MILAN: Portugal coach Fernando Santos insisted Saturday that superstar Cristiano Ronaldo remains a key part of his national team despite being left out of his Nations League squad after the European champions became the first team to advance to the semi-finals of the competition.
The five-time Ballon d’Or winner spent much of last month vehemently denying allegations of rape and was dropped by Santos for the Nations League internationals amid accusations by former model Kathryn Mayorga that Ronaldo raped her in 2009, just before he joined Real Madrid from Manchester United. “There are no questions to ask. Ronaldo is part of this team, just read the post he wrote today,” said Santos, referring to the message the Juventus player sent to wish his teammates good luck via Twitter. Portugal booked their ticket to the semi-finals next June after holding Italy to a 0-0 draw at the San Siro on Saturday.
They progressed top of Group A3 with one match to play, dashing Italy’s hopes in the process. “The qualification confirms the quality of our football,” said Santos. “I thought it would be a great match and instead especially in the first half, we had a lot of difficulties. “After the break, I explained to them what was happening, and the game became more balanced.” Portugal host relegated Poland in three days in Guimaraes, in a match that has no significance for either side. But Santos insisted: “The final match against Poland will be important because it will be in front of our public, who are always with us. “We have to play well and to win.”
Salah calls for change in treatment of women in Muslim world
LOS ANGELES: Egyptian football star Mohamed “Mo” Salah has called for change in the way women are treated in the Muslim world, in an interview with Time magazine published Wednesday.
The 26-year-old Liverpool forward was named one of the US magazine´s 100 most influential figures of the year, alongside other athletes including Tiger Woods, LeBron James and Naomi Osaka.
Salah told Time that while his attitudes towards gender equality had evolved over the years, he wanted to see more change.
“I think we need to change the way we treat women in our culture,” Salah was quoted as saying. “It´s not optional.”
He said the treatment of women “in my culture and in the Middle East” had changed his opinions on gender issues.
“I support the woman more than I did before, because I feel like she deserves more than what they give her now, at the moment,” Salah told the magazine.
Salah is an icon in Egypt after helping the country qualify for the 2018 World Cup, the first time they had reached the finals of the event since 1990.
He was named African Footballer of the Year in 2017 and 2018 and was also English football´s Player of the Year in 2017-2018 following a dazzling season with Liverpool.
He told Time he has learned to cope with the “little bit of pressure” that comes with his elevated profile, while expressing pride at being regarded as a role model.
“To be the first Egyptian in (this) situation and no one has done this before… it´s something different,” he said, insisting that super stardom had not changed his lifestyle.
“I just live my life normal,” he said. “Most of the time I stay at home, I don´t like to go out.”
Ajax’s young stars take European farewell tour to next stop
TURIN: Once every generation, Ajax rediscovers the eternal formula of youth and cut a Champions League swathe through expensively assembled teams of mature stars.
On Tuesday in Turin, the Dutch side did not just upset Cristiano Ronaldo’s Juventus. By the end they were completely outplaying the perennial Serie A champions, winning the match 2-1 and the tie 3-2 on aggregate.
“I think we should have scored five,” said 21-year-old Donny van de Beek.
The midfielder turned the tide with a first-half equalizer when Juventus were on top.
Teenage center-back and the team’s captain Matthijs de Ligt, just 19 himself, rose above two Juve defenders to smash in the winning header in the 67th minute.
“The ball was high and I thought, I am going for it. I headed it perfectly in the corner,” De Ligt said.
Ajax finished runners-up to PSV Eindhoven in the Dutch league last season and had to fight through three qualifying rounds, starting against Dynamo Kiev on July 29 last year.
Tuesday’s victory means they have played 16 games in this season’s competition, losing only once, at home to defending champions Real Madrid in the last round. They responded with a memorable 4-1 second-leg victory at the Santiago Bernabeu.
The Ajax team is underpinned by experience, but once again on Tuesday, it was homegrown youngsters who caught the eye.
In addition to van de Beek and de Ligt, 21-year-old Frenkie de Jong sparkled in midfield and 22-year-old David Neres, a Brazilian who joined Ajax in 2017, glinted in the attack.
“We have so much potential in the team and we’re still quite young and you see us grow in every game,” De Ligt told the UEFA website.
Yet Ajax started the season knowing that even though their team was built around youth, they had to win now.
“In terms of budget, we are at the bottom of the list in this phase of the Champions League,” said Edwin van der Sar, the club’s chief executive. “But Ajax is a big name in football.
In an interview with AFP in February, van der Sar — a former Ajax youth product who left, initially for Juventus, and has now returned to his first club — said: “You want to build your own team for the highest level and that happens more with teams that stay together.”
But this Ajax team is already starting to break up.
De Jong has agreed to join Barcelona next season and the highly-coveted De Ligt is also likely to leave.
“We want to keep this team together but we know the market power of the big clubs,” said van der Saar. “I was a player as well.”
Van der Sar was the goalkeeper in the last Ajax team to win the Champions League in 1995 with another largely homegrown team that mixed experience with the precocious talents of Edgar Davids, Clarence Seedorf and Patrick Kluivert.
Ajax reached the final in 1996 and the semi-finals in 1997, losing both to Tuesday’s conquerors Juventus.
“Weird, this is weird. I wasn’t even born then,” said de Ligt of the club’s first semi-final appearance in 21 years.
Reaching the last four should be worth at least 12 million euros ($13.5 million) to Ajax.
“I don’t care about that money,” said Van der Sar. “Of course we have to pay players. But this is football, that’s what it’s all about. We play the way Ajax wants and has to play, the way people know us.”
“It’s really cool that all the pieces of the puzzle fall together,” said Van der Sar. “This is what you have been working for.”
In their moment of glory, some Ajax players thought of one of the stars of their generation who was absent. Attacking midfielder Abdelhak Nouri suffered permanent brain damage after a heart attack playing for Ajax in 2017 aged 20.
Nouri used to wear No. 34 and van de Beek scored the Ajax equalizer on Tuesday in the 34th minute. The club, who leads the Dutch league on goal difference, are chasing their 34th national title.
“After scoring in the 34th minute, I thought of him,” said van de Beek. “I will never forget this.”
“It was meant to be this way.”
“Of course we can win the Champions League. It would be strange if I didn’t believe in that. We form a close team and fight for each other. If one has a hard time, then the other gets up.”
Ajax’s role as an incubator of young talent for richer clubs means that every European campaign brings encounters with old friends.
Van de Beek said he has a slight preference for Tottenham, who lead Manchester City 1-0 going into Wednesday’s second leg because “many Ajax players play at the Spurs. That’s nice.”
Football: Ronaldo on another level!
AMSTERDAM: Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri hailed star striker Cristiano Ronaldo as being in a class of his own after he bagged a precious away goal in their 1-1 Champions League quarter-final draw at Ajax on Wednesday.
Ronaldo put Juventus in front on the stroke of half-time with a diving header to take his record goal tally in the competition to 125, only for Brazilian winger David Neres to level almost immediately after half-time to put the tie on a knife-edge ahead of next week’s return leg in Turin.
“Ronaldo showed that he is on a different level. His timing and movement is different to everyone else’s, there’s nothing you can do about it,” Allegri told Sky Sport Italia.
“He is a player who just has a different technique than the others.”
Ajax piled on the pressure at the Johan Cruyff Arena, going close on a number of occasions before Douglas Costa nearly delivered a late sucker punch for Juve when he struck the woodwork.
Their spectacular comeback from a 2-1 first-leg home defeat to Real Madrid with a thumping 4-1 win at the Santiago Bernabeu in the previous round showed that the tie is far from over.
“It’s a good result because we scored away from home, the tie is still open,” added Allegri, who is looking to guide Juve to their first Champions League since 1996, when they beat Ajax in Rome.
“We were good defensively, the team was nice and compact, there is a good reason to think we can get to the semi-finals.
“We are not worried, we have great respect for Ajax but you have to be ready.