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.
FIFA supports plan to increase number of teams for 2022 World Cup
MOSCOW: FIFA moved a step closer on Friday to expanding the 2022 World Cup in Qatar to 48 teams and hopes to confirm the plans in June if a suitable co-host can be found.
An internal feasibility study supporting the expansion, which is being strongly pushed by president Gianni Infantino, was given full backing by the FIFA council in Miami.
A final decision will now be taken in Paris on June 6 after FIFA and Qatar jointly submit the names of potential co-host nations to the governing body’s Congress.
Infantino, who also confirmed a new Club World Cup with 24 teams will begin in 2021 to replace the Confederations Cup, told a press conference: “You have in front of you a happy FIFA president. I am always happy but especially today because we have taken some important decisions. We came to conclusion, yes it’s feasible to move from 32 to 48 teams at the World Cup provided certain conditions are met. We have the duty to look into it, 90 percent are in favour of an increase but it’s not as easy as that. We have to analyse matters carefully and we are working closely with Qatar.”
The move away from the traditional 32 teams which will see 80 matches instead of 64 — the notion was originally slated to come into effect for the 2026 tournament in North America — means one or more other countries will be asked to help Qatar stage the shortened 28-day event which is scheduled to kick off in November 2022.
Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Oman and United Arab Emirates are all potential options yet rancorous diplomatic disputes has led to the tiny Gulf state being politically isolated from many of its former allies.
Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE will need to end their diplomatic blockade of Qatar launched in 2017 if they want to be involved, FIFA’s feasibility study said.
“We know the situation in the Gulf region,” added Infantino. “We are in the lucky position of being in football, and that means you can only care about football. I was pleased with the reaction of the Qataris. We don’t want to regret not analysing the decision.”
Analysts expressed scepticism, however, that regional acrimony can be overcome to enable Infantino’s hoped-for expansion.
“The Gulf Crisis is not going to solved by playing football,” said James Dorsey, a researcher at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.
“FIFA recognises that it is out of the question to share (matches) with (the) Qataris’ detractors, the Emiratis and Saudi Arabia. If you pull in Kuwait and Oman, it could aggravate the situation.”
The Qatari organising committee for the 2022 World Cup meanwhile gave a lukewarm response to Friday’s decision, saying organisers would continue planning for a 32-team event.
“We will work with FIFA to determine whether or not a viable operating model does exist and importantly, whether it is in the best interests for football and for the tournament, and for Qatar as the host nation,” a spokesman for Qatar 2022 said.
“Until we reach that conclusion, we will continue to work toward hosting a 32-team World Cup…”
FIFA, meanwhile, have been told that the leading European clubs will boycott a Club World Cup expanded to 24 teams in 2021 which was also given the go-ahead at the meeting in Florida.
A 17-page report distributed to the 37 members of FIFA’s ruling body calls for the new tournament to take place between June 17 and July 4 2021, replacing the Confederations Cup international tournament.
Infantino called the decision to move ahead with the plans an “important milestone for world football” and expects no problems moving forward.
“We should enjoy what is coming,” he said.
But the European Club Association (ECA) said leading European clubs would boycott the event.
An ECA spokesman said: “ECA clubs will not participate in the Club World Cup in 2021 and will assess participation in the Club World Cup in 2024.”
UEFA also confirmed Europe had voted against the new tournament at Friday’s meeting.
There was also confirmation from FIFA that the video assistant referee system (VAR) will be used at the women’s World Cup this summer.
Three ex Greek football chiefs sentenced
ATHENS: Three former Greek football federation presidents received five year suspended prison sentences on Thursday for their part in a 13 million euros ($14.65 million) health fund scandal.
Two other men who had served on the federation’s board when the funds destined for free amateur player health checks were misused were also found guilty.
Former federation presidents Vasilis Gagatsis, Sophocles Pilavios, and Giorgos Girtzikis, as well as former board members Giorgos Sindoris and Giannis Oikonomidis, said they would appeal the verdict.
The scandal involved a health fund which was set up in 2005 but was never implemented despite the convicted men running the scheme until 2013 with a loss of around 13 million euros for the federation.
Ada Hegerberg, football’s golden girl from Norway
OSLO: She first took to the pitch as a pesky little girl who followed her big sister everywhere. Today she is the top female footballer in the world, crowned with the first women’s Ballon d’Or.
Ada Hegerberg has captivated the football world, a “serial scorer” averaging almost 1.3 goals per match with her French team Olympique Lyonnais.
Hegerberg comes from a footballing family and used to watch her older sister and brother.
“Ada was the type to sabotage Andrine and their brother Silas’s trainings until she was maybe seven or eight years old,” recalls their mother, Gerd Stolsmo, in the family flat in the east of Oslo.
“Then she went to a tournament. And there … she was passed the ball, turned around, made a beeline for the goal, and scored. Again and again and again. Match after match. That was when it became so obvious,” Gerd says.
At the time the football obsessed Hegerbergs were living in Sunndalsora, a sparsely populated town at the end of a fjord on the west coast of Norway.
– Focus on football –
The Hegerberg sisters were such talented players that they allowed to join the local boys’ teams.
In addition to team practices, the family would happily hold extra training sessions together. Nothing was ever left to chance.
On top of that, without her parents’ knowledge, the two girls would rise early in the mornings to run in the wooded hills before school.
Ada’s father Stein Erik Hegerberg is obsessed with details believing even a hair out of place can cost a player precious hundredths of a second on the field
“Once you start, you have to be sure that everything is all set,” he said. “The balls are properly inflated, shoes are polished with the laces well knotted and the hair tied back.”
To allow the children to focus on football, the Hegerbergs moved closer to Oslo.
Like Andrine, Ada joined Kolbotn, one of the top women’s clubs. She stood out.
“She was furious as a 15-year-old when she didn’t play a full match,” recalls her coach at the time, Dan Eggen. “Based on the mentality and the skills at that time you were certain that this was a very good talent”.