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La Liga: Teenager Yamal gifts Barca narrow win over Mallorca

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Madrid, March 9 (IANS) Teenager Lamine Yamal scored the only goal of the game to give FC Barcelona a narrow 1-0 win at home to Mallorca to keep their slim hopes of this season’s title alive.

Yamal, born in July 2007, produced a moment of magic to move Barca to within five points of Real Madrid, who entertain Celta Vigo on Sunday, reported Xinhua

Barca coach Xavi Hernandez produced a surprise in his starting line-up, with Robert Lewandowski rested and young striker Marc Guiu given a chance, ahead of January signing Vitor Roque.

With Pedri and Frenkie de Jong both injured, Joao Felix was picked to play in midfield, while 17-year-old Marc Cubarsi was also selected in defense, with Andreas Christensen again playing in midfield.

A close opening 20 minutes were interrupted when Barcelona were awarded a penalty after Copete clipped Raphinha’s heel in the penalty area.

Without Lewandowski on the pitch, Ilkay Gundogan took responsibility from the spot, but his kick was too central and comfortably saved by Mallorca keeper Predrag Rajkovic.

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Rajkovic produced another save to frustrate Felix, before Raphinha had to leave the game with an ankle injury, and he also saved a header from Fermin Lopez, who replaced the Brazilian.

There were timid boos as the Barca players left the pitch at halftime, but the home side still struggled to break down the Mallorca defense at the start of the second half, with Vedat Muriqi hitting the post.

Yamal cut inside and hit the crossbar in the 57th minute, with Rajkovic getting his fingertips to the shot, before Xavi made a double change with Lewandowski and Vitor Roque on for Guiu and the ineffective Felix.

Yamal broke the deadlock with 18 minutes left when he cut in from the right of the area and curled a shot into the far corner of the net beyond Rajkovic’s reach.

–IANS

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Bochum stay in Bundesliga after dramatic comeback win over Dusseldorf in play offs

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Berlin, May 28 (IANS) Bochum rallied back from a 3-0 first leg defeat and overpowered Dusseldorf 6-5 (3-3) on penalties to stay in Germany’s top-flight following the second leg of the relegation.

Bochum started highly motivated into the second leg, knowing that only three-goal lead would force second-division outfit Dusseldorf into the overtime.

However, Dusseldorf staged a lively start and nearly extended their lead to 4-0 on aggregate but for all that Ao Tanaka’s shot got blocked by defender Ivan Ordets in the last nick of time.

Bochum responded well and opened the scoring with its first clear-cut opportunity as Philipp Hofmann headed home Kevin Stoger’s free kick cross into the area, cutting Dusseldorf’s aggregate lead to 3-1 with 18 minutes gone.

The visitors remained dangerous and gained momentum in front of the target before the half time as Keven Schlotterbeck headed narrowly wide in the 41st minute while Lukas Daschner’s effort from 20 meters rattled the side netting moments later.

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Daschner remained in the thick of things and got his dangerous shot blocked by Tim Oberdorf five minutes into the second half.

Bochum eventually reduced Dusseldorf’s aggregate lead to 3-2 as Stoger’s cross into the penalty area found Hofmann for the second time in the 66th minute.

Dusseldorf was shocked and had to witness that Bochum levelled the tie four minutes later when Stoger converted a handball penalty after making it 3-0 on the scoreboards.

The hosts couldn’t put up resistance whereas Bochum missed the chance to take the lead as Takuma Asano squandered two promising chances in the closing stages.

After an evenly balanced overtime the penalty shoot-out had to bring decision. Both teams missed one penalty before Dusseldorf’s Takashi Uchino pulled over the target in the sudden death.

“I am exhausted and can’t describe my feelings. We have suffered a lot in the last week. Respect to the boys for turning a three-goal loss around. It will be fantastic for Bochum to play another season in the Bundesliga,” said Bochum’s CEO Patrick Fabian.

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With the result, Dusseldorf stay in the second division whereas Bochum stay up for another season.

–IANS

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Aston Villa coach Unai Emery signs deal until 2029

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London, May 28 (IANS) Aston Villa coach Unai Emery has signed a new five-year contract after leading the club to qualification for next season’s Champions League.

Emery has completely changed Villa’s fortunes after replacing Steven Gerrard in October 2022 when they were just one place above the bottom three of the Premier League.

The 52-year-old quickly brought results and Villa finished seventh last season to qualify for the Conference League, while this season they got to the semi-finals of the European competition and finished fourth in the Premier League.

Emery’s previous contract still had three years to run, but now the club has assured his long-term future after rumors of interest from other big clubs in Europe., reports Xinhua.

“I am very happy to take this step and the responsibility of leading this club (…) There’s a great chemistry in Aston Villa. And the element of the fans’ support also makes the difference to feel like home.

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“We are really excited to continue this journey with no limits to our dreams,” said Emery on the club’s website.

Club Chairman Nassef Sawiris was also happy to have secured Emery’s services until the end of the decade.

“We are building something special here at Aston Villa with Unai at its core and we are delighted that he has signed a new deal with the club until 2029,” he commented.

–IANS

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French Open: Sumit Nagal loses to Khachanov after a two-hour 27-minute battle

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Paris, May 28 (IANS) Top Indian singles player Sumit Nagal suffered a setback as he went down to 18th seed Karen Khachanov in the men’s singles first round, ending his maiden entry into the main draw of the clay court major on a losing note in the Franch Open here on Monday.

It was expected to be an uphill task for Nagal as he was facing a top-20 player and the match went on expected lines though the Indian did put up some fight in the third set, taking his 28-year-old opponent to the tiebreaker. Also, clay is Nagal’s least favourite surface.

The 26-year-old Nagal eventually lost 6-2, 6-0, 7-6(5) in a 2 hour and 27-minute match played on Court 7 which was initially interrupted by rain here on Monday.

Nagal served four double faults as compared to two by his opponent and could manage to put in only 55 percent of his second serve as compared to 68 percent by Khachanov. The Indian player ranked 95 in the ATP World rankings, who has a 3-6 win/loss record this season, earned nine break points but could convert only 1 while Khachanov capitalised on six of the 13 breakpoints he bagged.

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Nagal held his serve early in the first set but was broken easily by Khachanov. The 28-year-old Moscow-born Kchachanov won nine games in a row from midway through the first set to win the second 6-0 to take a commanding lead.

Nagal won three games in a row in the third set to break his opponent’s serve in the 10th game and tied the score 5-5. Both players held their serve and the set went into a tiebreak. However, Nagal could not win the set and force a fourth set as Khachanov won the tiebreaker 7-5 to win the match in the match that nearly stretched to two and half hours.

While Nagal’s debut in the clay-court grand slam ended in the opening round, the 26-year-old from Jhajjar, who cracked into the top-100 in February 2024, will be looking forward to his debut in Wimbledon a few weeks from now.

–IANS

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French Open: Zverev sends Nadal into sunset with win in first-round blockbuster (Ld)

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Paris, May 27 (IANS) Only time will tell whether people have witnessed him playing for the final time, but fans rose to cheer Rafael Nadal after a spectacular match against Alexander Zverev, who caused a huge upset by beating the 14-time winner in the men’s singles first round of the French Open 2024 here on Monday.

Fourth-seeded Zverev handed Nadal a 6-3, 7-6(5), 6-3 defeat on Monday afternoon, the 27-year-old German becoming the first man to defeat Nadal before the fourth round at Roland Garros and joining Robin Soderling and Novak Djokovic as the third man to defeat Nadal on the Parisian clay courts.

Nadal found moments of his vintage best tennis, especially with his trademark forehand passing shot. But Zverev’s booming serve, aggressive forehand, and calm under pressure proved too much to overcome after three hours and five minutes.

“To be honest I don’t know what to say,” Zverev said on court after his win, before handing the mic to the Spanish legend.

“First of all, thank you, Rafa, from all of the tennis world. It’s such a great honour. I’ve watched Rafa play all my childhood, and I was lucky enough to play Rafa when I became a pro, I was lucky enough to play him two times on this beautiful court. Today is not my moment, it’s Rafa’s moment,” Zverev was quoted as saying by the official Roland Garros website.

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There was so much excitement for the match that Novak Djokovic, Carlos Alcaraz, and WTA No. 1 Iga Swiatek all sat in the stands to take in the action. The encounter was very tightly contested for a straight-sets match, but for every moment in which Nadal seemed to seize the momentum — rallying the raucous crowd fully behind him — Zverev found an answer to retake control.

Nadal, ranked 275 at the moment, had never played Roland-Garros unseeded, and never faced a top-10 player in the first round. He had also never lost consecutive matches on his beloved clay, but Zverev changed all that with a command performance.

Nadal, who fell to 112-4 lifetime at Roland-Garros with the loss, gave his faithful fans plenty to cheer about across the contest, but it was three-time semi-finalist Zverev who held the heavier hand in the key moments as he notched his second clay-court victory over the 22-time Grand Slam champion, and improved to 29-8 lifetime at Porte d’Auteuil.

Thunderous chants rang through the bowels of Chatrier with regularity during the pair’s 11th meeting, Nadal’s feverish fans doing their best to raise the closed roof that covered the court for the entirety of the match. Determined Zverev kept Nadal’s faithful from getting too unruly in the early going, however, as he broke Nadal in the first game of the match before wrestling the opening set with a second break of serve at the 50-minute mark, 6-3.

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The second and third sets followed a different path to a similar end.

Nadal charged to life in the fourth game of set two, saving a pair of break points for 2-2 and breaking for 3-2 as chants of “Rafa! Rafa!” could be heard echoing across the grounds.

Urged on by the faithful, the Spaniard clung to the lead for a spell, but couldn’t ward off his determined adversary, who broke at love for 5-5 and eventually claimed a tense tiebreak to take a 2-0 lead.

There were chances galore for Nadal, which is a testament to just how far he has come since making his return to the tour in April in Barcelona. Though defeated, he left us to wonder what might have been had he had a few more weeks to prepare.

But Monday’s match was Zverev’s for the taking, and he braved the magnitude of the contest with aplomb, rising to the occasion and matching the legendary Spaniard whenever the situation called for it.

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Faced with another deficit in the third set, Zverev wrestled control from Nadal once again, rallying from 2-0 down, winning six of the final seven games to close out his victory in three hours and five minutes.

It was a brilliant contest, full of drama, quality, and tension. The only shame, of course, is that such a high-profile contest happened so early in the Paris fortnight. After the match, Nadal was sent off properly by the fans, who chanted his name for several minutes before he took the microphone to address them, and his future plans.

“The amount of feelings that I had on this amazing court during all my tennis career is just unbelievable,” Nadal said. “I never dreamed I would be here at almost 38 years old, with all the success I had here, winning so many times – it is something that I never dreamt of.

“For me, it’s difficult to say what will happen in the future. It’s a big percentage that I won’t be back at Roland-Garros, but I can’t say 100 percent. I enjoy playing here, I like traveling with the family, and my body is feeling a little bit better than it did two months ago.”

–IANS

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Sweet memories flooding back for Dortmund ahead of Bellingham reunion

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Berlin, May 27 (IANS) Meeting Real Madrid in the 2024 UEFA Champions League final at Wembley this Saturday will see the return of a young man who stands for sweet memories in black and yellow. From 2020 to 2023, Madrid’s England midfielder Jude Bellingham turned out for Dortmund and soon became the club’s talisman and one of football’s superstars.

The club staff’s children gathered after nearly every game at Signal Iduna to hug the youngster who had become a dear friend. Following his introduction at the club’s training camp in the Swiss Alps after having just turned 17, Bellingham started his unprecedented journey on the big stage of international football, reports Xinhua.

The youngster, having helped English second-tier side Birmingham City avoid relegation, stood in front of a group of curious media representatives, before giving a near-perfect introduction that belied his tender years. Four years later, nostalgic feelings might fringe Dortmund’s entourage as the prodigal son slipped into the shirt of Real Madrid a year ago and became one of the Spanish outfit’s dominant figures.

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Dortmund sporting director Sebastian Kehl called the reunion “a fantastic story.”

The official added: “He is joining Real and a year later we meet in the Champions League final. That’s near to kitschy.”

In Dortmund’s shirt, the midfielder made his way into the England team while having received the Kopa trophy in October 2023 from French sports paper France Football, which stands for the world’s best young player. His meteoric rise made even Dortmund seem too small for his genius. Nevertheless, the gigantic football cosmos of Real appeared as a huge challenge.

Only 12 months later, doubts have been removed like scenery in a theatre, shifting aside to make space for a new chapter. In Spain, Bellingham became one of the club’s driving forces. Curiously, rumors are linking Dortmund with his younger brother Jobe, currently under contract at English second-tier side Sunderland.

The 19-year-old is a similar type of player, who is well-equipped for the midfield and the front line. Regardless of the outcome, the name Bellingham stands for top-class football and will presumably forever be around Dortmund. At a rapid speed, Jude Bellingham adopted Real’s aura, representing the world’s best football club.

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The German side not only is facing their former star but “must fight against a mythos.”

“But I have the feeling we will manage as we have an open bill with Wembley, with this final,” Kehl stated, adding that to meet Bellingham before kick-off would be a very special pleasure.

Despite facing the power of the courted midfielder, Kehl said it’s time to turn things for the better for Dortmund, who lost their last Champions League final in 2013 against Bayern Munich.

–IANS

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