CHRIS KELLY staff Raritan’s Jamie Costa controls a head ball during a recent game with Shore Regional in West Long Branch.
BARCELONA take a 32-match unbeaten run to Arsenal for the first leg of their Champions League last 16 tie on Tuesday (9.45pm) as the Catalans continue their bid to become the first team to retain the trophy in 26 years.No team has won back-to-back titles in the Champions League era, with Arrigo Sacchi’s all-conquering AC Milan side the last to claim consecutive European Cups in 1989 and 1990.Unbeaten since a 2-1 defeat to Sevilla in October, Luis Enrique’s side look well-placed to repeat the feat.They come into the match at the Emirates buoyed by a 2-1 win at Las Palmas on Saturday that has kept their closest challengers in La Liga at bay, while they boast arguably Europe’s premier marksman in the 41-goal Luis Suarez.Arsenal’s copybook was blotted on Saturday as they ended a 14-match winning streak in the FA Cup with a disappointing 0-0 draw at home to second-tier Hull City.Luis Enrique said Barcelona must iron out some defensive issues that were posed by a creative Las Palmas side, who might have snatched a late equaliser.The coach will be boosted, however, by the return of defender Gerard Pique, who was rested at the weekend, and defensive midfielder Sergio Busquets from suspension.“At some moment, due to attacking, we suffered more counter-attacks than usual and the last 10 minutes were more down to our rivals’ need to equalise,” Enrique said.The onus will be on Arsenal to get a good home leg result against opponents they have only beaten once in seven Champions League meetings.To do so, they will have to shackle Uruguay striker Suarez, who opened the scoring against Las Palmas to take his La Liga tally to 25 and 41 in all competitions, while rediscovering their cutting edge.Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger used to dream about Suarez, the signing that got away, and he will be hoping the Uruguayan striker doesn’t give him nightmares on Tuesday.Wenger, who was rebuffed by then Liverpool striker Suarez in 2013, said he admired the striker’s ability to bring a team together.“I used to think ‘what if I signed Luis Suarez’ before, but not now,” Wenger was quoted as saying by British media on Monday.“He gives camaraderie to a team. He did it at Liverpool and he did it playing with Edinson Cavani and Diego Forlan for Uruguay, and did it well.”The 29-year-old, who joined Barcelona in 2014, has been in imperious form this season as part of the Catalan’s formidable front three of Argentine Lionel Messi and Neymar of Brazil.“Individually, all their players are difficult to stop,” Wenger said. “We have to find a way to do it collectively. We have to keep Suarez quiet on Tuesday night.Arsenal rotated their squad for the clash with Hull, leaving out Mesut Ozil who was suffering with an illness and restricting former Barca forward Alexis Sanchez to a late cameo.German playmaker Ozil will return on Tuesday, as will Aaron Ramsey, and Arsenal will need their big guns in form as their only victory against Barcelona came in 2011 when goals from Robin van Persie and Andrei Arshavin gave them a 2-1 victory in the first leg of their last-16 tie.That victory ultimately proved futile, however, as Messi, who had scored four times to knock out Arsenal in the 2010 quarter-finals, struck twice in the second leg to secure a 4-3 aggregate win.The two sides also met in the 2006 Champions League final, with Barcelona scoring twice late in the second half to win 2-1.
By Brian HomewoodHOLDERS Spain became the first team to score more than two goals in a game at Euro 2016, beating Turkey 3-0 as Andres Iniesta shone again and forward Alvaro Morata answered his critics with two goals.The defending champions also achieved their first objective, which was to avoid a repeat of their dismal first round exit at the last World Cup, as they booked a place in the round of 16 with a game to spare.Spain have won both their games in group D without conceding a goal and Turkey have lost both of theirs without scoring.Turkey made a reasonably positive start but fell apart after Morata, criticised after being largely ineffective in the 1-0 win over Croatia, and Nolito struck in quick succession before halftime.Spain virtually walked the ball into the net for the third, Morata tapping home after Iniesta threaded one of the best passes of the tournament through a bewildered Turkish defence.Iniesta, passing the ball immaculately as always, orchestrated the Spanish midfield, ably assistant by Nolito and David Silva as his side gave the most dominant performance of the tournament so far.Turkey captain Arda Turan had another low-key game and, for a period during the second half, was jeered by the Turkish fans every time he touched the ball.Spain began in their usual style, passing the ball around for long periods and patiently probing for an opening.Turkey got forward occasionally and there was anticipation in the stadium when they won a free kick around 30 metres out. Specialist Hakan Calhanoglu stepped up but curled his dipping effort onto the roof of the net.The breakthrough came after 34 minutes when a typical sequence of passes down the left ended with Nolito swinging a cross into the area and Morata squeezed between two defenders to head past Volkan Babacan.Spain struck again three minutes later, helped by a mistake from Mehmet Topal.Cesc Fabregas lifted a pass into the area and, although Topal got his head to it, he could only send the ball backwards towards Nolito, who slotted the ball past Babacan.Spain were toying with their opponents by now and struck again just three minutes into the second half.Iniesta advanced, then produced his geometrically perfect pass to Jordi Alba, who touched it to Morata for the beautifully simple third.Spain eased off after that, passing the ball around nonchalantly for long spells while the Turkish fans vented their wrath on Turan.
The grand final between Yokomo and United Brothers was called off last Saturday at the bottom of the third inning due to heavy downpour of rain at the Bisini Grounds in Port Moresby..Yokomo were leading 10-4 at the time.Officials and management from the two clubs have agreed to replay the grand final this Saturday and will play the full 7 innings.In the B grade grand final that went ahead, United Brothers were too strong beating PNG Power 7-1.
Goalkeeper Tomas Koubek, 24, said “women belong at the stove” after assistant referee Lucie Ratajova failed to flag an opponent offside during Sunday’s 3-3 draw with Brno.Injured midfielder Lukas Vacha, 27, also described her as “the cooker”.Sparta chief executive Adam Kotalík called the comments “unacceptable”.He added that the players “will see for themselves that women can be handy not only at the stove”.Women’s team captain Iva Mocova said: “We are looking forward to the boys training with us.”Speaking after Sunday’s game, Czech Republic international Koubek had added: “Women should not officiate men’s football.”He later posted a picture of his wife and daughter on Facebook and said he wanted to “apologise to all women”.Fellow Czech international Vacha said his “comment was directed to a specific error which affected the outcome of the game, not for any other women”.Midfielder Alois Hycka appeared to be several metres offside before scoring the Brno’s equaliser in stoppage time.The Football Association of the Czech Republic’s disciplinary committee is due to deal with Koubek’s remarks on Thursday.
European champions Real Madrid will face either Mexican side Guadalajara or the eventual Asian champions in this year’s Club World Cup semi-finals following the draw made on Tuesday amid uncertainty over the future of the competition.FIFA president Gianni Infantino has ambitious plans to expand the tournament from 2021 onwards, staging it every four years rather than annually and increasing the number of teams from seven to 24.Those plans have yet to be approved by the FIFA Council and in the meantime, it is uncertain if the tournament — which this year will be staged in the United Arab Emirates in December — will continue its current form in 2019 and 2020.Only four of this year’s participants were known on Tuesday with the Asian, African and South American club championships all at the quarter-final stage.Real, winners for the last two years, and the eventual South American champions received byes to the last four.Oceania champions Team Wellington will meet Al Ain, champions of the host nation, in a preliminary match for the right to play the African champions in the second round.The winners of that game will face South America’s Libertadores Cup champions.Guadalajara, the champions of CONCACAF, were drawn against the Asian champions in the other of the two second-round ties with a match against Real Madrid as the prize.The competition has been dominated by European teams since it was re-launched in its current form in 2005, reflecting the fact the best South American and African players are based in Europe rather than their own continents.Although it is often felt that European sides regard the cup as little more than an exotic mid-season diversion, it creates huge interest in South America where fans long for the chance for their team to appear on the world stage.Real Madrid director Emilio Butragueno dismissed any suggestion it would be a walkover for his team.“It’s never win easy to win any tournament, that’s the truth,” he told Reuters.“Obviously, we have every confidence in our players but last year, the final was very even and the semi-finals were very difficult,” he said, remembering a 2-1 win over Al-Jazira in the semi-final and 1-0 win over Gremio in the final.“Our opponents are always very highly motivated. They are young players who see this tournament as a chance to get themselves known around the world.”Former Argentina midfielder Esteban Cambiasso, who took part in the draw, said that South America could benefit after moving the Libertadores final from June to November.“It means it will be the same team which won the Libertadores,” he told Reuters. “In the past, with a longer gap, and with a transfer window in the middle, players left and the team which played in the Club World Cup was not the same one which won the Libertadores.“Now this has changed and, for the South Americans, this is better.”
Scotland rejected a potential move to Murrayfield Stadium and will continue playing their fixtures at Hampden Park after 2020 following an agreement to buy the stadium, the country’s Football Association announced on Tuesday.The Scottish FA, whose existing contract was due to run out in 2020, had the option of remaining at their spiritual home in Glasgow or lease the Murrayfield facility from Scottish Rugby.The association said they will purchase the 52,000-capacity stadium from League Two side Queen’s Park FC for five million pounds, with Scottish businessman Willie Haughey pledging to pay half the amount.“Today’s announcement has been the conclusion of a four-year process to review our national stadium beyond 2020,” Scottish FA President Alan McRae said.“It was a hugely difficult decision and I would like to place on record our thanks to Scottish Rugby for their professionalism throughout the process.“This decision is about what was best for Scottish football and our members. It’s about the future of football in Scotland.”The seven-member Scottish FA board, which delayed a decision on the venue late in August, eventually chose Hampden which has hosted the national team’s matches since 1906 as well as major cup finals involving Scottish clubs.
Belgian police raided the offices of Anderlecht and the national football association on Wednesday in relation to a money laundering investigation involving agents and player transfers.A spokeswoman for the Brussels club told public broadcaster VRT that Anderlecht was cooperating fully with the probe and a spokesman for the Belgian FA told Reuters that police had taken away documents relating to transfers from its headquarters.A spokesman for the federal prosecutor said: “We had some questions for the agents who took care of the transfers. It is a question of money laundering.”VRT and other local media said prosecutors were looking into transfers made before a 2017 change of ownership at Anderlecht and had also raided an agent’s office in the capital.Among the transfers being probed, the media said, was the sale of Serbia striker Aleksandar Mitrovic to Newcastle United in 2015. The Premier League side politely declined to comment.The prosecutor’s spokesman declined to give details of the three raids in Brussels on Wednesday. He said that they were not linked to the wide-ranging “Footballgate” probe into match-fixing and fraud which rocked the domestic league last year after the national side’s third place finish at the World Cup.The raids come at a miserable time for Anderlecht, champions in 2017 and historically Belgium’s most successful club.Dismal form has prompted a fan revolt that saw them fined and docked points this month when crowd trouble forced a match at arch-rivals Standard Liege to be abandoned; they then fired coach Fred Rutten after just 13 games in charge.Now, the two-times holders of the Cup Winners’ Cup and 1983 UEFA Cup winners are on the verge of failing to qualify for European competition next season for the first time in 55 years.
Iker Casillas was fortunate that his heart attack happened at Porto’s training ground where he had access to medical assistance, his agent has revealed.Casillas suffered his health scare during the Primeira Liga club’s morning training session on Wednesday and was taken to the CUF Porto hospital across the city.The 37-year-old goalkeeper, who won the World Cup with Spain in 2010, posted a picture of himself in a hospital bed on his official Twitter account later on Wednesday alongside the words: “Everything under control here, a big scare but with strength intact.”But agent Carlos Cutropia, who described it as the “greatest victory” of Casillas’ life, admitted the consequences could have been greater had the goalkeeper suffered his heart attack at home.Cutropia told Spanish radio station COPE: “He was not aware of what was happening to him, of having a heart attack.“At no point did he faint or lose consciousness. He felt unwell but he didn’t think he had suffered a heart attack, he was only told after his operation.“Then he was happy because he was well and what he suffered has not left him with any consequences.“He has never had any symptoms. It is something that is not usual, especially in an athlete, and this has been a surprise for everyone.“He had all the luck in the world. If this comes to you at home, the consequences would have been tremendous.”Casillas had been training in preparation for Porto’s league game at home to Aves this weekend, although he is now unlikely to play again this season.The 167-times capped Spain goalkeeper spent 16 years as a senior Real Madrid player – winning three Champions League and five LaLiga titles – before joining Porto in 2015.Outlining Casillas’ health scare, Cutropia said: “Iker was halfway through the training when his chest, his mouth, his arms hurt a lot.“Quickly the medical team from Porto, to whom we thank for their professionalism, took him to the hospital.“He has already begun to recover. In the afternoon I was already making jokes and it was the normal Iker.”Cutropia said he had yet to speak to Casillas about his future in top-level football.But he described him as a “fighter” and suggested there was no reason he could not resume his career when he felt well enough.“At the moment that’s not something we’re worrying about at all,” Cutropia said.“The most important thing is that he’s doing well and smiling. This is the biggest victory of his life.”
Spain’s talisman Rafael Nadal sealed a sixth Davis Cup title for his country on Sunday when they beat Canada 2-0 in the final of the revamped event.After a week of relentless tension and late-night heroics it was perhaps asking too much for the first final in the Davis Cup’s new guise to deliver a classic and so it proved as Spain became the last nation standing of the 18 who assembled in Madrid.With Spain’s King Felipe watching on, the 33-year-old Nadal fought off Canadian youngster Denis Shapovalov 6-3 7-6(7) to give Spain their first title since 2011.If any player deserved to get his hands on the famous old trophy again it was Nadal after he worked overtime all week, often into the small hours, to win all eight matches he played.But he surely would have been happy had it been team mate Roberto Bautista Agut to have delivered the winning point.Bautista Agut had given the hosts a flying start, beating Felix Auger-Aliassime 7-6(3) 6-2 after returning to the squad following the death of his father.“An amazing week in every way,” said Nadal, who has now won 29 successive Davis Cup singles matches since 2004. “The vital person has been Roberto Bautista.”After beating Auger-Aliassime, Bautista Agut was embraced by his captain Sergi Bruguera and there were emotional scenes at the end as roars of “Campiones” echoed around the arena.“It was a dream day and all the team members have made an incredible effort, especially Rafa, going to sleep at three, four and five in the morning and the next day going out to play,” Bautista Agut said. “It can only be because we are Spanish.”SHAKIRA SINGSFor Gerard Pique, the Barcelona soccer player who has made revamping the Davis Cup into a tennis World Cup his mission, it was the perfect climax to a week in which the new format suffered glitches but could be judged a qualified success.Too many late nights, one session finishing at 4.07 a.m., a complicated group stage and tiny crowds at some ties mean there is still lots to improve if the $80 million Pique’s Kosmos company is investing in the event each year is sustainable.But Sunday felt like an authentic Davis Cup final, even if an appearance from Pique’s pop singer wife Shakira added a little more glamour than usual.Once the tennis began it quickly became apparent that Canada captain Frank Dancevic’s decision to change his lineup for the first time all week might have backfired.Vasek Pospisil, ranked 150, had been outstanding all week, beating Italy’s 12th-ranked Fabio Fognini and American Reilly Opelka in the group phase, taking down Australia’s John Millman in the quarter-finals and partnering Shapovalov to a deciding doubles victory over Russia in the semi-final.Auger-Aliassime, who has been out with an ankle injury, was given his first call of the week but was outplayed by a rock-solid Bautista Agut, who rejoined the squad on Saturday.That left Shapovalov seemingly facing mission impossible and his only chance was Nadal’s tank being dry.Having come this far there was no chance Nadal would falter — not with 25,000 Spaniards roaring at every whipped winner.When he took the opening set with a single break it was all feeling a little anti-climactic for the neutrals but Shapovalov injected some late drama into the proceedings.The Canadian’s serve began to click and his groundstrokes finally took the zip out of Nadal’s legs.Incredibly Nadal showed mercy at 6-4 in the tiebreak, failing to put away a short forehand, and Shapovalov arrowed a winner down the line. The Canadian, cheered on by hundreds of his countrymen, saved another match point then had a set point of his own but Nadal averted the danger with a heavy serve.Nadal got to a third match point and this time Shapovalov could not fight back.