Associated Press

Europa League: Arsenal rolls, Chelsea cruises, Milan saves it late

Leave a comment

The Europa League group stage is nearing a finality, and while Premier League sides Arsenal and Chelsea had already confirmed safe passage to the knockout stage before Thursday’s matches, both had successful results.

Arsenal played in the early slate, with their game in Ukraine moved to Kiev from Poltava for safety concerns amid the tense political climate. The Gunners won 3-0 on a trio of first-half goals, with 18-year-old Emile Smith-Rowe opening the scoring just 10 minutes in. Many of Arsenal’s first-teamers, including Mesut Ozil, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette, Granit Xhaka, Lucas Torreira, and others stayed home and did not make the trip. That gave teenagers like Smith-Rowe, Joseph Willock, and Eddie Nketiah an opportunity to start, with Smith-Rowe’s opener leading the way as Willock also found the back of the net. Aaron Ramsey scored as well, bagging a penalty after being clumsily fouled by Igor Perduta.

Chelsea, meanwhile, stayed at home to welcome Greek side PAOK to Stamford Bridge, and the Blues cruised 4-0 after the visitors went a man down just seven minutes in. 31-year-old Ukranian international Yevhen Khacheridi was sent off in the early stages of the match for a last-man foul, tackling Olivier Giroud just outside the box. It took 27 minutes before Chelsea was able to break through, but Giroud would get the first of his brace with a pinpoint left-footed strike. Giroud would hit again before halftime, before Callum Hudson-Odoi ripped the third for the Blues and substitute Alvaro Morata finished it off in the 78th minute.

Villarreal drew 0-0 with Scottish side Rangers to put them in pole position of a crowded Group G. Rangers striker Daniel Candeias was sent off just before halftime for a second yellow, leaving the hosts in a position of peril, but they held on the rest of the way. All teams came into the matchday within two points of each other, and after Thursday’s results the Spanish club sits atop the group with seven points, while Rapid Vienna is also on seven after beating Spartak Moscow 2-1 in Russia, but the Austrian club has a far worse goal differential.

AC Milan – this season’s cardiac pack – came back from 2-1 down to beat Luxembourg club F91 Dudelange 5-2. They drew level in the 66th minute on an own-goal, and then stormed by with a trio inside the final 20 minutes. Hakan Calhanaglou got the winner in the 70th minute, while Fabio Borini added one late with 10 minutes to go. Milan has not officially secured advancement to the knockout round in Group F, but would need to lose to Olympiakos by three or more goals on the final day to see the Italian side out.

Meanwhile, Olympiakos ended up on the outside looking in with a 1-0 loss at Real Betis, which sent the Spanish side officially through Group F. Sergio Canales scored his third goal in his last four matches across all competitions to put Betis into the knockout stages.

Bayer Leverkusen secured advancement to the knockout stage after Mitchell Weiser rescued a 1-1 draw with Ludogorets Razgrad with a ridiculous 85th minute goal. The 24-year-old German struck a bouncing right-footed volley from an incredibly tight angle that snuck in under the crossbar to put Leverkusen on 10 points with a match to go.

Sevilla had a chance to secure a place in the knockout stage with a win in Belgium, but they were stunned by Standard Liege 1-0 on a goal from 20-year-old Mali international Moussa Djenepo who struck in the 62nd minute. Six minutes later, Sevilla saw substitute Pablo Sarabia sent off for a second yellow, and while they still finished with 70% possession, the Spanish side could not find a breakthrough. That leaves Standard and Sevilla level on nine points, although Sevilla still holds a far superior goal differential.

A messy Group I got no clarity as Jermaine Lens gave Besiktas a 3-2 road win over Sarpsborg with a 90th minute goal, leaving the top three teams in the group all within a point headed into the final day. Genk and Malmo drew 2-2, leaving Genk atop the group with seven points and a better goal differential, while Besiktas sits at seven as well and Malmo is behind them at six, and Sarpsborg is still in the mix with five.

The goal of the day came from Apollon Limassol, as David Faupala stunned Italian side Lazio with a bicycle kick just past the half-hour mark in Cyprus. The home side eventually won 2-0, but Group H has already been decided, with the Italian club already into the knockout round.

Elsewhere, French side Marseille suffered a disappointing defeat in Germany at Eintracht Frankfurt 4-0. The visitors had already been eliminated from the competition before stepping on the field, but they saw Serbian striker Luka Jovic bring his good Bundesliga form to Europe, with the opener inside the first minute. It got worse for the French club when Luiz Gustavo was credited with an own-goal when he put a back-pass in his own net as goalkeeper Yohann Pele was in a haze outside his own post.

Red Bull Salzburg won the battle of the Red Bulls as they defeated RB Leipzig 1-0 in Austria. Fredrik Gulbrandsen had the game’s only goal in the 74th minute which confirmed Salzburg’s way through to the knockout round, and left the German side in a precarious position in Group B, three points and two goals back of second-placed Celtic. Speaking of the Scottish club, Brendan Rodgers saw former Manchester City winger Scott Sinclair score the game’s only goal in a 1-0 victory for Celtic over Rosenborg in Norway.

Sporting CP put six past FK Qarabag in a 6-1 victory which included a brace from former Arenal midfielder Abou Diaby. Bas Dost opened the scoring just five minutes in, while former Manchester United veteran Nani also grabbed a goal 33 minutes in. The win officially saw Sporting qualify for the knockout stage behind Group E leaders Arsenal.

Dynamo Kiev beat Kazakhstani club Astana 1-0 to take control at the top of Group K, while Dinamo Zagreb played to a 0-0 draw with Turkish side Fenerbahce in a match between two teams that are already through into the knockout stage. Stade Rennes stayed in contention in Group K with a 1-0 road victory over Czech club FK Jablonec. French international Clement Grenier scored the lone goal in the 55th minute to pull Rennes within two of Astana.

FULL RESULTS:

Vorskla 0-3 Arsenal
Zenit St. Petersburg 1-0 FC Copenhagen
AC Milan 5-2 F91 Dudelange
Rosenborg 0-1 Celtic
Real Betis 1-0 Olympiakos
FK Qarabag 1-6 Sporting CP
Standard Liege 1-0 Sevilla

Bayer Leverkusen 1-1 Ludogorets Razgrad
FC Astana 0-1 Dynamo Kiev
Fenerbahce 0-0 Dinamo Zagreb
FC Zurich 1-2 AEK Larnaca
FC Salzburg 1-0 RB Leipzig
Bordeaux 2-0 Slavia Prague
BATE Borisov 2-0 Vidi
Anderlecht 0-0 FC Spartak Trnava
Krasnodar 2-1 Akhisar Belediyespor

Xhaka slams “bulls***” criticism of Arsenal

Leave a comment

Arsenal have been targets for a lot of criticism recently.

Granit Xhaka is usually at the center of it.

The Gunners captain came out all guns blazing after they lost 1-0 at Sheffield United on Monday, as he addressed Patrice Evra‘s comments that Arsenal are “babies” and always will be due to their mentality.

“We have to stop about mental [strength] bulls*** like this. For me, it is the same whether you play home or away – you have to win and show big character and a good game and not to always find the same excuse,” Xhaka said. “A lot of people they speak too much. It is not the first time he has spoken something about us. I have a lot of respect for him as he was a great player but you have to be careful what you say. But it is not only him – a lot of people speak a lot of bulls*** about us. It’s always the same.

“For me it is strange as they were in the same situation as us, they were players as well. Sometimes it is good and sometimes it is not always good but every week they speak bulls*** like this every week. I tell you the honest truth, I’m not interested in what people say and speak. We have to speak in our group to improve things and work hard and not listen to these people.”

Xhaka and Arsenal have only lost twice this season, 3-1 at Liverpool and 1-0 at Sheffield United.

But aside from being fifth in the table and two points outside the top four, pressure is being placed on Unai Emery and his squad as they’ve narrowly beaten Bournemouth, Burnley, Newcastle and Aston Villa so far. Their performances aren’t instilling confidence in anyone that they can seriously push for a top four finish this season.

Has much changed under Emery in the past 15 months? Nope. This is pretty much the same Arsenal team making the same old mistakes and looking vulnerable away from home. Nothing new here. Sure, some new players have arrived, but David Luiz, Pepe and Sokratis have all been hit and miss so far and it has been left to Matteo Guendouzi and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to try and rescue the Gunners each and every week.

Emery was supposed to change their style of play, develop them into a stronger team defensively and improve their chances of challenging for trophies once again.

None of that has happened, and it doesn’t look closer to happening. That is why the critics are circling around the Gunners. Monday was the perfect opportunity to prove their mentality had changed and they are a stronger, more balanced team under Emery. They aren’t and something drastic will have to change for them if Emery is going to win over the fans, and pundits, once again.

Ronaldo not ready for retirement: ‘Age is just a number’

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Cristiano Ronaldo reassured Juventus supporters and his legions of fans worldwide that at 34 he’s not ready for retirement yet.

 [ MORE: Serie A scores, schedule

“Age is just a number. It does not mean that at 34, 35, 36 you are at the end of your career,” Ronaldo said at a news conference ahead of Juventus’ Champions League match against Lokomotiv Moscow on Tuesday. “I can show that with my performances, how I play, the way I play, the way I still feel good, sharp, thinking about the game, more mature. This makes the difference.”

In the second season of a four-year deal at Juventus, Ronaldo had sparked concern among his fans when he said in an interview published a few weeks ago that he was starting to enjoy seeing himself “outside of football, so who knows what will happen in the next year or two?”

Ronaldo recently scored his 700th goal as a professional while on international duty with Portugal and has been nominated for a record sixth Ballon d’Or award – which would break his tie of five with Lionel Messi.

But Ronaldo said he’s more interested in winning a treble with Juventus.

“We want to win Serie A, we want to win the Cup, the Champions League,” he said. “Juventus should think big. … We are going to try to win all the trophies, we know it will be difficult, especially the league and the Champions League, but I think it is possible. Everything is possible.

“In terms of individual, I have nothing to say as this is individual. It is not the most important thing,” Ronaldo added. “The most important is the collective awards. If you win the collective awards you have more chance to win the individual awards. … The Golden Ball is for me in second place.”

While retirement may not be on Ronaldo’s mind yet, family time is a big part of his life now.

“To win games, to score goals, to enjoy myself, to arrive home and see my kids happy and say, `Congratulations daddy for scoring a goal.’ That makes me happy,” he said. “This is my motivation to come to train, for the games, to entertain people and the fans with my passion.”

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Andrew Dampf on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/AndrewDampf

Carragher apologizes to Evra over Suarez t-shirts

Leave a comment

Jamie Carragher has apologized to Patrice Evra after Liverpool wore t-shirts in support of Luis Suarez in 2011.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

The day after Suarez was banned for eight games by the English Football Association, who found him guilty of racially abusing Evra, Liverpool’s players put on t-shirts with Suarez on the front and back during their warm up in a Premier League game against Wigan Athletic.

Carragher and Evra were both analysts for our partners at Sky Sports in the UK on Monday Night Football for the clash between Sheffield United and Arsenal, and discussed the current problems with racism in the game.

“There is no doubt we made a massive mistake; that was obvious,” Carragher said.

Liverpool’s former vice-captain asked Evra how he felt regarding the situation with Suarez, and the former Man United, Juventus and Monaco left back revealed his disgust at the way the situation was handled.

“When I saw it I was like, this is ridiculous. This is unbelievable,” Evra said. You put your own club in danger when you do those things. You always have to support your player because he is from your team but this was after the ban. If it was before and we were waiting for the sanction, I would understand. What message do you send to the world? Supporting someone being banned because he used some racist words.”

Click play on the video above for the full discussion between Carragher and Evra.

Italy women’s team awarded for ’emancipating’ female game

AP Photo/Andrew Medichini
Leave a comment

ROME (AP) The Italy women’s national soccer team was awarded the Foreign Press Association’s Invictus award Monday for promoting and “emancipating” the female game in the country with its run to the World Cup quarterfinals.

[ MORE: Sheffield United beat Arsenal with stellar defensive display (video) ]

Head coach Milena Bertolini and forward Barbara Bonansea were given the award during a ceremony at the Rome-based association.

With soccer dominated by men in Italy and few opportunities for girls, Bertolini recounted how she had to dress up as a boy to play as a kid.

“Now things are changing, thanks to the Italian federation’s school programs,” Bertolini said.

Bertolini and Bonansea lamented that female players are still not considered professionals and therefore are not permitted to earn more than $33,500 per year by Italian law.

“It’s not about the money, it’s a question of rights,” said Bonansea, who also plays for Italian champion Juventus.

[ MORE: Referee officials explain VAR decision on Rashford goal ]

While Italy’s men’s team is a four-time World Cup champion, the women had not played in a World Cup for two decades and entered as a prohibitive underdog during its opening match against Australia in France in June. But the Azzurre came back from a goal down for a 2-1 win courtesy of Bonansea’s two scores , with her second coming in the fifth minute of stoppage time.

“That goal shaped our World Cup, both in terms of results and in terms of promoting women’s soccer in Italy,” Bertolini said. “The strong emotions on the field were transmitted to everyone who was watching. I still get goosebumps now just thinking about that goal.”

The Azzurre went on to win their group then beat China in the first knockout round before losing to eventual finalist the Netherlands.

In a country of 60 million people, a total of more than 20 million spectators watched Italy’s five matches on RAI state TV, setting audience records for women’s soccer game after game.

The Invictus award is dedicated to “promoting the positive effects of sports in terms of integration and emancipation by the vulnerable sections of society.”