Albania dent Croatia’s Euro 2024 hopes with dramatic draw

Albania players celebrate after Klaus Gjasula scored the equalizer against Croatia at Euro 2024 in Hamburg, Germany, Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (AP Photo)
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Updated 19 June 2024
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Albania dent Croatia’s Euro 2024 hopes with dramatic draw

  • Klaus Gjasula put through his own net and then became the last-gasp hero by slotting into the bottom corner in the fifth minute of injury time to snatch the draw
  • Albania have won plenty of plaudits with their performances against both Italy, in a 2-1 defeat, and Croatia, but will probably have to beat Spain to keep their last-16 hopes alive

HAMBURG: Albania left Croatia in danger of a group-stage exit from Euro 2024 after a thrilling 2-2 draw on Wednesday as Albania’s Klaus Gjasula scored at both ends, including a dramatic injury-time equalizer.
After a disappointing 3-0 loss to Spain in their opener, Croatia were behind again when Qazim Laci gave Albania an early lead in Hamburg.
But Croatia improved after making two half-time substitutions and Andrej Kramaric levelled with 16 minutes remaining, before Gjasula put through his own net.
The Albania midfielder became the last-gasp hero, though, slotting into the bottom corner in the fifth minute of injury time to snatch his team a point.
Croatia, World Cup semifinalists in 2022, will now likely need to win their final Group B match against holders Italy on June 24 to reach the knockout phase for a fifth straight major tournament.
Albania have won plenty of plaudits with their performances against both Italy, in a 2-1 defeat, and Croatia, but could not hold a lead in either game and will probably have to beat Spain to keep their last-16 hopes alive.
Croatia’s ‘golden generation’ were ultimately made to pay for a poor first-half display and are in danger of bowing out from major tournament football in limp fashion.
Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic opted against a change in formation from the Spain defeat, sticking with his midfield trio of Luka Modric, Mateo Kovacic and Marcelo Brozovic.
But he brought in Ivan Perisic at left-back, moving Manchester City’s Josko Gvardiol into central defense.
The smell of smoke from flares filled the air outside the stadium as the supporters of both teams created one of the best atmospheres of the tournament so far.
Albania scored the fastest goal in European Championship history after just 23 seconds against Italy and they made another quick start.
It took until only the 11th minute for Sylvinho’s men to break the deadlock this time, as Sparta Prague midfielder Laci ghosted into the area unmarked to nod home an inch-perfect, inswinging cross from Jasir Asani.
Croatia tried to impose their passing game, but Albania were constantly in their faces and continued to look the more dangerous side, with right-back Elseid Hysaj firing off target.
The underdogs could have doubled their advantage just after the half-hour mark, but Kristjan Asllani was denied by Dominik Livakovic when face-to-face with the Croatia goalkeeper.
Albania striker Rey Manaj passed up another excellent opportunity, failing to get enough purchase on his free header in first-half added time to seriously trouble Livakovic.
Dalic responded by making two changes at the interval, bringing on 21-year-old Luka Sucic and Mario Pasalic for the ineffective Lovro Majer and Brozovic.
Those substitutions brought about a quick improvement from Croatia, as Albania goalkeeper Thomas Strakosha made a good save to keep out Sucic’s left-footed shot, before Pasalic headed over seconds later.
Albania continued to threaten on the counter-attack, though, with Nedim Bajrami drilling wide of the near post in the 67th minute.
But Croatia finally found a way through in the 74th minute as substitute Ante Budimir picked out Kramaric inside the box and the forward cut inside before sending a composed finish inside Strakosha’s near post.
The turnaround appeared to be complete two minutes later as Sucic’s close-range effort was blocked, but only against the unfortunate Gjasula and into an empty net.
Albania did not give up, missing a series of chances as it appeared Croatia would cling on.
Gjasula had other ideas though, sweeping a loose ball home before a chaotic denouement that saw both sides throw bodies forward in search of a winner, to no avail.


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

Updated 14 sec ago
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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 19 min 3 sec ago
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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.


French authorities detain Russian man on accusations of planning to ‘destabilize’ Olympics

Updated 24 July 2024
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French authorities detain Russian man on accusations of planning to ‘destabilize’ Olympics

  • A 40-year-old Russia-born man was arrested on Tuesday at his Paris apartment
  • He was charged with “conducting intelligence work on behest of a foreign power” with an aim to “provoke hostilities in France”

PARIS: French authorities say they have detained a Russian man on suspicion of planning to “destabilize the Olympic Games.”
A 40-year-old Russia-born man was arrested on Tuesday at his Paris apartment, a statement from the Paris prosecutor’s office said Wednesday.
He was charged with “conducting intelligence work on behest of a foreign power” with an aim to “provoke hostilities in France,” crimes punishable with 30-year sentence in France, the statement said.
During an official search of the suspect’s home in Paris, police agents found items that “raised fears of his intention to organize events likely to lead to destabilization of the Olympic Games,” prosecutors said.
It comes after the interior minister said earlier Wednesday that security authorities made an arrest and foiled a separate plot to attack the Olympics.
Minister Gérald Darmanin said the security authorities thwarted a plot against the Paris Olympics, two days before the official start of the Summer Games.
France has been on high alert over the past few weeks as preparations to host the 2024 Olympics hit the final stretch. The Games officially kick off with a lavish and high-security opening ceremony on the River Seine on Friday.
The Games’ organizers face security challenges, including cyberattack concerns, amid high international tensions because of the Russia’s war in Ukraine and the Israel-Hamas conflict in Gaza.
There are also elaborate disinformation campaigns orchestrated out of Russia, targeting the Olympics and France’s recent elections, according to French officials and cybersecurity experts in Europe and the United States.
Darmanin said in an interview Wednesday with French broadcaster BFMTV that a young man was arrested in Gironde, a region in the southwest of France, on suspicion of “planning a violent action against the Olympic Games.”
Police arrested an 18-year-old man Tuesday on accusations that he was planning to target the “organization of the Games,” Darmanin said.
He did not give details on the suspect’s potential targets or whether they were in Paris or in other French cities hosting Olympic events that run through Aug. 11.
“We are still working on this case ... (we) avoid giving details ... but we think there is a link,” Darmanin said. “It’s been established that this person wanted to attack the Olympic Games.”
Paris has deployed 35,000 police officers each day for the Olympics, with a peak of 45,000 for the opening ceremony. In addition, 10,000 soldiers are taking part in security operations in the Paris region.
A 10,000-strong military force is patrolling streets and sites in the Paris region and carrying out other security missions.
France also is getting help from more than 40 countries that together have sent at least 1,900 police reinforcements.


Palestinians are winners by just being at Paris Games, say athletes

Yazan Al Bawwab of Palestine, with a Palestine flag before training. REUTERS
Updated 24 July 2024
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Palestinians are winners by just being at Paris Games, say athletes

PARIS: The presence of Palestinian athletes at the Paris Olympic Games is already a major victory for the team amid the conflict in the Middle East, they said on Saturday, less than a week before the start of the Olympics.
The Palestinian team for the Games starting on Friday consists of six athletes who will be competing in boxing, judo, taekwondo, shooting and swimming, with slim hopes of a medal.”Whether a medal or not, we already win,” swimmer Yazan Al Bawwab told Reuters.
“The fact that we’re here. The fact that people don’t want us to be here, they don’t want us to play sports. They don’t want us to exist.”
“People don’t want Palestinians to exist. They look at the flag and they don’t want it. So to be here is a win,” said Al Bawwab, who will be the team’s flag bearer during the opening ceremony.
About 1,200 people were killed and more than 250 were seized and taken as hostages to Gaza in an attack on southern Israel led by the Palestinian militant group Hamas last Oct. 7, according to Israeli tallies.
The Israeli military offensive launched in response in Hamas-governed Gaza has killed almost 39,000 Palestinians, health officials in the Palestinian enclave say. Israel says 326 of its soldiers have been killed in Gaza.
In the run-up to the Paris Olympics, Palestinian athletes had been given support by Arab states, including Kuwait, Qatar, Libya and Egypt, to allow training in those countries.
Palestinian sports officials have said that since the start of the conflict in October 2023 more than 300 athletes, referees and sports officials have been killed and all sports facilities in Gaza demolished.
“I said it before but I’m one of the luckiest people in the world,” swimmer Valerie Tarazi said. “I have the opportunity to compete for my country, to raise the flag for my country.”
“My heart is with them. Every time I swim, every time I jump in the pool, I’m thinking about the people of Palestine, their struggles. And I just want to represent them in the best way possible.”


‘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.”