Andrea Pirlo was a Rare Talent – a Winner, Dreamer Who Oozed Creative Cool

 Andrea Pirlo was good enough to play for both Milan and Juventus and remain loved by both sets of fans. Photograph: Marco Bertorello/AFP/Getty Images
Andrea Pirlo was good enough to play for both Milan and Juventus and remain loved by both sets of fans. Photograph: Marco Bertorello/AFP/Getty Images
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Andrea Pirlo was a Rare Talent – a Winner, Dreamer Who Oozed Creative Cool

 Andrea Pirlo was good enough to play for both Milan and Juventus and remain loved by both sets of fans. Photograph: Marco Bertorello/AFP/Getty Images
Andrea Pirlo was good enough to play for both Milan and Juventus and remain loved by both sets of fans. Photograph: Marco Bertorello/AFP/Getty Images

Andrea Pirlo loved to pull pranks on Gennaro Gattuso. The two midfielders played together for more than a decade with Milan and Italy, winning everything from Serie A to the World Cup and Champions League. They became fast friends, but that did not stop Pirlo from stealing Gattuso’s phone one day and texting his agent, offering his sister in return for an improved contract.

It was not the practical jokes, though, that tormented Gattuso the most. Harder to cope with were the existential crises provoked by training alongside such outlandish talent. As he mused on one occasion: “When I watch Pirlo play, and see him with the ball at his feet, I ask myself if I could even truly be considered a footballer at all.”

Pirlo himself is not a footballer any longer. He confirmed his retirement on social media after New York City FC, the club with whom he has passed the final two and a-half years of his career, were eliminated from the MLS playoffs.

Six months after Francesco Totti’s curtain call, Italian football bids farewell to another of its most iconic stars. While the Roma forward was a one-club man, Pirlo was almost the opposite: that rare example of someone who swapped between great rivals without losing the affection of either. They still love him in Milan, just like they do in Turin. And just about everywhere else in the world besides.

Looking back, it is hard to pinpoint precisely when Pirlo transcended from domestic darling to global brand: a face that launched a thousand memes. Was it the 2006 World Cup win, or perhaps the Panenka to deceive Joe Hart at Euro 2012? Was it the autobiography, translated to English and laced with expletives? Was it just the vineyard and the beard?

What we know is that somewhere along the line he achieved that highest form of footballing recognition: the stage at which a player’s name becomes synonymous with their position. The ‘Pirlo role’ is understood worldwide as the one in which he did his best work: sitting in the pocket in front of the defence, picking out passes like an NFL quarterback.

It is easy to forget that this was not always his position. Pirlo had been identified as a special talent long before he broke through into the first team at Brescia in 1994, but back then he was a No10. Only after a difficult spell at Inter did he return on loan to his first club, who by this point had Roberto Baggio on their books.

The manager, Carlo Mazzone, moved Pirlo back into midfield as a means of getting both players into his starting XI. Even today, Baggio cites his favourite goal as one that he scored for Brescia against Juventus in 2001 – set up by a 35-yard Pirlo pass over the top of the defence.

How many other players have Pirlo to thank for the most memorable strike of their careers? Fabio Grosso, certainly, whose extra-time winner against Germany in the semi-final of the 2006 World Cup was made possible by a scandalously cool no-look pass.

That nonchalance was part of the appeal, Pirlo’s majestic technique was only enhanced by the cool he exuded in the most high-pressure moments of his career. It was, in some degree, a façade, Pirlo acknowledging in his autobiography that he has a talent for keeping his emotions hidden. But he also admitted in the same book that he never relished running for running’s sake.

“One part of my job I’ll never learn to love is the pre-match warm-up,” wrote Pirlo. “I hate it with every fibre of my being. It actually disgusts me. It’s nothing but masturbation for conditioning coaches, their way of enjoying themselves at the players’ expense.”

That is one thing he will not miss, and there was an admirable frankness in the manner that he pre-announced his retirement during an interview with Gazzetta, explaining that, at 38 years old, the strain of maintaining match fitness had become too much. “You realise your moment has come,” he said. “Every day you have physical problems, you can’t train because you always have some ailment. At my age, it’s OK, to say, ‘that’s enough’.”

It is not as though he still had anything left to prove. He wept on the pitch after losing the Champions League final with Juventus in 2015, but unlike most of his team-mates he had already lifted the big-eared trophy twice.

With a Club World Cup and two Uefa Super Cups in his collection, Pirlo has raised just about every major trophy available to him. And yet you wonder if any of them mean more to him than the lifelong dream he fulfilled by playing at the Maracanã for Italy in the 2013 Confederations Cup. The free-kick he scored that day took a personal fantasy beyond anything that even his childhood self had dared to imagine.

Pirlo is a ferocious competitor who never hides from the bitterness he felt in defeat. But he is also an aesthete, and a dreamer. He was good enough to have it both ways.

You can understand why it all seemed a little unreasonable to a man like Gattuso, a man who built a very fine career out of more mundane gifts. Not everyone, though, is so intimidated by brilliance. The most eloquent tribute might be the one delivered by Gigi Buffon, quite possibly the best-ever to play his own position, after Pirlo arrived at Juventus in 2011.

“When I saw him playing,” said Buffon. “I thought to myself, ‘God exists’.”

Five memorable Pirlo moments:

1) Assist for Fabio Grosso, 2006 World Cup semi-final

A brilliant semi-final was headed for penalties until Pirlo unpicked the German defence with a no-look pass that freed Fabio Grosso to break the deadlock. It was Pirlo whose shot had forced the corner from which this move began, too.

2) An accidental assist for Pippo Inzaghi, 2007 Champions League final

Pirlo has hit more aesthetically satisfying free-kicks, but perhaps never one more important. Milan had exceeded expectations to make the final, and still bore the scars of their defeat to Liverpool in Istanbul two years earlier. When the ball deflected in off Pippo Inzaghi’s shoulder, they started to believe this might be their night.

3) A piledriver against Parma in 2010

It was not just set-pieces from which Pirlo could be deadly. The goal he scored against Parma in October 2010 was simply astonishing, hit from close to 40 yards and still rising as it hit the top corner of the net.

4) Penalty against England, Euro 2012 quarter-final

Italy were 2-1 down in the shoot-out when Pirlo stepped up, with Riccardo Montolivo having missed their preceding kick. Pirlo’s calm Panenka make a mockery of Joe Hart’s intimidation attempts, and shifted the pressure back to England, who duly fluffed their next two penalties and crashed out.

5) Free-kick at the Maracanã, 2013 Confederations Cup

Pirlo had dreamed of playing at the Maracanã as a boy. He had had not dared to imagine that he might do so on the occasion of his 100th Italy cap, and mark it with a tremendous free-kick goal that set Italy on the way to victory over Mexico.

The Guardian Sport



Saudi Ambassador to US Attends Signing of IOC-UN Women Agreement to Promote Gender Equality in Sport

IOC renewed its partnership with UN Women, reaffirming the commitment to use sport to promote gender equality and empower women and girls. SPA
IOC renewed its partnership with UN Women, reaffirming the commitment to use sport to promote gender equality and empower women and girls. SPA
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Saudi Ambassador to US Attends Signing of IOC-UN Women Agreement to Promote Gender Equality in Sport

IOC renewed its partnership with UN Women, reaffirming the commitment to use sport to promote gender equality and empower women and girls. SPA
IOC renewed its partnership with UN Women, reaffirming the commitment to use sport to promote gender equality and empower women and girls. SPA

Saudi Ambassador to the US and member of Saudi Arabia’s Olympic Committee Princess Reema bint Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz has attended the signing of an agreement between International Olympic Committee (IOC) and UN Women to promote gender equality in sport.

Under the agreement, IOC renewed its partnership with UN Women, reaffirming the commitment to use sport to promote gender equality and empower women and girls.

The agreement, signed by IOC President Thomas Bach and UN Women Executive Director Sima Bahous in New York on Tuesday, extends a partnership that began in 2012 and was extended for the first time in 2017.

The two organizations will continue to work together to maximize the value of sport in shaping social norms and achieve sustainable development goals that impact the everyday lives of women and girls.

Bach said that sport has the power to change people’s lives, and "expanding our partnership with UN Women will help us ensure that all women and girls have the opportunity to benefit from this unique power of sport.”

He added that under the new agreement, "we will strengthen our ongoing initiatives to encourage sports participation among girls and achieve equality between men and women.”


Ronaldo Celebrates with Al Nassr Historic Asia Cup Win in Iran

Cristiano Ronaldo missed two chances but played a key role in Al Nassr's 2-0 win over Persepolis
ATTA KENARE
Cristiano Ronaldo missed two chances but played a key role in Al Nassr's 2-0 win over Persepolis ATTA KENARE
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Ronaldo Celebrates with Al Nassr Historic Asia Cup Win in Iran

Cristiano Ronaldo missed two chances but played a key role in Al Nassr's 2-0 win over Persepolis
ATTA KENARE
Cristiano Ronaldo missed two chances but played a key role in Al Nassr's 2-0 win over Persepolis ATTA KENARE

Cristiano Ronaldo enjoyed a winning debut in the Asian Champions League as he played part in Al Nassr 2-0 victory against 10-man Persepolis in Iran on Tuesday night.

The five-time Ballon d’Or winner, who has five UEFA Champions League titles to his name, captained the Saudi Arabian side to an opening three points in Group E.

The match at the Azadi Stadium in Tehran was played without fans after the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) upheld a one-game ban for Persepolis supporters dating back to 2021, AFP reported.

Nassr grabbed both goals in the second half against the two-time runners-up, through a Danial Esmaeilifar own goal and a fine strike by defender Mohammed Qassem.

It marked the first time a Saudi club played in Iran since 2016, after the AFC announced a “ground-breaking agreement” earlier this month between the two countries' federations.

Iran and Saudi Arabia severed diplomatic ties seven years ago, meaning Asian Champions League matches had been since played at neutral grounds.

Ronaldo, 38, was heavily involved throughout, twice going close in the first half.

His initial chance - a powerful, close-range header - was sent straight at Persepolis goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand which left Ronaldo beating the post in frustration.

Nassr’s hopes grew considerably at the beginning of the second half, when Persepolis midfielder Milad Sarlak was given a second yellow card, this time for appearing to stamp on Ronaldo’s boot.

Replays showed it was unintentional, the contact minimal.

Ronaldo played a key role in Nassr's opener just after the hour, the Portuguese instigating the move that led to Abdulrahman Ghareeb’s blocked shot cannoning off Persepolis full-back Esmaeilifar and nestling in the net.

Ten minutes later, Nassr left-back Mohammed Qassem broke down the left and thumped his shot high past Beiranvand to double the visitors’ advantage and secure the points.


Spain's Women Players to End Boycott after Federation Commits to Change

New coach of Spain's female football team Montse Tome leaves after a meeting with players in a hotel in Madrid on September 19, 2023. (Photo by Thomas COEX / AFP)
New coach of Spain's female football team Montse Tome leaves after a meeting with players in a hotel in Madrid on September 19, 2023. (Photo by Thomas COEX / AFP)
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Spain's Women Players to End Boycott after Federation Commits to Change

New coach of Spain's female football team Montse Tome leaves after a meeting with players in a hotel in Madrid on September 19, 2023. (Photo by Thomas COEX / AFP)
New coach of Spain's female football team Montse Tome leaves after a meeting with players in a hotel in Madrid on September 19, 2023. (Photo by Thomas COEX / AFP)

Spain's World Cup winning-squad agreed to end their boycott of the national team early on Wednesday after the country's football federation (RFEF) said it would make "immediate and profound changes" to its structure.

The decision was reached around 5 a.m. (0300 GMT) after more than seven hours of meetings at a hotel in Oliva, an hour from Valencia, involving the players, RFEF officials, the National Sports Council (CSD) and the women's players' union FUTPRO, Reuters reported.

The players had said they would not represent Spain until there were further changes at the federation, deepening a crisis that started after former (RFEF) boss Luis Rubiales kissed Jenni Hermoso on the lips during the World Cup presentation ceremony.

"A joint commission will be created between RFEF, CSD and players to follow up on the agreements, which will be signed tomorrow," CSD President Victor Francos told reporters.

"The players have expressed their concern about the need for profound changes in the RFEF, which has committed to making these changes immediately."

Neither Francos nor Rafael del Amo, president of the RFEF committee for women's football, would elaborate on the changes to be made, only saying they would be announced "soon".

"The players see it as a rapprochement of positions. It is the beginning of a long road ahead of us," FUTPRO president Amanda Gutierrez told reporters.

"Once again, they have shown themselves to be coherent and the vast majority have decided to stay for the sake of this agreement."

After most of the Women's World Cup winners were selected for upcoming games, the players said in a joint statement they would take the "best decision" for their future and health after they studied the legal implications of being included in a squad list they had asked to be left out.

They argued the federation cannot require their presence because they alleged the call-up was not issued within the world's soccer governing body FIFA parameters in terms of timings and procedure.

The players could have faced sanctions including fines of up 30,000 euros ($32,000) and the suspension of their federation license for two to 15 years according to Spain's Sports Act if they had refused the call-up.

Twenty players who said they were boycotting the team were called up by new coach Montse Tome, and while all of them reported for training on Tuesday two decided to leave the squad for "personal reasons".

Neither of the players would be sanctioned and it was agreed their identities would remain anonymous.

"The first thing they have been told here has been: whoever is not at ease, does not feel strong enough, should know that neither the federation nor the CSD was going to apply a sanctioning process," Francos said.

The revolt by the players was triggered after former RFEF chief Rubiales kissed forward Hermoso on the lips following Spain's World Cup victory.

She disputed his insistence the kiss was consensual, sparking a national debate about macho culture in sport and eventually led to Rubiales's resignation.

Hermoso was not in the squad list announced on Monday and
accused the RFEF of trying to divide and manipulate the players.

Spain are set to make their debut in the Women's Nations League against Sweden in Gothenburg on Friday before playing against Switzerland in Cordoba on Sept. 26.

The Nations League will determine which teams from Europe qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games.

The RFEF said the players would have a late breakfast after resting and will hold their first practice on Wednesday afternoon before travelling to Gothenburg on Thursday morning.


For Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League, Representing Ukraine Is a Duty to the Country 

Shakhtar Donetsk's players and coaches gather for a training session in Hamburg, Germany, Monday, Sept. 18, 2023. (AP)
Shakhtar Donetsk's players and coaches gather for a training session in Hamburg, Germany, Monday, Sept. 18, 2023. (AP)
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For Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League, Representing Ukraine Is a Duty to the Country 

Shakhtar Donetsk's players and coaches gather for a training session in Hamburg, Germany, Monday, Sept. 18, 2023. (AP)
Shakhtar Donetsk's players and coaches gather for a training session in Hamburg, Germany, Monday, Sept. 18, 2023. (AP)

Just playing is a small victory for Shakhtar Donetsk, though the Ukrainian champions won’t stop there.

Team captain Taras Stepanenko told The Associated Press on Monday that Shakhtar’s opening Champions League game against Porto on Tuesday is part of his team’s duty to represent Ukraine and show his country’s resilience.

“Our soldiers fight in the battles and we fight in the sports arena. So it’s our duty like citizens of Ukraine,” he said.

Stepanenko predicts “big emotions” when Shakhtar emerges in front of tens of thousands of fans, both local and Ukrainian, in Hamburg. The Ukrainian league restarted a year ago despite the war but all games are played in empty stadiums — and sometimes interrupted by air-raid sirens.

For the second straight season, Shakhtar is playing its Champions League games outside of Ukraine because of the Russian invasion. Last year, Poland stood in as Shakhtar’s home venue. Now it’s Germany, a country which has welcomed hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians who fled the fighting.

Just getting to Hamburg took an “absolutely difficult” 10-hour journey, Stepanenko said, mostly by bus because Ukraine’s airports have been closed since the invasion. After winning a Ukrainian league game Saturday, the team drove to Poland from the border city of Lviv, spent about three hours getting through the border, then caught a flight from Poland to Hamburg. It’s technically a home game for Shakhtar, but the away team will get there much faster from Portugal.

“You never know what’s going to happen at the borders. Even with the domestic league there’s a lot of traveling involved to away games. Hours in the bus is a regular thing at the moment,” Shakhtar coach Patrick van Leeuwen told the AP.

Besides the usual fan mail, players get messages from Ukrainian troops on the front line. Stepanenko said it’s a reminder of how his situation compares to the hardship they face, and extra motivation to give his all on the field.

“When we drew with England (in a national team game on Sept. 9), I really got a lot of messages from the soldiers. They watched the game on the battlefield near the area where is the most difficult situation now, if they have some moments to watch the football. For them it’s like a release from the current situation,” he said.

“It’s really, for us, difficult sometimes to compare yourself. You’re in good conditions, you play football and these guys are supporting you during the war.”

The town where Stepanenko was born, Velyka Novosilka, is in Ukraine-held territory near the front line of the country’s recent counteroffensive. It has been “totally destroyed,” he said. Stepanenko’s mother and grandmother have moved in with him from the city of Zaporizhzhia, a frequent target of Russian strikes.

“My grandmother every day gets in touch with her sister, who lives in Novosilka until now, in the basement,” he said. “It’s not a big city, but it’s totally destroyed. And the nearest village is just the same. I think maybe 10% of the people are still living there because maybe they don’t want to leave, maybe someone don’t have (the) possibility to leave this place. I don’t know. This is hell.”

One of Stepanenko’s teammates is 36-year-old former Barcelona defender Dmytro Chygrynskyy, who first joined Shakhtar in 2002. Last year, he was playing in Greece when Russia invaded, and he rejoined Shakhtar for this season to add experience to the team and mentor the many young players from the Shakhtar academy in the squad.

“Since the beginning of the war, I had this dilemma inside of me because I was playing football, doing the thing I’m used to doing, what I used to do all my life, but knowing that your family, your parents are here, in Ukraine, it’s not easy at all,” Chygrynskyy told the AP in a call from Ukraine.

“When I got this chance to come back, it was great. And honestly, now I feel very happy and also proud of what I have seen here, that the people are so united that the people just keep fighting, keep living, they’re so optimistic, so brave.”

Shakhtar was a displaced club long before the 2022 invasion. The club represents the city of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine but hasn’t played there in nearly a decade since the city was taken over by Russia-backed separatist forces in 2014. Russia now claims to have annexed it.

Stepanenko has been with Shakhtar since 2010 and argues the club’s recent history shows how Ukrainians have been brought closer together. Ukrainians from other parts of the country were reluctant to support Shakhtar at first when it moved from Donetsk to play in cities like Kyiv and Lviv, he said.

The team remains heavily identified with Russian-speaking, coal-mining areas of eastern Ukraine — its name means “miner” — but it’s increasingly become a symbol of Ukraine as a whole.

Shakhtar’s club president is Ukrainian billionaire Rinat Akhmetov, who pledged $25 million for soldiers’ families after the club sold Mykhailo Mudryk to Chelsea for up to 100 million euros ($106 million) in January. Despite the wealth behind Shakhtar, the club won’t give up hope of returning to play in Donetsk someday, Chygrynskyy said.

“That’s also the dream of the president and of all the people here, because with the possibilities of the president, they could have built like another arena, stadium or whatever in Kyiv,” Chygrynskyy said. “But we know where we’re from, what’s our home.”


Man City Looks for Rare Champions League Repeat After Finally Winning it for the First Time 

18 September 2023, United Kingdom, Manchester: Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola (R) speaks to Erling Haaland during a training session at City Football Academy ahead of Tuesday's UEFA Champions League Group G soccer match against Red Star Belgrade. (dpa)
18 September 2023, United Kingdom, Manchester: Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola (R) speaks to Erling Haaland during a training session at City Football Academy ahead of Tuesday's UEFA Champions League Group G soccer match against Red Star Belgrade. (dpa)
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Man City Looks for Rare Champions League Repeat After Finally Winning it for the First Time 

18 September 2023, United Kingdom, Manchester: Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola (R) speaks to Erling Haaland during a training session at City Football Academy ahead of Tuesday's UEFA Champions League Group G soccer match against Red Star Belgrade. (dpa)
18 September 2023, United Kingdom, Manchester: Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola (R) speaks to Erling Haaland during a training session at City Football Academy ahead of Tuesday's UEFA Champions League Group G soccer match against Red Star Belgrade. (dpa)

History is not on Pep Guardiola’s side as he tries to lead Manchester City to back-to-back Champions League titles this season.

Real Madrid is the only club to retain the trophy in the modern era by winning it three times in a row from 2016-18.

“We’re incredibly happy to defend this crown, but this competition doesn’t allow you mistakes,” Guardiola said ahead of City’s opening Group G game against Red Star Belgrade. “The competition gives us a new challenge so (we’ll) at least try.”

The European Cup was rebranded as the Champions League in 1992 and no team had successfully defended the trophy until a Cristiano Ronaldo-inspired Madrid in 2017. The Spanish giant went on to complete a three-peat the following year.

Madrid won the first five editions of the trophy, from 1956-60, when the competition was in its former guise as a straight knockout tournament. The European Cup was also only open to the champions of Europe’s leagues, as well as the current holder of the trophy.

Teams would frequently win the trophy in successive seasons during that period, with Ajax and Bayern Munich each crowned champions of Europe three years in a row during the 1970s.

While the Champions League, with its massive broadcast revenue, has been cited as a reason for a widening of the gap between European soccer’s wealthiest teams and their smaller rivals, it has established itself as one of the most fiercely contested competitions in the sport.

That has been a consequence of the increased number of top teams from the biggest leagues that are permitted entry, with four from England, Spain, Italy and Germany all qualifying.

Those countries have dominated the Champions League era and between them have won all but three editions of the competition since 1993. It could be argued, however, that it is a measure of the competitiveness of European soccer’s elite club tournament that only one team has successfully defended the trophy.

“I was incredibly proud at Barcelona to win two in (three) years but we didn’t win it in a row,” Guardiola said. “If we aren’t able to win it, like the previous six seasons, then (we’ll have to) qualify for next year and try again.”

Guardiola finally lifted the trophy for a third time in June after City’s 1-0 win against Inter Milan in Istanbul. He had previously won it with Lionel Messi and Barcelona in 2009 and 2011.

It was City’s first European Cup and completed a treble of trophies last season. After June’s final, Guardiola set his team the challenge of becoming multiple winners like Europe’s greatest clubs.

Madrid has won it a record 14 times, including five of the last 10 editions.

On Monday, City’s manager reiterated the importance of repeating last season’s success.

“I’d like to say that for our club to win the Champions League is incredible,” he said. “But in perspective for the Champions League, how many teams have won the Champions League once?

“A lot have won two, three, four, five. In perspective, we did nothing special. Just one.”

City hosts Belgrade at Etihad Stadium on Tuesday.

While it is expected to win that match, the competition will be fierce again this year with Bayern Munich having signed England striker Harry Kane and Barcelona looking like a bigger threat after winning the Spanish league last season.

Madrid is regularly a challenger and has added England midfielder Jude Bellingham to its ranks.

Guardiola’s success at City, however, has been born out of a seemingly insatiable appetite for trophies.

“The hunger is still definitely in the changing room and I hope the manager still wants to win more,” said City defender Kyle Walker.

“You can see what he is like in games and training. He doesn’t settle for second and we should follow in his footsteps because he has managed some great teams that have won fantastic things. What we have done is in the past... we have won the Premier League and Champions League, but to go again is what separates the good teams from the great teams.”


Liverpool Will Give Europa League Full Respect, Says Klopp 

Juergen Klopp manager of Liverpool applauds the fans after the English Premier League match between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Liverpool FC in Wolverhampton, Britain, 16 September 2023. (EPA)
Juergen Klopp manager of Liverpool applauds the fans after the English Premier League match between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Liverpool FC in Wolverhampton, Britain, 16 September 2023. (EPA)
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Liverpool Will Give Europa League Full Respect, Says Klopp 

Juergen Klopp manager of Liverpool applauds the fans after the English Premier League match between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Liverpool FC in Wolverhampton, Britain, 16 September 2023. (EPA)
Juergen Klopp manager of Liverpool applauds the fans after the English Premier League match between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Liverpool FC in Wolverhampton, Britain, 16 September 2023. (EPA)

Liverpool will approach the Europa League in the "right manner" and have the squad depth to be successful in both the Premier League and Europe's second-tier competition, manager Juergen Klopp said.

Six-time European champions Liverpool have missed out on the Champions League for the first time since Klopp's first full season in 2016-17.

They reached the final of the 2016 Europa League under the German and he said reaching the title decider was the target once again.

"First and foremost, I think we all have to make sure that we all respect the competition in the right manner, that we respect the opponents in the right manner," he told TNT Sports.

"I would love to go to the final, obviously, but I have no clue if we can reach that because there will be a lot of fantastic football teams in between us and that target, so we have to make sure we perform."

Liverpool kick off their Europa campaign with a trip to Austria's LASK on Thursday before hosting West Ham United in the league on Sunday.

Klopp said that while the talent coming through Liverpool's academy means the "future's bright" for the club, he would not use the Europa League as a proving ground for young players.

"We have real talent there, but it is not experimental," he added. "I think if we don't get hit by an injury crisis then we should have enough players to field Thursday and Sunday a top team, and that's pretty much the idea."


Iranian Football Fans Flock to Ronaldo’s Hotel After He Arrives in Tehran with Saudi Team 

Iranian supporters of Al Nassr star Cristiano Ronaldo cheer in front of his hotel in Tehran, Iran, 18 September 2023. (EPA)
Iranian supporters of Al Nassr star Cristiano Ronaldo cheer in front of his hotel in Tehran, Iran, 18 September 2023. (EPA)
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Iranian Football Fans Flock to Ronaldo’s Hotel After He Arrives in Tehran with Saudi Team 

Iranian supporters of Al Nassr star Cristiano Ronaldo cheer in front of his hotel in Tehran, Iran, 18 September 2023. (EPA)
Iranian supporters of Al Nassr star Cristiano Ronaldo cheer in front of his hotel in Tehran, Iran, 18 September 2023. (EPA)

Hundreds of football fans stormed into a hotel in Tehran on Monday, hoping for a glimpse of star player Cristiano Ronaldo after he arrived with his Saudi teammates ahead of a game.

Chanting “Ronaldo, Ronaldo,” the fans pushed past police, filling the corridors and public spaces of the Espians Palace Hotel.

Ronaldo arrived on his first visit to Iran with the Saudi football club Al Nassr, which is set to play Iran's Persepolis in Tehran on Sept. 19. The return game will be played in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, on Nov. 27.

The Asian Champions League games are made possible by the restoration of diplomatic relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia following an agreement brokered by China earlier this year. The countries had severed ties in 2016.

The 2015 Asian Champions League edition was the last time Saudi and Iranian teams faced each other on home turf in the group stage or knockout rounds.


Saudi U23 Football Team to Face Iran in 19th Asian Games Opening

SPA
SPA
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Saudi U23 Football Team to Face Iran in 19th Asian Games Opening

SPA
SPA

The Saudi national under-23 (U23) football team will begin the kingdom's participation in the 19th Asian Games with a match against the Iranian U23 team at 2:30 PM Saudi time (GMT+3).
The Linping Sports Center Stadium in the Chinese city of Hangzhou will host the match.
The Saudi team concluded final training session at the Shaoxing Stadium, in the presence of the head of the Saudi delegation Prince Abdulaziz bin Fahd bin Abdullah, SPA reported.
The training began with warm-up exercises and laps around the field under the supervision of U23 coach Saad Al-Shehri.
The team also practiced special set-piece plays in both defensive and offensive situations.


Pochettino Understands Chelsea Fans’ Frustrations After Poor Start 

Football - Premier League - AFC Bournemouth v Chelsea - Vitality Stadium, Bournemouth, Britain - September 17, 2023 Chelsea manager Mauricio Pochettino. (Reuters)
Football - Premier League - AFC Bournemouth v Chelsea - Vitality Stadium, Bournemouth, Britain - September 17, 2023 Chelsea manager Mauricio Pochettino. (Reuters)
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Pochettino Understands Chelsea Fans’ Frustrations After Poor Start 

Football - Premier League - AFC Bournemouth v Chelsea - Vitality Stadium, Bournemouth, Britain - September 17, 2023 Chelsea manager Mauricio Pochettino. (Reuters)
Football - Premier League - AFC Bournemouth v Chelsea - Vitality Stadium, Bournemouth, Britain - September 17, 2023 Chelsea manager Mauricio Pochettino. (Reuters)

Mauricio Pochettino understands Chelsea fans' frustrations with their poor start to the season but says his side have been hampered by injuries to more than a dozen players and that he will not change the way they are doing things.

Chelsea's poor form continued with a 0-0 draw at Bournemouth on Sunday, the second game in a row in which Pochettino's side failed to score after they lost 1-0 to Nottingham Forest earlier this month.

Chelsea sit 14th in the Premier League with five points from five games, despite spending around $1 billion in transfer fees since the new ownership led by Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital completed their takeover of the club in May 2022.

"I think the fans know if you invest the money that people talk about in the media, there is expectation," Pochettino said after the game. "If you do not win, it is normal that the fans are not happy.

"What I can tell the fans are the circumstances, which we cannot change. There are too many players not available."

Defender Marc Cucurella, forward Noni Madueke and British record signing Moises Caicedo missed Sunday's game, joining a lengthy injury list that includes captain Reece James, Christopher Nkunku and Romeo Lavia.

"We have extraordinary belief but bad luck, because we have 12 injured players, plus then Cucurella, Madueke and Caicedo today," added Pochettino.

"Am I going to cry or complain? No. I need to accept this challenge and keep being positive. We are not going to change the way that we are going to do things."


Atletico’s Lemar to Undergo Surgery on Ruptured Achilles Tendon 

Atletico Madrid's Thomas Lemar during the group B Champions League soccer match between Atletico Madrid and Club Brugge at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium in Madrid, Spain, Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2022. (AP)
Atletico Madrid's Thomas Lemar during the group B Champions League soccer match between Atletico Madrid and Club Brugge at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium in Madrid, Spain, Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2022. (AP)
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Atletico’s Lemar to Undergo Surgery on Ruptured Achilles Tendon 

Atletico Madrid's Thomas Lemar during the group B Champions League soccer match between Atletico Madrid and Club Brugge at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium in Madrid, Spain, Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2022. (AP)
Atletico Madrid's Thomas Lemar during the group B Champions League soccer match between Atletico Madrid and Club Brugge at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium in Madrid, Spain, Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2022. (AP)

Atletico Madrid midfielder Thomas Lemar will undergo surgery after rupturing his right Achilles tendon during Saturday's 3-0 loss at Valencia, the LaLiga team said.

The 27-year-old, who joined Atletico from AS Monaco in 2018, had left the pitch on a stretcher.

"Following tests carried out on the French player, the medical report from the club's medical services indicates that he has a ruptured right Achilles tendon and will have to undergo surgery," Atletico said in a statement on Sunday.

"All the best Thom, we wish you a speedy recovery."

Diego Simeone's side, who are seventh in LaLiga with seven points in four matches, play their Champions League opener at Lazio on Tuesday before hosting Real Madrid in the league on Sept. 24.