Sunday, 28 May 2017

Wagner eyes fairytale promotion for Huddersfield

London (AFP) – David Wagner insists Huddersfield are ready to hit the Premier League jackpot as his unfashionable club face Reading in a £200 million ($256 million) shoot-out in Monday’s Championship play-off final.

Wagner is aiming to take his team into the English top-flight for the first time in 45 years and the Huddersfield boss is well aware how out of place the Terriers would look among the Premier League aristocracy.

Huddersfield have never played in the Premier League and haven’t been a force in English football since the 1920s, when they won the title three times under legendary boss Herbert Chapman.

Widely tipped as relegation candidates at the start of the season, Huddersfield have defied all expectations to reach a Wembley showdown that promises untold riches for the winner.

At least £100 million in media rights is at stake, plus hugely increased revenue streams and ‘parachute payments’ to clubs relegated from the Premier League, leading financial experts to estimate the value of promotion at around £200 million.

For Huddersfield to be on the brink of cashing in is incredible to Wagner, who is close friends with Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp after working under him at Borussia Dortmund.

Leicester pulled off one of the biggest sporting upsets last season by winning the Premier League title and Wagner believes taking Huddersfield into the top tier would an equally miraculous achievement.

“We are still Huddersfield Town, even if we are in the final,” said Wagner, whose team defeated Sheffield Wednesday on penalties in the play-off semi-finals.

“I have the feeling nearly everybody, not only in this town, maybe in England, even in Europe, hopes that this fairy tale comes to a happy end.

“After what happened with Leicester last season, this is now a second fairy tale in a row in English football and we are a part of it, we are aware of it and of course now we’d like to get it over the line.

“Leicester have shown it is possible. The prize of the Premier League makes it even bigger. 

“We are happy and excited to be in this game and we will be ready for sure.”

– Surprised –

Like Huddersfield, Reading are unexpected finalists and the catalyst for their success has been the appointment of boss Jaap Stam.

Stam insists he will remain in charge next season, regardless of whether or not he leads Reading back to the Premier League for the first time since 2013.

Stam, a treble winner as a Manchester United defender, has been linked with several bigger clubs and admits his ambitions may one day lie away from the Madejski Stadium.

But the Dutchman, whose side beat Fulham in the play-off semi-finals, said: “We need to prepare for both scenarios, after the game we can think about what it means for the club.

“The result won’t have an impact on my future here. I enjoy working here.

“I want to go to the top, I played at the top as a player and I want to as a manager. But hopefully I can do that at Reading.”

Together with the club’s new Chinese owners Dai Yongge and Dai Xiu Li, Stam has revitalised Reading in his first season in charge.

But even he didn’t expect to compete for promotion so soon.

Reading finished third in the table, two places and four points above Huddersfield, and Stam said: “Everyone wants to play at the highest level. It’s great for the money to get to the Premier League.

“I’m pleasantly surprised at how we’ve done this season. There was a lot more in the players than I first thought.

“But there is still a long way to go and we need to focus. Finals are there to be won and we need to give it our best shot.”

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Wenger in the dark as Arsenal verdict looms

London (AFP) – Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said he remained in the dark about his future after steering his side to a magnificent 2-1 victory over Chelsea in the FA Cup final.

Chelsea were chasing a Premier League and FA Cup Double, but instead the double was Arsenal’s: a record 13th FA Cup success and an unprecedented seventh triumph in the competition for Wenger.

Wenger’s future, which has been up in the air for months, will be settled at a board meeting on Tuesday, but the 67-year-old said he could not say for certain whether or not the club’s decision-makers will back him.

“I don’t think I can answer that question at the moment,” he told reporters at Wembley after Saturday’s game.

Wenger is reported to have been offered a new contract, but when asked if he knows what will happen, he replied: “No. I know my mind. Let’s enjoy the win tonight and not worry about the future.”

Wenger was also dismissive of the notion that his record-breaking FA Cup success, after previous wins in 1998, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2014 and 2015, might have an impact on the talks about his position.

“I believe that it’s a positive trend, but it would be ridiculous if 20 years depends on one game or the future of the club depends on one game,” he said.

“I believe that I just want to do well for this club and apart from that I think it’s down to the board members.

“Am I the right man to lead this club further? And for me to decide, am I the right man to lead this club further? It’s not about popularity, it’s about competence.

“You cannot make 35 years at the top level if you believe you’re not the right man to do the job.”

Wenger came under fire from sections of Arsenal’s support during a Premier League campaign that concluded with his team failing to qualify for the Champions League for the first time in 20 years.

– Chelsea ‘have to improve’ –

He described the criticism he had faced as a “disgrace” in a BBC interview broadcast prior to the final and returned to the theme after lifting the trophy.

“I think this season has been hurt by some dip in March and I am convinced now, having looked back again at the season, we were hurt by the uncertainty about my future with the players,” Wenger said.

“I know I am in a public job. I accept to be criticised and I accept people don’t agree with me. But once the game starts and you are a fan, you stand behind the team.

“That’s what I did not accept during the season and I will never accept it.”

Antonio Conte fell short in his bid to emulate Italian countryman Carlo Ancelotti by leading Chelsea to a Premier League and FA Cup Double in his first season as manager.

He complained, with justification, that Alexis Sanchez’s fourth-minute opener for Arsenal should not have been allowed to stand due to a “very clear” handball, but admitted his team’s start “wasn’t good enough”.

Despite having Victor Moses sent off after he received a second yellow card for diving, Chelsea levelled through Diego Costa in the 76th minute, only for Aaron Ramsey to head in Arsenal’s winner just three minutes later.

While he hopes to add quality and quantity to his squad over the close season, Conte said Saturday’s result should not be allowed to tarnish the memory of Chelsea’s superb title triumph.

“Next season for sure we must pay great attention to understand that we have to improve,” he said. “Numbers in the squad and also quality.

“I think the players must keep in mind our fantastic season and also this final.

“It’s a pity that we didn’t win the FA Cup, but don’t forget we had a big (performance) to arrive here and we must be proud of this.”

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Lionel Messi inspires Barcelona to Copa del Rey final triumph against Alavés

• Barcelona 3-1 Alavés
• Messi 30, Neymar 45, Alcácer 45; Hernández 33

Lionel Messi produced yet another masterclass as Barcelona marked the end of Luis Enrique’s Camp Nou reign by lifting the Copa del Rey.

Barcelona became the first team since the early 1950s to lift the cup three seasons running as Messi masterminded a 3-1 victory at the final game to be staged at Atlético Madrid’s Vicente Calderón home.

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Saturday, 27 May 2017

Lionel Messi inspires Barcelona to Copa del Rey final triumph against Alavés

• Barcelona 3-1 Alavés
• Messi 30, Neymar 45, Alcácer 45; Hernández 33

Lionel Messi produced yet another masterclass as Barcelona marked the end of Luis Enrique’s Camp Nou reign by lifting the Copa del Rey.

Barcelona became the first team since the early 1950s to lift the cup three seasons running as Messi masterminded a 3-1 victory at the final game to be staged at Atlético Madrid’s Vicente Calderón home.

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Last-gasp own goal hands PSG French Cup

Paris (AFP) – The unfortunate Issa Cissokho headed agonisingly into his own net in stoppage time to give Paris Saint-Germain a 1-0 win over Angers in the French Cup final at the Stade de France on Saturday.

Extra time loomed at France’s national stadium — where French President Emmanuel Macron was among the spectators — when Cissokho turned an Angel Di Maria corner past his own goalkeeper while under pressure from Blaise Matuidi at the near post.

It was a desperately harsh way for Angers to lose, as PSG ended a frustrating season by winning a third consecutive French Cup and a record 11th overall in the centenary edition of the tournament.

It joins the League Cup in the PSG trophy cabinet and provides some more consolation for the capital side after a season that will be best remembered for their failures elsewhere.

Unai Emery’s side missed out on the league title to Monaco after winning Ligue 1 in each of the previous four campaigns and exited the Champions League in humiliating fashion to Barcelona in the last 16.

That 6-1 defeat at the Camp Nou — after they had won the first leg 4-0 at home — will be a lasting stain on PSG’s reputation and that of Emery.

However, their status as domestic Cup specialists remains very much intact after this victory against a hard-working Angers side who were appearing in their first French Cup final in 60 years.

Defeat means they have still never won a major trophy, while PSG have now lifted the French Cup six times just since 2004 and have won their last 32 domestic Cup ties.

It also means Bordeaux, who came sixth in the league, go into next season’s Europa League, with Paris already assured a Champions League berth after coming second.

Given the gulf in resources between the two teams, it would have been an almighty shock had Paris not come out on top, although they were pushed all the way by a side who finished 12th in Ligue 1.

Macron just made it back from the G7 summit in Sicily in time to take to the pitch before kick-off, shaking the hands of the players from both sides.

His entry onto the pitch was greeted with loud jeers from the Paris fans at the south end of the ground — the newly-elected leader does not hide his affinity for PSG’s bitter rivals Marseille.

When the action began, PSG created most of the chances, while Angers rarely looked like scoring apart from when exciting Ivorian winger Nicolas Pepe crashed a volley against the post from 22 yards out in the first half.

Before that Angers goalkeeper Alexandre Letellier saved from Matuidi and Edinson Cavani, while there was a fright for Stephane Moulin’s team when Serge Aurier’s low, driven cross flashed across goal with no takers just before the interval.

Many PSG fans thought a Di Maria free-kick just before the hour mark had gone in rather than strike the side-netting, but the holders looked the more likely side to find the breakthrough as time wore on.

They should have scored with six minutes left but Cavani, after holding off the muscular attentions of Angers defender Ismael Traore, prodded wide of the target.

The Uruguayan fell one short of reaching 50 goals for the season in all competitions — the figure reached last season by Zlatan Ibrahimovic in a PSG shirt — as Cissokho’s moment of misfortune decided the contest.

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Man Utd Talisman Signs Contract Extension Keeping Him at Old Trafford Until Next Summer

Manchester United's veteran midfielder Michael Carrick has agreed a one year contract extension to keep him at Old Trafford until June 2018, according to the club's ​official site.​ Carrick, 35, signed for the Red Devils in July 2006, and during his spell with the club has won five Premier League titles, an FA Cup, two League Cups, a FIFA Club World Cup, a UEFA Champions League, six FA Community Shields and, most recently, the UEFA Europa League trophy, which will be paraded to the fans ahead...

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England coach Steve Cooper sees hope in painfully familiar defeat to Spain

The England Under-17 manager believes his teams’s European Championship experience was positive despite the sting of losing on penalties

It may seem strange to hear an England coach talking about his players changing perceptions in the wake of a penalty shootout defeat that followed a familiar script, yet Steve Cooper has good reason to think the mood is shifting when it comes to how the country’s next generation of footballers are viewed.

The man in charge of the under-17 team who lost against Spain in gut-wrenching fashion eight days ago, when they conceded an injury-time equaliser before being beaten on spot-kicks in the European Championship final in Croatia, is not alone in believing England are starting to see the fruits of their labour after launching their DNA blueprint two and a half years ago.

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Jaap Stam says Reading have played the Dutch way to reach play-off final

• Reading manager close to Premier League in first season at the club
• ‘You need to work hard and believe in yourself,’ says Stam

Jaap Stam says his reputation would have been tarnished had he struggled in his first season at Reading but insists being appointed the club’s manager last summer was a risk for both parties. Stam has steered Reading to Monday’s Championship play-off final against Huddersfield, beyond all expectations, and believes his team have benefited from his decision to play the Dutch way.

Related: Yann Kermorgant sends Reading to Wembley in play-off win over Fulham

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Messi magic inspires Barca to retain Copa del Rey

Madrid (AFP) – A Lionel Messi masterclass salvaged some silverware to end Barcelona’s season and gave coach Luis Enrique a victorious send-off as the Catalans retained the Copa del Rey with a 3-1 win over Alaves on Saturday.

Messi opened the scoring then helped tee up Neymar and Paco Alcacer to lead Barca to a record 29th Cup triumph after Theo Hernandez’s brilliant free-kick had briefly brough Alaves level.

Victory means Enrique bows out after three seasons in charge with nine trophies to his name, including the Cup in every year of his reign.

However, once again it was Messi who inspired Barca to bounceback from the disappointment of losing their La Liga title to Real Madrid last weekend with a stunning individual display.

Barca were without the suspended Luis Suarez and Sergi Roberto and Enrique was forced into another reshuffle just 11 minutes in as Javier Mascherano was forced off with a head injury.

Yet, whilst Barca’s depth has been much-criticised this season, Andre Gomes deputised ably at right-back after replacing Mascherano and Alcacer took his chance on a rare start on the big stage in Suarez’s absence.

In stark contrast to Barca’s glorious run of six finals in seven years, Alaves were appearing in Spanish football’s showpiece for the first time.

The Basques were roared on by the more enthusiastic support at a far from full Vicente Calderon in its last competitive fixture before Atletico Madrid move home next season.

And Alaves were left wondering what might have been had they gone ahead when Ibai Gomez’s effort came back off the post, ricocheted off the back of Barca ‘keeper Jasper Cillessen but somehow squirmed along the goal line and not into the net on 27 minutes.

Three minutes later Messi kicked off a thrilling four-goal spell in the final 15 minutes of the half as he exchanged passes with Neymar before curling his 54th goal of the season.

However, Barca’s initial lead only lasted three minutes.

On-loan Atletico left-back Hernandez has been courted by Barcelona, but looks set to become the first player to cross the Madrid divide since 2000 by signing for Real Madrid in the coming weeks.

And the 19-year-old showed why he is in such demand by bending a sumptuous free-kick into the top corner.

Messi saw a free-kick of his own beaten away by Fernando Pacheco, whilst Ivan Rakitic drilled a low shot just wide as Barca immediately reacted to conceding.

Fittingly, Messi was involved once more when Barca did regain the lead as he received Neymar’s pass before playing in Gomes and the Portuguese’s low cross was tapped home by Neymar at the back post as he scored for the third consecutive season in the Cup final.

Barca then put the game to bed in first-half stoppage time when Messi again pulled the Alaves defence apart and his reverse pass freed Alcacer to smash the ball beyond Pacheco into the far corner.

The two nearly combined again five minutes into the second period, but this time Pacheco repelled Alcacer’s effort on the stretch from Messi’s teasing cross.

Alaves battled bravely as the second period wore on,  but any hope of a fightback was extinguished by the offside flag when Deyverson fired home from close range 20 minutes from time.

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Barcelona 3-1 Alaves: Barca Comfortably Dispatch Alaves as They Lift Their 29th Copa del Rey

​Barcelona lifted their 29th Copa Del Rey trophy on Saturday night after seeing off a resilient and determined Alaves side 3-1. The final was Barca manager Luis Enrique's final game in charge of the Catalans and Saturday's success was his ninth trophy in his three years in charge at the Nou Camp. Saturday night's game was also the last to be placed at Atletico Madrid's Vincent Calderon Stadium, which has been home to Atleti since 1966.  Leo Messi: 700th career game 565th career goal 30th...

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England coach Steve Cooper sees hope in painfully familiar defeat to Spain

The England Under-17 manager believes his teams’s European Championship experience was positive despite the sting of losing on penalties

It may seem strange to hear an England coach talking about his players changing perceptions in the wake of a penalty shootout defeat that followed a familiar script, yet Steve Cooper has good reason to think the mood is shifting when it comes to how the country’s next generation of footballers are viewed.

The man in charge of the under-17 team who lost against Spain in gut-wrenching fashion eight days ago, when they conceded an injury-time equaliser before being beaten on spot-kicks in the European Championship final in Croatia, is not alone in believing England are starting to see the fruits of their labour after launching their DNA blueprint two and a half years ago.

Continue reading...

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Jaap Stam says Reading have played the Dutch way to reach play-off final

• Reading manager close to Premier League in first season at the club
• ‘You need to work hard and believe in yourself,’ says Stam

Jaap Stam says his reputation would have been tarnished had he struggled in his first season at Reading but insists being appointed the club’s manager last summer was a risk for both parties. Stam has steered Reading to Monday’s Championship play-off final against Huddersfield, beyond all expectations, and believes his team have benefited from his decision to play the Dutch way.

Related: Yann Kermorgant sends Reading to Wembley in play-off win over Fulham

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Proud Wenger hails Arsenal’s “spectacular” FA Cup win

London (AFP) – Arsene Wenger said Arsenal’s “spectacular” 2-1 FA Cup final victory over Chelsea was just reward for an outstanding display from his team at the end of a turbulent season.

Wenger’s side could have been forgiven for arriving at Wembley on Saturday at a low ebb after last weekend’s devastating failure to qualify for the Champions League for the first time in 20 years.

But the wounded Gunners used that blow to their pride as fuel for a dominant performance that proved too much for Premier League champions Chelsea.

Wenger was full of admiration for the way his players took the fight to Chelsea, saying: “We had an outstanding performance from the first minute onwards.

“This team has suffered, but they’re united and they responded.

“I said last week, this team will be in contention to win the title with one or two good buys.

“They showed strength and unity and played spectacular football today.”

Saving their best for last, Alexis Sanchez put Arsenal ahead with a controversial early opener that was allowed to stand despite an apparent handball.

Diego Costa equalised for Chelsea late in the second half, after Chelsea had lost Victor Moses to a second yellow card for diving, but Wenger’s men had the perfect response as Aaron Ramsey bagged the winner three minutes later.

Battered by criticism from furious Arsenal fans who have called for his resignation throughout a troubled season, Wenger was finally able to celebrate as he won the FA Cup for a record seventh time.

The Frenchman claimed the triumph was one of his proudest moments, alongside the 2003-04 Arsenal team that won the title without losing a single league game.

– Sanchez goal ‘very strange’ –

“I’m proud to have won seven of these cups. I’m proud having done this — winning the championship without losing and winning seven FA Cups,” Wenger said.

Wenger, who has been in charge at Arsenal for 21 years, is yet to reveal whether he will sign an extension to the contract that expires at the end of the season.

Reports suggest the 67-year-old is leaning towards staying, but he refused to disclose any information about his future and said the situation would be resolved at a board meeting on Tuesday.

“We have a board meeting on Tuesday,” he said. “And on Wednesday or Thursday it will be clearer.”

Beaten manager Antonio Conte felt Sanchez’s fourth-minute opener — which was initially disallowed for offside, then allowed to stand — should have been ruled out.

“I think the first goal was very strange,” said the Italian.

“The first goal, the player had his hands attached to the ball with two hands. Offside or not is not important.

“Arsenal started very well with great determination. They surprised us a bit, but our first 25 minutes weren’t good.”

Despite his disappointment at missing out on the Double, Conte said Chelsea’s feat of winning the Premier League with a record 30 wins meant it was still a season to savour.

“There is disappointment for the final result, but it can happen and there was a lot of pressure,” he said.

“Our season was incredible, to win the league in this way. It was great, but now it’s important to look forward and to restart.”

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N’Golo Kanté’s unusual mistake shows up careless Chelsea in FA Cup final | Paul Wilson

Chelsea’s player of the year was partly to blame for Arsenal’s first goal on a day when the champions looked out of sorts

Carelessness is not a word that has been applied to Chelsea very often this season, yet the champions began this final a little too laid back for their own good. They were behind after five minutes as a result, and player of the season N’Golo Kanté was partly to blame. Not for the attempted clearance that struck Alexis Sánchez and allowed the Chilean to run on and beat Thibaut Courtois, but for coughing up possession to allow Arsenal to threaten in the first place. Courtois had just made a routine catch from Mesut Özil’s early corner and bowled the ball out for Kanté to get an attack moving, only to see the normally reliable midfielder lose his bearings just outside his own penalty area to let Arsenal steal in.

It could not be said the error led directly to the goal but it was an ominously lackadaisical start by a side that has been noted for its smartness and precision all season. By the mid-point of the first half, by which time Gary Cahill had already been forced to clear off the line from Özil and Danny Welbeck had hit a post with a header from a corner, it was beginning to look as if Chelsea’s imperious march to the title had just been an illusion. It was either that or Arsène Wenger had simply been saving Arsenal’s best performance of the season as a means of answering his critics.

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Aubameyang seals Dortmund’s German Cup final win

Berlin (AFP) – Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang converted a second-half penalty to seal Borussia Dortmund’s 2-1 win over Eintracht Frankfurt in Saturday’s German Cup final — on what could be his final Dortmund appearance.

Aubameyang’s calmly taken spot-kick was his 40th goal this season for Dortmund in all competitions and ended Dortmund’s misery after losing the three previous cup finals in Berlin in 2014, 2015 and 2016.

His winning penalty was Aubameyang’s 120th goal in his 190th game in four seasons with Dortmund.

However, despite having a contract until 2020, this could be Aubameyang’s final appearance having said he will decide his future after talks with Dortmund’s bosses.

He is reportedly weighing up bumper offers from Paris St-Germain, AC Milan and China’s China’s Tianjin Quanjian with PSG his most likely destination

After Dortmund took the lead at Berlin’s Olympic Stadium through Ousmane Dembele’s early goal, Frankfurt’s forward Ante Rebic’s equalised to make it 1-1 at the break before Aubameyang turned the game.

Dortmund romped to a 3-1 home Bundesliga win over Frankfurt in mid-April, but this was a much bolder performance from Niko Kovic’s Eintracht, who had won only one of their previous ten games coming into the Berlin final.

Dortmund took the lead with just eight minutes gone when Dembele was released down the right flank and the fleet-footed 20-year-old cut inside Frankfurt defender Jesus Vallejo and curled his shot into the net.

But Eintracht started to pressurise the Dortmund defence.

Frankfurt’s US international Timothy Chandler whipped in a cross and Croatia international Rebic was just inches from connecting with the goal at his mercy.

He made no mistake on 29 minutes when Serbia midfielder Mijat Gacinovic’s superb pass split the Dortmund defence and released Rebic, who slotted his shot past Dortmund goalkeeper Roman Burki.

Frankfurt should have taken the lead when Rebic traded passes with Haris Seferovic whose shot beat Burki, but hit the post on 39 minutes.

Neither Dortmund captain Marcel Schmelzer nor playmaker Marco Reus came out for the second half.

Schmelzer had carried a leg knock into the final, while Reus injured his right knee midway through the first half.

Dortmund coach Thomas Tuchel responded by switching from a 3-3-2-2 formation to a 4-5-1 formation with Aubameyang, the Bundesliga’s top scorer this season with 31 goals, as the loan striker.

Japan midfielder fired at Frankfurt goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky just after the break.

But the scene was set for Aubameyang.

His flying bicycle kick was only cleared off the line by Frankfurt’s Mexico international Marco Fabian on 64 minutes.

And the Gabon hot-shot showed a cool head by slotting the winning penalty straight down the middle on 67 minutes after substitute Christian Pulisic was brought down by Frankfurt’s goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky.

Frankfurt boss Kovac responded by bringing on Frankfurt’s burly striker Alexander Meier, 34, the Bundesliga’s top-scorer in 2014/15, for the final 20 minutes to try to force an equaliser to no avail.

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