With one game to go, Sydney FC’s title credentials are on the line

Despite securing the Premiers’ Plate since coming back from the season pause, Sydney FC’s formline has fans and media questioning their championship credentials.

Just looking at the scoreline, you would have thought Sydney had it easy in a 3-1 win over Wellington in their first game back.

Their performance was far from polished that night, and Wellington led before Sydney were awarded a somewhat fortunate penalty. The win was only sealed late on with a double from Trent Buhagiar after the New Zealand side themselves exposed and later saw a goal ruled out for offside that VAR would have surely allowed.

In the four games since, the Sky Blues are winless and have taken just two points from a possible 12.

The rhetoric coming from the club is what you’d expect.

“I think I can turn it (our form) around very quickly,” Corica told reporters following his side’s one-all draw with Brisbane Roar.

“I think the last couple of matches we have shown we are back to our best with the ball, especially in the second half (against Brisbane).

“It is just about finishing teams off and creating a few more chances.”

There’s no doubt Corica believes what he is saying and there is weight behind his words. He already boasts two trophies in his short time as Sydney manager.

But there is cause for concern.

The logjam of fixtures in the return of this interrupted season meant clubs needed to hit the ground running.

For Sydney, with the Premiers’ Plate all but secured before the break, their remaining games stood to be great opportunities to optimise their performance and ensure they would be ready for sudden-death football.

They’ve now burned five of their six games, and have one last chance to finetune before the finals series begins.

And it’s not against a side with nothing to play for – they come up against a Western United outfit that may well be desperate for the three points to secure their own finals spot.

Centre-back Ryan McGowan’s form has been worrying, with the former Socceroo again caught out against Brisbane. He was slow to react to a through ball for Brisbane’s goal and also struggled in one-on-one situations.

Ryan McGowan

(Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

On the attacking front, they’ve only managed three goals in their last four outings. They’re certainly not going to be comfortable with that stat going into the finals and Corica will be hoping for a much more prolific showing against Western United.

This is not to say they lack attacking weapons. Quite the opposite, in fact. You can never count out Kosta Barbarouses – despite his up-and-down 2019-20, he remains a legitimate threat up front – while Adam le Fondre’s stats speak for themselves. Scoring at a 0.76 clip throughout the season, he is a threat every time he takes the pitch.

Young gun Luke Ivanovic showed off his goal-scoring ability in the draw against Brisbane with a sumptuous curled effort that even the in-form Jamie Young could only watch sail past him. Ivanovic didn’t see the second half of that match, but Corica confirmed that was due to cramp and he didn’t suffer any serious injury.

It’s not likely Ivanovic will feature from the start in the finals, but he’s certainly a handy option for Corica to bring on in the second half and let him run at tired defenders.

It’s not all doom and gloom for Corica’s side. Across their five games back, key players have been rested and they’ve encountered sides with a lot more to play for than themselves.

There have been flashes of the pre-COVID break Sydney, but they’ll need to be right back to their best in the finals.

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The performance was solid and had they not run into an in-form Young, they would have notched a win last time out against Brisbane.

There’s a fair bit hanging on their final game of the regular season. A win would salvage their record since the A-League’s return but anything less would leave it looking quite grim.

More importantly, attaining the three points would provide a significant psychological boost for Corica and his squad.

It’s crunch time. Sydney FC know how to win trophies and now just two wins separate them from a second-straight championship.

They’ll need to draw on every ounce of that experience because they certainly won’t be able to rely on form.

Juventus lose to Cagliari as Ronaldo’s Golden Boot hopes fade

Cagliari: Cristiano Ronaldo’s hopes of finishing the season as top scorer in Italy’s Serie A faded away on Wednesday as he failed to find the net when champions Juventus slumped to a shock 2-0 defeat away to Cagliari.

The 35-year-old Portuguese attacker is on 31 goals for the season, four behind Lazio’s Ciro Immobile with only a home league game against fifth-placed AS Roma left to play.

Cagliari, who are 13th in the table, shocked the newly-crowned champions in the eighth minute when 20-year-old striker Luca Gagliano reacted quickest, stabbing home Federico Mattiello’s pass across the box to net his first goal for the club.

Things went from bad to worse for Juve in first-half stoppage time as Giovanni Simeone smashed a right-foot shot across keeper Gianluigi Buffon and in at the far post to put Cagliari two goals up.

With a first-half goal chalked off for offside, Ronaldo had plenty of chances as Juve dominated, but he found his efforts smothered by the Cagliari defence.

When his team mates did manage to get a shot on target they found keeper Alessio Cragno in superb form as Cagliari held on to win.

Read also: Ronaldo scores, misses penalty as Juventus win ninth straight Serie A title

UEFA ‘confident’ Real, Sevilla virus cases won’t affect European games

Paris: UEFA is “confident” the final stages of the Champions League and Europa League will go ahead without problems despite recent cases of coronavirus at Real Madrid and Sevilla, a spokesperson told AFP on Thursday.

Real, who announced on Tuesday that forward Mariano Diaz had tested positive for COVID-19, play at Manchester City in their Champions League last-16 second leg on August 7.

Sevilla, who said Wednesday an unnamed player had contracted the virus, take on Roma in a single-game Europa League last-16 tie in the German city of Duisburg the previous day.

“We are confident these cases will not affect the matches in question, in Manchester and Duisburg respectively,” the spokesperson said.

“UEFA is in contact with Real Madrid and Sevilla FC and is monitoring the two situations and the decisions of the competent Spanish authorities.”

The Champions League is ending with a ‘Final 8’ tournament in Lisbon after the completion of the last 16.

Man City lead Madrid 2-1 after the first leg at the Santiago Bernabeu, which was played in February.

Sevilla have halted training as a precaution, but Spanish champions Real are preparing as usual because Mariano has had no recent contact with his teammates.

Read also: Real Madrid forward Diaz tests positive for COVID-19, says club

Former FIFA president Blatter calls for Infantino to be suspended

Bern: Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter has called for his successor, Gianni Infantino, to be suspended by the global soccer body after criminal proceedings were opened against Infantino in Switzerland.

Swiss authorities said on Thursday that proceedings had been launched against the current FIFA boss by a special prosecutor looking into meetings he had with Swiss Attorney General Michael Lauber. Lauber and Infantino have denied wrongdoing.

“For me, the situation is clear, that the FIFA ethics committee has to open a case against Mr Infantino and so it has to suspend him,” Blatter, 84, said in a statement to Reuters.

FIFA did not immediately reply to a request for comment on Blatter’s statement.

Blatter, who was FIFA president for 17 years, himself was suspended and later banned by FIFA’s ethics committee after he became the subject of criminal proceedings in Switzerland in 2015.

The investigation is still ongoing and Blatter, who has denied wrongdoing, has not been charged. It centred on a payment of two million Swiss francs (1.6 million pounds) made in 2011 to then UEFA president Michel Platini with Blatter’s approval for work the Frenchman had done a decade earlier.

Blatter was banned for eight years, reduced to six on appeal, and Platini also for eight years, reduced to four. Platini denied wrongdoing.

The FIFA ethics committee is divided into an investigatory and adjudicatory chamber, which since 2017 have been headed by Colombian Maria Claudia Rojas and Greek Vassilios Skouris respectively.

They replaced Swiss Cornel Borbely and German Hans-Joachim Eckert who were ousted when the decision-making FIFA Council decided not to renew their mandates.

Manchester City sign Bournemouth defender Nathan Ake

Manchester City have signed defender Nathan Ake from Bournemouth on a five-year deal, the Premier League club announced on Wednesday.

Financial details of the transfer were not disclosed but British media reported City paid Bournemouth 40 million pounds ($52 million) to sign the 25-year-old with an additional 1 million pounds to be paid in add-ons.

“City have been the best side in England over the course of the last decade,” Ake said in a statement. “Coming here is a dream for me. This is a top side full of world class players.

“Pep (Guardiola) is a manager admired across the world – what he’s done in the game speaks for itself. The success he’s had is unbelievable and the style of football he plays really appeals to me.”

Bournemouth were relegated from the Premier League on the final day of the season and Ake is one of their players who was expected to leave to continue playing in the top flight.

The Netherlands international, who has also played as a left back, came through Chelsea’s youth system and was initially loaned out to Bournemouth before he signed permanently for the south coast club in June 2017.

Ake had loan spells at Watford and Reading before making 121 appearances for Bournemouth across all competitions, scoring 11 times and playing more minutes in the Premier League than any other player at the club.

City, who finished runners-up in the Premier League to Liverpool, are looking to strengthen their central defence as Guardiola aims to improve his squad for a title challenge next season.

Ake is City’s second recruit in the off season after the club signed Spanish winger Ferran Torres from Valencia on a five-year contract on Tuesday in a deal reported by British media to be worth 23 million euros ($27 million).

Read also: Manchester City Club offers Etihad Stadium to help combat coronavirus

Bale didn’t wish to play for Real Madrid against Man City, says Zidane

Manchester: Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane has revealed Gareth Bale chose not to travel to his side’s Champions League decider against Manchester City because he did not want to play, signalling the latest rift between the club and their joint-record signing.

Bale barely featured for Zidane’s side in their run to the Spanish title when the season resumed after the COVID-19 stoppage, starting only one game and was visibly subdued during their celebrations.

He was left out of the squad for the final league game of the season against Leganes and was also absent from the squad for Friday’s last-16 second leg, where Madrid must overturn a 2-1 deficit to progress to the last eight.

“Many things have been said, there is a respectful relationship between the club and player but all I will say is that he preferred to not play, the rest is between us and him,” Zidane told a news conference on Thursday, adding the forward had been left out for personal rather than technical reasons.

A source close to the player said Bale did not wish to travel to the game because he believed he was not going to play any part in it.

Bale, 31, has won four Champions League titles with Real, scoring crucial goals in the 2014 and 2018 final triumphs over Atletico Madrid and Liverpool respectively.

But a trophy-laden career at Real appears to have grinded towards a sad end, with the distance between the Wales forward and Zidane growing ever greater.

Zidane, who returned to Real in March 2019 after resigning from the role 10 months earlier, has not tried to hide his lack of warmth towards Bale, saying in pre-season last year that he wished the player would leave the club as soon as possible.

Spanish media reports said Bale was on the verge of joining Chinese Super League club Jiangsu Suning in July 2019 but Real blocked the move at the last hour because they were not going to receive a transfer fee.

Read also: Manchester City sign Bournemouth defender Nathan Ake

Ronaldo brace not enough as Lyon knock out Juventus

Turin: Cristiano Ronaldo scored a brace, including an unstoppable long-range goal, to give Juventus a 2-1 win over Olympique Lyonnais in the Champions League on Friday but it was not enough as the French side reached the quarter-finals on away goals.

After both sides converted contentious penalties in the first half, Ronaldo struck from out of the blue on the hour but Lyon clung on for a 2-2 aggregate draw to set up a quarter-final with Manchester City in next week’s Final Eight tournament in Lisbon.

The defeat left Juventus coach Maurizio Sarri in an uncomfortable position as the Champions League title eluded the Turin side for another season.

Although Juventus have won Serie A for nine seasons in a row, they have not been able to get their hands on the Champions League trophy since 1996 when they won it for the second time.

Despite continuing the domestic run, Sarri failed to give Juventus the flamboyant touch the club had been looking for as well as missing out on their main goal.

“We knew we needed courage, talent and a little bit of fortune,” said Lyon coach Rudi Garcia. “We played a very good first leg as well but, with Cristiano Ronaldo, we knew we could have been knocked out at any moment.

“We don’t need to put limits for us,” he added. “We are one of the best eight teams in Europe, we know Manchester City are a better team but it’s just one game, so our goal is the semi-final.”

It was an uphill struggle for Juve from the moment they conceded an away goal in the 12th minute, albeit in controversial circumstances.

Rodrigo Bentancur appeared to get the ball cleanly off Houssem Aouar but referee Felix Zwayer pointed to the spot and chose not to look at the incident on the pitchside monitor.

Dempay converted with a cheeky Panenka-style penalty which sent Wojciech Szczesny the wrong way.

Ronaldo saw a free kick palmed away by Anthony Lopes but it was another controversial penalty which provided the hosts with their equaliser.

Miralem Pjanic’s free kick struck Depay’s elbow in the wall and, although his arm was close to his body, the referee gave another penalty, again without consulting the pitchside monitor. Ronaldo converted.

Juventus seemed to be making little progress after halftime until Ronaldo found space for a shot and blasted the ball past Lopes from 25 metres on the hour.

After that, it became almost a Ronaldo one-man show as he set up a chance which Gonzalo Higuain headed over, then headed over himself and drilled a free kick into the wall. But even he could not find the winner.

The three-month stoppage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic means that the remainder of the Champions League will be played at neutral venues in one-legged showdowns.

Manchester City eliminate Real Madrid from Champions League

Manchester: Manchester City eliminated Real Madrid from UEFA Champions League and advanced in the quarter-finals, beating 2-1 on Saturday due to two shocking errors by Raphael Varane.

City defeated the 13-times UCL champions at home and away. City will now head to Lisbon for the ‘final eight’ tournament where they will face Olympique Lyonnais, who progressed on away goals against Juventus.

Real, trailing 2-1 from the first-leg, were without their captain Sergio Ramos as they look shaky at the back throughout the game.

Varane, having received a pass inside his own area from goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, was robbed by Jesus and the striker slipped the ball to Sterling who scored his 100th goal for the club.

Real, in the 28th minute came back in the match, by a powerful header by Frenchman Karin Benzema. Poor headed backpass attempt gifted by Varane allowed Gabriel Jesus in the 68th minute to score and gave City a convincing win.

Read also: Ronaldo brace not enough as Lyon knock out Juventus

Juventus appoint Andrea Pirlo as manager after sacking Maurizio Sarri

Former Italy legend Andrea Pirlo has been appointed as Juventus’ new manager on a two-year contract just hours after Maurizio Sarri’s sacking.

The 41-year-old Pirlo was promoted to the senior job one week after being named coach of Juve’s under-23 side, who play in the Italian third tier, and without having taken charge of a match.

The 61-year-old Sarri leaves Juventus after just one season in charge. The decision came a day after the Italian giants crashed out of the Champions League in the last 16 to French club Lyon.

“Today’s choice is based on the belief that Pirlo has what it takes to lead from his debut on the bench an expert and talented squad to pursue new successes,” Club said in a statement.

“Today begins a new chapter of his career in the world of football, as it was said almost a week ago: from Maestro to Mister,” it added.

He Pirlo won the Champions League twice with AC Milan, Serie A twice with Milan and four times with Juventus, the Club World Cup with Milan, the Coppa Italia with Milan and Juve plus Serie B as a youngster with Brescia.

He spent most of his time at Milan and then Juventus but also had a short stint at Inter Milan, also played on loan at Reggina and finished his playing career at New York City in Major League Soccer (MLS).

Read also: Ronaldo brace not enough as Lyon knock out Juventus

Willian confirms Chelsea exit after seven years

London: Brazilian midfielder Willian has confirmed he will leave Chelsea after seven ‘wonderful’ years at Stamford Bridge.

The 32-year-old, linked with a move across town to Arsenal, posted a farewell letter to the club’s fans on Twitter.

“The time has now come to move on. I am certainly going to miss my team mates,” he said. “I leave with my head held high, safe in the knowledge that I won things here and always did my best in a Chelsea shirt!”

Willian, who began his career with Corinthians in Sao Paulo, joined Chelsea from Anzhi Makhachkala in 2013 and made over 300 appearances for the club, winning two Premier League titles.

He was out of contract this summer and had failed to agree a new long-term deal with the club.

“In August 2013 when I received the offer from Chelsea, I was convinced that this was where I had to play,” he said.

“Today I am certain that it was the best of decisions. There were so many happy times, some sad, there were trophies and it was always very intense.”

Spanish midfielder Pedro also announced he was leaving the club on Sunday after five years.