Dusan Tadic

UCL Wrap: Celtic shocked, Ajax advance

Leave a comment

Celtic will miss out on the UEFA Champions League group stages – and that sweet sweet television, sponsorship and ticket revenue – for the second consecutive year.

The Bhoys in Green suffered a stunning 4-3 defeat at home to CFR Cluj, coughing up a second half 3-2 (and 4-3 on aggregate) lead in the process at Celtic Park on Tuesday evening. Coming off a 1-1 draw in Romania, Celtic trailed 1-0 at halftime in Scotland thanks to a header from veteran winger Ciprian Deac.

[READ: UEFA Super Cup Preview: Chelsea v. Liverpool]

However, in a ten minute span in the second half, Celtic appeared to turn around the tie. Neil Lennon’s side were more creative and attacked with more urgency after halftime, and it showed as James Forrest hammered home to tie the match on the night. Then, Celtic striker Odsonne Edouard, who’s dummy lead to the first Celtic goal, finished off a cross from new signing Hatem Abd Elhamed to send the Celtic fans into pure delirium.

Celtic and Cluj then traded goals, with Billel Omrani scoring a penalty kick before Ryan Christie’s 76th minute strike put Celtic ahead again. Unfortunately for Celtic, it was short lived. Omrani scored again in the 80th minute and George Țucudean scored on a breakaway to put Celtic away and help advance the Romanian side to the Play-Off Round.

Here’s a roundup of the rest of the UCL results across Europe.


Ajax outlast PAOK

Two penalty kick goals from Ajax captain Dusan Tadic helped the Champions League semifinalists from a year ago advance to the next round of qualifying.

Tadic scored on either side of halftime, including an 85th minute goal that helped put just enough distance as Ajax won, 3-2 over PAOK, winning 5-4 on aggregate. Diego Biseswar, born in Amsterdam and a one-time member of Ajax’s youth academy, scored a brace, including the opening goal for his side on the road.

After Tadic tied it two minutes before halftime, PAOK pushed for another, but defender Nicolas Tagliafico headed home in the 79th minute and Tadic again extended the lead six minutes later. Biseswar scored in stoppage time to give PAOK some hope, but they ran out of time.

With the win, Ajax advances to face APOEL in the next round.

Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League scores (aggregate scores in parenthesis): 

Qarabag 0-2 APOEL (2-3)
Rosenborg 3-1 Maribor (6-2)
Dynamo Kiev 3-3 Club Brugge (3-4)
FC Copenhagen 1-1 Red Star Belgrade (2-2, Red Star wins 7-6 on penalty kicks)
Ferencvaros 0-4 Dinamo Zagreb (1-5)
LASK 3-1 Basel (5-2)
Olympiakos 2-0 Istanbul Basaksehir (3-0)
FC Porto 2-3 Krasnodar (3-3, Krasnodar advances on away goals)

Watford downed late by Ajax in preseason friendly

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Watford went toe-to-toe with Champions League semifinalists Ajax for most of the match, but capitulated late as Dutch youth international Jurrien Timber scored an 89th minute winner in a 2-1 win for the Eredivisie side in Austria.

Andre Gray put the Hornets up from the penalty spot six minutes before the break as American youth international Sergino Dest was called for an unlucky handball in the box. Abdoulaye Doucoure danced through the box and as he looked to skip the ball past Dest, it popped up and caught the American’s arm. Gray delivered and put Watford 1-0 up at the break.

The lead would only last until the 51st minute when Dusan Tadic found himself on the ball at the end line on the right, and he cut back to Donny van de Beek through the dummy of Kasper Dolberg on the penalty spot for an easy low finish and a 1-1 scoreline. It would stay that way until one minute to go in regulation as Carel Eiting sent a ball into the box where the 18-year-old Timber lept with his back to goal and clipped the ball off the top of his head for the winner, burying the chance inside the far post.

Both teams featured strong lineups, as Watford ran out stars like Gray, Tom Cleverley, Adrian Mariappa, and former Eredivisie veteran Daryl Janmaat while Nathan Chalobah, Gerard Deulofeu, and Jose Holebas came off the bench. Ajax saw van de Beek, Tadic, Dolberg, and Daley Blind all make the starting lineup.

Next for Watford is a match against Bayer Leverkusen on Saturday, also taking place in Austria.

Southampton ‘not a pig to be fattened’

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Southampton’s majority owner Gao Jisheng has rarely talked about purchasing the Premier League club. If ever.

However, the Chinese real estate tycoon has now been talking and it doesn’t seem like he’s willing to pump much, if any, of his own money into Saints in the coming years.

In a rare interview with the Financial Times in Shanghai, Gao revealed some of his plans for the future of the South Coast club.

“I am not treating Southampton as a pig to be fattened and sold,” Gao said. “I am treating it as a child. But my children must believe they cannot depend on the boss. I have said to Southampton: ‘I am now your father. But I am putting you on the right track: you need to feed yourself.’”

He added: “The club’s financial situation is good this year and it doesn’t require more investment.”

Southampton’s fans will not be too shocked to hear these words from Gao, but will be intrigued to have had heard anything at all from him.

The Chinese businessman often attends games but has never spoken publicly about his reasons and motivations for buying an 80 percent stake in the club from the Liebherr family back in 2017.

With his property company Lander Sports buying the club, Gao recently sold a large chunk of his stake in Lander to the Chinese government which led to the Premier League requesting information from Southampton about whether or not they were now owned by the state of China.

Gao has brushed off those suggestions, saying he has given the PL the information they need and they are satisfied. Lander Sports, who own the 80 percent stake in Saints, are based in Hong Kong due to strict laws about risky foreign investments in mainland China.

All of this is a little confusing for Southampton fans, but the main thing to come from Gao’s comments is that they shouldn’t expect a huge flurry of big money signings as long as he’s the owner but they could spend some money this summer without selling anybody.

Gao wants the club to be self-sustaining and that is pretty admirable in this day and age when fans demand huge money spent on new players, and will then slam the club when relegation could see it spiral into financial meltdown.

Southampton have always been a club which produces young talent and then sells players on for a huge profit. That won’t change anytime soon.

But after two close shaves with relegation over the past two seasons, it is clear Southampton’s squad needs a large rebuild under Ralph Hasenhuttl this summer. If they can sell on a plethora of players who have been out of the picture and out on loan last season, then they will be able to reinvest that cash in new players.

How successful Saints are at doing that this offseason will determine if Hasenhuttl’s side can kick on and push for a top 10 finish next season. The coach has worked wonders with one of the youngest squads in the PL since he arrived last December and there is plenty of promise that a full season of Hasenhuttl-ball will see Saints not embroiled in yet another relegation scrap.

Gao’s comments underline the fact he will not spend big like Wolves’ Chinese owners Fosun, but given how much Saints have spent over the past few years (they are one of the few PL clubs to make a profit in transfer business year in, year out) this wasn’t a huge surprise.

With Southampton playing a game in China again this offseason, their new sponsorship deal with LD Sports (a company yet to launch in China) has seen them double their revenue in terms of sponsorship in a club-record deal.

Gao’s connections in China are helping the club financially in certain aspects, but it appears they will not pump money in to try and challenge the PL’s elite like they did in years gone by under Ronald Koeman. In truth, their success under Koeman was fuelled by selling a host of star names such as Adam Lallana, Luke Shaw, Dejan Lovren and Morgan Schneiderlin, which allowed them to buy Sadio Made, Dusan Tadic, Graziano Pelle and Virgil Van Dijk among others.

Saints must unearth a few more gems in the transfer window this summer to keep their model rolling along and bring about another push into the top half of the table. They have a great manager, some talented youngsters and a sensible owner.

The latter will hamper any progress their fans have of making another push for European qualification in the years to come.

Euro qualifiers: Spain rolls, Ukraine blasts Serbia, Poland hangs on

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The third round of Euro 2020 qualification began Friday as 12 games all took place around the continent with teams looking to reach the multi-national final next summer.

Here’s a rundown of each game that took place:

Faroe Islands 1-4 Spain

The visitors will be miffed to concede a goal, but the result was never really in doubt as Spain went ahead just five minutes in on Sergio Ramos’s header and never looked back. Jesus Navas made it 2-0 inside 20 minutes from a very tight angle, and while the tiny nation crawled back within one on the half-hour mark with a well-worked corner, Spain wrestled control back three minutes later with an own-goal by Faroe Islands goalkeeper Teitur Matras Gestsson, and killed off the game with 19 minutes to go as delicious through-ball from Marco Asensio fed Valencia winger Jose Gaya through on goal for a calm finish.

Ukraine 5-0 Serbia

A shocking scoreline saw Serbia lay an egg on the road in L’viv as Yevhen Konoplyanka’s brace led Ukraine to a massive win to take control of Group B. 21-year-old Dynamo Kiev winger Viktor Tsyhankov also bagged a pair, scoring two minutes apart just before the half-hour mark – the second of which was a screamer from well outside the box – while Konoplyanka tacked on to the lead with his stellar second half.

Serbia was well and truly thumped, managing just one shot on target the whole match despite a strong lineup that featured Dusan Tadic, Adem Ljajic, Aleksandar Kolarov, and new Real Madrid signing Luka Jovic.

Czech Republic 2-1 Bulgaria

Ismail Isa put Bulgaria in front just three minutes into the game on just his second international cap, but the hosts rallied in Praha behind a brace from 23-year-old Roma striker Patrik Schick to earn its first points of the qualifying cycle. Schick’s first leveled the score 19 minutes in, and the winner came just after halftime thanks to some silky moves in the box that turned Vasil Bozhikov around like a top.

Denmark 1-1 Republic of Ireland

Denmark appeared to have won a sloppy and physical match in the 76th minute on a thumping header by Southampton midfielder Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, but the Republic of Ireland stayed the course and earned a late draw as Shane Duffy pumped in a header of his own five minutes from time. Denmark was sloppy up front for much of the game, ripping off 18 shots but finding the target with just three, and they would rue their wastefulness in the end, drawing for the second time in two games while Republic of Ireland stayed top of Group D on seven points.

Macedonia 0-1 Poland

Halftime substitute Krzysztof Piatek carried his hot club form into the summer, with his 47th minute winner the difference as Poland earned a more difficult than anticipated win. The goal came in gloriously sloppy fashion, with Macedonia somehow unable to clear a corner and the ball pinged around to Piatek at point blank range with bodies all around. That was Poland’s only shot on target the entire match in an otherwise uninspiring performance despite the presence of Robert Lewandowski and Piotr Zielinski in the lineup.

Norway 2-2 Romania

Martin Odegaard scored his first international goal, but Romania came from 2-0 down to grab a last-gasp draw in the 92nd minute to secure a share of the spoils in Oslo. Alexandru Maxim’s initial shot was blocked, but it fell right to the feet of Claudiu Keseru who had snuck behind Kristoffer Ajer to poke home the late equalizing goal. All four goals came in the second half, with Keseru bagging a brace after his first in the 76th minute gave Romania life.

Sweden 3-0 Malta

Robin Quaison opened the scoring just two minutes in, Viktor Claesson struck just after halftime, and Alexander Isak finished it off five minutes from full-time as Sweden completed a wire-to-wire victory over Malta to stay within striking distance of Spain in Group F. The second was the best of the bunch as Claesson scored thanks to a simply stunning back-heel assist from Marcus Berg who popped the ball up and over the defense right at the feet of the Krasnodar frontman for the finish.

Austria 1-0 Slovenia

Schalke striker Guido Burgstaller earned Austria all three points with his 74th minute winner for the country’s first points in Group G play. Coming on in the 71st minute, he scored after just three minutes on the pitch after great work from stars David Alaba and Marko Arnautovic. Alaba’s ball into the box fell to the feet of Arnautovic right on the doorstep, and the West Ham attacker held off his defender to deliver a shot, and his saved effort rebounded right to Burgstaller.

Latvia 0-3 Israel

Lithuania 1-1 Luxembourg

Montenegro 1-1 Kosovo

Georgia 3-0 Gibraltar

Spurs overturn 3-0 deficit to reach UCL final (video)

Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images
4 Comments

Another day, another unbelievable, three-goal comeback in the second leg of the UEFA Champions League semifinals.

Tottenham Hotspur went from 1-0 down after the first leg against Ajax, to 3-0 down at halftime of the second leg, to level at 3-3 and through to the the final on June 1 in Madrid on away goals. Lucas Moura scored all three of Tottenham’s goals, including the tie-winner as the literal final second on the clock ticked away to read 95:00.

Mauricio Pochettino‘s side will face the Liverpool side that overturned a 3-0 deficit to Barcelona at Anfield on Tuesday.

It’s the first time Tottenham Hotspur have ever reached the final of Europe’s premier competition.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Ajax began the second leg exactly as they started — and finished — the first leg: on the front foot and causing Tottenham problems. Dusan Tadic forced Hugo Lloris into a stellar, full-stretch save in the 4th minute. It was the ensuing corner kick, however, that broke Spurs’ back. Matthijs de Ligt was lost in the shuffle of Spurs’ marking assignments and flicked a perfectly placed header inside Lloris’ right-hand post to make it 1-0 on the day and 2-0 on aggregate.

Spurs went close to pulling a goal back with two chances in the 23rd minute. First, Dele Alli slipped a pass past three defenders to send Son Heung-min through on goal, but Spurs’ star man couldn’t get the ball out of his feet to produce a stronger, better placed effort. Seconds later, Spurs connected a series of passes and got the ball into the box, where it fell to Christian Eriksen at the edge of the box. His left-footed shot had more behind it, but was hit into the waiting arms of Andre Onana.

Ajax’s second goal came in the 35th minute, they won the ball near midfield and broke out in a three-on-three counter-attack. Hakim Ziyech began left of Tadic, and that’s the option he chose. Tadic ran at Toby Aldeweireld until he hit the ground near the six-yard box, and Ziyech unleashed a missile into the side netting that Lloris had no chance of saving.

[ MORE: Where does Liverpool’s amazing UCL comeback rank all-time? ]

Ajax welcomed Spurs to take the initiative and enjoy plenty of possession in the second half. That’s when things got really interesting, and Spurs’ Lucas Moura’s desperate comeback began.

Alli slipped another one of those through balls in behind to make an even better one-on-one chance for Moura in the 55th minute. The Brazilian finished with a cool head for 3-1. Four minutes later, Fernando Llorente couldn’t convert from point-blank range, but fortunately for him, Moura wasn’t far away and ready to curl the ball home… after a bit of chaos and close-control dribbling.

Ziyech had Ajax’s best chance to restore the two-goal lead they so desperately needed in the 79th minute, but his left-footed strike from the edge of the box crashed off the front side of Lloris’ left-hand post.

Eight minutes later, two more chance(s) came for Spurs… and went in heartbreaking, soul-crushing fashion. Jan Vertonghen, completely unmarked at the top of the six, put his head on the ball and had Onana beaten, if only his header was a couple inches lower. Crossbar. The rebound fell to Vertonghen, though, with Onana scrambling. His follow-up effort was kept out by a sea of bodies on the goal line.

With 94:54 on the clock, Moussa Sissoko booted the ball forward from midfield. With 94:58 on the clock, the ball fell to Dele Alli atop the box, courtesy of Llorente. As the clock struck 95:00, Moura latched onto a pass from Alli and placed it ever so precisely in the corner to break more than 50,000 hearts inside the Amsterdam Arena.