Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Europa League preview: Man Utd away to Anderlecht in QF leg 1

Leave a comment

The UEFA Cup and Europa League trophies have virtually taken up permanent residence in Spain for the past 13 years.

It’s down to Celta Vigo to continue the tradition.

The side from the northwest corner of Spain is the country’s only representative in the Europa League quarterfinals, which start Thursday.

Celta has matched its best ever run in European competition, repeating its exploits from 2001 when a team containing Alexander Mostovoi, Valeri Karpin and Gustavo Lopez lost to Barcelona in the UEFA Cup quarterfinals. To go one better, Celta must beat Genk – one of two Belgian clubs to get this far.

Since the 2003-04 season, Spain has won Europe’s second-tier competition eight times: Valencia (UEFA Cup in 2004), Sevilla (UEFA Cup in 2006 and ’07, Europa League in 2014, ’15 and ’16) and Atletico Madrid (Europa League in 2010 and ’12).

Celta has never won a major trophy in its 94-year history.


Here’s a look at the quarterfinals:

The Europa League has taken on increased importance to Manchester United because the English team is struggling to qualify for the Champions League via a top-four finish in the Premier League.

So expect Man United manager Jose Mourinho to field a full-strength lineup including Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba, even though a big league game against Chelsea is looming large on Sunday.

Wayne Rooney didn’t travel with the squad, with Mourinho saying Wednesday that the striker “has bad feelings with his ankle” and wasn’t happy with his condition. Rooney has featured once in seven games since early March, and that was as a late substitute.

United — a three-time European champion — has never won the UEFA Cup-Europa League, unlike Anderlecht, the 1983 champion. The Belgian team was also runner-up in 1984 but hasn’t been beyond the quarterfinals since then.


Ajax coach Peter Bosz looks to have an enviable problem on his hands ahead of the match between two former winners of the competition: Whether to play in-form Bertrand Traore as his striker or bring back fit-again Danish teenager Kasper Dolberg.

Dolberg was one of the stars of the Dutch league early in the season but has been sidelined in recent weeks by an injury he picked up in the last 16 of the Europa League. Traore, who is on loan to the Amsterdam club from Chelsea, has run into form in Dolberg’s absence, scoring twice in Ajax’s 5-1 win at NEC Nijmegen on Saturday.

Schalke striker Klaas Jan Huntelaar is likely to be watching from the bench on his return to the club where he made his breakthrough. Huntelaar has lost his starting place to Guido Burgstaller, signed during the recent transfer window when the 33-year-old striker was out with a knee injury.

Huntelaar’s contract with Schalke is running out and he told Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf this week that he will be leaving at the end of the season.

Both teams won the competition when it was called the UEFA Cup: Ajax in 1992 and Schalke in 1997.


Celta is likely to have Swedish striker John Guidetti and Chilean midfielder Marcelo Diaz back for the game.

Both players have had knee injuries but practiced with the rest of the squad this week and are expected to be available.

Celta has lost two of its last three home games, including 2-0 to Eibar in the Spanish league on Sunday.


Security has been raised ahead of the game because French authorities fear the match could be used for political expression by Turkish fans, only a few days before a controversial referendum in their country.

About 15,000 Turkish fans are expected to travel to Lyon and local authorities have also banned supporters from entering the stadium with jerseys, scarves, flags and banners other than those of the teams and the countries they represent.

“A stadium is not a place for political expression,” Lyon prefect’s office said in a statement.

Lagging well behind leader Monaco in the French league, Lyon has been impressive in the Europa League, scoring 16 goals in four knockout games.

The seven-time French champions’ last hope of winning a trophy this season could be boosted by the likely absence of Besiktas winger Ricardo Quaresma, who picked up a leg injury over the weekend and is doubtful for the game.

Platini vows to return to soccer after “end of long nightmare”

Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
Leave a comment

PARIS (AP) Banned former UEFA President and FIFA vice president Michel Platini says he is planning to return to soccer after Swiss federal prosecutors confirmed he was not being charged in an investigation into possible financial wrongdoing.

[ MORE: Real Madrid 3-1 Liverpool — Los Blancos make it three straight ]

Platini says in a statement it’s “the end of a long nightmare for my family and those close to me.”

Since September 2015, the former France midfielder had the status of “between a witness and an accused person” in criminal proceedings opened against then-FIFA President Sepp Blatter. No criminal case was ever opened against Platini.

The evidence related to Blatter authorizing FIFA to pay Platini $2 million in uncontracted back salary in 2011.

[ MORE: Ronaldo hints at Real Madrid exit | Bale does the same ]

FIFA’s ethics committee also investigated Platini’s request to FIFA for pension contributions he was not entitled to. It was agreed by Blatter and added more than $1 million to Platini’s retirement fund.

Platini was eventually banned for four years, through October 2019. Both he and Blatter denied wrongdoing but Court of Arbitration for Sport judges refused to overturn his ban and that of Blatter’s.

[ UCL FINAL: Player ratings | Three things we learned ]

The case meant Platini was removed from the UEFA presidency and he was barred from trying to succeed Blatter as FIFA president in 2016.

Platini, a former France captain and coach, says “I will come back: where, when, how? It’s too early to say. But I will come back into football.

“Because football is my life and I deny anyone the right to deprive me of my life,” the 62-year-old Platini says.

Neymar appears in good shape after first week with Brazil

Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images
1 Comment

TERESOPOLIS, Brazil (AP) Neymar finished his first full week of training with Brazil on Saturday in apparent good shape ahead of the upcoming World Cup after foot surgery.

The striker continued his recovery, dribbling and passing at high speed in Brazil’s last training session on home soil before the national team sets up camp in London on Monday.

The Brazilian has been recovering from right foot surgery in March.

[ MORE: Neymar “annoyed” by latest (and constant) transfer speculation ]

Earlier in the week, members of Brazil’s coaching staff said Neymar was fit to train but they tried to reduce pressure on him by saying it would take time until he delivered his best performances.

Left back Filipe Luis said Neymar did well in training but still needs to forget the injury.

“I had a serious injury in 2010 and I came back with fear. In the first chance I had in a game, I went with it all so I could lose that fear. I saw it didn’t hurt and I just forgot,” Luis said. “It will be the same with Neymar, the first time an opponent kicks him … he will forget it.”

In the first training session in Teresopolis, outside Rio de Janeiro, Neymar occasionally dragged his right foot onto the pitch. On Thursday he took his right boot off, sat down for a few minutes and looked upset. Once the football was underway, he seemed as fit as his teammates despite accidentally kicking the pitch with his injured foot. He soon afterward got back in action.

[ MORE: Messi: It would be ‘terrible’ to see Neymar at Real Madrid ]

In the first and only Brazil open training session, with fans screaming his name on the sidelines, a playful Neymar nutmegged right-back Danilo and flipped the ball over Luis’ head.

Throughout the week Neymar showed his finishing was sharpening, especially from close range.

After Saturday’s training Neymar welcomed his girlfriend, actress Bruna Marquezine, and family members to the Granja Comary training ground.

With Brazil players off duty for the rest of the day, Neymar is expected to take some teammates back to his mansion in Mangaratiba, near Rio.

The 20-strong squad will meet again Sunday morning at the Brazilian football confederation headquarters in a visit to their museum.

Players then travel to London hours later and will set up camp until June 8 at Tottenham’s training ground.

Ronaldo hints at exit: “It has been very nice playing for Real Madrid”

Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Leave a comment

In the minutes after helping Real Madrid win their third straight UEFA Champions League trophy, Cristiano Ronaldo dropped the most unexpected of transfer bombshells on the world.

[ MORE: Real Madrid 3-1 Liverpool — Los Blancos make it three straight ]

With three more seasons remaining on his current contract, Ronaldo appeared to hint that he expects leave the club this summer, at the age of 33.

“It has been very nice playing for Real Madrid,” he told the television broadcast with tears in his eyes, revealing that he will announce his plans for his future “in the coming days.”

Gareth Bale, who scored Saturday’s winning goal, said something quite similar during his post-game remarks.

[ MORE: Player ratings | Three things we learned ]

Perhaps it’s not the most surprising development on the whole, given his age and the obvious need for a youth movement at the Santiago Bernabeu, but to choose that stage — mere moments after winning his fifth career UCL title (four with Madrid) — to tease something so newsworthy and unexpected was certainly eye-opening.

Gareth Bale hints at Premier League transfer

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Gareth Bale jumped off the bench with Real Madrid drawing 1-1 with Liverpool in the UEFA Champions League final.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

Moments later he scored one of the greatest goals in the history of European finals via an outrageous overhead kick, then added another late on to seal a 13th European title for Real.

[ MORE: Mohamed Salah injured ]

Yet speaking to BT Sport after the game, Bale’s mind was quickly on why he didn’t start the game as Zinedine Zidane instead went with Isco and Karim Benzema in support of Cristiano Ronaldo up top.

“Obviously I was very disappointed not to start the game, I felt I deserved it but the manager makes the decisions,” Bale said. “The best I have been doing is to come on and make an impact, I certainly did…

[ MORE: Player ratings | Recap ]

Asked about a potential move back to the Premier League, Bale had the following to say.

“I need to be playing week in, week out and that has not happened this season. I had an injury five, six weeks in but fit ever since. I have to sit down with my agent in the summer and discuss it and go from there,” Bale said.

That sound you can hear is the phone of Bale’s agent ringing…

[ MORE: Ronaldo also hints at Real Madrid exit

Seriously, he has every right to question why he wasn’t playing more often and the Welsh international has been in fine form in recent weeks with six goals in his last four games.

Zidane made the right call because Real Madrid won their third-straight European title but it appears that Bale is getting fed up with being the odd man out at the Santiago Bernabeu.

If that was his final game for Real, what a way to go out. Now the likes of Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and others will be battling to bring Bale back to the Premier League, with his former club Tottenham said to have first refusal on buying him but surely they’d be unlikely to afford his wages and transfer fee.