Getty Images

Europa League: Inter held, Napoli wins big, Benfica beaten

Leave a comment

Arsenal slumped to a 3-1 defeat on the road at Stade Rennais in the first leg of Europa Round of 16 play, while Chelsea hammered Dynamo Kiev 3-0 in a comprehensive victory.

The Gunners put forth a dismal performance in France, with Mesut Ozil the scapegoat again, putting together an uninspiring performance up front. Nacho Monreal gifted Rennais the lead with an odd own-goal and Rennais scored an important third as Ismaila Sarr beat Aaron Ramsey to a header at the back post in the 88th minute. Arsenal would have fancied its chances down 2-1 heading home, but they now have a two-goal deficit to make up.

[ MORE: Arsenal falls to Stade Rennais ]

Chelsea, meanwhile, enjoyed a dominating display at Stamford Bridge, taking a significant lead with them into the second leg in the Ukraine. Pedro scored the opener on a wonderful flick from Olivier Giroud, while Willian and Callum Hudson-Odoi added the cherry on top as the Blues were in charge throughout. Chelsea finished the match with eight shots on target and held Dynamo to none.

[ MORE: Chelsea pummels Dynamo Kiev ]

Marcelo Brozovic missed a penalty and Ivan Perisic was yanked with an injury as a poor Inter performance resulted in a 0-0 draw at Eintracht Frankfurt. Lautaro Martinez was fouled in the penalty area on 22 minutes running away from goal chasing a loose ball, leading to Brozovic’s attempt from the spot, but his penalty was low and weak, and Eintracht goalkeeper Kevin Trapp dove to reach it for the save. In the 59th minute, Perisic was withdrawn after an injury, replaced by Antonio Candreva. Perisic has been a critical player for Inter this season, playing 2,511 minutes out of a possible 3,240 across all competitions.

Inter was lucky to escape with the draw, as Frankfurt had a goal disallowed in the 50th minute for an interfering player standing in an offside position, while defender Martin Hinteregger missed a wide open header in the 69th minute. Samir Handanovic was required in the 89th minute as he made a fingertip save on a shot by Luka Jovic.

Napoli blitzed FC Salzburg with two goals inside the opening 20 minutes and cruised to a 3-0 win. Arkadiusz Milik found himself free on goal after a beautiful feed from Dries Mertens for the opener just 10 minutes in, while Fabian Ruiz volleyed in Napoli’s second eight minutes later. The Italians found a third just before the hour mark, with Mario Rui’s deep cross headed into his own net by Jerome Onguene.

Valencia grabbed two early goals at home on a brace by Spanish international Rodrigo, but Russian side Krasnodar picked up an important away goal in a 2-1 finish. Rodrigo’s first was a wonderful curler unleashed at the top of the box and finishing in the top-left corner of the net in the 12th minute. He doubled Valencia’s lead in the 24th minute with a powerful low finish on a cross from Toni Lato. The visitors picked up the important consolation just past the hour mark as Viktor Claesson beat Cristiano Piccini to a long ball and muscled the Valencia defender off the ball for a fastbreak finish.

Dinamo Zagreb topped Benfica in Croatia 1-0 on a penalty by Bruno Petkovic in the 38th minute. Benfica held 65% of possession but managed just two shots on target and conceded the penalty when Ruben Dias barged over Dani Olmo in the penalty area.

Sevilla drew 2-2 at home with Slavia Prague with all four goals scored in a wild first half. Wissam Ben Yedder scored in the opening minute of the match, threaded through after a turnover in midfield to put Sevilla 1-0 up after just 24 seconds. The visitors drew back level in the 25th minute, but Munir El Haddadi put Sevilla back up just three minutes later, volleying home a corner with power. Alex Kral levelled things up again in the 39th minute on a hilarious goal that saw the ball ping off his neck unintentionally, looping into the top corner.

That was all for the scoring, as Sevilla pushed for a winner with nine total shots including four on target, while holding Slavia Prague to no shots on target in the second half. The final result is a win for Slavia Prague who heads home with a pair of away goals.

Villareal went into halftime level with Zenit St. Petersburg 1-1 and came away with a 3-1 win after second-half goals from Gerard Moreno and Manuel Morlanes. Moreno headed home Pablo Fornals’ cross in the 64th minute to give Villareal the lead, while Morlanes blasted his low effort through traffic in the 71st minute to seal the win. Sardar Azmoun and Vicente Iborra had cancelled each other out in the first half.

VIDEO: Pochettino addresses fans during 1st game at new stadium

Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino must’ve felt some kind of way on Sunday considering the teams on the pitch and the occasion.

Tottenham Hotspur’s U-18 side met Southampton’s U-18s in one of two “test matches” at the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, necessary to get inspected for safety, and Pochettino was on hand to give a speech at halftime of the first soccer match played at the ground.

[ MORE: Man City seeks Bayern apology ]

But for Pochettino, it probably felt even wilder; Here was a visiting side from the club he left in order to seek bigger things at Spurs, the club he’s stayed with despite alluring (alleged) offers from giants of the European game. From SkySports.com:

“We all feel the same, so excited. I got the same feeling when we left White Hart Lane on the last day, we were crying and now in the first day in the new stadium we feel the same emotion,” Pochettino said, on the pitch at half-time. “We need to cry because our dream became true.”

There was a hint of the future beyond the natural tie-ins of a U18 side and building, as 18-year-old Oliver Skipp started the match. He has six appearances for the senior side. Pochettino’s 17-year-old son Maurizio, who has played with the club’s U-23s, started the match on the bench.

There will be another warm-up match, with Spurs alumni meeting Inter Milan alumni, before Tottenham opens its official march with a visit from Crystal Palace in the Premier League on April 3.

The world’s most political game? Venezuela v. Catalonia

Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images
Leave a comment

MADRID (AP) There will be lots of politics to talk about when Venezuela takes on a Catalonia squad in a friendly soccer game in Spain on Monday.

Venezuela has a coach who offered his resignation over the alleged political use of his national team, while Catalonia — the region in the middle of an independence dispute with — will be missing players because some non-Catalan teams didn’t release them.

Venezuela is coming off a convincing 3-1 win over Lionel Messi’s Argentina on Friday, but what attracted most of the attention after the friendly was an announcement by Venezuela coach Rafael Dudamel. He offered his resignation because he was not happy with the politicization of a pre-game visit by a representative of Juan Guaido, the man challenging Nicolas Maduro’s claim to the presidency in Venezuela.

Dudamel and the rest of the squad had welcomed the visit but the coach apparently did not like that images were later released to the public.

“Regrettably, they politicized the visit,” Dudamel said. “The agreement was that if there was any image or video, it would have been used internally only. But they politicized the visit, and we can’t allow that to happen. It was regrettable how they used it.”

Venezuela is in the middle of a power struggle since Maduro’s re-election last year was deemed illegitimate by several governments.

Dudamel said he will remain in charge of the squad on Monday, but his future will depend on talks with Venezuelan soccer federation officials in the coming days.

Catalonia has also undergone political turmoil, peaking recently in 2017 with an independence referendum not recognized by Madrid. The issue divided Spain at the time and remains a hot topic politically.

Although the region is not independent, Catalonia has often put together squads to play in friendly matches against other nations.

Among the Catalan players expected to play on Monday are veterans Gerard Pique and Xavi Hernandez. Both have retired from the Spanish national team and are off-duty with their clubs because of the international break.

Hernandez, a 39-year-old midfielder, currently plays in Qatar. The 32-year-old Pique, still a starter with Barcelona, decided to stop playing with Spain’s national team after the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

But other players initially selected for the squad were not released by their clubs, who said their decisions were not related to politics.

Valladolid, which is fighting relegation from the top tier of the Spanish league, was the first team to keep its players from taking part in Monday’s match, and Rayo Vallecano and Huesca — also threatened by relegation — later followed suit.

“We understand the reasons why these clubs are not going to let their players play,” Catalonia coach Gerard Lopez said.

The match will be played in Girona, a Catalan city about 60 miles from Barcelona.

Redknapp claims innocence for Birmingham’s overspending, deduction

Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Harry Redknapp claims that he is not at all responsible for the nine-point recently handed to Birmingham City as punishment for “breaching profitability and sustainability rules” in the EFL Championship.

[ MORE: Mourinho “preparing” for next job; expects to start “in June” ]

Despite managing the club for five months, from April to September 2017 — a period in which the Blues signed nine new players (six for transfer fees, three on free transfers) and saw the overall wage bill continue to rise — Redknapp has washed his hands of the entire situation and believes “I don’t think any of the signings were mine” — quotes from the Guardian:

“There were three lads from Brentford that came in [Jota, Harlee Dean and Maxime Colin]. They were all good players but they weren’t on my shopping list. I’d never even see any of them play, they were brought in by other people above my head.

“We brought in Isaac Vassell for $1.3 million [from Luton] and he will be worth massive money in my opinion. He was an absolute bargain, but I can’t even take credit for that because he was nothing to do with me, to be truthful. I don’t think any of the signings were mine. I was taking [John] Ruddy on a free transfer from Norwich and instead they brought in David Stockdale from Brighton. The director of football [Jeff Vetere] wasn’t brought in by me either.”

Only, with regard to the signing of Spanish midfielder Jota, Redknapp had the following to say hours before his signing was made official, per Guardian columnist Daniel Taylor:

“I’m hoping it will be done. It’s not done yet. I just identify them, then it’s up to other people to get them in.”

[thinking-face emoji slash upside down smiling emoji]

While Redknapp is hugely disingenuous in accepting zero responsibility, those in charge of the various clubs at which he has run up massive debts managed could try something entirely new: tell the man, “No.”

Juventus sets record for attendance at women’s club game

Photo credit: @JuventusFCWomen
Leave a comment

TURIN, Italy (AP) A week after the world record for the highest attendance at a women’s soccer club match was set, a league record in Italy was also broken.

[ MORE: Mourinho “preparing” for next job; expects to start “in June” ]

Juventus’ women’s team played for the first time at the Allianz Stadium on Sunday and a total of 39,027 people turned out to see the league leaders beat second-place Fiorentina 1-0.

That annihilated the previous record attendance for a women’s club match in Italy of 14,000 spectators.

All tickets were free.

Defending champion Juventus, which normally plays its matches at the club’s training center in Vinovo, extended its advantage at the top of the Serie A table to four points ahead of Fiorentina and seven ahead of third-place AC Milan.

[ MORE: Messi injured in Argentina return; likely to recover for Man Utd clash ]

A total of 60,739 people were present at Atletico Madrid’s Wanda Metropolitano Stadium last Sunday as the hosts lost 2-0 to Barcelona.

In January, Athletic Bilbao said it set a European record when 48,121 spectators attended a Spanish Cup match against Atletico Madrid at San Mames Stadium in Bilbao.

The record for any women’s match was set in 1999 when 90,185 people watched the World Cup final between the United States and China at the Rose Bowl, which the U.S. won. At the 2012 Olympic final in London, 80,203 saw the U.S. beat Japan.