Neymar Says Nike Claim Of Split Over Sex Assault Probe A ‘Lie’

Paris Saint-Germain’s Brazilian forward Neymar warms up prior to the UEFA Champions League first leg semi-final football match between Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) and Manchester City at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris on April 28, 2021. Anne-Christine POUJOULAT / AFP

 

Neymar said Friday Nike’s claim that it parted ways with him last year because he refused to cooperate with its internal investigation into an employee’s accusation he sexually assaulted her was an “absurd lie.”

The allegation is the latest to stain the image of the Brazilian superstar, whose 222-million-euro ($270 million) transfer from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain in 2017 makes him the world’s most expensive footballer.

Nike said Thursday it had ended its sponsorship deal with Neymar over an employee’s claim he tried to force himself on her and his failure to cooperate with its investigation.

“(To) state that my contract (with Nike) was terminated because I did not contribute in good faith to an investigation is an absurd lie,” Neymar wrote on Instagram.

“I was not given the opportunity to defend myself. I was not given the opportunity to know who this person was that was allegedly offended. I don’t even know her. I’ve never had any kind of relationship or approach with this person.”

Nike said the alleged assault happened in 2016, but was only reported to the company in 2018.

The US sportswear giant had sponsored Neymar, 29, since he was a 13-year-old prodigy.

It did not give a reason when it terminated its deal with him in August 2020.

The superstar is now a poster boy for Puma. His deal with the German sportswear giant was announced in September 2020.

‘They did nothing’

The Nike employee accused Neymar of trying to force her to perform oral sex on him in a New York hotel room during a promotional trip for a new line of sneakers, according to the Wall Street Journal, which first broke the story.

Neymar denied the accusation, and said Nike had nevertheless continued sending him on promotional tours.

“In 2017 I traveled again to the USA for another advertising campaign, with the same people, and nothing was told to me, nothing changed!” he wrote.

“In 2017, 2018, 2019 we made trips, advertising campaigns, countless shooting sections. And they told me nothing. Such a serious matter and they did nothing.”

In a previous statement, a Neymar spokeswoman said he and Nike had split for commercial reasons.

The player’s father accused the company of “blackmail.”

“It’s all very strange” that the accusation only came to light years later, after Neymar left Nike, he told Brazilian newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo.

Tarnished star

Nike said in a statement it was prepared to investigate in 2018 when the woman first came forward, but “respected the employee’s initial desire to keep this matter confidential and avoid an investigation.”

The firm therefore did not go further until 2019, when she expressed an interest in pursuing the matter, it said.

That was the same year another woman filed a rape complaint against Neymar in his native Brazil.

He vehemently denied that accusation, and the case was eventually dropped.

Neymar is currently in Brazil training with the national team north of Rio de Janeiro ahead of two upcoming World Cup qualifiers.

The superstar seemed “normal, the same as always,” teammate Emerson told a news conference.

Neymar extended his contract with French champions PSG earlier this month, through the 2024-2025 season.

With his on-pitch exploits and huge following on social media, Neymar is one of the biggest names in sports.

But his shine has often been tarnished.

His image as an eternal spoiled child was revived late last year by rumors of a huge year-end party he organized in Brazil in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

He has also raised eyebrows with his alleged diving, hard-partying lifestyle, and love of bling, which critics say contrasts with the relative lack of it in his trophy case.

AFP

Villarreal Beat Manchester United To Win Europa League

 

Villarreal stunned Manchester United after a marathon penalty shoot-out, with goalkeeper David de Gea missing the last spot-kick, in the Europa League final to lift their first-ever major trophy on Wednesday in Gdansk.

It finished 1-1 after 120 minutes as Gerard Moreno put the unfancied Spaniards ahead in the 29th minute before Edinson Cavani levelled early in the second half.

But Villarreal won a remarkable shoot-out 11-10, leaving Ole Gunnar Solskjaer still waiting for his first trophy as United manager.

Villarreal players celebrate their victory at the end of the 2021 UEFA Europa League football final between Spain’s Villarreal and England’s Manchester United at the Gdansk Stadium in the Polish city of Gdansk on May 26, 2021. (Photo by ALEKSANDRA SZMIGIEL / POOL / AFP)
Villarreal players celebrate their victory at the end of the 2021 UEFA Europa League football final between Spain’s Villarreal and England’s Manchester United at the Gdansk Stadium in the Polish city of Gdansk on May 26, 2021. (Photo by ALEKSANDRA SZMIGIEL / POOL / AFP)
Villarreal’s Spanish midfielder Moises (C) and teammates celebrate after winning the UEFA Europa League final football match between Villarreal CF and Manchester United at the Gdansk Stadium in Gdansk on May 26, 2021. (Photo by Michael Sohn / POOL / AFP)
Villarreal’s Spanish midfielder Moises (C) and teammates celebrate after winning the UEFA Europa League final football match between Villarreal CF and Manchester United at the Gdansk Stadium in Gdansk on May 26, 2021. (Photo by Michael Sohn / POOL / AFP)
Villarreal’s Spanish midfielder Moises (C) and teammates celebrate after winning the UEFA Europa League final football match between Villarreal CF and Manchester United at the Gdansk Stadium in Gdansk on May 26, 2021. (Photo by Michael Sohn / POOL / AFP)
Villarreal’s Spanish forward Paco Alcacer (C) celebrates after winning the UEFA Europa League final football match between Villarreal CF and Manchester United at the Gdansk Stadium in Gdansk on May 26, 2021. (Photo by MAJA HITIJ / POOL / AFP)

Title-Winning Conte Says ‘Ciao’ As Inter Milan Dream Ends In Cash Row

From L) Inter Milan’s Vice-President Javier Zanetti, Inter Milan’s President Steven Zhang, Inter Milan’s Italian coach Antonio Conte, Inter Milan’s Sports Coordinator Gabriele Oriali and Inter Milan’s CEO Giuseppe Marotta hold the Scudetto Trophy as Inter players and staff celebrate winning the Serie A 2020-2021 championship after their last Italian Serie A football match Inter Milan vs Udinese on May 23, 2021 at the San Siro stadium in Milan. MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP

 

Antonio Conte parted company with Inter Milan on Wednesday just days after lifting their first Serie A title in 11 years amid clashes with the club’s cash-strapped Chinese owners on the way forward.

The ambitious Italian refused Suning’s planned cost-cutting which would have prevented him from building the team he wanted to challenge at home and in Europe.

The former Chelsea and Juventus boss took over in May 2019 on a three-year contract worth a reported 12 million euros ($14 million) annually.

But the 51-year-old leaves the San Siro one year early, Inter confirming “an agreement has been reached with Antonio Conte for the termination of his contract by mutual consent”.

Inter Milan’s Italian coach Antonio Conte shouts instructions during the Italian Serie A football match Inter Milan vs Udinese on May 23, 2021 at the San Siro stadium in Milan.
MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP

“Antonio Conte will forever remain a part of our club’s history,” the statement added.

Severing Conte’s contract has cost the club a reported seven million euros ($8.5 million), while his final year’s salary would have been around 12 million.

As part of the deal Conte will not be allowed to coach another Serie A club next season, according to reports.

Among the names being touted to replace him are Lazio boss Simone Inzaghi and former Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri, who has also been linked with a return to the Turin club.

For Conte, future destinations could include Tottenham Hotspur and Real Madrid.

‘Like a war zone’

A demanding coach, whose training sessions were described by Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku as ‘like a war zone,’ Conte leaves Inter at the summit of Serie A, a feat last achieved by Jose Mourinho, who won the treble with the club in 2010.

It was a fifth league title for Conte having won three with Juventus between 2012 and 2014 and the Premier League with Chelsea in 2018.

But tensions had been ongoing, having already threatened to leave last summer after losing the Europa League final to Sevilla and finishing second in the league to Juventus.

Despite a second Champions League group stage exit this season Inter clinched their 19th Scudetto with a 12-point lead on AC Milan and with four games remaining.

“This is one of the most important successes of my career,” Conte said.

“Deciding to join Inter was not easy, the team was not equipped to win immediately.

“Furthermore, the opponent was Juventus for whom I had worked for a long time. Today we can say that our sacrifices have paid off.”

Conte rebuilt the ‘Nerazzurri,’ getting the best out of players including former Manchester United star Lukaku, Lautaro Martinez and Nicolo Barella, while others like Christian Eriksen and Ivan Perisic overcame initial difficulties to adapt to Conte’s style.

Captain Samir Handanovic and Lukaku both paid tribute to Conte on social media.

“You came at the right time and basically changed me as a player and made me even stronger mentally,” said Lukaku, Inter’s top scorer the past two seasons.

“Winning is all that matters to you. Thank you for all you did. I owe you a lot.”

Slovenian Handanovic, 36, who won his first trophy after nine years with the club, added: “You were the one who always raised the bar and put the right pressure on everyone… the one who made the difference. Thanks mister.”

Financial woes

Inter registered losses of 100 million euros ($122 million) last season mainly due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Suning Group shut down their Chinese club Jiangsu FC in February months after winning the Chinese Super League title.

Five days ago, Inter secured a cash injection worth 275 million euros with US investment firm Oaktree, in the form of a loan reported to be over three years.

In this context, Suning wants to save as much as possible both on the purchase of new players and salaries, and possibly selling those with the highest value, an approach unacceptable for Conte.

Conte’s three-year spell at Juventus remains the longest of a career already spanning seven clubs, and the Italian national team.

He took Bari and Siena into Serie A, began Juventus’ nine-year domination of the Italian top-flight, guided an unfancied Italy to the semi-finals of Euro 2016 and won the Premier League in his first season at Chelsea.

But he has never tasted European success, falling short with both Juventus and Chelsea before his near-miss with Inter.

AFP

N’Golo Kante, The Quiet And Unassuming Superstar

Chelsea’s French midfielder N’Golo Kante (C) celebrates with Chelsea’s Spanish defender Cesar Azpilicueta afer scoring during the English Premier League football match between Chelsea and Manchester City at Stamford Bridge in London on December 8, 2018. Ian KINGTON / AFP

 

He may shy away from the limelight, but there were few more popular members of France’s 2018 World Cup-winning side than N’Golo Kante, who on Saturday will aim to get his hands on one of the few trophies that has so far evaded him when Chelsea face Manchester City in the Champions League final.

France supporters came up with a song for Kante during that triumphant summer in Russia, to the tune of the 1969 hit “Les Champs-Elysees” by Joe Dassin. As the song goes, “he is small, he is kind, he stopped Leo Messi”.

It does take a ruthless streak to get to the very top in football as Kante has, winning two Premier League titles, the Europa League and the FA Cup as well as the World Cup.

Despite that, everyone who has encountered Kante since the start of his career in the Paris suburbs seems to agree there is no other player quite like the 30-year-old.

“Every time he comes back to Paris he comes to see us,” Karim El-Moudkhil, Kante’s former coach, tells AFP.

Idolised

“But he doesn’t just stop by, he stays to eat with us, he agrees to have his photo taken with everyone, to play with the kids.”

Kante, whose parents are of Malian origin, grew up in a large family on a quiet estate in Rueil-Malmaison, to the west of the French capital.

El-Moudkhil has endless anecdotes to tell as well as recent videos of Kante playing football with children in the neigbourhood who, not surprisingly, idolise him.

“In the summer, everyone comes out to play wearing the shirts of the teams he has played for: Caen, Leicester, Chelsea, France,” says the coach.

Kante is widely liked and respected for his warmth and modesty, and as a player he has forged a reputation for being generous and discrete, with his on-pitch persona matching his personality off it.

“He has never become big-headed, he has never changed,” says El-Moudkhil. “His brothers are the same. I would like to know how they have done it.”

Never angry

When you ask his former coach if he can recall Kante getting angry during a game or showing any negative emotions, the question is met with an almost sorry response.

“I am trying to think of something but I honestly can’t remember any. I have never seen him get angry as long as I have known him.

“And yet if anyone could have got angry it was him given the amount of times he used to get kicked while playing at Suresnes.”

It was there, in a pleasant suburb by the Seine River, that Kante played as a youngster.

Unlike most modern-day superstars, Kante was never picked up by the youth academy of a professional club. He had talent, but his size and personality seemed to work against him.

“N’Golo is not somebody who tends to stand out, so at a trial he just wasn’t visible,” Pierre Ville, a director at Suresnes, told AFP in 2018.

His career did gradually take off as he moved to France’s far north to sign for Boulogne-sur-Mer aged 19.

Soon he was playing for their first team in the third division, and he then joined Caen in 2013, helping them win promotion to Ligue 1.

After just one season in the French elite, Kante moved to Leicester aged 24 in 2015 and was one of the stars of their surge to the Premier League title in 2015/16.

He then left for Chelsea where he has continued to star, right up to being the man of the match in both legs of the Champions League semi-final win over Real Madrid.

“As soon as he signed for Boulogne-sur-Mer I knew his career was taking off,” says El-Moudkhil.

There, on France’s Channel coast, Kante left behind nothing but good memories.

“What was really striking was his desire to keep progressing. He was like a sponge, absorbing all the advice he got from his coaches,” remembers Christophe Raymond, who coached Kante in the club’s reserve team between 2010 and 2012.

“We sensed he had potential but it would be lying to say we thought he could go as far as he has.”

It is a view shared by his old coach back in Rueil.

“He has come on so much. Over the last few years he has taken more and more risks, he gets forward more, and he is now one of the best players in the world.”

AFP

Norwich City Promoted To The Premier League

Photo: @NorwichCityFC

 

Norwich City were promoted to the Premier League despite a 3-1 defeat to Bournemouth on Saturday as draws for Swansea and Brentford sent the Championship leaders back into the top-flight.

Daniel Farke’s side have dominated the second tier with 27 wins from their 42 games so far, earning an immediate return to the Premier League following last season’s relegation.

The Canaries suffered just a sixth defeat of the season after Dimitrios Giannoulis’s red card after just 17 minutes at Carrow Road.

Emi Buendia had already opened the scoring for the hosts before the sending-off, but Bournemouth made the most of their man advantage to consolidate their place in the playoff places.

Second-half goals from Sam Surridge, Arnaut Danjuma and Lloyd Kelly moved the fifth-placed Cherries to within eight points of Watford in the second automatic promotion place.

“It’s massive. It’s not an easy task when you get relegated to bounce straight back and today we’ve managed to do that,” Norwich midfielder Todd Cantwell said.

“It’s disappointing this evening. A controversial decision and some controversial goals but we can go home smiling knowing we’re going up.”

Norwich’s promotion was guaranteed after third-placed Swansea were held to a 2-2 draw by bottom of the table Wycombe, while fourth-placed Brentford drew 0-0 with Millwall.

Farke’s men are 14 points clear of Swansea, who have four games left, and 16 ahead of Brentford, who have five matches left.

They are also eight points clear of Watford, who lost 1-0 at local rivals Luton on Saturday.

Swansea were forced to claw their way back from two goals down against bottom-of-the-table Wycombe to keep alive their slim hopes of challenging Watford for automatic promotion.

Steve Cooper’s side were able to cut the gap between second and third to six points thanks to their dramatic draw.

Admiral Muskwe put Wycombe ahead 19 seconds into the second half at the Liberty Stadium when he lashed a lay-off from Uche Ikpeazu past Freddie Woodman from the edge of the area.

Five minutes later they doubled their lead, Garath McCleary fired into the bottom corner to double Wycombe’s lead.

But Jason McCarthy conceded a penalty for handball in the 80th minute and Jamal Lowe scored his fourth goal in three games.

Swansea substitute Liam Cullen headed home a Connor Roberts cross with eight minutes remaining.

Ronaldo Overtakes Pele, Tops World Goalscoring List

 

Cristiano Ronaldo hit back at his critics with a quick-fire hat-trick as Juventus brushed aside Cagliari 3-1 on Sunday, five days after their Champions League elimination, while Inter Milan moved nine points clear at the Serie A summit.

Portuguese star Ronaldo bore the brunt of the criticism for Juve’s latest European flop after failing to score in either leg of the last-16 defeat by Porto, while also being partly at fault for what proved to be the goal that knocked them out.

But the 36-year-old scored a header in the 10th minute at the Sardegna Arena, added a second from the penalty spot 15 minutes later, and completed a ‘perfect’ treble on 31 minutes with a fine left-footed strike.

Defending champions Juventus are 10 points behind leaders Inter Milan, who beat Torino 2-1 earlier Sunday, but with a game in hand.

Andrea Pirlo’s side pulled just one point behind second-placed AC Milan, whose title hopes took a big hit following a 1-0 home defeat to Napoli.

“Our approach was spot on and it was important to get off on the right foot after being knocked out the other night,” said Pirlo.

“Ronaldo was angry like the rest of the team. He reacted like a true champion.”

He could also have been sent off after a quarter of an hour, receiving only a yellow card for dangerous play as his boot struck Cagliari goalkeeper Alessio Cragno in the face while attempting to meet a Federico Chiesa cross.

Ronaldo is the leading scorer in Serie A with 23 goals this season, ahead of Inter’s Romelu Lukaku, who has 19.

His career tally is now 770 goals, overtaking Brazil legend Pele’s 767 scored in official matches which he matched earlier this month.

Before kick-off, Juventus chief football officer Fabio Paratici dismissed talk about Ronaldo’s future with the club.

“It makes me laugh. I would never have imagined discussing the value of Cristiano Ronaldo,” said Paratici.

“It’s a privilege to have him with us, he’s part of our future.”

Inter pull clear of Milan

Lautaro Martinez scored a brilliant 85th-minute winner in a tight game against 18th-placed Torino to keep Inter on track for a first league title since 2010.

Antonio Conte’s Inter once again needed their strike duo of Lukaku and Martinez to find a way to win in Turin.

Christian Eriksen came off the bench on 56 minutes and had an immediate impact, playing a part in the move which resulted in Torino defender Armando Izzo fouling Martinez in the penalty area.

Lukaku fired home the resulting spot-kick in the 62nd minute.

Inter looked to be wobbling when Antonio Sanabria pulled Torino level eight minutes later, finishing off goalmouth scramble.

But Martinez snatched the victory by getting his head to an Alexis Sanchez cross for his 14th league goal this term.

Inter stretched their winning run to eight matches to move further ahead of AC Milan.

“Victories like these are crucial,” said Inter assistant coach Cristian Stellini, with Conte serving a touchline ban.

AC Milan’s hopes of a first title since 2011 diminished as they failed to win for their third consecutive game at the San Siro, days before they host Manchester United in their last 16 Europa League decider.

Matteo Politano scored the only goal just after the break with Milan finishing the game a man down after Ante Rebic was sent off in injury time for arguing with officials.

Napoli’s Champions League hopes have been revived as they move above Roma into fifth before the two sides play next weekend after the capital side fell 2-0 at 19th-ranked Parma.

Valentin Mihaila opened the scoring on nine minutes with Hernani added a second from the spot to snap Parma’s 17-match winless run.

AFP

Man Utd Face AC Milan In Europa League Battle Of Recovering Giants

 

Manchester United and AC Milan meet in the Europa League last 16 on Thursday in a battle of European royalty, with both clubs showing signs of revival.

With 10 Champions League titles between them, United and Milan were once feared across Europe for their swashbuckling play and financial muscle.

But both clubs have lost their lustre in recent years, making their first meeting since 2010 an intriguing affair.

In a sign of the drop in standards at Old Trafford and the San Siro, the 11th encounter between two of the world’s most historic teams will be their first outside the Champions League knockout stages.

United, 20-time English champions, have not won the Premier League since Alex Ferguson’s last season in charge in 2013.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side are unlikely to end that drought this season as they trail leaders Manchester City by 11 points with 10 games left.

Sunday’s impressive 2-0 win at City was a sign United are at least heading in the right direction at last after losing their way under several of Ferguson’s successors.

Calling for United to build on that success, Solskjaer praised his side’s energy levels.

“We are going to do everything we can to keep the performance levels up every day,” he said.

“I feel we are a better team to 12, 16, 18 months ago. We have improved massively. We are more robust, resilient and there is more personality in the team. That is what I like.”

The most recent of Milan’s 18 Serie A titles came in 2011, with a sixth-place finish last term earning a return to Europe after a one-season absence.

That was a small step in the right direction for Milan, who have not played in the Champions League since 2014.

Ibrahimovic return?

Milan’s gradual improvement under boss Stefano Pioli has taken them to second in Serie A this term.

The seven-time European champions are six points behind leaders Inter Milan — a 3-0 defeat against their city rivals in February was a significant blow to their title aspirations.

Trying to restore their domestic dominance is the first goal for United and Milan on a long journey they hope will eventually lead them back to the Champions League summit as well.

Winning the Europa League would be another welcome sign of better days to come.

Milan have never reached the final of the competition but their striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic was a United player when the English giants won the Europa League in 2017.

Ibrahimovic has missed Milan’s past two games due to a muscle injury, but Pioli hopes the 39-year-old Swede will be fit for an Old Trafford return.

“He is better… he will have another examination to see how his recovery is going, we hope he can recover by Thursday,” Pioli said.

United will face another familiar face in full-back Diogo Dalot, who is on loan at Milan, with UEFA rules allowing players to face their parent clubs.

Old Trafford holds happy memories for Milan, who beat Juventus there in the 2003 Champions League final, but their record in England against English hosts shows just one win in 17 matches.

While United’s Milan showdown is the tie of the round, there are several teams in action elsewhere who also harbour genuine hopes of winning the tournament.

Tottenham, in a rich vein of form since Gareth Bale’s revival, host Croatia’s Dinamo Zagreb, while Roma meet Ukrainian champions Shakhtar Donetsk.

Arsenal face Olympiakos at the same venue where they came from behind to beat Benfica in the previous round — the last-32 second-leg was staged in Greece due to coronavirus concerns.

Fresh from winning the Scottish title for the first time since 2011, Steven Gerrard’s Rangers travel to Slavia Prague and four-time European champions Ajax host Switzerland’s Young Boys.

Haaland Double Fires Dortmund Into Champions League Quarter-Finals

 

Erling Braut Haaland scored twice as Borussia Dortmund held off a late Sevilla fightback to reach the Champions League quarter-finals with a ‘crazy, amazing’ 5-4 aggregate win after a frantic 2-2 second-leg draw on Tuesday.

Haaland, who also netted a double in Dortmund’s 3-2 last 16 first-leg victory, tapped in a first-half opener and scored a retaken penalty after the break behind closed doors at Signal Iduna Park.

“It was a hard game –- I’m tired now, but to be in the next round feels very good,” Haaland told Sky.

“It was a crazy game and a crazy, amazing win.”

Sevilla forward Youssef En-Nesyri scored a 69th-minute spot-kick and a last-gasp equaliser but Dortmund clung on.

“We’re not happy with the result. Truth is, we didn’t have any luck –- they had one chance and they scored,” En-Nesyri told Movistar.

“We fought until the last minute.”

Haaland, the man of the match, is the competition’s top-scorer this season with 10 goals in six games.

The 20-year-old is the youngest player to reach 20 Champions League goals, in just 14 appearances, breaking the previous mark set by Kylian Mbappe.

“We have been punished by a player (Haaland) who will make his mark on this era,” predicted Sevilla coach Julen Lopetegui.

Although they had lost three of their four previous games, Sevilla dominated the opening exchanges and Dortmund had to withstand intense early pressure before taking the lead against the run of play.

When the Spaniards lost possession in their own half, Dortmund midfielder Mahmoud Dahoud slipped a pass to Marco Reus, who sprinted to reach the ball at the byline and Haaland diverted in his cut-back.

‘Turbulent’ finish

He had the ball in the net again just after the interval, but the goal was disallowed after the referee decided Haaland had fouled Sevilla defender Fernando before firing home from a tight angle after consulting the pitchside monitor.

However, the referee also awarded a penalty after spotting a foul on Haaland earlier in the build-up.

Reus, Dortmund’s usual penalty taker, stepped aside to allow Haaland to take the spot-kick.

Although his first effort was tipped onto the post by Yassine Bounou, the Sevilla goalkeeper moved before the kick was taken and Haaland made no mistake with his second attempt.

Both Haaland and Sevilla midfielder Joan Jordan were booked for some pushing and shoving, with the La Liga side angered by Haaland’s celebrations.

“I missed the first penalty, but if he’d stood on the line I’d have scored, but he cheated,” added Haaland.

“I was a little bit nervous on the second penalty, but I knew it would be nice to score a second goal.”

Dortmund defender Emre Can also earned a yellow card and gave away a penalty for a blatant push on Sevilla forward Luuk de Jong, which Morocco striker En-Nesyri blasted home.

With five minutes left, Bounou produced a stunning reflex save from Dahoud’s shot in the area.

However, Sevilla were not finished and En-Nesyri netted again with a powerful header just before the final whistle as Dortmund weathered a late storm.

“It was a turbulent game,” said Dortmund caretaker coach Edin Terzic.

“It’s not a given for us to get this far, so now to be among the best eight in Europe makes us very happy. Erling Haaland was just outstanding.”

AFP

Ronaldo Silenced As Porto Knock Juventus Out Of Champions League

 

Cristiano Ronaldo’s Juventus crashed out of the Champions League in the last 16 for the second year running on Tuesday, losing to 10-man Porto on away goals despite winning the second leg 3-2 in Turin.

Sergio Oliveira’s extra-time free-kick sent twice former winners Porto through to the quarter-finals as the tie finished 4-4 on aggregate.

Leading 2-1 from the first leg in Portugal, Oliveira’s first-half penalty increased Porto’s advantage but Juventus levelled the tie through two goals from Federico Chiesa, which came either side of Porto striker Mehdi Taremi’s red card.

Oliveira then rifled home a low free-kick on 115 minutes, which passed through the legs of Ronaldo, with Adrien Rabiot’s header in reply coming in vain for Juventus.

“When you make four big errors over two legs in the Champions League last 16, you can get eliminated,” said Juventus coach Andrea Pirlo.

“It will take a few days to wipe this game from our minds, but then we must play every game with the right attitude, realise we’re still only in March and have time to climb the Serie A table.”

Juventus had been counting on Portuguese striker Ronaldo, the competition’s record goalscorer, and in-form Spaniard Alvaro Morata, who had scored six goals in the competition this season, to pull them through.

But Juventus’ Champions League heartache stretching back 25 years continued, falling in the first knockout round the second consecutive year after losing to French club Lyon last season.

“The work of the whole team was important to go through in a manner that was fully deserved,” said veteran Porto defender Pepe.

“It’s hard to explain by words the way we managed to react (playing with 10 men). Today we showed lots of character: the players were focused and that made it easy for us.”

Pirlo, in his first season as Juventus coach, had regained several injured players including midfielder Arthur and defender Leonardo Bonucci, but captain Giorgio Chiellini remained on the bench with Danilo suspended.

Porto goalkeeper Agustin Marchesin produced a sharp early save to turn away a Morata header, while Taremi nodded against the crossbar at the other end in a lively start to the game.

The Italian champions fell behind on the night when Merih Demiral conceded a penalty after bundling over Taremi in the box, with Dutch referee Bjorn Kuipers pointing to the spot.

Oliveira made no mistake, sending Wojciech Szczesny the wrong way to give the visitors a 3-1 advantage overall.

Marchesin continued his heroics, the Argentine blocking from Morata on 26 minutes and Rabiot minutes later after the French midfielder took aim from distance.

Chiesa revives Juve hopes

Juve hit back after the break thanks to Chiesa’s double, the first on 49 minutes when Ronaldo controlled and knocked it back for Chiesa to curl in past Marchesin from a tight angle.

Porto soon went a man down with Taremi sent off for two quick yellow cards, the second for recklessly kicking the ball away.

Despite the Iranian’s absence Porto managed to hold on, with Pepe intervening brilliantly to force Chiesa into striking the post after rounding Marchesin.

Chiesa made no mistake just after the hour getting his head to another perfect Juan Cuadrado cross which Marchesin again got a hand to but could not stop as Juve pulled level 3-3 on aggregate.

Ronaldo missed a chance to add to his tally of 134 Champions League goals after heading a Cuadrado delivery wide with 12 minutes to go.

It was end to end action with Marchesin denying Chiesa a hat-trick, while Morata had a goal ruled out for offside in injury time before Cuadrado was desperately unlucky to see his curling shot smack back off the bar.

Porto had the best chance of the first 15 minutes in extra time with Szczesny blocking a Moussa Marega header.

But Oliviera won a free-kick and fired in low to beat Szczesny on 115 minutes amid wild celebrations from the Portuguese bench.

Two minutes later Rabiot headed Juventus back into contention but the hosts could not snatch another goal as their European adventure ended prematurely once more.

AFP

Former Barcelona President Bartomeu Arrested

 

Former Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu was arrested on Monday as part of a police investigation into last year’s BarcaGate scandal, a source with knowledge of the case told AFP.

Bartomeu, who resigned as president in October, was among several arrests made just six days ahead of the club’s new presidential elections on Sunday.

Barcelona’s current chief executive Oscar Grau, head of legal services Roma Gomez Ponti, and Bartomeu’s advisor Jaume Masferrer were also arrested by Catalan police, who searched the club’s offices on Monday morning.

Bartomeu, Masferrer, Grau, and Gomez Ponti “are being detained at the police station” as part of the operation, the same source told AFP.

Barcelona released a statement confirming the operation is linked to last year’s BarcaGate controversy when the club was accused of covering up payments made to a company called I3 Ventures, hired to boost the image of then-president Bartomeu on social media.

A Catalan police spokesman told AFP on Monday morning “arrests are taking place” and said the operation was run by officers from the financial crimes unit.

Part of the social media campaign included criticising current and former players, like Lionel Messi, Pep Guardiola, and Xavi Hernandez. Messi described the controversy as “strange” in an interview with Catalan newspaper Mundo Deportivo.

Barca’s statement on Monday read: “Regarding the entry and search by the Catalan Police force this morning at the Camp Nou offices by order of the Instructing Court number 13 in Barcelona, which is in charge of the case relating to the contacting of monitoring services on social networks, FC Barcelona have offered up their full collaboration to the legal and police authorities to help make clear facts which are subject to investigation.

“The information and documentation requested by the judicial police force relate strictly to the facts relative to this case.”

Spanish radio station Cadena Ser claimed Barca paid I3 Ventures an inflated fee and put payments through in smaller, separate amounts to avoid the club’s financial controls.

Emili Rousaud, who resigned as Barcelona vice-president in March last year, said in an interview with RAC1 at the time: “If the auditors tell us the cost of these services is 100,000 euros and we have paid one million, it means someone has had their hand in the till.” The club took legal action against him.

Rousaud was among six Barca executives to leave their posts, with a joint letter citing the scandal as a key issue needing to be resolved.

‘Plugging gaps’

Bartomeu maintained the company had been hired only to monitor posts on social media and announced an internal audit by PricewaterhouseCoopers, which cleared the club of financial corruption in July.

“Let one thing be clear,” Bartomeu said. “To the question: Have we commissioned the monitoring of social networks? The answer is yes. “To the question: Have we commissioned to discredit people or institutions through social networks? The answer is no and we will take action against all those who accuse us of that.”

Yet Bartomeu resigned in October, avoiding a vote of no confidence triggered after more than 20,000 club members signed a petition against him.

His departure came in the same month Barcelona announced losses of 97 million euros ($114 million) for last season and debts that had more than doubled to 488 million euros.

As well as a series of political blunders, Bartomeu had also overseen a dramatic decline in performances on the pitch and a personal falling-out with Messi, who tried to leave for free last summer.

Messi accused the club of “always juggling everything and plugging gaps” under Bartomeu’s leadership.

Bartomeu’s successor is due to be elected on Sunday, when club members will choose between the final three candidates, Joan Laporta, Toni Freixa and Victor Font.

“In light of events that took place today, we express our respect for the police and the judiciary, and we defend the presumption of innocence. And we deeply regret that these events diminish the reputation of the club,” said Laporta.

“Too many people want to hurt Barca,” wrote Freixa on Twitter. “We will not allow it.”

Man Utd Frustrated By Penalty Row In Chelsea Stalemate, Bale Stars For Spurs

 

Manchester United were left frustrated by a VAR penalty controversy in their 0-0 draw at Chelsea, while the revitalised Gareth Bale struck twice in Tottenham’s 4-0 rout of Burnley on Sunday.

Second-placed United had hoped to close the gap on Manchester City with a victory at Stamford Bridge.

But instead they now sit 12 points behind the Premier League leaders as their title hopes fade following a run of one win from four games.

Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel is unbeaten in nine matches in all competitions since replacing the sacked Frank Lampard, but the stalemate was a blow to his team’s top-four challenge.

The fifth-placed Blues are one point behind fourth-placed West Ham and four ahead of sixth-placed Liverpool, who visit Sheffield United in Sunday’s late game.

Neither side could claim they deserved to win in a game of few clear-cut chances.

The biggest talking point came in the first half when United’s appeal for a penalty was rejected by referee Stuart Attwell after he consulted the pitchside monitor when Callum Hudson-Odoi appeared to handle in a challenge with Mason Greenwood.

After five defeats in their previous six league games, Tottenham eased the pressure on Jose Mourinho with a significant contribution from Bale, who made just his third league start of the season.

The Wales forward’s most impressive display since his season-long loan move from Real Madrid gave him four goals in his last four appearances.

Bale, who had clashed with Tottenham boss Mourinho over his fitness earlier in February, took just 68 seconds to score with a clinical close-range finish from Son Heung-min’s cross.

In the 15th minute, Bale’s superb long pass picked out Harry Kane’s run and the England captain’s shot deflected off James Tarkowski for his 22nd goal of the season.

Lucas Moura netted with a predatory finish after Sergio Reguilon’s cross was deflected into the Brazilian’s path by Tarkowski in the 31st minute.

Bale, in his second spell with Tottenham after leaving for Madrid in 2013, scored again with a cool strike from Son’s 55th-minute pass.

Tottenham are up to eighth, six points behind the top four with a game in hand.

“Sometimes you (the media) like to say things that are not really true but there is not one single manager in the world that doesn’t play Gareth Bale if Gareth Bale is in very good condition,” Mourinho said.

“There is not one, but now he is better than ever. It’s not just about the two goals he scored, it’s fundamentally about his physical performance.”

Arsenal down Leicester

Arsenal delivered a hammer blow to Leicester’s faint hopes of winning the title with an impressive 3-1 win.

Mikel Arteta’s side fell behind to Youri Tielemans’ early goal at the King Power Stadium, but David Luiz equalised and Alexandre Lacazette’s penalty gave Arsenal the lead.

Nicolas Pepe’s second-half goal sealed the Gunners’ second win in their last six league games and their first success at a team in the Premier League’s top three since 2015.

Leicester remain in third place and trail City by 13 points with 12 games remaining.

After Thursday’s shock Europa League exit against Slavia Prague, it was a week to forget for Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers.

With Arsenal stuck in mid-table, Arteta has prioritised winning the Europa League as his side’s only hope of qualifying for next season’s Champions League.

Having picked his best team for the come-from-behind win against Benfica in the last 32 second leg on Thursday, Arteta left Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Bukayo Saka on the bench after the long trip back from the neutral venue in Greece.

After the gamble paid off, Arteta said: “Coming into this game I was concerned. They’re one of the most dangerous teams in the league to play once you go behind against them.

“The reaction was terrific, the team looked really mature.”

Third-bottom Fulham are three points from safety after a 0-0 draw at Crystal Palace.

Kane’s Return Lifts Mourinho As Spurs End Losing Streak

 

Harry Kane returned from injury to ease the pressure on Jose Mourinho as the Tottenham striker inspired a 2-0 win against West Bromwich Albion on Sunday.

Mourinho’s side had lost their previous three Premier League games to put their top four hopes in peril.

Revitalised by Kane’s earlier than expected return from an ankle problem suffered against Liverpool, Tottenham got back to winning ways just when the under-fire Mourinho needed it most.

Kane had missed the last two games, but he made up for lost time by opening the scoring in the second half at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

Kane’s 20th goal in all competitions this season took him to 208 goals in 317 Tottenham appearances — level in joint second place alongside Bobby Smith in the club’s all-time scoring list.

The England captain’s milestone goal was followed by a Son Heung-min strike moments later that killed off West Brom.

Amid criticism of Mourinho’s negative tactics and talk of rifts with several players, there is a long way to go before seventh-placed Tottenham are completely back on track.

Only three wins from the last 12 league games before this weekend — the same sequence that saw Mourinho’s predecessor Mauricio Pochettino sacked — had left the Portuguese coach in the spotlight.

But, in the midst of Mourinho’s winter of discontent, this was a small step in the right direction as snow flurries swirled around frozen north London.

Thursday’s defeat against Chelsea condemned Mourinho to consecutive home league defeats for the first time as a manager.

– Classy Kane –
In the circumstances, second bottom West Brom were ideal opponents for Tottenham to end their dismal decline.

Kane showed the class that Tottenham miss in his absence when he spun away from his marker and delivered a pin-point pass that Son couldn’t convert.

Inevitably at the heart of all Tottenham’s best moments, Kane was inches away from opening the scoring, taking Serge Aurier’s pass in stride and firing just wide.

There was a little sign of rustiness when Kane shot wide from Son’s pass, but he was back involved moments later when his blocked effort was nearly scrambled in by Lucas Moura.

Shifting Lucas’s pass into his right, Kane looked more like his old self when he unleashed a fierce strike that Sam Johnstone pushed away.

Johnstone made an even better save to keep out Aurier’s close-range diving header.

After being outplayed for the entire first half, West Brom’s Mbaye Diagne threatened to give the visitors a shock lead when his header almost squirmed away from Tottenham keeper Hugo Lloris.

Kane’s defence-splitting pass sent Son racing through on goal, but again Johnstone rescued Albion with a good stop.

Tottenham’s incessant pressure finally paid off in the 54th minute as Kane beat the offside trap to collect Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg’s pass before guiding a low shot into the far corner.

Four minutes later, Son wrapped up the points after a rapier thrust from Mourinho’s men.

Taking Kane’s lay-off, Lucas ran from deep inside his own half to the Albion area and picked out Son, whose clinical finish took him to 17 goals in all competitions this term.

AFP