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Amazing matches highlight epic Champions League season

GENEVA: Remarkably and improbably, it will be Liverpool and Tottenham playing for the Champions League title on June 1. The all-English final in Madrid seemed all but impossible before back-to-back, second-half comebacks in both semifinals. It was a fitting way for the finalists to emerge from a dramatic knockout phase. Here’s a look at some…

Amazing matches highlight  epic Champions League season

GENEVA: Remarkably and improbably, it will be Liverpool and Tottenham playing for the Champions League title on June 1.

The all-English final in Madrid seemed all but impossible before back-to-back, second-half comebacks in both semifinals.

It was a fitting way for the finalists to emerge from a dramatic knockout phase.

Here’s a look at some of the best games from this season’s Champions League:

Real Madrid-Ajax

Consecutive defending champion Real Madrid was a huge favorite to reach the quarterfinals after beating Ajax 2-1 in the first leg in Amsterdam. But a young, vibrant Ajax team ended Madrid’s reign in a 4-1 rout that set the tone for the rest of the competition — no storied club was safe, not even on home turf.

Madrid’s humiliation was highlighted by how captain Sergio Ramos came to miss the second leg.

Ramos committed a 90th-minute foul in Amsterdam to intentionally get a yellow card. He had calculated that a suspension from the return match was worth clearing his disciplinary record for the matches to come.

Paris Saint-Germain-Manchester United

One day later, video review (VAR) helped Manchester United pull off another comeback win.

United, revitalized by interim manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer after grim times under Jose Mourinho, faced Paris Saint-Germain in the last 16 trailing by two goals and with Paul Pogba suspended.

A pair of first-half goals from Romelu Lukaku gave United hope, and the 3-1 victory was secured by a stoppage-time penalty from Marcus Rashford.

But the drama came from how the penalty was awarded, using technology UEFA had only weeks earlier decided to include.

Diogo Dalot’s long-range shot seemed to be heading high over the goal until the ball hit the arm of PSG defender Presnel Kimpembe.

The penalty was given after a lengthy review.

Manchester City-Tottenham

Another game ultimately decided by video review — overturning what even Tottenham thought was a stoppage-time goal by Manchester City forward Raheem Sterling — came in the quarterfinals.

There were three lead changes early in the match and a Champions League record five goals in the first 21 minutes.

Man City were set to advance when Sergio Aguero made it 4-2 in the 59th minute, but Tottenham regained control in the 73rd when Fernando Llorente scored with his hip to make it 4-3. That goal stood after a review for possible handball.

The stadium later erupted, with City manager Pep Guardiola galloping down the touchline in ecstatic leaps, when Sterling scored after a misplaced pass by Tottenham midfielder Christian Eriksen sent Aguero clear.

Unnoticed at first, Eriksen’s pass had glanced off a City player’s leg. Aguero was offside, the goal was disallowed, and Tottenham was reprieved.

Liverpool-Barcelona

To reach the final, Liverpool had to overturn a three-goal deficit against a Barcelona team led by Lionel Messi.

And they had to do it without two of their top forwards, injured teammates Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino. But if it was going to happen anywhere, it would be under the floodlights on a European soccer night at Anfield.

Stand-in striker Divock Origi scored early, and halftime substitute Georginio Wijnaldum quickly added two more to make it 3-3 on aggregate.

Barcelona eventually was eliminated when 20-year-old Liverpool fullback Trent Alexander-Arnold tricked a sleeping defense. His quick pass from a corner found Origi for the winning goal.

Ajax-Tottenham

In a competition where big leads have had a habit of disappearing, Tottenham pulled of the final trick with almost the final kick.

Ajax won in London 1-0 in the first leg and scored two more in the first half on Wednesday.

Then came Lucas Moura, who might not even have played if Tottenham striker Harry Kane hadn’t been injured. The Brazil forward scored in the 55th and 59th minutes to spark the revival.

Incredibly, euphorically, Moura scored again in the sixth minute of stoppage time, giving his team an astonishing 3-2 win and leaving Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino on his knees and in tears on the field.

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Ravi Shastri reappointed India’s cricket coach

MASON, Ohio: Seven-time champion Roger Federer was ousted from one of his favorite tournaments in only 61 minutes Thursday, falling in straight sets to a 21-year-old qualifier he’d never faced. Andre Rublev — with only one career win over a top-five player to his credit — took advantages of Federer’s numerous mistakes for a 6-3,…

Ravi Shastri reappointed India’s cricket coach

MASON, Ohio: Seven-time champion Roger Federer was ousted from one of his favorite tournaments in only 61 minutes Thursday, falling in straight sets to a 21-year-old qualifier he’d never faced.
Andre Rublev — with only one career win over a top-five player to his credit — took advantages of Federer’s numerous mistakes for a 6-3, 6-4 victory that further depleted the top of the men’s bracket in the Western & Southern Open.
Federer has won the tournament more than anyone, using it as a springboard to the US Open. He had 16 unforced errors against the 70th-ranked Rublev, who raised both fists and wiped a teary eye in celebration after Federer’s forehand sailed long to end it.
Struggling with his serve, Federer got broken twice in the first set.
“And there you have it. It set the tone for the match a little bit,” Federer said. “He was super clean — offense, defense, serving well. He didn’t give me anything.”
Federer, who lost a classic five-set match for the Wimbledon title to Novak Djokovic, thinks he’s in good shape heading into the US Open despite the upset in Cincinnati.
Second-seeded Rafael Nadal withdrew before the start of the tournament because of fatigue after winning the Rogers Cup in Montreal on Sunday. Djokovic was the only one of the Top 3 left, set to play later in the day.
The day began with the ATP fining Nick Kyrgios $113,000 for expletive-filled outbursts that included smashing rackets, insulting a chair umpire and refusing to get ready to return serve during a second-round match the previous night.
Back against the wallIn the women’s bracket, top-seeded Ashleigh Barty reached the quarterfinals, joined by a resurgent Venus Williams.Barty beat Anett Kontaveit 4-6, 7-5, 7-5, raising her fist in triumph after fighting off one match point to take the 2-hour, 10-minute match. She was down a break in the second set before rallying on a day when she struggled to find consistency.“The best thing is when my back was against the wall, the tennis was there,” Barty said. “It may not have been there the whole match, but we were able to find it when we needed it.”Barty, the French Open champion and currently ranked No. 2, can move up to the top spot by reaching the final.With the crowd cheering for her, Williams recovered from a rough first set and beat Donna Vekic 2-6, 6-4, 6-3, her best stretch of tennis in since she won three straight matches in March at Miami.After a first-round loss in Toronto last week, her ranking slipped to No. 65, her lowest in seven years. With sister Serena cheering courtside, Venus reached the semifinals.“I mean, I’m pretty pumped,” Venus Williams said. “When you’re winning, it’s fun.”Serena Williams withdrew from the tournament because of back spasms. She calmly watched her sister advance.“I think she believed in me,” Venus Williams said. “She was rooting hard but didn’t seem panicked at all after I lost the first set.”

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Low-ranked Rublev ousts Federer in Cincinnati; Barty advances

MASON, Ohio: Seven-time champion Roger Federer was ousted from one of his favorite tournaments in only 61 minutes Thursday, falling in straight sets to a 21-year-old qualifier he’d never faced.Andre Rublev — with only one career win over a top-five player to his credit — took advantages of Federer’s numerous mistakes for a 6-3, 6-4…

Low-ranked Rublev ousts Federer in Cincinnati; Barty advances

MASON, Ohio: Seven-time champion Roger Federer was ousted from one of his favorite tournaments in only 61 minutes Thursday, falling in straight sets to a 21-year-old qualifier he’d never faced.Andre Rublev — with only one career win over a top-five player to his credit — took advantages of Federer’s numerous mistakes for a 6-3, 6-4 victory that further depleted the top of the men’s bracket in the Western & Southern Open.Federer has won the tournament more than anyone, using it as a springboard to the US Open. He had 16 unforced errors against the 70th-ranked Rublev, who raised both fists and wiped a teary eye in celebration after Federer’s forehand sailed long to end it.Struggling with his serve, Federer got broken twice in the first set.“And there you have it. It set the tone for the match a little bit,” Federer said. “He was super clean — offense, defense, serving well. He didn’t give me anything.”Federer, who lost a classic five-set match for the Wimbledon title to Novak Djokovic, thinks he’s in good shape heading into the US Open despite the upset in Cincinnati.Second-seeded Rafael Nadal withdrew before the start of the tournament because of fatigue after winning the Rogers Cup in Montreal on Sunday. Djokovic was the only one of the Top 3 left, set to play later in the day.The day began with the ATP fining Nick Kyrgios $113,000 for expletive-filled outbursts that included smashing rackets, insulting a chair umpire and refusing to get ready to return serve during a second-round match the previous night.
Back against the wallIn the women’s bracket, top-seeded Ashleigh Barty reached the quarterfinals, joined by a resurgent Venus Williams.Barty beat Anett Kontaveit 4-6, 7-5, 7-5, raising her fist in triumph after fighting off one match point to take the 2-hour, 10-minute match. She was down a break in the second set before rallying on a day when she struggled to find consistency.“The best thing is when my back was against the wall, the tennis was there,” Barty said. “It may not have been there the whole match, but we were able to find it when we needed it.”Barty, the French Open champion and currently ranked No. 2, can move up to the top spot by reaching the final.With the crowd cheering for her, Williams recovered from a rough first set and beat Donna Vekic 2-6, 6-4, 6-3, her best stretch of tennis in since she won three straight matches in March at Miami.After a first-round loss in Toronto last week, her ranking slipped to No. 65, her lowest in seven years. With sister Serena cheering courtside, Venus reached the semifinals.“I mean, I’m pretty pumped,” Venus Williams said. “When you’re winning, it’s fun.”Serena Williams withdrew from the tournament because of back spasms. She calmly watched her sister advance.“I think she believed in me,” Venus Williams said. “She was rooting hard but didn’t seem panicked at all after I lost the first set.”

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Liverpool beats Chelsea on penalties to lift Super Cup

PARIS: The saga of Neymar’s seemingly inevitable departure from Paris Saint-Germain is proving a long, drawn out affair bringing the curtain down on what will ultimately feel like a fleeting and failed experiment.Having arrived in France in 2017 hoping a world-record transfer to PSG would help him emerge from the shadow of Lionel Messi at…

Liverpool beats Chelsea on penalties to lift Super Cup

PARIS: The saga of Neymar’s seemingly inevitable departure from Paris Saint-Germain is proving a long, drawn out affair bringing the curtain down on what will ultimately feel like a fleeting and failed experiment.Having arrived in France in 2017 hoping a world-record transfer to PSG would help him emerge from the shadow of Lionel Messi at Barcelona and win the Ballon d’Or, two years on he looks set to leave with his reputation having taken a serious hit.There is no doubting the 27-year-old forward is a brilliant player, and there is every chance he will get the success he craves — collectively and, chiefly, individually — by returning to Spain, whether with his old club or Real Madrid.However, there is every reason to believe a Kylian Mbappe-led PSG, and football in France in general, will ultimately be better off without him.The French champions’ first Ligue 1 game of the campaign last Sunday, a 3-0 win against Nimes, saw supporters unfurl banners insulting the 222 million-euro ($264 million at the time) man.Neymar himself was not involved in that game, left out amid the uncertainty over his future. He already missed the season-opening Champions Trophy against Rennes in China due to suspension.Since moving to the Parc des Princes, he has played in almost exactly half of his club’s matches.When he has been on the field he has frequently been brilliant, scoring 51 goals in 58 games, but when it has really mattered he has been absent.Foot injuries saw him miss three of the four Champions League knockout matches the Qatar-owned club have played in since his arrival. Without him, they lost in the last 16 to Real Madrid in 2018 and then to Manchester United this year.“I like Neymar, I want to keep playing with him, with Kylian and with everyone,” coach Thomas Tuchel said last weekend.“But the reality is that we must find solutions without ‘Ney’. You can’t lose Neymar and just find someone else who will do the same things.”Mbappe added that “without Neymar, it’s not the same team,” but PSG can still improve by investing in a more balanced squad — summer signings made so far under sporting director Leonardo are a step in the right direction.Center-back Abdou Diallo, midfielders Ander Herrera, Pablo Sarabia and Idrissa Gueye have arrived. With the money recouped from the eventual sale of Neymar, not to mention the saving on his 36 million-euro annual wage, more reinforcements can be brought in.The off-field circus around Neymar has been an unwelcome distraction for too long. On the field, Paris will still have Mbappe.The other side of the coin is what this means for PSG’s brand. After all, Neymar’s following on social media far outstrips that of his current club.Similarly, when the French league (LFP) put their television rights up for auction last year, they capitalized on the Brazilian’s presence. Rights for the four seasons from 2020 were sold to Chinese-owned group Mediapro for 1.15 billion euros a year, a huge increase on previous deals.Television stations could be forgiven for being a little concerned now, but LFP chief Didier Quillot remains bullish.“It’s always better to have several stars in your league. That said, during the Champions Trophy in China, it was Kylian Mbappe who was the star. His popularity is growing around the world,” he told sports daily L’Equipe.In any case, Ligue 1 is in a constant state of renewal, forever prepared to see star players move abroad. Nicolas Pepe, Ferland Mendy, Tanguy Ndombele and Ismaila Sarr have all left this summer.The game in France can move on from Neymar, and everyone will be relieved to let the football on the field do the talking if and when he departs.

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