even before starting my own team, and EWC is proof that this scene is evolving rapidly. This level of investment and infrastructure is exactly what esports needs to grow and reach a wider audience.

“I’m excited to see how EWC continues to evolve and push the boundaries of competitive gaming.”

Jota, who wears the No. 20 for Liverpool, was ranked world No. 1 in FIFA 21’s Champions Leaderboard. A regular streamer on Twitch, he also won an invitational series of FIFA matches, run by the Premier League, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Then a Wolverhampton Wanderers player, Jota defeated future Liverpool team-mate Trent Alexander-Arnold in the final.

Last year, Jota’s own esports organization, Diogo Jota Esports, was rebranded to Luna Galaxy — coming under the Galaxy Racer umbrella.

Prior to this, Diogo Jota Esports participated in the FIFAe Finals at Gamers8, organized by the Saudi Esports Federation, at Boulevard Riyadh City last summer, with Daniel “DFernandes” Fernandes finishing in the top 16.

More than 1,500 players, of over 60 nationalities, are battling it out at the inaugural Esports World Cup. Week three of the competition features action in the “Dota2 Riyadh Masters,” “Counter Strike 2,” and “PUBG Mobile” contests.