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UEFA Champions League

UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE: ANOTHER TEST FOR MADRID’S CARETAKER COACH

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BY APESIN ADEMOLA.

 

Real Madrid highlight Day 2 of Matchday 4 in the UEFA Champions League. Caretaker coach Santiago Solari has steered the defending champions away from what appears to be a free fall in the last weeks of Julen Lopetegui, who got fired as manager following the 5-1 humiliation by Barcelona at Camp Nou.

In six matches before them at home and in the continent, Los Blancos won only one match in six straight fixtures – and that was against tonight’s opposition at Santiago Bernabeu. A 2-1 win over lightweight Plzeň is quite pedestrian considering Madrid’s pedigree.

Solari has produced 100% percent result since he took over temporarily – one victory in the Copa del Rey followed by another in LaLiga. With the lacklustre performance of Gareth Bale and Marco Asensio at the weekend against Real Valladolid, Isco may be an inclusion on the left of Solari’s three man attack. It is speculated that former Chelsea keeper Thibaut Courtois may make his Champions League debut for Madrid in place of Keylor Navas.

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Madrid won the first leg at home 2-1 and lead Group G on superior goal difference over AS Roma, who are away to CSKA Moscow.

In Rome two weeks ago, Roma beat CSKA 3-0, and the Russian side will be striving at a positive result to step up to second place, at the least.

The teams have met five times in UEFA competitions with Roma winning three times and CSKA once.

Juventus will qualify from Group H for the Round of 16 if they avoid defeat at home to Manchester United who are on revenge mission at Turin. The Old Lady triumphed at Old Trafford 1-0 in the first leg.

Attention will be focused on Cristiano Ronaldo who is yet to score in his last five Champions League matches, including three in the shirts of Juventus. Since converting a 90th minute penalty against his present club for Real Madrid in April, the top class act has played 389 matches and attempted 15 shots without success in the continental competition.

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United have only four points from a possible nine and may not advance beyond the group stage unless they produce results beginning from tonight’s match. Jose Mourinho’s side have failed to score in their last two Champions League fixtures.

Valencia breathe down on Manchester United being only two points behind the English club. The LaLiga team settled for a 1-1 result in the reverse fixture away to Young Boys, who are at the foot of the table with one point from three matches.

In Group E, Bayern München and AFC Ajax set the pace, and both sides will book their spots in the second round if they achieve a double over their respective opponents.

The Bavarians are occupying the unlikely third spot in the Bundesliga, which they have won a record 28 times, including successively in the last six seasons. The Germans will have to prove they remain a major force by achieving a double over  AEK Athens having won the first leg away 2-0.

Whichever of the top teams in this group that failed to win will still remain in the Round of 16 qualification range since Benfica, in No 3, are presently four points adrift of the top two. Benfica host AFC Ajax, who won the first leg 1-0.

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Manchester City are ruthless at home, leading the charge in the English Premier League after winning nine matches and drawing the remaining two. But they need to translate that form to Europe.

In Group F, City have won two and lost one but held on to top spot with one point above Olympique Lyonnais.

Pep Guardiola’s squad are expected to deal with the challenge by Shakhtar Donetsk tonight, who lost the first leg 3-0.

Lyon, in second place in the group, squandered the opportunity to pick maximum points in their last group match as hosts Hoffenheim drew level 3-3 in added time. Another opportunity presents itself for Lyon tonight to go one gear up as they host the German side, who have garnered only two points from their first three group fixtures.

Fixtures… 

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Group E: 

  • Bayern München v AEK Athens (first leg Bayern München 2-0)
  • Benfica v AFC Ajax (first leg AFC Ajax 1-0) (both 9pm)

Group F: 

  • Olympique Lyonnais v 1899 Hoffenheim (first leg 3-3)
  • Manchester City v Shakhtar Donetsk (first leg Manchester City 3-0) (9pm)

Group G: 

  • CSKA Moscow v AS Roma (first leg AS Roma 3-0) (6:55pm),
  • FC Viktoria Plzeň v Real Madrid (first leg Real Madrid 2-1) (9pm)

 

Group H: 

  • Valencia v Young Boys (first leg 1-1) (6:55pm)
  • Juventus v Manchester United (first leg Juventus 1-0) (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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