Five Things We Learned In European Football This Weekend

Chelsea’s English midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek (C) celebrates after scoring their second goal during the English Premier League football match between between Cardiff City and Chelsea at Cardiff City Stadium in Cardiff, south Wales on March 31, 2019. Chelsea won the game 2-1.
Geoff CADDICK / AFP

 

Barcelona, Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain all moved closer to retaining their domestic titles this weekend, but there were plenty of other talking points in Europe.

AFP Sport takes a look back at the action as Borussia Dortmund and Ajax claimed big victories, and a famous old name lifted silverware in France.

Luca Zidane is in Zizou’s plans

Zinedine Zidane gave his son Luca just a second start in goal for Real Madrid against La Liga’s bottom side Huesca, the 20-year-old getting his chance with Thibaut Courtois and Keylor Navas missing. However, the young Zidane may not be starting again any time too soon — he conceded twice as Real needed a late Karim Benzema goal to win 3-2.

“When I give Luca a game, I am not giving my son a game, I am giving a game to a member of the Real Madrid squad,” insisted the coach. Luca had been completely sidelined by former boss Julen Lopetegui earlier this season.

Real have now won both games since ‘Zizou’ returned, but there were less than 50,000 at Sunday’s game at the Bernabeu, underlining the apathy amongst supporters just now.

Baby boom for Dortmund

Borussia Dortmund fans will have feared the worst when Marco Reus pulled out of their Bundesliga clash with Wolfsburg to be at the birth of his first child.

Yet it proved to be a good day all round for both Reus and his club. Even without their talismanic captain, Dortmund snatched a 2-0 win over Wolfsburg to go top of the Bundesliga.

As Bayern Munich were held to a 1-1 draw in Freiburg, Paco Alcacer’s injury-time brace saw Dortmund go two points clear at the top.

Just a few hours after full-time, Reus and his partner Scarlett Gartmann announced the arrival of their baby daughter.

“There are some things which are more important than football,” said Dortmund’s sporting director Michael Zorc.

Yet Dortmund will no doubt be relieved when Reus returns in next week’s title-race showdown against Bayern.

No excuses for Ranieri’s Roma

Roma president James Pallotta blasted his side’s 4-1 defeat at home by Napoli, saying Claudio Ranieri’s side need to “stand up and show they have balls”.

Ranieri won his first match against Empoli after taking over from Eusebio Di Francesco but now has two losses on the trot against SPAL and Napoli.

“Everyone knows what’s gone wrong this season and that’s why we had to make changes,” said Pallotta on Twitter. “But the time for excuses is over. The performance against SPAL wasn’t acceptable and today was even worse.”

Last year’s Champions League semi-finalists slumped to seventh and are four points adrift of the top four.

“These players have to stand up and show they have balls,” said Pallotta. “No more alibis for anyone.”

Dutch title race back on

The fight for the Dutch league title is very much on again after Ajax beat leaders PSV Eindhoven 3-1 in Sunday’s big game in Amsterdam, despite playing most of the second half with 10 men after Noussair Mazraoui’s red card. The Champions League quarter-finalists — who face Juventus next week in that competition — were grateful to a Dusan Tadic penalty and a late David Neres goal to win it as they moved to within two points of the reigning champions with seven games remaining. It was a first defeat since early December for Mark van Bommel’s PSV side.

Strasbourg cap rise back to top

Strasbourg seized the rare chance to steal the limelight from Paris Saint-Germain in France as they won the League Cup by beating Guingamp on penalties in the final in Lille. Lionel Carole scored the winning spot-kick in the shoot-out after a 0-0 draw in a game that was largely forgettable, but certainly not for fans of the Alsace side.

It is the third time they have won the trophy, and it caps a remarkable rise back to the top for the 1979 French champions. They were relegated to the fifth tier in 2011 after going into liquidation, but returned to Ligue 1 in 2017 and will now be playing in the Europa League next season.

AFP

Russia On Track To Hold Soccer Cups At Top Level

Russia is well on track to ensure the highest level possible of hosting the football Confederations Cup and the World Cup, President Vladimir Putin told the head of the world soccer governing body, the FIFA, on Tuesday.

Russia, which has come under several rounds of Western sanctions over the annexation of Crimea and Moscow’s role in Ukraine’s conflict with pro-Russian separatists, will host the FIFA Confederations Cup next month and the World Cup in 2018.

Moscow has eased visa regulations for foreign soccer fans and pumped billions of dollars into stadiums, hotels and other infrastructure as the Kremlin is struggling to improve Russia’s image in its worst crisis with the West since the Cold War.

“We are going to do everything in our power to ensure that facilities, accommodation, the condition of stadiums in Russia, services will be provided to athletes, to fans and to everyone else are at the highest level possible,” Putin told visiting FIFA President Gianni Infantino.

The two men met in the southern Russian city of Krasnodar which is home to one of the nation’s most modern stadiums belonging to Russian Premier League club FC Krasnodar. The city and the club also have a soccer academy.

Although Krasnodar will not be a venue for the upcoming international soccer tournaments, Infantino praised the local soccer facilities.

“Obviously as FIFA president but more importantly also as a football fan I really invite the whole world to come to Russia for the Confederations Cup, for the World Cup and to discover an incredible country,” Infantino said.

FIFA Will Act On Racism In Soccer – Samoura

Niger DeltaFIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura said on Tuesday (May 9) that football’s governing body has zero tolerance to racism in the wake of Sulley Muntari suffering abuse in Italy.

The Ghanaian was booked for complaining and walked off the pitch after receiving racial abuse from the stands while playing for Pescara against Cagliari and was subsequently banned by the Italian FA before his suspension was overturned.

Samoura was speaking as FIFA’s senior officials gathered in Manama, Bahrain, for their annual congress.

FIFA hold an executive council meeting on Tuesday (May 9) ahead of congress on Thursday, and one of the items on the agenda is a dispute between Israel and Palestine. Palestine resents six Israeli clubs being present on its territory, while the Israelis say they have done nothing wrong.

“I don’t have to call people any time they have been victim of an abuse. We have a committee that is in charge of monitoring those actions, and we will take action. And we have been very severe in Europe, in Latin America, we have been regularly publicising the action of the committee, every action that relates to racist action, the homophobic chant to any kind of discrimination. And once again, it is not the task force that is taking the action, and is fighting discrimination. They had a task to perform, they made a recommendation and FIFA went even beyond the full recommendation. We have a monitoring tool on anti discrimination, we have heavy sanctions every time we have been receiving reports, I don’t have to call individual people.”

Former FIFA Presidential candidate Tokyo Sexwale is tasked with finding a solution to the dispute, with his job potentially made harder with media reports Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu intervened by calling FIFA President Gianni Infantino.

Sexwale said he didn’t know if the reports were accurate, but said he was confident of finding common ground after his experiences in South Africa following the end of apartheid.

Maradona Arrives South Korea Ahead U-20 World Cup Draw

Courtesy: http://www.diegomaradonagroup.com
Courtesy: http://www.diegomaradonagroup.com

The football legend, Diego Maradona, has arrived South Korea, ahead of the FIFA 2017 Under-20 World Cup draw.

Maradona is scheduled to attend the draw with Argentina’s former professional football player, Pablo Aimar on Wednesday in Suwon.

The Under-20 Championship, will see 24 teams playing 52 games over three weeks in Cheonan, Daejeon, Incheon, Jeju, Jeonju and Suwon.

Maradona, the former Argentina captain has won the Under-20 World Cup in 1979 and the World Cup in 1986 for his country.

Sunshine Stars Protest Over Unpaid Wages

Sunshine Stars Protest Over Unpaid WagesPlayers of the Sunshine Stars and staff of the Ondo State Football Agency, have protested over non-payment of salary arrears as well as sign-on fees.

According to the protesters, the government is owing them up to 13 months and 6 months salary arrears for the staff and players as well as sign on fees for the players.

Sunshine Stars are currently 15th on the Nigeria Professional League (NPL) table with just two victories from nine league games.

AFCON 2017: Ghana Defeat DR Congo, Advance To Semi-Final 

footballBrothers, Andre and Jordan Ayew, have led the black stars to reach the semi-finals of the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) on Sunday in Gabon.

The brothers grabbed a goal each to beat Dr Congo 2-1 in the Gabonese city, Oyem.

The Ayews, are the sons of Ghana football legend, Abedi ‘Pele’ Ayew, ranked among the greatest African footballers of all time.

Aston Villa’s Jordan Ayew, opened the scoring on 62 minutes, curling the ball past Ley Matampi in the Leopards goal.

Paul-Jose M’poku, equalized for DR Congo with a sensational curling long-range effort from outside the box, while West Ham’s Andre Ayew, then coolly dispatched a winning penalty, to seal the win.

However, Ghana runner-up in the last competition, is seeking a first Cup of Nations title since 1982.

Rugby: Dylan Hartley Named England Captain For Six Nations

Hartley Named England Captain For Six NationsDylan Hartley, the 30-year-old, will continue as England captain for the Six Nations after Coach Eddie Jones confirmed the news at the launch of the tournament on Wednesday.

Hartley, who led England to the grand slam last year, was banned for hitting Sean O’brien in December.

The subsequent suspension took the total number of weeks he has been unavailable during his career to 60.

The captain will not have played for nine weeks before England’s opening game against France on February 4th at Twickenham.

Sunderland Confirm Anichebe Out For Ten Weeks With Knee Injury

sunderlandNigerian forward, Victor Anichebe, has been ruled out of action for three months after sustaining a knee injury in Sunderland’s 2-0 defeat to West Bromwich Albion at the weekend.

Anichebe, who just returned from a hamstring injury, was brought on as a second half substitute but later went down clutching his right knee.

Sunderland manager, David Moyes, confirmed that the 28-year-old will be out until April.

Anichebe’s latest injury will be a big blow to the Black Cats who already have Lee Cattermole, Jan Kirchhoff, Paddy Mcnair, Jordan Pickford and Duncan Watmore all out with long-term injuries.

Australian Open: Venus And Vandeweghe Advance To Semis

venus-williams Tennis Australian OepnVenus Williams remains on course for a first grand slam singles final since 2009 after a 6-4 7-6 quarter-final win over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova at the Australian Open for the first time in 14 years.

The 36-year-old has rolled back the years in Melbourne and was at it again earlier on Tuesday to seal a straight sets triumph over the Russian 24th seed.

Williams’ 2017 Australian Open campaign is her best since 2003, the last time she reached the last four in the year’s opening grand slam event.

That year she was runner-up to her sister Serena Williams – the pair are drawn to meet in this year’s final if they continue to win.

However, Venus will play an All-American semi-final against Coco Vandeweghe, who trashed former French Open champion Garbine Muguruza 6-4 6-0 in the following quarter-final at Rod Laver Arena.

Vandeweghe blasted her way into her first grand slam semi-final with a dominant display of power Tennis to destroy Muguruza.

AFCON: Host Nation Crash Out

footballHost nation, Gabon, have crashed out of the Africa Cup of Nations at the group stage after a goalless draw against Cameroon in the final round of games in group A.

However, the draw hands the Indomitable Lions a spot in the last eight, after finishing second behind group leaders Burkina Faso.

Burkina Faso defeated Guinea-Bissau 2-0. An own goal from Rudinilson Silva and Bertrand Traore handed the Stallions their first victory in the group.

The two teams join Senegal, and Ghana who have already qualified for the quarter-finals.

Guardiola Urges Sterling To Stay Focused

Guardiola, sterlingManchester City Manager, Pep Guardiola has challenged the England forward, Raheem Sterling to stay focused after showing an impressive performance against Steaua Bucuresti on Tuesday.

Guardiola was full of praise for the Manchester City forward at the first leg of UEFA Champions League play-offs, but insists he can improve even further.

“Until now, Raheem is playing really good but he’s only 21-years-old so he has to learn a lot, Guardiola told ESPN.

“The best advice is to keep calm and focus on his training, his body and his personal life. Then when that happens he has a lot of quality — he’s fast and has good work ethic.

“He can go byline or inside. When he comes inside to play he has the quality to link up with his teammates. He’s a fantastic player and that’s why I think (Director of Football) Txiki (Begiristain) and the club were so clever last summer to buy him.”

The team from the blue half of Manchester have all, but secured their place in the Champions League group stage with an emphatic 5-0 win in Romania.

After missing two penalties, Argentine striker, Sergio Aguero scored a hat trick while Spanish Duo, David Silva and Nolito scored once in a dominant performance.

Mikel Obi Determined To Stay At Chelsea

Mikel ObiChelsea’s Nigerian midfielder, John Mikel Obi, says he has no intention of leaving the London club.

Signed to the club in 2006 and now second only to Captain John Terry as the longest serving player in the club, Obi says Chelsea has become his home.

There have been rumours linking Mikel with a move away from West London but recent pre-season happenings show that Jose Mourinho might have plans for Mikel in his squad, at least in the 2015/16 season.

The 28-year-old spoke to club website and expressed confident views about his chances in the Chelsea squad.

“I want to stay and the manager wants me to stay,” said Mikel.

“I’ve got two years [on my contract] here and I’m happy.

“I like to be somewhere where I have developed friends and family. It’s like my family here and every day I come to work it is like coming in to see my family.

“I know all the players and all the staff so it’s going to be a hard place to leave when my contract runs out but let’s see what happens. I want to see out my two years.”

Mikel Obi played the first half of Chelsea’s match with New York Red Bulls on Wednesday, leaving the pitch at the break with the Blues 1-0 ahead.

He created an excellent chance for a second with a fine long pass which was latched on to by his compatriot Victor Moses. The winger was unlucky not to score with a dink that hit the post and not the net.

Mikel believes, “Overall it was a pretty good warm-up game but not the result we hoped for.

“We knew we needed to start the game well. I was in the dressing room having a shower at the beginning of the second half so I don’t know how we started but we obviously didn’t end the game well.”

Goals from Loïc Rémy and Eden Hazard could not prevent Chelsea slipping to a 4-2 defeat.

“We are here to work hard, and we are here to train hard leading to the Community Shield and to the league. I think we’re on the right course. That game was just a one-off game and we know we need to go back to training, buckle up and know the season is starting soon”, Mikel Obi said.