Getty Images

Inaugural Nations League surpasses most expectations

Leave a comment

PORTO, Portugal (AP) The Estadio do Dragao was still filled as Cristiano Ronaldo and his teammates congratulated each other and waited for the trophy presentation after Portugal won the UEFA Nations League title.

When Ronaldo lifted the trophy, the crowd erupted in cheers. Confetti and fireworks went off behind the stage set up at midfield.

Players then went around the field to thank the fans, who sang and waved Portugal flags.

About an hour later, several thousand people packed a plaza in Porto to celebrate with the squad. Ronaldo and other players addressed the crowd from a balcony.

UEFA’s newest national team competition looked far from meaningless when it ended on Sunday in Portugal.

The tournament created to give national teams more meaningful games and reduce the number of friendlies surpassed most expectations, receiving praise by those involved and giving Portugal another trophy to add to its gallery.

“Although it’s the first edition of the competition, I think it will grow very well and will end up being a competition for the entire European family,” Portugal coach Fernando Santos said. “Being the first winner is something that will go down in history. It’s a cause for joy for us, for the Portuguese people.”

Runner-up Netherlands fell short of its first title since the 1988 European Championship. But the competition was crucial to help the team restore its confidence after failing to qualify for the last two major tournaments – the 2018 World Cup and the 2016 European Championship.

The Dutch eliminated the last two World Cup champions in the competition’s group stage – France and Germany – and it got past England in the semifinals this week.

“I think it’s a great tournament,” Netherlands coach Ronald Koeman said. “If you back across the whole season of the Nations League, you see how happy Portugal were to win this prize, how focused we were to win this prize tonight. I think the intensity in the groups was really high and I think the idea to organize the Nations League was perfect. We’re looking forward to the next one.”

There was criticism a few years ago when UEFA announced it was adding yet another official competition to an already busy calendar. Clubs complained, saying it would put even more strain on players. Some coaches also didn’t like it, saying it was too much soccer. Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp called it “senseless.”

But in the end the competition certainly meant a lot to Portugal, even if not as much as the European Championship the team won three year ago in France. And the title also probably would have meant a lot to the other nations that made it to the inaugural Final Four.

England had the chance of ending a drought of more than five decades without a trophy, dating to the 1966 World Cup at home, and Switzerland was just two games away from its first ever title.

“Some people were skeptical against the Nations League, especially the clubs. They didn’t think this could be an interesting competition,” Switzerland coach Vladimir Petkovic said. “But it’s the contrary. Every single team in every single league wanted to win. We are happy to be here, and I think in the future we will see that this competition might become even more interesting.”

The tournament produced some exciting games, especially in the final rounds of the group stage. Both England and the Netherlands needed dramatic late goals just to make it to the Final Four.

Perhaps the most lackluster game of the whole tournament came in the third-place match on Sunday, when England defeated Switzerland in a penalty shootout after a 0-0 draw.

Promotion and relegation between the four leagues added excitement to the competition. Europe’s smallest teams finally had something to play for, as the group winners in all leagues were assured of a place in the 2020 European Championship qualifying playoffs. Among the nations which are now closer to making it to Euro 2020 are Kosovo and Georgia.

UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin said last year the Nations League was “even more successful than we thought,” and the governing body recently said the competition may provide a qualifying path to the 2022 World Cup, with teams earning places in the playoffs via the new competition.

In addition to lifting the winner’s trophy on Sunday, Portugal also took home the prize of 10.5 million euros ($11.9 million).

“We are very happy to be the first winners and to go down in history,” Santos said.

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

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

Griezmann: Playing for Barcelona is ‘not the easiest’

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Over the summer, Barcelona shelled a whopping $135 million to land Antoine Griezmann from Atletico Madrid.

It was a match made in heaven; the rest was supposed to be history.

Only that hasn’t been the case for the Frenchman in Barcelona.

Despite scoring a brace in his debut at the Camp Nou, Griezmann’s impact and influence on the field has quickly dwindled. In 11 league appearances with the Catalan giants, the 28-year-old has scored four goals and added three assists, signs that the World Cup winner is, in fact, struggling with his new team.

Speaking to Telefoot, Griezmann revealed that playing for Barcelona is not an easy thing to do, but that with hard work, his fortunes will turn around for the best:

“It is hard, I knew it would be, it is not the easiest place. This is a new team, a new club, new tactics, a new position. I have to work, try to understand my team-mates, after they will understand me too and it will work just like that… Critics will always be there. But I am good, I am proud of where I am. Only work pays off. I have to take confidence and it will all come just like that.”

This season, Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde has frequently deployed the Frenchman as a left winger, with the hope that he will link up with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez. The positives form such an ideology have yet to be reaped, however. Griezmann is scoring a goal every 224 minutes, a career worst.

The 28-year-old, too, has played in a central role on a couple of occasions, specifically during the absences of Messi and Suarez, but it hasn’t worked out for a player that has made a career from roaming that part of the field.

The building clamor at the Camp Nou is borderline justifiable – mainly because it’s now evident that Griezmann is wrestling with adapting to the expectations and systems in place in Barcelona.

But the high-flying attacker has proven he’s worth the price time and time again, and now he’s on the record saying that he’ll do everything in his power to do so with his new club.

Real Monarchs beat Louisville City to win first ever USL Cup

twitter.com/RealMonarchs
Leave a comment

Real Monarchs scored three unanswered goals as they routed Louisville City 3-1 at Lynn Stadium to win their first ever USL Cup title.

Noah Powder’s goal in the 66th minute sealed the deal for the visitor’s, adding to the goals scored by defenders Erik Holt and Konrad Plewa in the first half.

Surprisingly enough, it was Lou City who got off to a superb start on Sunday night, though.

Only six minutes after the initial whistle, Lou City’s leading goalscorer, Magnus Rasmussen, scored the game’s first goal, breaking a record for the fastest goal in a USL Cup final.

The defeat brings an end to Lou City’s historic run of consecutive USL Cup-winning seasons.

On July 1, former Real Salt Lake defender, Jamison Olave, took over as the Monarchs interim coach following Martin Vasquez’s unexpected resignation.

Man arrested after English soccer player reports homophobia

Getty Images
Leave a comment

TRANMERE, England — A footballer in England’s third tier reported being subjected to homophobic abuse from the stands, leading to police making one arrest.

Wycombe goalkeeper Ryan Allsop told the referee of the abuse at halftime of the League One soccer game at Tranmere as his team won 2-0.

Tranmere says it is very disappointed to learn of a homophobic comment made.

In a statement, Merseyside Police condemned abhorrent incidents.

Police Chief Inspector Jason Crellin added that “hate crime has no place in our communities, and not least at a showcase sporting event attended and watched by many people.”

Brazil beat Mexico to win U-17 World Cup (video)

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Brazil became Under-17 world champions for a fourth time in dramatic fashion as Lazaro Vinicius Marques’ scored a 93rd-minute winner to edge Mexico 2-1 at Estadio Bezerrão on Sunday.

Brazil’s comeback started in the 84th minute when Kaio Jorge converted from the penalty spot, following VAR’s decision which ruled contact on the tournament’s Golden Ball winner, Gabriel Veron, inside the 18-yard box.

With Brazilian legends Ronaldo and Cafu in attendance, the host’s had the better of chances throughout the first 45 minutes. Without any luck, however, Brazil were unable to get the ball past Eduardo Garcia, instead hitting the bar on several occasions.

Then in the 66th minute, Mexico – winners of the tournament in 2005 and in 2011 – stunned the home crowd when Bronze Ball winner Eugenio Pizzoto’s cross into the box was headed into the back of the net by Bryan Alonso Gonzalez Olivan, breaking the deadlock between two sides that had met in the same game back in 2005.

What was going to be a stunning, underdog victory for El Tri, turned into a heartbreaking night for Marco “Chima” Ruiz and company.

Brazil, on the other hand, are now only one championship away from tying Nigeria’s record of five championships.