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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

Nigerians among Leverkusen’s African quintetin historic Bundesliga triumph

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Bayer Leverkusen’s path to their first-ever German Bundesliga title was paved by the remarkable performances of five African stars who played pivotal roles throughout the season.

Nigerian duo of Victor Boniface and Nathan Tella, Morocco’s Amine Adli, Edmund Tapsoba of Burkina Faso, and Odilon Kossounou of Cote d’Ivoire stood out as indispensable assets in coach Xabi Alonso’s squad.

The momentous achievement was solidified with a resounding 5-0 victory over Werder Bremen over the weekend, marked a historic milestone for the club.

As Bayer Leverkusen basks in the glory of their Bundesliga triumph, it’s essential to acknowledge the significant contributions made by their African contingent.

Amine Adli, with his relentless drive, appeared in 20 matches and netted two goals so far this season, while Victor Boniface showcased his striking prowess with 11 goals from 18 appearances.

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Tella, a midfield dynamo, notched five goals in his 20 appearances, adding crucial support to the team’s attacking arsenal.

In defence, Tapsoba and Kossounou provided unwavering stability, marshaling Leverkusen’s backline with authority.

Tapsoba’s 23 appearances exemplified his consistency, while Kossounou’s defensive prowess was complemented by a crucial goal contribution.

The combination of African talent and Leverkusen’s strategic prowess under Xabi Alonso propelled the team to unprecedented heights.

With an undefeated streak spanning 43 matches, Leverkusen’s triumph marks a significant moment in the club’s history, ending Bayern Munich’s 11-year reign as Bundesliga champions.

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Leverkusen’s African stars are poised for further success on the European stage and domestic scene as they are still in the hunt for other titles.

As the club sets its sights on a historic treble, their upcoming fixtures against West Ham in the Europa League quarter-final and a German cup final showdown against second-division Kaiserslautern present new opportunities for glory.

Bayer Leverkusen’s African contingent has etched their names into the annals of football history, leaving an indelible mark on the Bundesliga landscape.

-CAF

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UEFA Champions League

Dortmund ready for PSG rematch after epic Champions League win over Atletico

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Borussia Dortmund are relishing a re-match with Paris St Germain in the Champions League semi-finals after knocking out Atletico Madrid in a thrilling tie on Tuesday to set up a meeting with the French side they played in the group stage.

Dortmund overturned a 2-1 deficit from their quarter-final first leg against Atletico to win 5-4 on aggregate and will now renew their acquaintance with PSG, who beat Barcelona 6-4 over two legs to book their semi-final berth.

Dortmund coach Edin Terzic feels his side, who won the Champions League in 1997, are now better prepared to face the French champions, after the Germans lost away and drew at home in the group stage.

“Our first game against them wasn’t good. In the second game, we adjusted to them better and were closer to victory. I think we’re a better team today than we were against them in the group stage,” Terzic said following the win over Atletico.

Midfielder Julian Brandt, who opened the scoring in the first half for Dortmund, could scarcely believe that his side had made it through to the last four after taking a two goal-lead, conceding two goals, and then scoring twice more.

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“It was a crazy game for the fans and for us. A great game for us, for our fans and for all football fans around the world,” he said after receiving his man-of-the-match award.

“It’s going to be very serious now against Paris. We played well against them at home in the group stage, but not well away. We want to do better now and, of course, reach the final,” he added.

For striker Niclas Fuellkrug, who also got on the scoresheet, the Champions League semi-finals will be a new experience.

“I’ve never played at this level before and I’m very proud to be in the semi-finals of the Champions League with my team,” he said. “Things will certainly be different against Paris than in the group stage.”

-Reuters

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UEFA Champions League

Dortmund down Atletico Madrid in thriller to make Champions League semi-finals

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 Champions League - Quarter Final - Second Leg - Borussia Dortmund v Atletico Madrid - Signal Iduna Park, Dortmund, Germany - April 16, 2024 Borussia Dortmund's Marcel Sabitzer celebrates scoring their fourth goal with Ian Maatsen and Jamie Bynoe-Gittens REUTERS/Wolfgang Ratta

Borussia Dortmund stormed into the Champions League semi-finals with a rip-roaring 4-2 home win over Atletico Madrid on Tuesday that saw them fight back from a 2-1 defeat in the first leg to win the tie 5-4 on aggregate.

The German side scored twice in the first half and looked to be cruising into the last four, but Atletico bounced back with two goals early in the second half to put Dortmund on the ropes before they dug deep to complete a superb comeback.

The game got off to a flying start, and midfielder Marcel Sabitzer was only prevented from putting the home side ahead in the third minute by a last-ditch block from Cesar Azpilicueta as the home side came flying out of the blocks.

Julian Brandt put Dortmund level on aggregate in the 34th minute, latching on to a brilliant pass from Mats Hummels and firing home, and five minutes later Dortmund took the lead in the quarter-final tie as Ian Maatsen cut in from the left and drilled a perfectly-placed shot in at the foot of the far post.

Atletico coach Diego Simeone made a triple substitution at the break and it paid dividends almost immediately as Dortmund defender Hummels turned the ball into his own net in the 49th minute, and substitute Angel Correa put the Spaniards back in the lead in the tie in the 64th minute, scoring at the second attempt.

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However, the home side struck back and striker Niclas Fuellkrug made it 4-4 on aggregate with a brilliant glancing header from Sabitzer’s cross in the 74th minute.

The home fans had barely retaken their seats following that goal when Sabitzer popped up on the edge of the box, steadying himself with an excellent first touch before drilling home the winner in front of an ecstatic crowd three minutes later.

-Reuters

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