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UEFA Champions League

UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE: BARCELONA, DORTMUND A STEP AWAY FROM ROUND OF 16

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BY APESIN ADEMOLA.

 

Lionel Messi returned from injury layoff ahead of time and should be in the squad as Barcelona hope to wrap up proceedings in Group B on time.

 

Three wins in as many matches have set the Catalans ahead of the field, three points clear of tonight’s opponents, Inter.

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The Nerazzurri will however be baying for blood at the San Siro having lost the first leg 2-0.

 

Inter’s resurgence is signposted by their being second placed in Serie A ahead of Napoli.

 

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Since suffering a lone goal home defeat to Parma on Matchday 4 of the current Serie A season, Inter have gone on to win all their matches in all competitions, except the setback at Camp Nou. That is nine matches on the bounce!

 

In that same group are Tottenham and PSV Eindhoven, who both file out at Wembley chasing their first win of the group stage.

 

The first leg ended 2-2 in Eindhoven, the only time both times will gain a point in three group fixtures.

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Spurs battled out a 3-2 win away to Wolverhampton Wanderers in the English Premier League on Saturday to displace Arsenal at fourth spot.

 

That followed their 3-1 win over West Ham United also on the road, which extinguished their home lone goal loss to Manchester City.

 

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With five points adrift of the second round qualification bar, Spurs know that this is a must-win encounter.

 

In Group A, Borussia Dortmund will qualify for the Round of 16 with two matches to spare if they achieve double victory over their Spanish hosts, Atlético.

 

Diego Simeone’s side crumbled 0-4 at Signal-Iduna Park in Dortmund a fortnight ago but have won two other games since then – 2-0 against Real Sociedad in LaLiga and 1-0 away to UE Sant Andreu in Copa del Rey – and forced a 1-1 draw away to CD Leganés in their last match on Saturday in the domestic league.

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The pressure is more on Atlético, who are three points adrift of their opponents as maximum points will draw them level going into the last two fixtures of the group stage.

 

Given that their subsequent opponents will be AS Monaco and Club Brugge, both posting only one point in three group matches, the chances of Atlético advancing to the knockout stages with Dortmund will be boosted by victory tonight.

 

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In the earlier match in the group, Thierry Henry will be seeking his first win since his managerial career commenced at his former club, Monaco.

 

Henry, whose club career began at Monaco before he blossomed at Arsenal, signed a three-year managerial deal with his former club on October 18.

 

He has lost two matches and shared honours in the other two, and hoping to win his first match versus Club Brugge this evening.

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Defeat for either Monaco or Brugge, who finished the first leg 1-1 in Brugge, will spell elimination from the elite club competition.

 

In Group C, despite the highly-prized stars in PSG, the Parisians have failed to match up to pre-tournament rating in the Champions League this season.

 

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Although they established a record of 12 consecutive wins in Europe’s top five leagues with their defeat of Lille last Friday, that impressive run has not been translated into Europe as they have managed only one win against Serbian minnows Crvena Zvezda.

 

They drew with Napoli and lost to Liverpool to stand at No 3.

 

Kylian Mbappe, Neymar and company face second place Napoli, who battled to a 2-2 result in Paris two weeks ago.

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Napoli have been in decent form in Serie A, currently sitting third in the table after 11 games.

 

They won their last game against Empoli 5-1, which should give them confidence going into this crucial clash with the French champions.

 

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Victory over Liverpool and a draw with PSG should also give Napoli encouragement that they can challenge PSG again in this fixture.

 

Fresh from a frenetic 1-1 outcome at the Emirates Stadium versus Arsenal on Saturday, Liverpool go into battle with Group C’s whipping side Crvena Zvezda, who they thrashed 4-0 at Anfield in the first leg. The Reds might have exited the English League Cup quite early – losing to Chelsea at the first time of asking – but they are one of three teams without a loss in the English Premier League this season after 11 rounds of matches.

 

Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane will all be ready to make it double victory over their hosts, a result that will move them nearer the knockout rounds.

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Group D have FC Porto ahead of Schalke 04 by two points, while Galatasaray are a point behind the German side.

 

Porto will strive at a double over bottom-placed Lokomotiv Moskva, who lost the first leg 3-1, while Schalke welcome Galatasaray to their Veltins-Arena in Gelsenkirchen. The reverse fixture ended goalless.

 

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Fixtures…

Group A:

  • AS Monaco v Club Brugge (first leg 1-1) (6:55pm)
  • Atlético Madrid v Borussia Dortmund (first leg Borussia Dortmund 4-0) (9pm)

 

Group B:

  • Tottenham Hotspur v PSV Eindhoven (first leg 2-2) (9pm)
  • Internazionale Milano v Barcelona (first leg Barcelona 2-0) (9pm)

 

Group C:

  • FK Crvena Zvezda v Liverpool (first leg Liverpool 4-0) (6:55pm)
  • Napoli v Paris Saint-Germaine (first leg 2-2) (9pm)

 

Group D:

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  • FC Porto v Lokomotiv Moskva (first leg FC Porto 3-1) (9pm)
  • Schalke 04 v Galatasaray (first leg 0-0) (9pm)

 

 

 

Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

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UEFA Champions League

Italy and Germany to have five clubs in 2024-25 Champions League

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How CAF Champions League and Confederation Cup Draw will be conducted

Italy and Germany have earned an extra spot in the Champions League next season after their clubs performed well in European competitions this season, Europe’s soccer governing body UEFA said on Friday.

With the Champions League expanding to 36 teams next season, UEFA said two of the four additional places would be filled by European Performance Spots which go to associations “with the best collective performance by their clubs” in UEFA competitions.

After the semi-final legs of the Champions League, Europa League and Europa Conference League concluded this week, UEFA said Italy and Germany are guaranteed to finish in the top two of the 2023-24 association club coefficients.

As things stand, Borussia Dortmund are outside the top four in the Bundesliga but will qualify in fifth place.

Dortmund are also in the Champions League final where they will play Real Madrid and should they beat the Spanish giants, they would qualify as winners anyway.

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Their German rivals and Bundesliga champions Bayer Leverkusen are in the Europa League final where they will face Italian side Atalanta, who currently hold on to fifth place in Serie A with a game in hand.

But AS Roma are also in contention, with both teams on 60 points while Lazio are four points behind.

Premier League clubs Manchester City and Arsenal exited the Champions League in the quarter-finals which hurt England’s chances of improving its club coefficient.

Aston Villa — who were knocked out of the Europa Conference League semi-finals on Thursday — can seal the fourth and final spot if they win their next game to deny fifth-placed Tottenham Hotspur a place in the Champions League.

-Reuters

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UEFA Champions League

PSG can take positives despite missing out on Champions League again

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Champions League - Semi Final - Second Leg - Paris St Germain v Borussia Dortmund - Parc des Princes, Paris, France - May 7, 2024 Paris St Germain coach Luis Enrique and Kylian Mbappe look dejected after the match REUTERS/Sarah Meyssonnie

Paris St Germain missed a golden opportunity to reach their second Champions League final, but it was not all doom and gloom at the French club after a season of transition with a new coach.

The Ligue 1 champions were knocked out in the semi-finals on Tuesday after a 1-0 defeat against Borussia Dortmund for a 2-0 aggregate loss, having hit the woodwork six times over the two legs and managed 31 attempts at the Parc des Princes.

“We were not inferior over the two legs, but football rewards those who score not those who hit the woodwork,” said PSG coach Luis Enrique.

“My goal was to be fighting for all the titles. Tonight I’m proud of my team, of all the players.”

PSG won the Ligue 1 title and have the French Cup final to come later this month.

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“We weren’t efficient, they were efficient, they scored two goals and won both matches. There’s a lot to take back from this competition,” captain Marquinhos told reporters.

“At the start of the season, nobody believed we’d get this far. We’ve overcome a lot of obstacles, but we can’t throw everything away now just because we’ve been eliminated. We have to remember that this is a new project, with a new coach.

“There are positive things to take into the next season.”

PSG have now lost all six legs of their three two-legged Champions League semi-finals, after double defeats against AC Milan in 1995 and Manchester City in 2021.

The year they reached the final, in 2020, they beat RB Leipzig in a one-off semi-final after COVID-19 disrupted the season. They lost in the final against Bayern Munich.

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This season started with a new coach in Luis Enrique and without Lionel Messi and Neymar as club president Nasser al-Khelaifi put an emphasis on building a team over individual talents.

While not always brilliant, PSG have looked like an organised outfit and the coach said he was already working on building a team without Kylian Mbappe, who is widely expected to leave at the end of the season.

“The players and coach gave their all. Congratulations to Dortmund, we deserved better. It’s a tough game. I’m proud of my team, the youngest in Europe,” Al-Khelaifi said.

“We’ve reached the semi-finals three times in five years. That’s not our objective, it’s still the final. That’s soccer, you have to accept it and sometimes it’s not fair. We’ll accept it.”

-Reuters

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UEFA Champions League

Hummels on target as composed Dortmund knock PSG out to reach final

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Champions League - Semi Final - Second Leg - Paris St Germain v Borussia Dortmund - Parc des Princes, Paris, France - May 7, 2024 Borussia Dortmund's Mats Hummels scores their first goal REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

Borussia Dortmund showed great composure to reach their third Champions League final after Mats Hummels’ second-half goal earned the visitors a 1-0 victory against misfiring Paris St Germain for a deserved 2-0 aggregate win on Tuesday.

Hummels headed home from a corner five minutes into the second half to send the Germans, who won the title in 1997, into their first final in Europe’s top club competition since 2013.

They will meet either 14-times champions Real Madrid or Bayern Munich, who clash at the Bernabeu on Wednesday after a 2-2 draw in the first leg, in the June 1 showdown at Wembley.

Luis Enrique’s PSG hit the woodwork four times but failed to find the net as Kylian Mbappe, widely expected to leave at the end of the season, was a shadow of his usual brilliant self.

“We lacked efficiency,” PSG captain Marquinhos said.

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“There are still positives to take from this competition. At the beginning nobody thought we would go that far. We’re out in the semi-finals but with a new coach and a new project.”

Dortmund coach Edin Terzic said his team deserved their place in the final.

“I am very proud, very happy. We beat PSG and we kept a clean sheet. We had a bit of luck but we deserve to go to the final,” he said.

AGGRESSIVE START

PSG, who entered the tie as favourites to reach their second final after finishing runners-up in 2020, made an aggressive start and Mbappe had their first chance in the seventh minute with a half-volley as the hosts piled on the pressure.

With Mbappe on the left flank and Goncalo Ramos as a lone striker, the France forward had some space out wide and the possibility to cut in and threaten the Dortmund goal.

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The visitors, however, were composed and held firm. Their confidence grew and they had their first opportunity through Julian Ryerson, whose shot hit the side netting.

Dortmund had a better chance in the 35th when, after a sharp counter attack following a woeful Mbappe miss, Gianluigi Donnarumma pulled off a brilliant save to deny Karim Adeyemi.

PSG were lucky the score on the night was level at halftime.

Luis Enrique’s side stepped up a gear after the break with Warren Zaire Emery’s shot hitting the outside of the post after Mbappe’s attempt was deflected into his path by Ramos.

But Dortmund were more clinical as Hummels headed home from Julian Brandt’s corner five minutes after the interval to double the German side’s advantage over the two legs.

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Ramos’s shot on the turn then went just over and Nuno Mendes’s 25-metre missile hit the post as PSG reacted swiftly.

Another Mbappe attempt was deflected onto the bar before Vitinha’s powerful shot also hit the woodwork.

PSG’s Ousmane Dembele was a constant threat after the hour mark but, just like the rest of the team, the France forward came more into the game far too late against a side who never lost their composure and fully deserve their place in the final.

-Reuters

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