‘We never give up’: Son hails gritty Spurs

Son Heung-Min saluted Tottenham’s fighting spirit as they shrugged off Harry Kane’s injury blow to beat Manchester City 1-0 in the first leg of their all-English Champions League quarterfinal on Tuesday.

Son was Tottenham’s hero as he netted a cool winner late in the second half to give his side a slender advantage to protect in next week’s second leg in Manchester.

It was an impressive display of resilience from Mauricio Pochettino’s men after star striker Kane limped off with his latest ankle problem early in the second half.

Hugo Lloris also deserved plaudits for saving Sergio Aguero’s first half penalty, laying the foundations for Son’s 78th minute strike and inspiring the South Korean to hail their togetherness.

“Not just me but as a team, we never give up for 90 minutes. We fight,” Son said.

“It was a very difficult game and in the end, we were more clinical than them.”

Son had scored the first goal in Tottenham’s new ground in their Premier League win over Crystal Palace last week.

Six days later, he was once again the toast of the 62 062 crowd.

“I like this stadium, it is amazing to play here, I am grateful for the opportunity to play at this stadium,” Son said.

While Tottenham have control of the tie, Son warned that they will need another herculean effort to knock out City at the Etihad Stadium on April 17.

“It will be very tough, but we performed well, we fight well,” he said.

“We should just enjoy like we did today and fight altogether.”

Champions League: Ronaldo Returns For Juventus Against Ajax

Cristiano Ronaldo returns for Juventus in Wednesday’s Champions League quarter-final first leg against Ajax in Amsterdam, a tie between two grand European names that is also an enticing repeat of the 1996 final.

Ronaldo suffered a thigh injury playing for Portugal late last month and has not featured for Juventus since netting a stunning hat-trick to dump out Atletico Madrid in the last 16 in early March, missing his club’s last four Serie A matches.

“Cristiano has trained with the team and is available. As long as nothing happens tonight or tomorrow morning, he will start,” Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri said on Tuesday evening at the Johan Cruyff Arena.

The return of the competition’s all-time top scorer is a big boost for Juve, who without him have moved to within a point of an eighth straight Serie A title.

“Cristiano looks the same as ever. He’s in good shape, a very important player for us, as everyone knows, and we are happy he’ll be with us,” said defender Daniele Rugani, who is set to start in place of the injured Giorgio Chiellini.

Ronaldo has scored 24 goals for Juve this season and 124 in total in the Champions League, a tournament he has won five times, including in the last three seasons with Real.

His goals in the last 16 rescued Juventus after they lost 2-0 at Atletico in the first leg, and Allegri warned his team not to repeat that performance here. “We cannot think of leaving here without a goal,” he said.

If Ronaldo’s move to Juventus for 100 million euros ($117 million) heralded the end of an era in Madrid, the Spanish side’s reign as kings of Europe was really finished when they were humbled by Ajax in the last round.

The Dutch club recorded a stunning 4-1 win away in the second leg to advance 5-3 on aggregate and reach their first Champions League quarter-final since 2003.

– Rich history –
Ajax have won the trophy four times, beating Juventus 1-0 in the 1973 final in Belgrade with Cruyff as captain and Johnny Rep scoring the winner.

However, it is the 1996 final defeat on penalties against Juve in Rome which really still rankles. Ajax were the holders at the time but felt they were cheated following allegations of doping by their opponents, although Juve always denied those.

It was only just after that final that Ajax moved to their current home, but it is a stadium dripping with history, with the bust of Cruyff at the entrance and the photographs of past stars lining the walls.

Yet in the modern game, Ajax are the gatecrashers, the first Dutch quarter-finalists for 12 years.

“For Ajax, it is very important to play the quarter-finals but also financially the circumstances have really changed in recent years and for a country like the Netherlands it’s really difficult to get to this stage,” coach Erik ten Hag said.

– ‘Football has to surprise people’ –
Ajax’s revenue for last season was under 100 million euros, barely a quarter of Juve’s.

“It’s not only good for Ajax but also for the Champions League as it’s not good that each year the same seven or eight clubs get to the quarter-finals and win the Champions League,” insisted the coach.

“That is not what supporters want. Football has to surprise people and it’s very nice that we can be the surprise this year.”

Ajax’s success this season has come thanks to a mixture of young stars like captain Matthijs de Ligt and Barcelona-bound Frenkie de Jong, and more experienced players like Dusan Tadic.

They are still fighting on three fronts, and in some ways, this tie is a bonus for a club whose priority is really winning a first Dutch title since 2014.

“We have a lot of young players and we were lacking the middle category in terms of age. This season you can see the success of that balance,” said Ten Hag of his squad.

Barcelona must kill off comeback kings Man Utd

Gerard Pique says Barcelona must learn from last season’s Champions League collapse against Roma and be wary of Manchester United’s powers of recovery ahead of Wednesday’s quarterfinal clash.

Defender Pique, who was part of the United squad that won the European Cup in 2008 before returning to Catalonia, was on the winning side as Barca beat United in Champions League finals in 2009 and 2011.

Pique won the tournament for a fourth time in 2015 but in each season since, the Spanish league leaders have fallen at the quarterfinal stage.

The most painful exit came last year when they blew a 4-1 first leg lead by losing 3-0 to Roma to bow out on away goals.

United are in the last eight for just the second time since the sides last met in the final, but also showed their capacity to fight back by overturning a 2-0 first-leg defeat at home to beat big-spending Paris Saint-Germain in the last 16.

“The game against PSG is a great example. They (PSG) were better, but you cannot let United off the hook because they have a great team and a great history as they showed in Paris,” Pique said on Tuesday.

“We learned (from Roma) that things happen, even if it seemed unimaginable that they will.

“We learned that you cannot let an opponent back into a tie if they are not killed off. That will help us for facing a team like United.

“If at any point we can kill off the tie, we have to do it.”

Tasked with derailing Barca’s bid for a third treble since 2009 and stopping an in-form Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez, United will be cast in the role of underdog just as they were in the last round.

The appointment of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as the new permanent manager of the English giants has coincided with a dip in form, with United losing three of their four games since winning in Paris.

But the Norwegian is also seeking inspiration from the PSG tie and believes his side have learned from what they did wrong in losing the first leg on home soil.

“Of course when you get Barcelona, with the quality of their team, we know we need to step up our game,” said Solskjaer.

“We know we need to perform to our best levels, which we didn’t against PSG at home. The outcome of the second leg against PSG has given the players and supporters belief that the same is possible against Barcelona.”

UNITED COMEBACK

United’s comeback at the Parc des Princes was even more remarkable as Solskjaer was without 10 first-team players.

He is short-handed once more, with Ander Herrera, Antonio Valencia and Eric Bailly absent through injury.

However, Solskjaer is hopeful that Marcus Rashford and Nemanja Matic will be fit for the first leg despite failing to take a full part in training on Tuesday.

“He needed an extra warm-up and hopefully he won’t get a reaction,” said Solskjaer on Rashford’s fitness. “Let’s see tomorrow, but hopefully he can be ready.”

With Rashford a doubt, United are even more in need of an inspirational performance from Paul Pogba.

The Frenchman will return from suspension after being sent off in the first-leg defeat to PSG.

Pogba has yet to truly shine on the Champions League stage for United but with speculation he could be tempted by a summer move to Real Madrid, Solskjaer called on the club’s record signing to focus on his job tomorrow and rise to the big occasion.

“At Paul’s best he can run a game like this,” said Solskjaer. “Paul is looking forward to tomorrow. He is a Manchester United player and he is one of our big performers on the big stage.

“He knows the game against PSG was not his greatest moment. He is only focused on tomorrow playing well against Barcelona and I cannot see him not playing for Manchester United next season.”

Aguero returns for City’s Spurs showdown

Sergio Aguero was fit to take his place in Manchester City’s starting line-up for their Champions League quarterfinal first leg at Tottenham on Tuesday.

Aguero had missed City’s last two matches against Cardiff and Brighton after suffering a muscle injury during their Premier League win at Fulham on March 30.

But the Argentine striker, City’s all-time leading goal-scorer, was declared ready to return for the clash with their Premier League rivals at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

City manager Pep Guardiola, hoping to win an unprecedented quadruple this season, freshened up his team with four changes following their lethargic 1-0 FA Cup semifinal victory against Brighton on Saturday.

Aguero replaced Gabriel Jesus, who scored the winner against Brighton, while Fabian Delph played at left-back instead of Benjamin Mendy.

Riyad Mahrez came in for Bernardo Silva and Fernandinho was selected instead of Kevin De Bruyne.

Tottenham were at full strength for their first Champions League quarterfinal since 2011.

Mauricio Pochettino handed a place to midfielder Harry Winks, who is making his first start since the beginning of March following a groin injury.

Harry Kane led the Tottenham attack, with Christian Eriksen, Dele Alli and Son Heung-Min in support.

Starting line-ups for the Champions League quarterfinal, first leg between Tottenham and Manchester City at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Tuesday (kick-off 1900 GMT)

Mane steps out from Salah’s shadow

Sadio Mane has grown used to playing second fiddle to Mohamed Salah in the two seasons since the latter joined the Senegalese at Liverpool.

However, the fact Jurgen Klopp’s men top the Premier League in their quest to end a 29-year wait to win the title and face Porto in the first leg of a Champions League quarterfinal at Anfield on Tuesday, is largely thanks to Mane.

As Salah’s goals dried up in an eight-game drought prior to Friday’s 3-1 win at Southampton, Mane assumed the mantle as chief goal getter with 11 in his last 13 Liverpool appearances taking his tally for the season to 20.

That run included a double away to Bayern Munich last month that eased the five-time European champions past the German giants and eyeing another shot at Champions League glory.

His first goal in particular at the Allianz Arena was a demonstration in the 26-year-old’s pace, skill and calmness in front of goal.

Mane controlled a raking long pass from Virgil van Dijk, rounded Manuel Neuer and then dinked the ball into an unguarded net.

“I’m going to have to watch back 500 times,” admitted Klopp after the game. “It’s astounding what he did.”

Mane scored 10 Champions League goals in all last season, including in the final.

However, his brave header in Kiev to bring Liverpool briefly level was quickly forgotten amid the furore over Salah’s early shoulder injury that saw him hobble off and aided Real Madrid’s route to a third straight European title.

While Salah now carries himself with a swagger from the star status he has earned over the past two years, Mane’s humble nature means he often remains under the radar for a player of his quality.

In September he was filmed helping to clean the toilets at his local mosque just hours after scoring in a vital away win at Leicester.

Last week in an internal interview with Liverpool’s club media, he detailed a daily routine that consists of healthy eating, prayer and early nights.

“That’s how a normal day for me looks. This is my dream, this is something I’ve always wanted to do, and I am so grateful that I am able to do it now,” he said.

“My dream came true, to play for one of the biggest clubs in Europe with a great team, a great manager.”

Porto are already very aware of the threat Mane poses.

When the sides met in the last of the Champions League last season, he scored a hat-trick in a 5-0 first leg rout in northern Portugal that killed the tie as a contest before it even returned to fortress Anfield.

This time round, Liverpool will be keen to get the job done in the first leg on home soil.

Klopp’s men have not made life easy for themselves in recent weeks on league duty, requiring late goals to see off Fulham, Tottenham and Southampton to keep their title dreams alive.

However, just by keeping pace with quadruple chasing Manchester City all season, they have shown a maturity and mental strength that has evolved from the kamikaze matches that carried them to last season’s final.

“The boys are mentality monsters – I love that,” said Klopp after victory at Southampton.

Moreover, unlike when Sergio Ramos’s takedown of Salah seemed to suck belief from Liverpool against Madrid almost a year ago, they now have a cast of characters capable of stepping up.

Goalkeeper Alisson Becker and talismanic centre-back Van Dijk have strengthened the defence.

And, at the other end, Mane has shown he can be counted on at the business end of the season.

MFM FC lose in Ilorin with own goal

A 54th minute own goal by Olawale Abisoye on Sunday gave hosts Kwara United Football Club of Ilorin a 1-0 win over visiting MFM FC of Lagos.

The win was in a Group A Match Day 14 fixture of the 2018/2019 Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL).

Abisoye scored against his team in an attempt to clear his line after Kwara United’s Shamsuden Hashim had ran clear of the visitors’ defenceline

Kwara United would have been ahead in the third minute when Uwana Asuquo was afforded much time and space to unleash a right-footed effort which went close.

The hosts dominated the early proceedings, but could have equally found themselves behind as goalkeeper Olawale Oremade dropped a cross under no pressure.

But Temim Adebayo could not score from six yards, to the relief of many at the Kwara Stadium Complex in Ilorin.

At the other end, Lookman Binuyo’s corner kick was met by Sunday Akinmoladun whose header was comfortably gathered by Olatunji Odekunle with half an hour gone.

Both sides came close to finding the back of the net in the closing stages of the first half.

Ernest Chidiebere got at the end of a throw-in, but saw his attempt cleared before MFM FC’s Michael Ohanu tame effort was saved by goalkeeper Oremade.

Kwara United nearly doubled the lead, when Binuyo once again was the architect of a move down the left wing.

His pullout was volleyed towards goal by Uche Onwuasonaya with Olatunji beaten, but Jonathan Zikiye was on hand to clear.

MFM FC nearly got an equaliser with fifteen minutes to go, when Akuneto Chijioke connected Zikiye’s throw-in but Chinedu Nwanze cleared his line.

The hosts kept their nerves during the closing stages of the game to hang on to the maximum three points.

MFM FC’s coach Fidelis Ilechukwu, who conceded defeat in his reactions to the result, said he was happy with his players’ performance.

“The better side won. They are very strong at home. We came here with a game plan to at least pick a point, but our performance wasn’t bad” Ilechukwu said.

*NAN

Costa and Morata boost Atletico attack before Barca showdown

Atletico Madrid were handed a late boost ahead of their top-of-the-table showdown at La Liga leaders Barcelona on Saturday as strikers Alvaro Morata and Diego Costa were both passed fit for the game after recovering from injuries.

“Good news! Diego Costa and Alvaro Morata have received the medical all-clear and will be available for Barca-Atleti,” the club said on its official Twitter account on Saturday.

Costa hurt his hamstring in last Saturday’s 4-0 win at Alaves and missed Tuesday’s 2-0 win over Girona although medical tests ruled out a torn muscle. Morata sprained his ankle against Girona and looked certain to miss the game with Barca.

Atletico trail Barca by eight points at the top of La Liga with eight games remaining and realistically have to win at the Nou Camp, where they have not earned a victory since 2006, to stay in the title race.

EPL: Unai Emery reveals two most improved Arsenal players this season

Arsenal manager, Unai Emery, has singled out two of his summer signings as the most improved players in his squad this season.

They are midfielders Lucas Torreira and Matteo Guendouzi.

The Gunners took a major step towards a return to Champions League football, with a 2-0 win over Newcastle on Monday, to move up to third in the Premier League table.

Arsenal manager, Unai Emery, has singled out two of his summer signings as the most improved players in his squad this season.

They are midfielders Lucas Torreira and Matteo Guendouzi.

The Gunners took a major step towards a return to Champions League football, with a 2-0 win over Newcastle on Monday, to move up to third in the Premier League table.

Emery’s side have demonstrated outstanding home form throughout the campaign and several players have emerged as key figures in their side.

But Emery has singled out Torreira and Guendouzi as their most improved players.

When asked who is their most improved player, Emery told Copa 90: “We are 25 players, and can only play 11, 18 in the squad, it’s very difficult to give everyone an opportunity to improve.

Arsenal manager, Unai Emery, has singled out two of his summer signings as the most improved players in his squad this season.

They are midfielders Lucas Torreira and Matteo Guendouzi.

The Gunners took a major step towards a return to Champions League football, with a 2-0 win over Newcastle on Monday, to move up to third in the Premier League table.

Emery’s side have demonstrated outstanding home form throughout the campaign and several players have emerged as key figures in their side.

But Emery has singled out Torreira and Guendouzi as their most improved players.

When asked who is their most improved player, Emery told Copa 90: “We are 25 players, and can only play 11, 18 in the squad, it’s very difficult to give everyone an opportunity to improve.

“There are some players maybe you can see this year this improvement – Lucas Torreira, Matteo (Guendouzi).

“The first time in the Premier League, in this difficult competition, and they are improving I think well.

“Maybe also sometimes the experienced players help them to do better, with their adaptation to the Premier.

Pele inspires Mbappe to score 1000 goals

Football legend Pele told Kylian Mbappe on Tuesday that he believes the French World Cup winner can emulate his own achievement of scoring 1,000 career goals.

The 78-year-old Brazilian claims to have netted over 1,000 goals in his career, while Mbappe has so far managed 103 in total.

“It’s possible, I scored exactly 1,025, so 1,000 goals is possible for him,” Pele told AFP in Paris, where he met Mbappe at an event sponsored by Hublot.

Mbappe, who last year became only the second teenager to score in a World Cup final after Pele in France’s 4-2 victory over Croatia, played down Pele’s comments.

“I think that even if we count the goals on inter-city pitches and goals on the PlayStation, I won’t be able to reach the 1,000-goal mark,” said the 20-year-old Paris Saint-Germain forward.

“We will try to get as close as we can, but I think I’ll be a long way off it at the end of my career.”

Mbappe has scored 32 goals in all competitions for PSG this season, including 27 from only 24 Ligue 1 appearances.

Barcelona drop points in Villareal

Barcelona dropped a surprising two points at Villareal on Tuesday night, although they staged a stunning comeback, after trailing the hosts 2-4, to snatch a point.

The introduction of Lionel Messi as a substitute for Philippe Coutinho at the 63rd minute after Vicente Iborra had netted the third goal for Villareal, appeared to have changed the course of play.

Messi and Luis Suarez combined to turn the game around for Barcelona, even after Villareal added a fourth goal, to make the scoreline 2-4.

Messi, who had started on the bench, drove in a free-kick in the 90th and in the 93rd, Suarez fired in a devastating half-volley to earn Barca a 4-4 draw and an unlikely point.

Combined with Atletico’s earlier 2-0 victory over Girona, the result means the gap at the top is reduced to eight points ahead of this weekend’s top of the table meeting but Ernesto Valverde’s side celebrated Suarez’s goal like it was a winner.

“In the end it is only a point but there is a certain feeling after coming back from two goals down in the last minute,” Valverde said.

Ex-Arsenal star, Santi Cazorla inspired struggling Villarreal to lead the Catalans 4-2 going into the final minute.

Cazorla, meanwhile, sank to his knees, a chance spurned for Villarreal to pull four points clear of the relegation zone, with Celta Vigo, now only two behind, still to play Huesca on Wednesday.

They had come from two down, as Samuel Chukwueze and Karl Toko Ekambi cancelled out early goals from Philippe Coutinho and Malcom. Vicente Iborra and Carlos Bacca looked to have sealed an incredible win, only for Messi and Suarez to intervene.

The pair have now scored 51 goals between them in the league this season, just one shy of the total managed by Real Madrid.

“The spirit we showed at the end, to refuse to give in, to come back in the last minute – we showed that we want to win this league,” said Suarez.

Rested along with Gerard Pique and Ivan Rakitic, it seemed Barcelona would not need Messi as Coutinho tapped in a pass by Malcom, who then headed in Arturo Vidal’s cross for a 2-0 lead after 16 minutes.

But Villarreal sprung into life, revived by Chukwueze, who pulled one back seven minutes later. A sumptuous flick by Iborra launched the counter-attack and Cazorla sent the striker clear. Chukwueze’s shot struck the post but cannoned back to him and this time, he guided it into the far corner.

Any control Barcelona had increasingly gave way to chaos, particularly on the break, where Villarreal broke through almost at will. Toko Ekambi’s equaliser shortly after half-time looked like a fluke but perhaps he meant it.

Barcelona will next meet Atletico Madrid at Nou Camp on Saturday.