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UEFA Champions League

Poor Leicester Crash; Madrid sides in Semi finals

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The fairy tale run of Leicester City came to conclusion Tuesday night after it forced a 1-1 draw at home with Atletico Madrid thus crashing out 1-2 on aggregate. Jamie Vardy had initially raised hope when he cancelled the initial one goal lead of Atletico Madrid.

But efforts to level up on aggregate failed as they will still require additional two goals to eliminate Atletico.

It was indeed a splendid night for La Liga as fellow Spanish and city mates, Real Madrid, also made it to the semi-finals after a gritty duel with Bayern Munich ended in 6-3 aggregate score. Global star of the moment, Cristiano Ronaldo scored hat-trick that has taken his European goal haul to 103.

Two of the goals came in the extra time when regulation time scores had been deadlocked at 3-3. Real Madrid that had won the first leg 2-1 away last week suddenly found themselves trailing 0-1 at home as a 53rd penalty kick was converted by Robert Lewandowski.

Madrid had t struggle for the next 23 minutes before Ronaldo’s goal brought a short-lived succour. Barely two minutes later, Sergio Ramos scored an own goal that gave the visitors a 2-1 lead and a 3-3 aggregate score line.

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Then the magical Ronaldo unveiled his wands as the game got into extra time. Within a space of five minutes, he scored two goals to achieve a hat-trick while Marco Asensio wrapped the game up two minutes after Ronaldo achieved his hat-trick.

Thus, five of the six quarter finals goals of Real Madrid had been scored by Ronaldo.

The other Madrid side, Atletico shot ahead in the game with Leicester as an unmarked Saul Niguez got the lead and a decisive goal that stretched lead to two goals. Jamie Vardy later equalized, but it proved not enough.

 

 

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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

Expect another PSG thriller: Barcelona coach Xavi

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 Barcelona s Spanish coach Xavi gives a press conference on the eve of their UEFA Champions League quarter-final second leg football match against Paris SG at the training center in Barcelona. AFP

Barcelona coach Xavi Hernandez said Monday his team’s Champions League quarter-final second leg clash against Paris Saint-Germain would be similar to the first leg thriller. 

The five-time champions edged Luis Enrique’s PSG side 3-2 in a Paris blockbuster last week and are aiming to reach the semi-finals for the first time since 2019.

Xavi said the second leg at Barcelona’s temporary Olympic Stadium home on the city’s Montjuic hill would produce more of the same spectacle.

“We’re not a team that will sit on our lead, we want to take the ball off PSG and win the game,” Xavi told a news conference.

“I hope we are at our best, they will test us to the limit — I see a game very similar to the first leg.

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“It’s the Champions League, it’s Paris, and a game in which no one will be holding back.”

Xavi said PSG’s coach Luis Enrique, who was on the Barcelona bench the last time the Catalans won the Champions League in 2015, would send his team out to harry the hosts.

“Montjuic’s (atmosphere) has to seem like the big nights at Camp Nou,” continued Xavi.

“Luis Enrique will not hold back, he will come here to press — we have to show a lot of personality to reach the semi-finals.”

Xavi, who announced in January he was leaving at the end of the season, has led a resurgent Barcelona on a 12-game unbeaten run since.

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“Me and my players, everyone has been liberated (by my decision),” said the coach.

“Everyone has felt more of a sense of belonging towards the club, and I think it has gone phenomenally.”

Barcelona midfielder Pedri agreed that his team would have to play to win, and not try only to hold on to their one-goal headstart.

“We have this slender lead but we have to go out there as if we didn’t have that advantage,” said Pedri.

The Canary Islander returned from injury to brilliantly set up one of Raphinha’s goals in Paris.

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The Spain international has not been able to find consistent fitness over the past two seasons amid various injury problems.

“When you’re back from injury you feel the tiredness, but I’m strong and have a lot of desire,” continued Pedri.

“I’ve always said I prefer to play 80 minutes at 100 percent and when I can’t go on, ask to be subbed for someone else.”

-AFP

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UEFA Champions League

Luis Enrique convinced PSG can mount Barca comeback

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Paris Saint-Germain s Spanish headcoach Luis Enrique addresses a press conference on the eve of their UEFA Champions League quarter-final second leg football match against FC Barcelona at the Estadi Olimpic Lluis Companys in Barcelona on April 15, 2024. AFP

Paris Saint-Germain coach Luis Enrique said on Monday his players were strong enough to turn around the Champions League clash against Barcelona and reach the semi-finals.

Spanish champions Barcelona triumphed 3-2 in Paris in the quarter-final first leg last week, leaving PSG needing to triumph at the Olympic Stadium on Tuesday.

“PSG have never come back to win after losing a first leg, but tomorrow is the day,” said Luis Enrique told reporters.

“After a defeat and in such an important game, the days after the game were hard.

“It’s tricky to get back your mental state, but the good thing about football is you have another game against the same opponent.

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“We are sure of what we want do and I think we arrive in a great moment.”

Barcelona, with Luis Enrique at the helm, famously thrashed PSG 6-1 in 2017 in the last 16 to overturn a 4-0 first leg defeat.

Star forward Kylian Mbappe struggled to make much impact against Barca in the first leg and Luis Enrique has been criticised over his handling of the France captain.

However the Spanish coach said everyone in the squad was pulling in the same direction as the Parisians continue their hunt for a first Champions League trophy.

“We have a very united group of players, in which there are no egos,” said the coach.

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“I am happy with what the players are doing on the pitch, I have no complaints about any player in my squad.”

PSG will have Achraf Hakimi available after he was suspended for the first leg defeat.

“We want to forget about what happened and come here to win,” said the Morocco defender.

“Tomorrow is the moment for the big players to give everything for victory.”

-AFP

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UEFA Champions League

Ademola Lookman’s Atalanta humiliate Liverpool at home

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 Europa League - Quarter Final - First Leg - Liverpool v Atalanta - Anfield, Liverpool, Britain - April 11, 2024 Atalanta's Mario Pasalic scores their third goal past Liverpool's Caoimhin Kelleher REUTERS/Molly Darlington

Liverpool slumped to a shock 3-0 home defeat by Atalanta on Thursday as Gianluca Scamacca struck twice for the Italian side in their Europa League quarter-final first leg. Super Eagles Ademola Lookman was not in action in the thrilling away win by Atalanta.

On a chastening evening for former European champions in the continent’s second-tier club competition, AC Milan lost 1-0 at home to fellow Italian side AS Roma. Bundesliga leaders Bayer Leverkusen secured a last-gasp 2-0 home win over West Ham United.

Atalanta took the lead at Liverpool after 38 minutes when an unmarked Scamacca latched on to Davide Zappacosta’s cross to strike a low shot past keeper Caoimhin Kelleher who should have done more to keep the effort out.

Scamaca pounced on poor Liverpool defending to fire home from a fine cross by Charles De Ketelaere in the 60th minute before Mario Pasalic sealed the rout seven minutes from time with a simple finish off a rebound from Kelleher.

“Unfortunately, there is nothing really positive to say about the game,” Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp told TNT Sports.

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“I know already that if we do a couple of things better, we will be better. Can we win it back? Yes, if we play good it is possible. Can we win 3-0? I have no idea. But this feels really bad and that’s important.”

Late strikes by Bayer Leverkusen substitutes Jonas Hofmann and Victor Boniface earned the Bundesliga leaders a two-goal advantage over West Ham and they remained undefeated this season with 37 wins and five draws across all competitions.

Leverkusen dominated the game but the visitors’ keeper Lukasz Fabianski pulled off a string of saves and kept out dangerous efforts by Alejandro Grimaldo and Patrik Schick to keep the scores level at the break.

Hofmann gave Leverkusen the lead in the 83rd minute, scoring with a first-time effort and striker Boniface doubled the advantage in stoppage time with a header into the bottom corner.

The hosts, who can clinch the Bundesliga title on Sunday, had 33 attempts on goal — 13 on target — compared to one sole effort by midfielder Mohammed Kudus for Europa Conference League holders West Ham.

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Roma upset hosts Milan as Gianluca Mancini scored to end the capital club’s nine-match winless run against Stefano Pioli’s side.

Roma, who had last beaten Milan in 2019, took the lead thanks to Mancini’s pinpoint header from Paulo Dybala’s corner in the 17th minute.

“We should have been more courageous,” Milan coach Stefano Pioli said. “We created some chances, but I didn’t see the same quality as in the last matches.

“This team can do more, I know that. I didn’t expect the defeat, we weren’t precise, we lacked the flair.”

Portuguese champions Benfica claimed a 2-1 home win over Olympique de Marseille through goals by Rafa Silva and Argentine forward Angel Di Maria.

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The second legs will be played next Thursday.

-Reuters

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