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Messi shines as Barca sweep past Girona

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SPAIN: Lionel Messi scored a sublime goal to make up for the missed trip to Miami as Barcelona beat Girona 2-0 on Sunday to go five points clear again at the top of La Liga.

This was the fixture intended to be played in the United States but any advantage Girona maintained by keeping it at their own Montilivi ground was cancelled out by Messi, and another ruthless Barca display.

Messi’s brilliant finish in the second half, his ninth goal in as many games, came after Nelson Semedo had given the visitors an early lead, before Bernardo Espinosa’s red card consigned Girona to 39 minutes with 10 men.

The home fans were left incensed by that decision, as well as Messi’s reaction they believed had caused it, but the Argentinian’s goal offered the perfect riposte.

Barcelona restore their hefty advantage over Atletico Madrid, who had cut the gap to two by beating Getafe on Saturday. Real Madrid will have to overcome Espanyol later on Sunday just to reduce their own deficit to 10.

Outside the stadium before kick-off, propped up on a railing, was a sign with a scrawled message that read: “Miami, here we come”.

La Liga had hoped to drag this game there to promote Spanish football and the clubs had supported the idea, with various perks dangled in front of fans, including free flights and tickets, not to mention the chance to be part of something “historic”.

Girona’s home, however, is here and when opposition proved too great, neither team wanted to appear disappointed.

“I always felt it was a distant option,” Barca coach Ernesto Valverde said on Saturday.

 

 

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Ahead of women’s World Cup, female fans struggle in Middle East

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DUBAI: Two weeks ahead of a potentially game-changing women’s World Cup, football remains completely male-dominated in large parts of the Middle East and North Africa, where female fans are still battling for a level playing field.

Women fans face obstacles in many parts of the region where rival powers Iran and Saudi Arabia have traditionally enforced rules banning women from entering stadiums.

No countries from the region will be among the 24 teams taking part in the tournament in France from June 7, but at least there are signs of flexibility in the region toward a sport igniting more and more female interest across the globe.

In Iran, rules have been relaxed since the 1979 Islamic revolution and women are selectively allowed to attend some matches.

But the fact that a ban has yet to be officially lifted indicates there is still disagreement over the issue among senior figures in the Islamic republic.

Ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia allowed women into a football stadium for the first time in January 2018 for a regular domestic football league match.

The move was part of reforms introduced by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman that included allowing women to drive and take part in other sporting and artistic events.

 

 

 

 

 

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Zidane the boss as Bale set for final game at Real Madrid

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MADRID: Zinedine Zidane hinted on Saturday that Gareth Bale could make his last appearance for Real Madrid on Sunday after saying he would make changes this summer ahead of the final match of their miserable La Liga season.

Bale fell out with Zidane towards the end of the Frenchman’s first spell in charge and their relationship has quickly soured again, with the Wales attacker starting just five times since the coach’s return in March and left out completely for Real’s last two matches against Villarreal and Real Sociedad.

Zidane said Bale would be in the squad against Real Betis on Sunday but, asked by reporters if it would be his last game for Madrid, he said: “I don’t know, I can’t tell you. It’s the season finale and next year there are going to be changes. But I don’t know what is going to happen.”

Madrid face Betis at the Santiago Bernabeu in their final match of a campaign that will see them finish third, behind both Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, and trophyless after being knocked out of the Copa Del Rey by Barca and the Champions League by Ajax.

Zidane has pledged to make changes once the campaign is over, with several players including Bale expected to be sold, and defended his right to make the big calls.

“It’s my decision,” Zidane told reporters. “That is clear as water. I’m the coach and I will always do what I want to do. If not, I’ll leave.

“For signings and those sorts of things we have people who work on them but we work together.”

Zidane took charge with Madrid’s season all-but over and their performances have fizzled out in recent weeks.

Their defeat by Real Sociedad last weekend means they have lost two of their last three matches and won only three of their last eight.

“The message is clear, it is the last game and we want to say goodbye to the fans with a good game and a victory,” said Zidane.

“It has been a complicated year and I want to convey that we are looking ahead to next season and to show the fans that we will return with enthusiasm to make them proud of the team again.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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History made as women to referee men’s AFC Cup clash

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KUALA LUMPUR: The Asian Football Confederation announced Tuesday that for the first time an all-female referee team will take charge of a men’s continental club cup clash.

Japanese referee Yoshimi Yamashita and assistants Makoto Bozono and Naomi Teshirogi will officiate the AFC Cup match between Myanmar’s Yangon United and Cambodia’s Naga World at the Thuwunna Stadium on Wednesday.

“This will be the first time three female referees preside in the Asian Football Confederation’s club competitions, marking a new milestone in Asian refereeing,” the AFC said in a statement.

The AFC Cup is the second-string Asian club competition, a rung below the AFC Champions League.

Women officials have only previously been employed as assistant referees in AFC Cup matches, with Australians Sarah Ho and Alysson Flynn becoming the first in 2014.

“This is one of my dreams,” said the experienced Yamashita, who officiated in the 2016 and 2018 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup and 2018 Women’s Asian Cup.

“We’ve worked very hard and this is the result.”

Assistant referee Teshirogi said her appointment will inspire female referees in Asia while Bozono said the experience will help in her preparations for the FIFA Women’s World Cup in June, where the trio will be among 12 officials from the AFC.

“It is exciting to work with Yoshimi and Naomi. They are very experienced and have been very supportive. I will learn a lot from them,” Bozono said.

 

 

 

 

 

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