Lyon Hold Off Juventus To Reach Champions League Quarter-Finals

 

Lyon qualified for the quarter-finals of the Champions League on Friday despite losing 2-1 to Juventus in Turin.

A goal up after winning February’s first leg, French side Lyon will face Manchester City at the final tournament in Lisbon after drawing 2-2 on aggregate and going through on away goals.

Lyon squeezed past the Italian champions thanks to Memphis Depay’s 12th-minute penalty which put Rudi Garcia’s side two goals ahead in the tie and left Juve with a mountain to climb.

READ ALSO: Man City Pounce On Varane Mistakes To Dump Out Real Madrid

Needing to score three unanswered goals in order to go through, Cristiano Ronaldo tried his best to drag the Italian champions over the line.

He levelled the scores on the night with a penalty of his own with two minutes left in the opening period before crashing a second home on the hour mark.

However Juve performed poorly and Lyon managed to hold on to set up a clash with Pep Guardiola’s City, who put out 13-time winners Real Madrid, on August 15.

AFP

Man City Pounce On Varane Mistakes To Dump Out Real Madrid

 

Manchester City took advantage of two shocking mistakes by Raphael Varane to beat Real Madrid 2-1 in their Champions League last 16-second leg on Friday and advance to the quarter-finals as Pep Guardiola came out on top in his duel with Zinedine Zidane.

The Frenchman had never been knocked out of Europe’s elite club competition as Real coach, leading them to three consecutive victories between 2016 and 2018 in his first spell before returning to the job last year.

But Madrid had been left with a mountain to climb in this tie after throwing away the lead to lose 2-1 in the first leg in Spain in February, before the coronavirus forced the competition into hibernation.

An identical defeat at an empty Etihad Stadium means it is City who advance 4-2 on aggregate.

READ ALSO: Lyon Hold Off Juventus To Reach Champions League Quarter-Finals

Without Sergio Ramos due to suspension, Real were undone by mistakes by their other first-choice centre-back.

Varane was dispossessed inside the box in the ninth minute allowing Raheem Sterling to put City ahead, and his poor headed backpass attempt gifted Gabriel Jesus another goal midway through the second half.

Before that second goal the tie had been in the balance with the in-form Karim Benzema having scored for the visitors just before the half-hour mark.

The circumstances may be highly unusual, but this is still City’s finest Champions League result, their most significant victory in a knock-out tie.

Their best performance in the competition remains a run to the semi-finals in 2016, when they went out rather limply to Real.

Now they should very possibly be considered the favourites to win the competition in Lisbon on August 23.

If they do so, the victory would taste all the sweeter coming so soon after their successful appeal to the Court of Arbitration of Sport against a two-year ban from Europe handed down by UEFA for breaches of their Financial Fair Play rules.

They have already qualified for next season’s tournament after coming second in the Premier League but now they can look forward to facing Lyon in the quarter-finals next Saturday at the Estadio Jose Alvalade.

Real, meanwhile, will get over this.

They have dined out on success in the Champions League in recent years but their main objective after the coronavirus shutdown was to win La Liga and they did that.

Zidane’s team overhauled Barcelona thanks to 10 successive victories after La Liga returned in June but they were not especially prolific in front of goal during that run, despite Benzema’s fine form.

Uphill struggle

It was already going to be an uphill struggle for them in the absence of Ramos, sent off late in the first leg, and their task became even harder after they conceded an early opener.

City’s high pressing paid off as Varane was barged off the ball in his own area by Jesus, who squared for Sterling to roll in.

There was a response from the 13-time European champions, though, with Benzema and Eden Hazard both forcing saves from Ederson before their equaliser on the night arrived in the 28th minute.

A fine move ended with Benzema feeding Rodrygo and the young Brazilian clipping in a cross from the right for the Frenchman, who rose above Aymeric Laporte and Fernandinho to head in from the edge of the six-yard box.

It was his 65th goal in the Champions League, putting him one clear of Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski on the overall list and behind only Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Raul.

Unfortunately for Real, Benzema was not able to add to that tally and this tie was effectively ended by another Varane blooper.

The Frenchman struggled with an awkward high ball downfield and his header back towards Thibaut Courtois was short, allowing Jesus to prod it beyond the goalkeeper and into the net.

Real will not return to Lisbon, where they won the Champions League in 2014, but the dream remains alive for Guardiola and City.

AFP

Serie A: Buffon Set To Overtake Maldini As Juve Eye Ninth Straight Title

FILES) In this file photo taken on April 11, 2018 Juventus’ Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon gives the thumb up during the UEFA Champions League quarter-final second leg football match between Real Madrid CF and Juventus FC at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid. JAVIER SORIANO / AFP

 

Gianluigi Buffon is ready to add another landmark achievement in his incredible career when Juventus face local rivals Torino on Saturday, with the former Italy captain expected to become Serie A’s all-time record appearance maker.

Italian media report that Buffon will take the field at the Allianz Stadium in place of Wojciech Szczesny and set a new league record of 648 appearances — one more than AC Milan legend Paolo Maldini — some 25 years after making his league debut for Parma and almost exactly 19 years after joining Juventus.

The reports come days after Buffon, 42, and fellow stalwart Giorgio Chiellini signed one-year contract extensions that will keep them both at Juve until the end of next season.

“The truth is that I’m still playing because I feel good, I’m competitive and also because I know I can get better,” Buffon said during a live interview on Instagram on Thursday.

“When you have room for improvement, you have that fire inside you that means you’re not satisfied with yourself.”

The landmark would be especially sweet for Buffon following his miserable season at Paris Saint-Germain, which sparked rumours of retirement before he returned home last summer.

December’s 2-1 win at Sampdoria crowned him Juve’s record Serie A appearance maker, and he also holds the appearance record for his national team, with 176 caps between 1997-2018, winning the 2006 World Cup.

A 10th league title with Juve is on the cards, and he still has a chance of winning the one trophy that has alluded him throughout his stellar career — the Champions League.

Should coach Maurizio Sarri make that decision he will give Buffon his first league start since December at a crucial weekend in the title race, with stubborn Lazio refusing to let go of Juve’s coattails.

The ‘Old Lady’ are four points ahead of Lazio, who take on Europe-chasing AC Milan right after the Turin derby with the league’s leading scorer Ciro Immobile and fellow forward Felipe Caicedo suspended.

Juve firepower

Juve meanwhile will be able to draw on Paulo Dybala and Cristiano Ronaldo, authors of stunning goals in Tuesday’s 3-1 win at Genoa, ready for a Torino side in the middle of an alarming slump.

Moreno Longo’s side have lost seven of their last nine league matches and could yet be dragged into serious relegation trouble even though they are six points clear of the drop zone.

Atalanta continue to enchant fans and on Thursday practically guaranteed a return to the Champions League next season.

Gian Piero Gasperini’s fourth-placed side beat Napoli 2-0 to move 15 points clear of their opponents and crucially 12 ahead of Roma, who are fifth but in crisis after a dismal 2-0 home defeat to lowly Udinese.

Atalanta travel to mid-table Cagliari on Sunday on a seven-match league winning streak while Napoli host Roma with both teams hoping to hold off those eyeing their places in the Europa League.

Gennaro Gattuso’s side will surely be favourites against a Roma side whose performance against Udinese was widely reported as being described “shameful” by club president James Pallotta.

The defeat was the latest in a miserable 2020 for the capital club, who were close to being sold to American billionaire Dan Friedkin just before the coronavirus pandemic battered Italy, but are now in limbo after the deal collapsed.

On the pitch Roma have won just six of their 16 matches in all competitions this calendar year and coach Paulo Fonseca admitted he was “worried” about his team following Thursday’s awful display, saying that the problem was “mental”.

Both Napoli and Roma will be looking over their shoulders at Milan and Hellas Verona, who are in good form and ready to punish any slip-ups.

Fixtures (all times GMT)

Saturday

Juventus v Torino (1515), Sassuolo v Lecce (1730), Lazio v AC Milan (1945)

Sunday

Inter Milan v Bologna (1515), Brescia v Hellas Verona, Cagliari v Atalanta, Parma v Fiorentina, Sampdoria v SPAL, Ud

Three PSG Players Found To Have Virus During Lockdown

 

Three Paris Saint-Germain players and another member of staff were found to have contracted coronavirus during lockdown but are “no longer contagious” after further tests, the French champions said Tuesday.

PSG said the unnamed players were free to take part in training when it resumes later this week after undergoing “serological tests” on Monday.

READ ALSO: French Football Season Declared Over, PSG Awarded Title

“Those concerned had symptoms during confinement when they weren’t in contact with each other,” PSG said in a statement. “They are no longer contagious and can carry on their training programme.”

PSG still have big matches to look forward in the coming months despite the Ligue 1 season being ended early due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

They are still to play in the French Cup and League Cup finals, as well as the Champions League ‘final eight’ tournament in Lisbon in August.

Just In: Leaders Bayern Munich Brush Aside Union On Bundesliga Return

Robert Lewandowski bagged his 26th league goal this season as leaders Bayern Munich maintained their four-point lead by brushing aside Union Berlin 2-0 behind closed doors on Sunday on the Bundesliga’s restart weekend.

READ ALSO: Dortmund Thrash Schalke As Bundesliga Makes ‘Very Strange’ Return

Lewandowski netted a first-half penalty and defender Benjamin Pavard added a late header in Berlin after the Bundesliga became the first top European league on Saturday to resume during the coronavirus pandemic.

Madrid’s ‘Worst Game Of Season’ In Betis Defeat, Lets Barca Back In

 

Real Madrid’s response to winning the Clasico was another surprise defeat on Sunday as they lost 2-1 away at Real Betis to hand the initiative straight back to Barcelona.

Betis were deserving victors of a thrilling contest at the Benito Villamarin where two galling Madrid errors cost them their place at the top of La Liga, with Barca now two points clear.

A heavy touch from Sergio Ramos led to Sidnei’s stunning opener for Betis and then Karim Benzema, who equalised with a penalty on the stroke of half-time, was at fault for their 82nd-minute winner.

Benzema’s misplaced pass in midfield allowed Cristian Tello to go clear and he held his nerve to give Betis their first victory in eight games that adds yet another twist to this season’s back-and-forth title race.

“We lacked everything today,” said Real coach Zinedine Zidane.

“It was our worst game of the season. We lacked energy, fluency, possession, aggression. It was a bad day and that can happen. I am responsible. We can’t lose our heads but we can’t be happy either.”

Madrid appeared to have taken a significant step forward, at least psychologically, by beating Barcelona 2-0 last weekend but this result undid all their good work at the Santiago Bernabeu while bringing defensive doubts swiftly back to the surface.

Betis climb to 12th and put eight points between themselves and the bottom three.

Madrid have now lost three out of their last four games and won only two from seven, a dip in form that has appeared even more charitable given Barca’s own problems on and off the pitch.

After a game at home to Eibar on Friday, Zinedine Zidane’s side will travel to Manchester City in the Champions League but on this evidence their hopes of recovering their 2-1 home defeat from the first leg would seem faint at best.

Ramos will be suspended at the Etihad Stadium and his own poor run of form continued against Betis, where he was at fault for their first goal and then complicit in compounding Benzema’s error for the second.

“We haven’t played the way we trained all week,” said Ramos. “We have to be self-critical. And now we have to wait for those above us to slip up.”

Eder Militao will likely come in for Ramos against City and he was given an outing at right-back in the absence of the ill Dani Carvajal while Marcelo was preferred to Ferland Mendy on the opposite side.

Gareth Bale was left out of the starting line-up for a fourth match running.

Betis were the better side in the first half and might have taken the lead earlier had Marc Bartra not headed over from four yards or Thibaut Courtois not reacted quickly to push away Nabil Fekir’s thundering shot.

But five minutes before half-time they finally broke through, aided by Ramos, who tried to dribble the ball out after Fekir’s shot was blocked only for a heavy touch to allow the forward to retrieve.

Off balance, Ramos bundled into Fekir and probably would have conceded a penalty had the loose ball not spilled to Sidnei, who instead hammered it into the top corner.

Deservedly in front, Betis then went in level at the interval as Sidnei, perhaps with the adrenaline still pumping, fouled Marcelo in the box. Benzema drove into the bottom corner for only his third goal this year.

Both teams had chances to find a winner. A scintillating Betis break ended with Sergio Canales sending Joaquin through but after rounding Courtois he tried to square back to Canales when the net looked open. Luka Modric sprinted back and hacked away.

Madrid enjoyed their own spell of pressure as Modric’s shot from distance was saved and Mendy, on for Marcelo, curled onto the crossbar, helped on its way by the fingertips of Joel Robles.

But it was Betis that landed the decisive blow, again benefitting from a Madrid mistake. Benzema came deep and his pass inside was loose, persuading Ramos to dash out to intercept but he was beaten and left stranded.

Andres Guardado put Tello through the gap and he sent Courtois diving towards one corner before sliding the ball into the other.

Chelsea Crush Everton To Cement Top Four Place

 

Frank Lampard warned Chelsea not to get complacent after they took control of the race to qualify for the Champions League with a 4-0 demolition of Everton on Sunday.

Lampard’s side won for just the second time in seven league games thanks to goals from Mason Mount, Pedro, Willian and Olivier Giroud in a masterful display at Stamford Bridge.

Fourth-placed Chelsea are in pole position to qualify for the Champions League with nine games to play.

But Lampard doesn’t want his stars to rest on their laurels just yet.

Aware that inconsistency has been the Achilles heel of his promising young team, Lampard said: “We can’t get ahead of ourselves. I’m experienced enough to know we go to Aston Villa next week, they are fighting for their lives and we have to replicate this performance.

“There’s still a long way to go. It’s still close. Even if it looks like a cushion as I sit here now, it doesn’t feel that way.

“It’s in our hands, but I’m certainly not going to jump in and say we are favourites. We have had inconsistency at times this season.”

While Lampard struck a cautious note about Chelsea’s Champions League ambitions, the Blues boss was quick to praise his players for delivering their biggest league win of the season.

It was exactly what Lampard demanded after Chelsea got back on track with their FA Cup fifth round win over Liverpool on Tuesday.

“At home yes, it was our best performance, because of the goals and the clean sheet,” Lampard said.

“In terms of performance we have been close to that a lot. We haven’t got the hard bit, the goals. Today we reached that.

“The finishing, the energy in the team, the speed of the pass, getting after the ball. We saw some really good stuff.

“It’s encouraging. You will always need your squad. We have a lot of injuries. The only way to tackle that is to work hard, play with energy and trust either other.

“I thought the whole attitude and focus of the team felt strong after Liverpool.”

Gilmour shines

Too often this term, Chelsea have dominated possession without killing off defensive opponents at Stamford Bridge.

But they tore into Everton from the start, with Mount and Pedro especially lively as they built on the platform provided by 18-year-old midfielder Billy Gilmour.

Gilmour was making his first Premier League start after a fine display against Liverpool and the Scot did everything Lampard asked of him.

“In the position where he plays, receiving the ball under pressure, he has to show balls. He’s done that, then when he played further up the field later in the game, he immediately took that on as well,” Lampard said.

Everton’s revival under Carlo Ancelotti has hit the buffers, with a run of three games without a win exposing them as frauds in the Champions League battle.

“Everything went wrong. We were too open defensively. We lost a lot of duels and with the ball we did a lot of mistakes,” Ancelotti said.

“It is not difficult to analyse this game. It is the first game when we did not compete. We have to learn from this.”

Defeats against Arsenal and Chelsea, along with a draw against Manchester United, have left Everton to focus on a Europa League berth instead.

“We never said we could qualify for the Champions League, but we can fight for the Europa League,” Ancelotti said.

Asked if he was satisfied with Everton’s commitment, Ancelotti gave a pointed pause before saying: “There are things I can analyse with you, and things I can analyse with my players.”

AFP

Five Ties To Watch In The Europa League This Week

 

 

The Europa League knockout phase begins on Thursday, with VAR being introduced to Europe’s secondary club competition for the first time out with the final for the last 32, first-leg ties. AFP Sport picks five games to watch this week:

Man Utd in Bruges

Manchester United’s Champions League aspirations have been given a major boost in recent days, first with the news of Manchester City’s two-year ban from the competition. Then, on Monday, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side beat Chelsea 2-0 away to close to within three points of their opponents in fourth place in the Premier League.

Now they revert their focus to the Europa League, which could also offer them a ticket to next season’s Champions League if they reach the final in Gdansk in May and lift the trophy.

United head to Belgium to take on Club Brugge in the first leg of their tie. Beaten by Liverpool in two European finals in the 1970s, Club Brugge are not a side to be taken lightly. They dropped out of the Champions League group stage despite holding Real Madrid away, and are nine points clear atop the Belgian league.

Arsenal ‘deserve our respect’

Arsenal are unbeaten in their last eight games under Mikel Arteta, although the Gunners’ new Spanish boss could do with turning some of his team’s many draws into more victories.

Currently in mid-table in the Premier League, last season’s beaten finalists travel to face Olympiakos knowing this competition is surely their best bet if they are to return to the Champions League next term.

“They may not have started well in the Premier League this season, but they have great players, are dangerous and deserve our respect,” said Pedro Martins, the coach of Olympiakos.

The Greek league leaders dropped out of the Champions League group stage despite holding Tottenham Hotspur to a 2-2 draw in Piraeus.

Ajax set for battle in Spain

After enchanting Europe on their run to the Champions League semi-finals last year, Ajax were brought crashing back to earth when they were eliminated from this season’s competition in the group stage.

The Dutch champions were then handed a tough Europa League draw against a Getafe side who have been one of the stories of the season in Spain.

The unfashionable outfit from the working-class satellite town just south of Madrid finished fifth in La Liga last season and are currently third under Jose Bordalas, whose his idol as a youngster was Johan Cruyff.

“They are warriors. They fight for every ball and really give everything,” Ajax star Dusan Tadic told Dutch daily Algemeen Dagblad. “They are physically very strong and go beyond the limits if necessary.”

It is Getafe’s first European knockout tie since they took Bayern Munich to extra time in the UEFA Cup quarter-finals in 2008.

Will Salzburg survive without Haaland?

Erling Braut Haaland’s eight goals were not enough for Salzburg to qualify from the Champions League group stage, and the Austrians have since lost their striker to Borussia Dortmund. Japanese winger Takumi Minamino also departed for Liverpool, leaving them looking seriously weakened for the second half of the season.

Salzburg did sign Swiss starlet Noah Okafor, but their first league game after a long winter break ended in a 3-2 home defeat by title rivals LASK Linz last weekend.

Now Salzburg face Eintracht Frankfurt, meaning a reunion with Adi Huetter, who coached Salzburg to a league and cup double in 2015.

Celtic fairytale in Copenhagen?

Celtic have been eliminated at this stage in the last two seasons but should fancy their chances against FC Copenhagen as they head to Denmark.

While Celtic have claimed nine straight wins this calendar year, Copenhagen’s first league game of 2020 ended in defeat last weekend.

Current Celtic manager Neil Lennon was a player when the Glasgow giants lost 3-1 on their last trip to Copenhagen in the Champions League in 2006.

His team qualified by topping their group, and of this tie he said: “It’s great to have European football after Christmas, and it’s a tough draw. It could have been tougher, but it could have been easier.”

PSG Still ‘Dangerous’, Warns Record-Breaker Haaland

 

Teenage record-breaker Erling Braut Haaland warned Borussia Dortmund still have it all to do to reach the Champions League quarter-finals even after his two goals sank Neymar’s Paris Saint-Germain.

Haaland netted either side of a Neymar equaliser on Tuesday as the Brazilian superstar scored on his return from injury as the French champions crashed to a 2-1 defeat at Dortmund in the last 16, first leg, tie.

“We want to go through, it’s going to be a hard game,” Haaland said of the return leg in Paris on March 11, “but we are a good team.

“The result is quite a dangerous one, as Paris has a very strong team and can still go through in the return leg.”

Haaland’s team-mate Emre Can, who alongside Axel Witsel worked tirelessly in Dortmund’s midfield to contain Neymar and France striker Kylian Mbappe, said the home side’s defence had been key.

“It was a big statement from the team how we defended today. We know it’s not over — it’s just half-time,” said Can, whose permanent transfer from Juventus was confirmed Tuesday.

However, the night belonged Haaland who has 11 goals in his first seven games for Dortmund and warned there is more to come.

“I feel like I still can do a lot better,” said Haaland.

“I have to work hard to improve to play better at this level.”

Having also scored eight goals for Salzburg in the group stages before his 20 million-euro ($22 million) transfer to Dortmund, Haaland made Champions League history on Tuesday.

His tally of 10 goals in his first seven Champions League matches is now a new record in the competition and makes him the joint top-scorer alongside Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski.

The teenage goal-machine has so far scored 39 times in 29 games this season for Salzburg and Dortmund.

The 19-year-old had already sent records tumbling since arriving in Dortmund last month when he became the first player to score a hat-trick off the bench on his Bundesliga debut.

His incredible strike for his second goal on Tuesday overshadowed Neymar’s return from a rib injury with PSG desperate to break their last 16 jinx having exited at this stage in the competition in each of the last three seasons.

‘Important Neymar goal’

Paris defender Marquinhos said Neymar’s away goal could prove crucial in the home leg.

“We weren’t intense enough with or without the ball and did a lot of things badly, however the goal we got is important for the second leg,” he said.

The presence of the world’s most expensive player was a major boost for his team, after Neymar missed last season’s surprise last-16 loss to Manchester United with a foot injury.

He also sat out the second leg of their defeat by Real Madrid at the same stage in 2018.

PSG’s German coach Thomas Tuchel admitted Neymar’s lack of match fitness had been a factor in the away defeat, but said his team still has time to find their form.

“Neymar hadn’t played for a fortnight, but he is very important for Kylian (Mbappe), there is harmony between them and if Neymar lacks rhythm, it’s immediately noticeable,” said Tuchel.

“We didn’t have enough possession, we made too many easy mistakes, we weren’t smart enough and we lost the ball too early.

“It’s difficult, but it’s 2-1 and we still have a few games left to get back into the rhythm.”

His counterpart Lucien Favre echoed Haaland’s insistence that the result gives Dortmund only a slender advantage with PSG’s passionate home fans set to get behind their team in the return leg.

“Of course it’s a dangerous result, but we played well in both defence and attack,” said Dortmund’s Swiss coach.

“However, as things stand it’s 2-1 to us.”

Three Things We Learned From Atletico 1 Liverpool 0

 

Liverpool will need another second leg fightback against Spanish opposition at Anfield to progress to the Champions League quarter-finals after Saul Niguez’s early strike handed Atletico Madrid a 1-0 last 16, first-leg victory on Tuesday.

The European champions thrashed Barcelona 4-0 after losing the first leg of their semi-final 3-0 in Catalonia last season and do not need such a dramatic turn of events this time round.

However, after romping to a 25-point lead at the top of the Premier League, defeat was a really check for the Reds that they will not have it easy if they are to retain the Champions League.

AFP Sport looks at three things we learned as Diego Simeone’s Atletico rolled back the years.

Atletico rise to the occasion

It was not just the holders’ relentless form in the Premier League that made Liverpool huge favourites to progress before the tie, but Atletico’s poor season so far that has seen Simeone’s future questioned for the first time in his eight-year reign.

However, on the big occasion, Atleti revelled in rolling back the years to play the role of underdogs to perfection.

Saul’s early strike provided the perfect platform for a classic Champions League performance from a Simeone side as the Spaniards soaked up Liverpool’s possession and pressure without Jan Oblak even being stretched to keep a clean sheet.

Another huge effort will be required to prevent another famous Anfield fightback on a European night in three week’s time.

A year ago, Atletico beat Juventus 2-0 at home in the first leg of their last 16 tie only to be eliminated by old foe Cristiano Ronaldo’s hat-trick.

However, thanks to a raucous atmosphere with Simeone characteristically playing the role of conductor, they at least preserved a proud home record in European competition under the Argentine with now 37 wins and just three defeats in 46 games.

Better call Saul

Saul has been one of Atletico’s key players who has failed to match his normally high standards this season.

However, the Spanish international has a habit of coming up with big goals from midfield on Champions League nights.

He scored the only goal in a 1-0 win over Bayern Munich that took Atleti to the final in 2016 and was on target in another semi-final win against Real Madrid a year later.

Saul’s first in the Champions League this season was far from his most spectacular in the competition as he slotted home from close range after Liverpool failed to clear a corner.

But it was more than good enough to give Atletico hope of pulling off a huge shock.

Liverpool’s travel sickness

Defeat may have been just Liverpool’s second with a senior team in all competitions this season, but both have come in the Champions League and follows a trend of difficult trips across the continent for Jurgen Klopp’s men.

The Reds have lost seven of their last 11 away Champions League games and are once again left relying on fortress Anfield to progress.

Despite enjoying nearly 70 percent possession, Liverpool did not manage a single shot on target against the mass ranks of Atletico defence on an off night for their two top scorers.

Sadio Mane was substituted at half-time as the Senegalese ran the risk of being sent-off before Mohamed Salah was also replaced by Klopp 20 minutes from time.

Neymar Dedicates PSG Goal To Kobe Bryant

 

Neymar dedicated his second goal at Lille to basketball legend Kobe Bryant, whose death on Sunday in a helicopter crash shocked the world.

The Brazilian slotted home the 52nd-minute penalty that put PSG two goals up in the French Ligue 1 clash and went over to the television cameras by the side of the Stade Pierre Mauro pitch to make the number 24 with his fingers in honour of Bryant’s shirt number.

Bryant, who had been nominated for the NBA Hall of Fame in December, was confirmed dead at 41 years old on Sunday after a helicopter crashed and burst into flames in foggy conditions in suburban Los Angeles, leaving five people dead.

Los Angeles County Sheriff’s officials said there were no survivors from the morning crash on a rugged hillside in Calabasas, west of LA.

In an email to AFP, Mayor of Calabasas Alicia Weintraub confirmed Bryant was among the victims.

“Yes, it is confirmed,” Weintraub wrote.

‘We Made Children’s Mistakes’, Says Messi After Barca Stunned By Atletico

 

Lionel Messi said Barcelona were guilty of playing like children on Thursday after Atletico Madrid staged a thrilling comeback to beat them 3-2 and set up a Spanish Super Cup final against Real Madrid.

Barca looked on course for a Sunday showdown against Real when they led 2-1 with nine minutes left but instead, it will be a Madrid derby in Saudi Arabia to decide who lifts the trophy.

“It’s a shame because we switched off for a few moments and made children’s mistakes,” Messi said. “We should have closed out the match.

“It’s a blow for us, especially as we were the better team. Our mistakes cost us dearly.”

All five goals were scored during a wild second half in Jeddah that began with Koke putting Atletico in front, just 21 seconds after coming on as a substitute at the interval.

Goals from Messi and Antoine Griezmann turned the game on its head, only for Atletico to hit back with a late double, Alvaro Morata converting a penalty in the 81st minute before Angel Correa found a winner in the 86th.

In between, Barcelona also had two goals ruled out after VAR spotted tight offsides while Atleti were denied what looked a clear penalty at 2-2, after the ball clipped the hand of Gerard Pique.

“They had more legs than us and in the end it cost us,” said Griezmann.

“We made mistakes in everything, in passes – I think I missed a pass to Sam (Umtiti) before they scored – and the little things can lose you a match, a league, a Champions League.”

A pulsating contest will have delighted the Spanish Football Federation, who have faced heavy criticism for taking the competition away from Spain to a different continent, and a country that has a long-condemned record on human rights.

Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said on Wednesday he preferred the old format but his strong team selection, that included Messi, Griezmann and Luis Suarez, suggested this was a tournament he was eager to win.

“The goal for 2-2 came at a time when we didn’t know how to get a hold of the game,” said Valverde, whose position will come under renewed scrutiny.

‘Instability’

“There is always instability when you lose,” he added.

It remains to be seen how this defeat might affect the La Liga title race, with Real Madrid and Atletico now enjoying the opportunity not only to claim a trophy but score a psychological boost too.

“It is important for the club, we beat the best-attacking team in the world,” Atletico coach Diego Simeone said. “You saw our bite, our belief, our desire. It’s what this club is all about.”

Atletico survived a frantic first half and frustration spilled over at the break as Jordi Alba poked a finger in the face of Joao Felix, who then went head-to-head with Messi. Suarez also had to be pulled away by Stefan Savic.

A spikey end to the first period was trumped by an explosive start to the second as Koke, on for less than a minute, gave Atletico the lead by stabbing into the bottom corner.

Simeone chose not to celebrate and if he was worried about the amount of time left, he was right, as Barcelona scored twice in 11 minutes.

First, Messi equalised after muscling his way through Koke and Savic on the edge of the area and then he fired in again after steering a high ball around Koke. This time, however, VAR showed his elbow had served as a cushion.

The disappointment was brief as Alba crossed for Suarez and while his header was brilliant pawed away by Jan Oblak, Griezmann nodded in the rebound.

Pique thought he had a third after Arturo Vidal half-volleyed Messi’s free-kick across the box but again VAR intervened.

Atletico came again. Correa should have pulled them level but appeared keener to find Felix than shoot himself and when the rebound did fall to the Felix, Sergi Roberto made a last-ditch block.

But the floodgates had opened in the Barca defence. Vitolo was next to go clear and this time he was brought down by Neto. Morata converted the penalty.

Then, Morata skipped free down the right and his cross struck the dangling hand of Pique but despite damning replays, the referee decided against giving another spot-kick.

Yet moments later, Atletico were in again. Correa this time sprinted in behind and while Neto made a block, the ball had just enough power to cross the line. Now, Simeone could celebrate.