Paolo Bruno/Getty Image

Lyon blames Turkish ‘hooligans’ for crowd disorder

Leave a comment

PARIS (AP) Facing possible sanctions from UEFA after the crowd disorder that delayed its Europa League quarterfinal against Besiktas, French club Lyon said Friday it was the “victim” of visiting hooligans.

[ MORE: Monaco receiving world-record offers for starlet Mbappe ]

Incidents inside Lyon’s stadium – which will host the final next season – followed fighting among rival French and Turkish fans earlier in the city on Thursday. About 20 minutes before the scheduled 9:05 p.m. (1905 GMT) kickoff, Lyon fans spilled on to the field for their own safety as fireworks were set off and missiles thrown from an upper section of the stadium housing Besiktas supporters.

[ MORE: Full Premier League schedule — Week 33 ]

The game did finally kick off 45 minutes late after police intervened in the stands.

Lyon’s deputy general counsel, Vincent Ponsot, admitted the French league club’s responsibility in the disorder but insisted Besiktas fans created the trouble.

“As organizers we bear a part of the responsibility, except that it is clear that we have been the victim of an aggression that did not come from supporters, but from Turkish hooligans,” Ponsot told a press conference, adding that UEFA had opened a disciplinary procedure.

Lyon’s director of security, Annie Saladin, said about 50 Turkish fans forced their way inside the stadium and were responsible for the trouble. She said they threw projectiles from the upper stands, forcing other supporters to find shelter on the pitch.

“Even with 700 police officers we did not manage to contain this group,” Saladin said. “They were determined and they got what they wanted.”

Saladin added that, once identified, the group of violent fans was evacuated from the stadium by police.

However, some Lyon fans also sought to confront their Turkish counterparts outside the stadium before the game – and then inside the stadium – with dozens clashing.

On the field, Lyon trailed until the 84th minute before scoring twice to seize a 2-1 victory. The return match is next Thursday in Istanbul, which has a reputation as among the most hostile cities in Europe for visiting fans.

Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas said his club’s fans have already been banned from traveling to Turkey for the return leg, a decision he called “unfair” and “illogical.”

“I don’t know what should be done: to play behind closed doors or elsewhere (at a neutral venue),” Aulas asked. “It would be very dangerous to take on this team (in presence of) the same supporters as tonight. We don’t really feel reassured.”

Aulas urged UEFA “to take its responsibilities,” and asked “for heavy sanctions against those who have injured our supporters.”

UEFA had increased security measures at its Champions League and Europa League matches this week after Borussia Dortmund’s team bus was targeted by a bomb attack on Tuesday. Dortmund’s game against Monaco in the Champions League quarterfinals was postponed and played on Wednesday.

Prior to the Champions League match between Paris Saint-Germain and Galatasaray at Parc des Princes in March 2001, fans fought running battles outside the stadium and then engaged in ferocious clashes inside the stadium, leaving dozens with minor injuries.

In April 2000, two English fans from Leeds were stabbed to death during clashes prior to a UEFA Cup semifinal against Galatasaray in Istanbul.

The ill-feeling between PSG and Galatasaray still lingers.

Before the match between Turkey and Croatia during last year’s European Championship in France – which was held at PSG’s stadium – some 100 PSG fans tried to attack hardcore supporters from Galatasaray as they left the metro station, but were pushed back by riot police.

AP Sports Writer Jerome Pugmire contributed to this report.

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.