Disgusted by Racism Targeting Soccer’s Vinicius, His Brazilian Hometown Rallies to Defend Him

Football - Brasileiro Championship - Flamengo v Cruzeiro - Estadio Maracana, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - May 27, 2023 A Flamengo fan displays an image of Vinicius Junior in support against racism before the match. (Reuters)
Football - Brasileiro Championship - Flamengo v Cruzeiro - Estadio Maracana, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - May 27, 2023 A Flamengo fan displays an image of Vinicius Junior in support against racism before the match. (Reuters)
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Disgusted by Racism Targeting Soccer’s Vinicius, His Brazilian Hometown Rallies to Defend Him

Football - Brasileiro Championship - Flamengo v Cruzeiro - Estadio Maracana, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - May 27, 2023 A Flamengo fan displays an image of Vinicius Junior in support against racism before the match. (Reuters)
Football - Brasileiro Championship - Flamengo v Cruzeiro - Estadio Maracana, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - May 27, 2023 A Flamengo fan displays an image of Vinicius Junior in support against racism before the match. (Reuters)

The chants of “monkey!” at the Spanish soccer stadium echoed across the Atlantic, reaching the ears of people on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro.

That’s where Vinicius Junior, who is Black, grew up and launched his football career. Now, despite his global fame and millions, he was again the target of crude European racism.

His city in multiracial Brazil was sickened, and has rallied to his defense.

In Sao Goncalo, rapper Deivisson Oliveira was eating breakfast when the TV news showed the abuse aimed at his hometown hero.

“I needed to cry out,” said Oliveira, 30, who raps under the name MC Menor do CPX.

Oliveira typed lyrics on his phone with his 6-month-old son at his feet. Powerful verses surged through his thumbs: “From the favela to the world: Strength, Vinicius Junior!”

Racism in the Spanish league has intensified this season, especially after Vinicius started celebrating goals by dancing. On at least nine occasions, people have made monkey sounds at Vinicius, chanted the slur “monkey!” and hurled other racist slurs. Vinicius has repeatedly demanded action from Spanish soccer authorities.

Vinicius’ 2017 move to Real Madrid was the culmination of years of effort. One of the most popular clubs in global soccer paid 45 million euros (about $50 million) — at the time the most ever for a Brazilian teenager — even before his professional debut with Rio-based Flamengo. Relentless racism wasn’t part of Vinicius’ dream when he was growing up in Sao Goncalo.

Sao Goncalo is the second-most populous city in Rio’s metropolitan region, and one of the poorest in the state of Rio de Janeiro, according to the national statistics institute. At night in some areas, motorists turn on their hazard lights to signal to drug-trafficking gangs that the driver is local. It is also where the 2020 police killing of a 14-year-old sparked Black Lives Matter protests across Rio.

Racism has once again fanned outrage.

Rio’s imposing, illuminated Christ the Redeemer statue was made dark one night in solidarity. The city’s enormous bayside Ferris wheel this week exhibits a clenched Black fist and the scrolling words: “EVERYONE AGAINST RACISM.”

“My total repudiation of the episode of racism suffered by our ace and the pride of all of us in Sao Goncalo,” the city’s mayor, Nelson Ruas dos Santos, wrote on Twitter the morning after the incident.

Rio’s Mayor Eduardo Paes was less diplomatic when responding to a defense issued by the Spanish soccer league’s president.

“Go to hell, son of a...” Paes wrote.

On Thursday, Spanish league president Javier Tebas held a news conference claiming that the league has been acting alone against racism, and that it could end it in six months if granted more power by the government.

At the same time in Rio, representatives of more than 150 activist groups and nonprofits delivered a letter to Spain’s consulate, demanding an investigation into the league and its president. They organized a protest that evening.

“Vinicius has been a warrior, he’s being a warrior, for enduring this since he arrived in Spain and always taking a stand,” activist Valda Neves said. “This time, he’s not alone.”

On Saturday, players from Vinicius’ former club, Flamengo, took the field at the Maracana Stadium before a Brazilian championship match against Cruzeiro wearing jerseys bearing the player’s name and sat on the pitch before kick off in an anti-racism protest.

In the stands, thousands of supporters made a tifo that read “everyone with Vini Jr.”

The first Black Brazilian players to sign for European clubs in the 1960s met some racism in the largely white society, but rarely spoke out. At the time when Brazil still considered itself a “racial democracy,” and did not take on the racism that many faced.

In the late 1980s, the federal government made racial discrimination a crime and created a foundation to promote Afro-Brazilian culture. At the time, many Brazilian players who might identify as Black today did not recognize themselves as such. Incidents of racism in Europe prompted little blowback in Brazil.

In the decades since, Brazil’s Black activists have gained prominence and promoted awareness of structural racism. The federal government instituted policies aimed at addressing it, including affirmative-action admissions for public universities and jobs. There has been heightened consciousness throughout society.

In 2014, a fan hurled a banana at defender Dani Alves during a Spanish league match; he picked it up and ate it in a show of defiance, triggering a coordinated social media campaign with other Brazilian players, including star forward Neymar, who did the same.

Vinicius’ own educational nonprofit this week launched a program to train public school teachers to raise awareness about racism and instruct kids in fighting discrimination. A teacher at a Sao Goncalo school that will host the project, Mariana Alves, hopes it will provide kids much-needed support and preparation. She spoke in a classroom with soccer-ball beanbag chairs strewn about, and enormous photos of Vinicius on the walls.

Most of the school’s students are Black or biracial, and many have experienced racism, Alves said in an interview. This week, her 10-year-old students have been asking if she saw what happened to Vinicius because they don’t fully understand.

“He has money, he has all this status, and not even that stopped him from going through this situation of racism,” said Alves, who is Black and from Sao Goncalo. “So the students wonder ... ‘Will I go through that, too? Is that going to happen to me?’”

As a boy, Vinicius started training at a nearby feeder school for Flamengo, Brazil’s most popular club, before signing with its youth team.

Sao Goncalo kids there were a blur Wednesday afternoon as they ran non-stop drills, leaving them without time or breath to discuss their idol’s troubles on another continent.

Still, they knew.

One of them, Ryan Gonçalves Negri, said he has talked about it with his friends outside the soccer school, and that Vinicius should transfer out of the Spanish league “urgently.”

“I would never want to play there,” Negri, 13, said. “It’s not for Brazilians who know how to score goals and celebrate.”

While the kids practiced, the rapper Oliveira and his producer Éverton Ramos, known as DJ Cabide, stepped onto the turf and made their way to the corner. They set up a speaker beneath a banner of Vinicius as a brash teenager with his tongue extended, then started recording a clip for their protest song’s music video.

“I’m no one, but my voice can reach where I can’t go, where I can’t imagine going,” Oliveira said. “My voice will get there, you understand?”



Marseille in Crisis as it Prepares to Face PSG in French League

Marseille's Gabonese forward #10 Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang reacts during the French L1 football match between Olympique Marseille (OM) and Toulouse FC at Stade Velodrome in Marseille, southern France on September 17, 2023. (Photo by CLEMENT MAHOUDEAU / AFP)
Marseille's Gabonese forward #10 Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang reacts during the French L1 football match between Olympique Marseille (OM) and Toulouse FC at Stade Velodrome in Marseille, southern France on September 17, 2023. (Photo by CLEMENT MAHOUDEAU / AFP)
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Marseille in Crisis as it Prepares to Face PSG in French League

Marseille's Gabonese forward #10 Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang reacts during the French L1 football match between Olympique Marseille (OM) and Toulouse FC at Stade Velodrome in Marseille, southern France on September 17, 2023. (Photo by CLEMENT MAHOUDEAU / AFP)
Marseille's Gabonese forward #10 Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang reacts during the French L1 football match between Olympique Marseille (OM) and Toulouse FC at Stade Velodrome in Marseille, southern France on September 17, 2023. (Photo by CLEMENT MAHOUDEAU / AFP)

Marseille is in crisis again as it prepares to face bitter rival Paris Saint-Germain in the French league on Sunday.
A quick glance at the standings shows that undefeated Marseille is in fourth place and is one point above PSG in fifth.
Hardly awful.
Yet a chaotic week saw Spanish manager Marcelino step down on Wednesday after only a handful of games in charge of Marseille, The Associated Press reported. He had replaced Igor Tudor, who left after just one season. Marcelino's departure came after a tense board meeting between supporters groups — who have long held positions of strong influence — and the directors.
“It’s been quite a torment,” veteran striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang said. “Of course it’s not easy. But I’m not going into what we’ve said to each other (players and directors).”
Supporters groups reportedly expressed their strong dissatisfaction at the level of play so far. Sunday’s 0-0 home draw with Toulouse was Marseille’s third draw in five games so far. Still, the team is only two points behind leader Monaco and victory in Paris would condemn PSG to a second straight league defeat at home after the 3-2 loss to Nice.
“It’s a strange context," said Aubameyang, a former Borussia Dortmund, Arsenal and Barcelona striker. “When you look at the league table we’re still in it and there’s nothing dramatic."
Aubameyang was speaking on the eve of Marseille's Europa League game at Ajax later Thursday. Following the PSG match, Marseille has a tough trip to Monaco next weekend.
“We have a series of important games coming up and we need to show we can surpass ourselves,” Aubameyang said. “We have to get results, and that means sticking together even in a somewhat chaotic situation.”
But Marseille appears a rudderless ship at the moment.
Former Marseille defender Jacques Abardonado, a former reserve team coach and assistant who was Marcelino's translator, said he only found out late Wednesday night that he was taking temporary charge against Ajax.
“It is sad and a bit painful when you know what this club's about,” the 45-year-old Abardonado said. “Players know the situation before they sign for the club that these things can happen. They need to focus on the match, not what happens off the field.”
As a former player and long-standing member of the coaching staff, he knows what goes on.
Marseille has been unstable at management level for several seasons, with both Marcelo Bielsa and Jorge Sampaoli suddenly quitting after disagreements, and former coach André Villas-Boas suspended for publicly criticizing the club.
Tudor guided Marseille to third place, won fans over with his hard-nosed and dynamic playing style, and then also left the club after a disagreement with president Pablo Longoria.
Longoria did not travel with the club to Amsterdam for Thursday's game.
Perhaps he's still recovering from Monday's meeting.
During the talks, fans castigated the board and asked for its entire departure. While complaining about the team’s recent displays, they also criticized Longoria for the frequent changes of coach and players, and the running of the women’s and youth teams.
After Monday’s meeting, Marseille said in a statement that the supporters association — some of whom form hardcore Ultras groups — had threatened “a war” against board members if they did not resign. This is not to be taken lightly, given that more than 200 Marseille Ultras attacked their own training ground in January, 2021.
“The OM board of directors believes in a transparent and regular relationship with its supporters,” the club said in a statement. “On the other hand, the OM directorate cannot accept personal threats. Its members cannot tolerate individual attacks and any form of unfounded public defamation.”
Under Marcelino, Marseille failed to qualify for the lucrative group stage of the Champions League after losing a playoff against Panathinaikos in a penalty shootout having conceded an equalizer nine minutes into stoppage time. Two groups of Marseille Ultras fought each other at that game.
Once a powerhouse of French soccer, Marseille is the only French team to win the Champions League, back in 1993. But it hasn’t won the domestic league title since 2010, while PSG established its dominance, winning the league nine times in the last 11 years to set a French record with 11 titles.
Marseille's Champions League bragging rights over PSG remain intact, but there's little else to shout about for now.


Tennis: Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur Falls in Guadalajara

Tunisia's Ons Jabeur plays a forehand return against Italy's Martina Trevisan during the WTA Guadalajara Open women's singles round of 16 tennis match in Zapopan, Mexico, September 20, 2023. (Photo by ULISES RUIZ / AFP)
Tunisia's Ons Jabeur plays a forehand return against Italy's Martina Trevisan during the WTA Guadalajara Open women's singles round of 16 tennis match in Zapopan, Mexico, September 20, 2023. (Photo by ULISES RUIZ / AFP)
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Tennis: Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur Falls in Guadalajara

Tunisia's Ons Jabeur plays a forehand return against Italy's Martina Trevisan during the WTA Guadalajara Open women's singles round of 16 tennis match in Zapopan, Mexico, September 20, 2023. (Photo by ULISES RUIZ / AFP)
Tunisia's Ons Jabeur plays a forehand return against Italy's Martina Trevisan during the WTA Guadalajara Open women's singles round of 16 tennis match in Zapopan, Mexico, September 20, 2023. (Photo by ULISES RUIZ / AFP)

Italy's Martina Trevisan pulled off a stunning comeback to defeat top-seeded Ons Jabeur of Tunisia 6-7 (4), 7-5, 6-3 on Wednesday in the third round of the Guadalajara (Mexico) Open Akron.

With Jabeur up a set and serving for the match at 5-4 in the second, she went ahead 30-0 before Trevisan began her rally. Trevisan won the next four points to break serve, then won the next two games to force a third set.

Trevisan recorded two of the three service breaks in the final set to advance to her second quarterfinal in a WTA 1000 event this year. She also reached the quarters at Miami in March.

In earlier matches on Wednesday, Americans Sofia Kenin and Caroline Dolehide pulled off upsets.

Kenin ousted Latvian sixth seed Jelena Ostapenko 6-4, 7-5 by saving four of five break points while Ostapenko committed seven double faults. Dolehide completed a 6-1, 6-2 sweep of No. 8 seed Ekaterina Alexandrova of Russia with the help of three aces.

Three other Americans were in action on Wednesday, but all three fell. French third seed Carolina Garcia downed Hailey Baptiste 7-5, 6-4, Canadian Leylah Fernandez breezed by Emma Navarro 6-2, 6-3, and Emiliana Arango of Colombia defeated Taylor Townsend 7-5, 1-6, 6-4.

In other action, second-seeded Greek Maria Sakkari bested Italy's Camila Giorgi 6-2, 6-2, and 10th-seeded Belarusian Victoria Azarenka crushed seventh-seeded Veronika Kudermetova of Russia 6-2, 6-1.


Lionel Messi to Miss Another Game for Inter Miami

Inter Miami's Argentine forward #10 Lionel Messi controls the ball during the Major League Soccer (MLS) football match between Inter Miami CF and Toronto FC at DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on September 20, 2023. (Photo by Chris Arjoon / AFP)
Inter Miami's Argentine forward #10 Lionel Messi controls the ball during the Major League Soccer (MLS) football match between Inter Miami CF and Toronto FC at DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on September 20, 2023. (Photo by Chris Arjoon / AFP)
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Lionel Messi to Miss Another Game for Inter Miami

Inter Miami's Argentine forward #10 Lionel Messi controls the ball during the Major League Soccer (MLS) football match between Inter Miami CF and Toronto FC at DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on September 20, 2023. (Photo by Chris Arjoon / AFP)
Inter Miami's Argentine forward #10 Lionel Messi controls the ball during the Major League Soccer (MLS) football match between Inter Miami CF and Toronto FC at DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on September 20, 2023. (Photo by Chris Arjoon / AFP)

Lionel Messi returned to Inter Miami's lineup on Wednesday night. It was a short-lived comeback, and now he's sidelined again.
Messi was subbed off in the 37th minute of Inter Miami's match against Toronto, after spending a few minutes laboring with what appeared to be a leg issue. Miami came up big without him, winning 4-0 to move within five points of the final playoff spot in Major League Soccer's Eastern Conference.
Robert Taylor, who came on for Messi, had two goals and an assist. But Messi's status overshadowed everything, and Inter Miami coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino said after the game that the Argentine star will miss Sunday's game at Orlando.
“He had an old injury that had been bothering him,” Martino said, as relayed through a team official who translated his remarks from Spanish to English.
In an earlier answer that was not translated, Martino said Messi would miss at least one more match. The 36-year-old Messi had missed two matches — one for club, the other for country — in recent days, after sitting out Argentina’s World Cup qualifying win at Bolivia on Sept. 12, and Inter Miami’s 5-2 loss at Atlanta United this past Saturday.
Fatigue was cited in both cases, and the team did not provide any diagnosis of what is troubling the seven-time Ballon d'Or winner now. The game was scoreless when Messi was subbed out.
It was the second big injury blow for Inter Miami on Wednesday. Jordi Alba — another celebrated midseason addition — had to leave in the 34th minute, shortly before Messi's night was over. Alba will not play Sunday, either.
“We had to step up,” The Associated Press quoted Taylor as saying.
Facundo Farias and second-half sub Benjamin Cremaschi had the other goals.
“It shows the depth that we have on our team,” goalie Drake Callender said.
Messi had a couple of chances Wednesday, and appeared to stop running somewhat abruptly after carrying the ball deep into the Toronto box in the 33rd minute. He was barely engaged after that, leaning forward at one point as if to stretch the back of his legs, then eventually took off his captain's armband — actually trying a long pass while holding the armband — before waiting for play to stop so he could depart.
Messi didn’t even wait to come off the field before unlacing his cleats, lowering his socks and removing his shin guards. He placed the captain's band onto the arm of DeAndre Yedlin — who was Inter Miami's captain before Messi began his stint with the team in July — and now it's anyone's guess when Messi will wear it again. The team would likely want him to play in the US Open Cup final on Sept. 27.
Martino, per the team's translation, said Messi was removed from Wednesday's game “to be safe.”
“We don’t think it’s a muscular injury. That’s also from a conversation that I just had with him,” Martino said via the translation, even though Messi was stretching in a manner that suggested otherwise before leaving the field. “But we have to continue being careful and we’ll look at him the next few days.”
Wednesday’s match was the first of what will be six for Inter Miami in a span of 17 days. The team plays at Orlando on Sunday, then will host Houston in the US Open Cup final on Sept. 27. That will be followed by three more MLS matches in short order: against New York City FC on Sept. 30, at Chicago on Oct. 4 and playing host to Cincinnati on Oct. 7.
The daunting stretch will be even tougher if Messi isn't around. Miami entered Wednesday seven points behind D.C. United for the final playoff spot in the East, with two matches in hand. D.C. United picked up a point by tying Atlanta on Wednesday, so Inter Miami's three points for its win cut the deficit to five.
Despite its place in the standings, Inter Miami now controls its postseason destiny. Win out in MLS matches, and a team that was at the bottom of the conference before Messi arrived will be in the playoffs.
The Atlanta game halted what had been a 12-match unbeaten streak for Inter Miami since Messi debuted for the team against Mexican side Cruz Azul in the Leagues Cup on July 21. Inter Miami had gone 8-0-4 in those 12 matches, with three of those games that ended as ties being outcomes for the team to celebrate after advancing on penalty kicks — two in the Leagues Cup, including the final against Nashville for the Miami club’s first-ever trophy, and another in the US Open Cup semifinals.
Messi has now appeared in 12 matches over two months for Miami, most of them in Leagues Cup and US Open Cup competition. He ha 11 goals and eight assists, and one goal and two assists in four MLS matches.


Federer Match-worn Outfit Expected to Fetch $35,000 at Auction

FILE - Switzerland's Roger Federer hits a forehand to Croatia's Marin Cilic during the men's singles final at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, on Jan. 28, 2018. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara, File)
FILE - Switzerland's Roger Federer hits a forehand to Croatia's Marin Cilic during the men's singles final at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, on Jan. 28, 2018. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara, File)
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Federer Match-worn Outfit Expected to Fetch $35,000 at Auction

FILE - Switzerland's Roger Federer hits a forehand to Croatia's Marin Cilic during the men's singles final at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, on Jan. 28, 2018. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara, File)
FILE - Switzerland's Roger Federer hits a forehand to Croatia's Marin Cilic during the men's singles final at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, on Jan. 28, 2018. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara, File)

Looking for an "inexpensive” way into the lucrative sports memorabilia market? One of Roger Federer's match-worn outfits might be your ticket.
Not just any shirt and shorts, of course. An online auction that started Wednesday is offering a Federer outfit from his winning run at the 2018 Australian Open. That was his 20th and final Grand Slam title.
The Nike-made outfit is “expected to achieve up to $35,000,” Prestige Memorabilia said. Both items are signed by the Swiss great, who retired one year ago. Bidding closes Oct. 8, The Associated Press reported.
A mint condition Mickey Mantle baseball card sold for $12.6 million in August 2022. That broke a record for the most expensive auctioned piece of sports memorabilia set a few months earlier, when the shirt worn by Diego Maradona when he scored the controversial “Hand of God” goal against England in the 1986 World Cup went for $9.3 million.


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."