LONDON: Mohamed Salah’s second-half penalty was enough to give Premier League leaders Liverpool a 1-0 win away to Brighton on Saturday that saw them go seven points clear at the top of the table.
Jurgen Klopp’s men were enduring a frustrating afternoon on the south coast until Egypt forward Salah converted a spot-kick after being brought down in the box by Pascal Gross at the Amex Stadium. Second-placed reigning champions Manchester City, fresh from a 9-0 out of Burton Albion in the first leg of a League Cup semi-final, will look to close the gap at home to Wolves – who knocked Liverpool out of the FA Cup – on Monday.
Saturday’s early kick-off saw teenage midfielder Declan Rice score his first West Ham goal in a 1-0 win at home to London rivals Arsenal. Victory, in front of a London Stadium record crowd of over 59,000, cemented the Hammers’ place in the top half of the table. Rice’s 48th-minute strike saw the midfielder give himself an early present ahead of his 20th birthday on Monday. West Ham’s Marko Arnautovic waved to home fans when substituted in the 71st minute which suggested Austria forward, linked with a move to the Chinese Super League, may have played his last game for the club.
“We will see what happens in the next days,” Manuel Pellegrini, the Hammers manager, told Sky Sports when asked about the future of Arnautovic. Defeat dented Arsenal’s bid for Champions League football ahead of next week’s clash at home to Chelsea. The fourth-placed Blues will be six points clear of the Gunners if they beat strugglers Newcastle in Saturday’s late kick-off at Stamford Bridge “This afternoon is a bad result for us,” said Arsenal manager Unai Emery. At the other end of the table, 10-man Southampton moved a point clear of the bottom three with a 2-1 win away to Leicester. James Ward-Prowse’s penalty, awarded after Nampalys Mendy fouled Shane Long, gave the Saints an 11th-minute lead.
But the visitors found themselves a man down when Yann Valery was shown a red card for a second bookable offense after tugging the shirt of Marc Albrighton. Southampton still doubled their lead just before half-time when Long pounced on a mistake by goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel. The Foxes scored a second-half goal through Wilfried Ndidi but it wasn’t enough and defeat saw Leicester, managed by former Saints boss Claude Puel, booed by their own fans come full-time at the King Power Stadium.
Fulham remained in the relegation zone after a 2-1 loss to Burnley that saw them concede two own-goals in three minutes at Turf Moor as the Clarets – who didn’t have a shot on target – moved three points clear of the drop. Andre Schurrle put Fulham ahead in just the second minute but Burnley equalized in the 20th minute through Joe Bryan’s own-goal and was soon in the lead when Denis Odoi also put through his own net. Craig Cathcart scored at both ends as Watford won 2-1 away to Crystal Palace in a match coinciding with the second anniversary of former Hornets manager Graham Taylor’s death.
Watford defender Cathcart gave Palace, whose manager Roy Hodgson is also a former England boss, a 38th-minute lead with an own-goal. But he equalized midway through the second half before Tom Cleverley’s volley into the top corner won the game for Watford with 16 minutes left. Huddersfield remained bottom of the table following a goalless draw away to relegation-threatened Cardiff. Third-placed Tottenham Hotspur faces Manchester United at Wembley on Sunday when Everton are at home to Bournemouth.
Relevant: Liverpool bounced back from two consecutive defeats to remain on course for a first league title in 29 years, but were made to wait before breaking down an obdurate Brighton thanks to Mohamed Salah’s 50th-minute penalty in a 1-0 win today. Victory reestablished Jurgen Klopp’s side’s seven-point lead over Manchester City at the top of the table, which was reduced to four when the champions inflicted Liverpool’s only Premier League defeat of the campaign to breathe new life into the title race nine days ago. Liverpool was far from their fluent best on England’s south coast but ground out a vital win to settle any nerves caused by that defeat thanks to a 13th clean sheet in 22 league games this season. Klopp made wholesale changes for Monday’s FA Cup elimination to Wolves to underline his priorities for this season and he recalled a host of first-team regulars, including Salah. However, the Egyptian and the rest of Liverpool’s forward line were starved of service before the break as Brighton sat deep and the visitors dominated possession without any cutting edge. Roberto Firmino just failed to reach a dangerous Andy Robertson cross, while Xherdan Shaqiri nodded inches wide. But neither side managed a single shot on target in the first half as Glenn Murray headed Albion’s best chance over the bar. Salah immediately signaled a change in Liverpool’s intent after half-time as his powerful shot at the end of a purposeful run was well saved by David Button. Brighton, though, were architects of their own downfall moments later. Salah was given too much room inside the area to turn and Pascal Gross then hauled down last season’s Premier League player of the year. Salah stepped up to blast the penalty past Button and move level with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Harry Kane as the league’s top-scorer on 14 goals for the season. One moment of madness from Gross undid Chris Hughton’s gameplan to defend and frustrate the league leaders. Yet, the German midfielder had a chance to make amends almost immediately with Brighton’s best opportunity to level, but his shot was bravely blocked by Fabinho. From then on Liverpool looked more likely to add to their lead than concede as Firmino’s fierce strike from outside the box was placed too close to Button before Georginio Wijnaldum and Sadio Mane fired wide. Salah passed up a glorious chance two minutes from time when he turned James Milner’s driven cross wide from point-blank range. That could have proved costly when Florin Andone escaped in behind the Liverpool defense in stoppage time, but his low cross found no takers. And Liverpool held out to ensure a largely forgettable 90 minutes could be remembered as another important step on course to the title come May.
Portugal defeat Netherlands to win first Nations League
PORTO: Portugal added the inaugural Nations League title to their Euro 2016 triumph as Goncalo Guedes’s strike on the hour won an underwhelming final 1-0 against the Netherlands in Porto on Sunday.
The Dutch defensive pairing of Virgil van Dijk and Matthijs de Ligt largely kept Cristiano Ronaldo quiet, but Valencia winger Guedes proved the match winner as his shot had too much power for Jasper Cillessen in the Netherlands goal.
“Thank god things have gone well for the national team in recent years. Portugal has won important things like Euro 2016 and now the League of Nations,” said Ronaldo.
“It may seem like an easy job but it’s hard, it takes a lot of dedication and willingness. I think the players deserve to be congratulated.”
Portugal had the advantage of an extra day’s rest and not being forced to extra time against Switzerland in their semi-final as the Dutch were in seeing off England on Thursday.
And the hosts looked the fresher throughout with Ronald Koeman’s men jaded at the end of a long season.
“If we were tired I don’t know, but we were not good enough,” admitted Koeman.
“They defended well and the were very compact in their game, but you have to be better with the ball and we were not.”
The match had been billed as a showdown between Ronaldo and Van Dijk but with the Dutch captain again rock solid at the back, Portugal’s main threat came from midfield with Bernardo Silva rightfully winning player of the tournament.
“I’m very happy, very proud. It’s my first title with my country,” said Silva, who also won an English domestic treble with Manchester City this season.
“Thank you to the Portuguese people, what a night for us, what a night for the country!”
Ronaldo still hungry for more glory with Portugal
PORTO: Cristiano Ronaldo insisted he has no immediate plans to retire from international football after helping Portugal lift the inaugural Nations League on Sunday.
Ronaldo, 34, was a peripheral figure as Goncalo Guedes’s goal won an underwhelming final against the Netherlands 1-0 in Porto.
But after sitting out the group stage of the Nations League on a hiatus from international football, Ronaldo played a huge part in getting his country to the final by scoring a hat-trick in Wednesday’s semi-final against Switzerland.
And with a host of exciting young talent, led by Manchester City’s Bernardo Silva, who picked up player of the tournament, Ronaldo is keen to hang around for the chance at more international glory as Portugal look to defend their European Championship title next year.
“Portugal has won important things like Euro 2016 and now the Nations League. It may seem like an easy job but it’s hard, it takes a lot of dedication and willingness,” Ronaldo told Portuguese TV station RTP.
“As long as I have the strength and motivation, I will continue to represent the colours of Portugal.
“When I am with the national team I feel like at home.”
Victory was especially sweet for Ronaldo as the only surviving member of the Portuguese side beaten on home soil by Greece in the final of Euro 2004.
“I have been with the national team for 16 years and I still feel the same enthusiasm as when I was 18 years old,” he added.
“I will always give my best and the Portuguese are always on my side so I thank them for their enthusiasm for me.
“I try to match that with good performances, goals, and help Portugal win trophies.”
Football: Infantino re-elected FIFA president
PARIS: Gianni Infantino said today he had turned FIFA into an organization “synonymous with credibility” as he was re-elected for a second term as president of world football’s governing body.
It was a formality that the 49-year-old would be waved through for a new four-year mandate, until 2023, as he stood unopposed at the FIFA Congress in Paris.
The FIFA Council chose to back his re-election by acclamation, with Infantino now hoping to build on the work he started in February 2016, when he was voted in to succeed the disgraced Sepp Blatter at the head of the organization.
Eager to “open up” and “globalize” the game, he will now push ahead with already approved plans to expand the Club World Cup to 24 teams, and with his ambition of expanding the World Cup itself to 48 teams.
As he addressed the 211 members of the Congress in the French capital, where the Women’s World Cup begins on Friday, Infantino claimed credit for the success of the 2018 men’s World Cup in Russia, the “transparent” bidding process for the 2026 tournament in North America, and the introduction of Video Assistant Referees into the game.
He said he was now at the head of “a new FIFA, an organization that is synonymous with credibility, confidence, integrity.”
“Today nobody talks about crises, nobody talks about rebuilding FIFA from scratch, nobody talks about scandals, nobody talks about corruption. We talk about football,” insisted the Swiss-Italian lawyer, formerly secretary general of European governing body UEFA.
“The very least we can say is that we have turned the situation around.
“In three years and four months, this organization went from being toxic, almost criminal, to being what it should be, an organization that develops football, an organization that cares about football.”
Infantino has overseen a major increase in FIFA’s income, with cash reserves increased to a record $2.75 billion over his first term. FIFA announced record revenue for the three years to 2018, of $6.4 billion.
“FIFA has today also the most solid financial situation ever and is coming out of the period of its worst crisis,” he said.
FIFA has had to abandon highly controversial plans to expand the World Cup from 32 teams to 48 in time for the next tournament in Qatar in 2022.
The radical change to the tournament will now have to wait until 2026, but Infantino has already got the green light for a flagship 24-team Club World Cup starting in 2021.
The existing format involves just seven clubs. A venue for the new-look competition has still to be found.
“My philosophy as FIFA president is one of openness and as long as I am president of FIFA I will push as hard as I can to have more global worldwide competitions, possibilities, openness for everyone to be able to play,” he said.
He stated his ambition to generate an enormous $50 billion in revenue from the sale of the commercial rights for the new competition, which has been opposed by European clubs.
“In terms of commercialisation, I hope to make 50 billion, not 25. I’m not sure we’ll get them but I hope so,” Infantino said, although he did not state how many editions that would cover.
Infantino previously worked closely with Michel Platini, but the suspended ex-head of UEFA this week attacked the FIFA chief, saying he had “no legitimacy” and accusing him of having mocked women’s football.
However, Infantino pointed to the appointment of Senegal’s Fatma Samoura as Secretary-General and to the fact that women now made up 20 percent of all those involved in FIFA committees as he defended his work done in that area.
“It is only 20 percent, but before it was four percent. We need to be better, we will be, but we start, we move, we progress,” he said.
“At the Women’s World Cup in France this year we will have the explosion of women’s football,” he added.
That tournament will begin on Friday when hosts France play South Korea in Paris, and will run until July 7.
The next FIFA Congress will be held in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa in May next year.
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