If you cannot be sublime, at the very least, be entertaining. It was a trademark of Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal in the final years in charge of the club. Reinforced by Atalanta, Real Sociedad, or indeed any watchable team with no aspirations for titles.
Real Madrid vs Inter Milan, in any other time, space and year would be a blockbuster fixture in the group stage of the UEFA Champions League. As it was yesterday (earlier today), it was to decide who sits at the bottom of their group. Both teams came into this fixture without a win in this season’s Champions League — although Inter had not lost one either.
Their encounter was decided by the odd goal of five. And yet most of the talk will be of two lacklustre defences sparring it out. A snapshot of this came as early as the 25th minute, when a poorly played backpass by Achraf Hakimi was latched on to by Karim Benzema who scored the opener. Eight minutes later came a landmark, Sergio Ramos’ 100th goal for the club via route 1, a corner. A reminder: he is a defender.
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Inter clawed one back almost immediately. It was deserved, sublime, entertaining, skillful and provoked gasps from those very few in the stadium allowed to watch it in the flesh. A superb spell of possession saw Nicolo Barrela receive the ball at the edge of the box. Instead of gathering and turning, or even laying it square, Barrela did something few anticipated — Rafael Varane and Ramos definitely did not. He flicked the ball with the outside of his right right into the path of Lautaro Martínez, whose first time shot saw Thibaut Courtois beaten for the sixth time in three Champions league encounters. A miserly defence has been exposed in Europe.
Inter kept the tempo up in the second half, pushing Real back deeper and deeper into their own territory. When the goal arrived it wasn no surprise, even if it came from an unlikely source. Arturo Vidal’s lofted ball — the possession the result of a suffocating press — found Martinez who headed the ball cleanly onto Ivan Perisic’s path. Perisic won the competition with Bayern last season. He was feeding on scraps here, but his class was undiminished. He slotted in the equaliser. Back to square one.
By this time, Zinedine Zidane had brought on his Brazilian boys, in the hope that they would dissipate the gloom around his second reign. They obliged. Vinicius found space on the left to run through Inter’s defence and crossed low into the box for Rodrygo. The younger Brazilian took a composed first touch before smashing the ball into the top right. Real had their first win of the campaign. They had found a way through. They were entertaining. There is no way they can win the tournament they virtually own, playing like this.
Maradona’s Condition Improving: Personal Doctor
Diego Maradona, who turned 60 last Friday, was hospitalised at Ipensa clinic in La Plata, 37 miles south of Buenos Aires, on Monday. He was suffering from anemia and dehydration. The Argentine legend’s doctor, Leopoldo Luque, said that he was stable and showing signs of improvement.
Maradona was reportedly feeling unwell for the past several days and appeared weak, needing help walking.
“He is much better than yesterday, and he is looking forward to leaving. I would like him to stay one more day,” Luque told local media. “He is anemic, a little dehydrated, we must correct this and see that he continues to improve. We want to improve his condition as much as possible, and we need a little more time for that."
The doctors want Maradona to stay at the hospital a bit longer for his safety as well as those of the friends and family around him, There have been disagreements between Maradona and the healthcare officials in this regard.
"Because he sees himself better, he wants to leave," Luque said. "I asked him to hang on. He had a good night and is in a good mood. We were joking around and we walked a bit inside the clinic. He's evolving as we expected."
Sessegnon Latest Target of Online Racial Abuse
England footballer Ryan Sessegnon, who is on loan at German side Hoffenheim from Tottenham Hotspur, revealed the caustic racial abuse he has been receiving on social media. The 20-year-old left back said he was disgusted by the abuse while sharing the screenshots of the messages.
“Honestly unbelievable. The craziest thing is I’m not even surprised anymore. Disgusting,” Sessegnon, who joined the Bundesliga side this month in a season-long deal, wrote on Instagram.
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Online racial abuse of BAME footballers has seen a rise of late and players such as Raheem Sterling and Wilfried Zaha among many others have called on social media platforms to take strict action against the perpetrators.
Most social media platforms have a code of conduct, termed as ‘community standards’, which is used to remove offensive content. However, there has been criticism too since the algorithm which governs the automated flagging of content seems to be skewed at best and blatantly biased at worst. There have been many occasions when people who are outrightly abusive online never get penalised while someone who is making a valid political or social statement -- invariably against the ruling powers -- gets flagged, his content taken down, or banned.
Sessegnon’s club Hoffenheim, and Spurs were quick to offer support to the young footballer.
Tottenham tweeted: “Everyone at the club is with you @RyanSessegnon. We are proud of the rich ethnic diversity that exists across our communities, fans, staff and players. We are driven by inclusion and equality for all and nobody should have to endure such repulsive abuse.”
Hoffenheim said on Twitter they stood for “tolerance, integration and respect”. The Bundesliga club added: “We reject any form of racism, discrimination and exclusion and say no to racism.”
Giggs Stands Aside for Three Games
Ryan Giggs will not take charge of Wales’ three games this month after he was arrested on suspicion of assaulting his girlfriend, Kate Greville, on Sunday. Police were said to have been called to Giggs’s home in Worsley, Greater Manchester, in response to reports of a disturbance. A spokesman for Greater Manchester police said a 46-year-old man was arrested and then released on bail pending inquiries.
The former Manchester United player denied the allegations, but is stepping aside after conversations with the Football Association of Wales (FAW), including the chief executive, Jonathan Ford.
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Assistant coach Robert Page, Giggs’s former international teammate, will take charge with Albert Stuivenberg, who is an assistant to Mikel Arteta at Arsenal. The squad will be announced on Thursday and the players are scheduled to meet up on Sunday evening.
The FAW statement said, “The Football Association of Wales and Ryan Giggs have mutually agreed that he will not be involved in the upcoming international camp. Our agreed immediate priority is preparing the team for the upcoming international matches. Robert Page, with Ryan’s support, will take charge for the next three matches against the USA, Republic of Ireland and Finland supported by Albert Stuivenberg.”
Italian Federation to Investigate Lazio
Italy's football federation, the FIGC, confirmed it has opened an investigation into Serie A club Lazio over potential violations of Covid-19 health protocols.
FIGC inspected Lazio's sport centre near Rome, seized results of swab tests on players ahead of last week's matches against Club Brugge (Champions League) and Torino (Serie A), the federation said in a statement.
The FIGC has also asked Lazio to submit the results of the swab tests the club conducted ahead of Wednesday's UEFA Champions League match against Zenit St Petersburg. FIGC prosecutors have also spoken to Lazio's president Claudio Lotito and the team doctor.
Lazio are yet to respond or give out a statement.
On Saturday, the club said some members of their squad had tested positive for Covid-19 ahead of a Serie A match against Torino, but they did not name them or say how many there were.
The club also sent a depleted squad to Belgium for a Champions League match against Club Brugge last week, without specifying which of the missing players, if any, had tested positive for COVID-19.
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