Late Mohamed Salah goal gives Basel second straight win over Chelsea

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Just when you thought Chelsea might be getting their act together, they play one of their worst games of the season. Tuesday in UEFA Champions League, Blues went 90 minutes without putting a shot on target, all the while relying on Petr Cech to keep them in their game in Switzerland. But despite six saves on the night, Cech couldn’t stop the shot that sent the Blues to their second loss to Basel this season, Mohamed Salah’s chip over the Chelsea keeper and into the right side netting giving the Swiss champions a 1-0 upset at St. Jakob Park.

FCB probably deserved more, generating their first chance in the third minute and sustaining  pressure throughout the first half. At intermission, Chelsea had yet to put a shot toward goal, with Basel holding 58 percent of the ball while launching nine shots.

Cech, however, kept Chelsea close, coming up big on chances from Taulant Xhaka, Fabian Frei and Salah as Basel forced four saves from him in the opening 24 minutes. Ineffectual though midfield and unable to come up with stops in the final third, the Blues seemed destined to concede an early goal. By the half hour mark, however, Chelsea had weathered the storm, eventually carrying a 0-0 scoreline into halftime.

The second half started better for the visitors, particularly after Eden Hazard was brought on for Oscar in the 55th minute. From there, Chelsea briefly threatened Basel, eventually settling into a tempo that allowed them to control more of the ball. As the second half wore on, it seemed José Mourinho’s team had enough to bleed out a scoreless draw.

In the 87th minute, however, all of Chelsea’s persistence was rendered meaningless when a long ball from central defender Fabian Schär found Salah bursting past right back Branislav Ivanovic. A controlled touch off his right thigh saw the Egyptian attacker push the ball in front of him and into the penalty area. As Cech came for a ball approaching his six-yard box, Salah lifted his shot over the Chelsea keeper and into the far side netting, his second touch on Schär’s round one offering giving Basel their second victory of the tournament over Chelsea.

A one-goal game decided by a late winner may seem superficially close, but Chelsea were decidedly second best all day, a status the key numbers accurately reflect. The 15-2 edge Basel held in shots described the difference between the teams, with only a stretch of play in the second half giving the teams the appearance of equal footing. Basel finished with seven shots on target while their goalkeeper wasn’t tested once.

source: AP
After seeing his team conceded in the 87th minute, Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho brought both of his hands to the side of his head as if to make a pillow, signaling that his defense had fallen asleep on Basel’s game-winning goal. (Photo: AP Photo.)

The poor result, however, is unlikely to hurt Chelsea. Thanks to Schalke’s surprise draw at Steaua Bucharest, the Blues clinched a place in the knockout round. At nine points, Chelsea still lead Group E, ensuring they’ll earn the packet’s top spot with a win on Dec. 11 against the Romanians at Stamford Bridge. Even if they draw with Steaua, Chelsea can win their group if Schalke knock off Basel.

With the damage from today’s embarrassment limited, inconsistency should be more worrying than Chelsea’s bottom line. Coming off a 3-0 win this weekend against West Ham, the Blues gave every reason to believe they’d extend their Champions League winning streak to four, clinch their group, and give themselves the luxury of fielding kids and reserves two weeks from now. Instead, the team suffers another Newcastle-esque dip, lucky to get out of Switzerland with just a one-goal loss.

Much like the situation with Manchester United, new leadership help explains the inconsistent results, but after performances like today’s, you wonder if the team limitations the appeared under André Villas-Boas, Roberto Di Matteo, and Rafa Benítez are again surfacing. Is the ceiling for this team much lower than their prodigious talent makes us believe?

It’s too early to answer that question, either positively or negatively. Another Basel loss, however, gives us more food for thought.

Goals

Basel: 87′ Mohamed Salah

Lineups

Basel: Yann Sommer; Kay Voser; Fabian Schar, Ivan Ivanov, Taulant Xhaka (71′ Arlind Ajeti); Mohamed Salah, Mohamed Elneny, Fabian Frei, Geoffrey Serey Die, Valentin Stocker (90′ Gastón Sauro); Marco Streller (78′ Giovanni Sio)

Ununsed subs: David Degen, Philipp Degen, Matías Delgado, Germano Vallati

Chelsea: Petr Cech; Branislav Ivanovic, Gary Cahill, John Terry, Cesar Azpilicueta; Ramires, John Obi Mikel, Frank Lampard; Oscar (55′ Eden Hazard), Samuel Eto’o (42′ Fernando Torres), Willian (86′ Kevin De Bruyne)

Unused subs: Ashley Cole, Juan Mata, Andre Schürrle, Mark Schwarzer

While PSG has won the title, Areola’s playing for his future

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PARIS (AP) Although Paris Saint-Germain has easily won the French title, Alphonse Areola still has plenty to play for.

The next four games could be crucial in deciding whether PSG keeps the goalkeeper or tries to sign a big name in the transfer window, possibly Thibaut Courtois. The 25-year-old Areola is the same age as Courtois, but has nowhere near the international standing of the Chelsea keeper.

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It is hard for Areola to stand out, however, in a team noted almost singularly for its attacking prowess. While PSG has already scored more than 100 league goals, and remains on course to reach 100 points this season, Areola has rarely been talked about.

The common perception is that PSG will thrash teams in the French league, so letting in a goal or two is irrelevant.

However, Areola has been one of PSG’s most consistent players this season, and last Sunday he made a personal record of eight saves in a 1-0 win at Bordeaux.

He was also one of the few PSG players to come through the loss to Real Madrid in the last 16 of the Champions League with any credit. Without Areola’s shot-stopping, and particularly his bravery rushing off his line, the 5-2 aggregate loss would have been bigger.

With 104 goals, PSG’s attack is the best in the league by far and has netted 25 more than deposed champion Monaco.

But PSG’s defense is also the best and Areola has conceded only 21 goals in the 31 he has played. Although PSG has dominated most of those, losing only twice all season, he has still made on average four saves per game.

Having replaced Kevin Trapp as No. 1, Areola has missed only three league games all season. It represents a reversal for both.

When Trapp was signed by former coach Laurent Blanc in 2015-16, Areola went on loan to Spanish club Villarreal. He established himself as regular in Villarreal’s side and gained further experience in the Europa League. Spanish media were largely impressed by his consistency and his agility on the goal-line.

He returned to PSG and battled with Trapp for the starting position last season. But coach Unai Emery seemed unsure who he really preferred, with Trapp starting 24 games to Areola’s 14. PSG ended up losing the title to Monaco.

But the hierarchy is much clearer now and the error-prone Trapp, once hailed by Blanc for his passing out from goal, is the one expected to leave.

Areola has further incentive to do well with the World Cup coming up. He is challenging Marseille goalkeeper Steve Mandanda to be France’s No. 2 behind Hugo Lloris in Russia. For now, Areola is a squad member but has yet to make an international appearance under coach Didier Deschamps.

But he has done well at every level for France, starting with the under-16s a decade ago. He got his first taste of international success when he helped France win the Under-20 World Cup in 2013.

While Paul Pogba was one of the stars of the tournament, Areola’s crowning moment came in the final itself. France drew 0-0 with Uruguay and he saved two shots in the penalty shootout. Prior to the shootout he had a word with France’s designated penalty takers, confidently telling them “do your job and I’ll do mine.”

With Emery almost certain to be replaced next season, it promises to be a frenetic offseason of buying and selling at the club.

But whoever replaces Emery should perhaps think twice before letting Areola leave. The Parisian-born Areola came through the youth ranks at PSG, as did center half Presnel Kimpembe and midfielder Adrien Rabiot.

Star-studded sides like PSG often import their best players and fans are happy to see them arrive, because it shows ambition. But they nevertheless identify more closely with homegrown talents such as Areola.

More AP Ligue 1 coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/Ligue1

Jerome Pugmire on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/jeromepugmire

Infantino has ‘full confidence’ in Samoura amid ethics issue

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ZURICH (AP) FIFA President Gianni Infantino says he retains “full confidence” in secretary general Fatma Samoura after an attempt to embroil her in an ethics investigation.

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Samoura has expressed irritation at “totally ridiculous and baseless” claims she broke FIFA rules by not declaring an alleged conflict of interest in the 2026 World Cup bidding contest.

FIFA has not specified the exact nature of the complaint or the progress of any ethics investigation after it was alleged she was a relative of former Senegal player El Hadji Diouf, who is an ambassador for Morocco’s bid.

Samoura insisted on Wednesday the former Liverpool forward “is not a member of my family and therefore everything is crystal clear.”

FIFA’s top administrator received a public show of support from Infantino.

“I can confirm my full confidence in Fatma Samoura to lead the FIFA administration,” Infantino said in a statement to The Associated Press on Thursday.

The former United Nations official was hired by Infantino in 2016 months after he was elected as Sepp Blatter’s successor.

Morocco is due to take on a joint bid from the United States, Canada and Mexico in the June 13 vote for the 2026 World Cup host.

Photo: Flamengo supporter tattoos club jersey on body

MAURÍCIO DOS ANJOS VIA VICE
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A supporter in Brazil has taken fandom to a whole new level with a piece of body art that shows his devotion to the club.

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Maurício dos Anjos, a passionate Flamengo fan, has been a life-long supporter of the Rio de Janeiro-based club, and has the tattoo to prove it.

While it may look like body paint, Dos Anjos has a tattoo on the upper-half of his body depicting the Flamengo jersey, and it’s pretty awesome.

“People ask me if I don’t find it strange that I’m always wearing a Flamengo shirt. And I just don’t,” dos Anjos told VICE. “To me, it’s normal. But it doesn’t seem like anyone I talk to about it actually dislikes my tattoo.”

In total, Dos Anjos says the body work took over 90 hours and 30 sessions to complete the tattoo.

Has the perception of MLS really changed?

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When David Beckham arrived in Los Angeles back in 2007 his presence changed the complexion of Major League Soccer for all the right reasons, and the perception of the growing league changed.

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Over the years, MLS has strived to move into the upper-echelon of the global game, in an attempt to compete with the likes of the Premier League, Bundesliga and La Liga, but naysayers still indicate to this day that the United States’ top flight lacks the quality of the aforementioned.

Phrases like “retirement league” and “uninspired” have been used to describe MLS in the past, particularly when it comes to the league’s willingness to spend boatloads of cash on notable players well past their prime.

Examples such as Andrea Pirlo, Steven Gerrard and Rafael Marquez have at times dampened the perception of MLS due to the lack of quality on the pitch from those players, along with several others that had previously boasted extensive resumes.

Now, we’re at a time where MLS has picked up its scouting, with clubs focused more on younger, more skilled talents from South America and Europe.

That has led to major signings over the past several years, such as Ezequiel Barco, Miguel Almiron, Diego Rossi and Jesus Medina, to name a few.

Has that changed the overall complexion of MLS though?

On Thursday, Kevin De Bruyne‘s agent, Patrick de Koster, suggested in an interview that the Belgium international would likely “finish” his career in MLS.

“For now, he’s very happy at this club,” De Koster said. “We always look what the best solution for the player, both financially and football wise. Kevin’s future? I can see him finish at Los Angeles.”

This comes on the heels of a 36-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovic joining the LA Galaxy in a move that has sent shockwaves across the league and the world because of the Swede’s great presence on a global scale.

It’s not to say that players like Ibrahimovic, or previous signings like David Villa and Didier Drogba cannot help the overall growth of MLS, because they certainly bring an awareness to the matches and draw attention to their respective clubs.

However, the long-term viability of MLS has been and will continue to be sustained on youth players succeeding in the league, as well as being able to draw promising young talents into the top flight of the U.S.