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UCL: Late Milan winner stuns Atletico, blows qualification race wide open

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Atletico Madrid’s chances of reaching the Champions League last 16 were dealt a hammer blow on Wednesday after a 1-0 defeat by AC Milan left them needing to win at Porto in their final game in Group B.

A scrappy contest at the Wanda Metropolitano looked set to end goalless until Milan substitute Junior Messias headed home a dramatic winner in the 87th minute to leave Atletico staring down the barrel of an early exit.

Messias’ goal not only means Atleti will need a victory instead of a draw in Porto on December 7 but it also brings Milan back to life, as they sit just a point behind Porto ahead of their closing match against Liverpool at the San Siro.

Atletico Madrid are level on points with Milan but beneath them on goal difference, with qualification even to the Europa League now far from certain.

All but two of Atleti’s previous 11 Champions League group appearances have seen them reach the last 16 while Milan are participating at this stage for the first time since 2014.

But Milan deserved their late winner, after showing far more ambition in a game that Atleti contributed very little to in any creative sense.

Both teams came in without the assurance of recent victories, with Milan, second in Serie A, losing to Fiorentina last weekend on the back of a draw against Inter.

Atletico sit fourth in LaLiga and have endured a mixed start to the season, from which the biggest doubts have arisen around an increasingly leaky defence. Their win over Osasuna on Saturday was only their second in seven matches.

Their best chance of the first half came in the third minute as Yannick Carrasco crossed and Rodrigo de Paul’s attempted finish brushed the outside of ....

The rest of the opening 45 minutes was short on quality, with both teams let down by a lack of precision in the final third.

Milan, though, were the chief aggressors and while Atletico allowed frustration with the referee to grow, their biggest problem was escaping the Milan press, which for long spells contained them in their own half.

Theo Hernandez, who came through the youth set-up at Atletico only to leave for Real Madrid in 2017, for which he was consistently whistled throughout, perhaps had Milan’s clearest opportunity but he lashed wide at the far post.

Milan were still the more cohesive team early in the second half, with Simon Kjaer heading over from a crossed free-kick.

Diego Simeone brought on Angel Correa and Renan Lodi while Stefano Pioli introduced four substitutes, including the 40-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

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Read Also: UCL: Benzema nets as Real Madrid beat Sheriff to reach last 16

Two of them combined to create a golden chance in the 71st minute, Messias freed down the left and pulling back for Tiemoue Bakayoko eight yards out but his finish was blocked by the right knee of Stefan Savic.

Atletico were wilting and Milan sniffed a winner. Ibrahimovic was slipped through but denied by a brilliant left-handed save by Jan Oblak and if that was a warning, Atletico failed to heed it, because moments later Messias headed in.

Franck Kessie hooked a superb left-footed cross into the middle, where Messias found a gap three yards out. The Milan bench sprawled onto the pitch in celebration.

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Musa Barrow revels in Gambia’s stunning Afcon run

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Musa Barrow could be forgiven for seeing himself as the superstar in tiny Gambia as the country’s football team prepare for their first ever Africa Cup of Nations quarterfinal.

 

The 23-year-old forward plays regularly in Serie A and is fresh from scoring the goal that took the Scorpions into the last eight and a tie against hosts Cameroon in Douala, but his humility shines through.

“Some might say I am one of the big players in this team but I don’t see myself as a big player. I see myself as equal to everyone. You have to stay humble and help others,” he tells AFP at the team’s base in Cameroon’s economic capital.

“Even if you are a big player you have to earn your place and give everything.

“It is our first time in the Afcon. Who knows when we will come back again? So I have to live and enjoy this moment.”

Barrow’s superb goal clinched a 1-0 win for Gambia over Guinea in the last 16 to set up a date with the Indomitable Lions, but even before that this Cup of Nations had been an extraordinary success for Tom Saintfiet’s team.

The west African nation of 2.5 million people which hugs the Gambia river is the smallest country on the African mainland.

The Scorpions had never come close to qualifying for a major tournament before, and yet they made it through their group by beating Mauritania and Tunisia either side of a draw with Mali.

Barrow coolly converted a last-minute penalty to secure a point against Mali and sent stunning free-kicks off the woodwork in that game and against Tunisia.

Needless to say the team are well aware of the impact their run is having back home.

“After the game my big brother called me and you could see all the people outside celebrating,” Barrow says.

“Everyone is happy back home. It is a small nation. We love football. People learn football from the street so coming to this Afcon, reaching this stage is a big improvement and it is going to take the Gambian name to higher heights.”

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Barrow is one of a handful of Gambian players based in Italy, having been at Atalanta before joining Bologna in January 2020.

Each has his own story. The 20-year-old midfielder Ebrima Darboe is now playing under Jose Mourinho at Roma having travelled alone to Libya aged 15 before a perilous boat journey over the Mediterranean.

As for Barrow, the boy from Banjul was still a teenager when he was given the opportunity by Atalanta to move to Bergamo.

“My Mum, who is a teacher, didn’t allow me to travel but eventually I got the chance to go to study and then have trials at Atalanta.

“They liked me and so I had a chance to become a professional player. Then you have education and you have football and you have to drop education for football, but I am happy that it worked out for me.”

He has been a revelation at Bologna since joining in January 2020 and netting nine goals in his first half-season in Serie A.

Read Also: Stallions look to gallop into AFCON semifinals

A further eight goals followed last season and five more so far in this campaign, and Barrow is flourishing there under the management of Sinisa Mihajlovic.

“Mihajlovic played a huge part in my career, so I am very happy and I can’t thank him enough.

“Like every player you want to reach a higher stage of football. Playing in the Champions League, playing in bigger leagues, but it depends on the hard work you put in.”

First of all, though, it is Cameroon on Saturday, and a Gambia win would be one of the all-time great Afcon shocks.

“We have nothing to lose but they are the host nation. If they lose it is going to be a big disaster for them.”

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Howe expects more business as Newcastle close in on Guimaraes

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Newcastle boss Eddie Howe said on Friday that the club would remain active in the January transfer window as Brazilian midfielder Bruno Guimaraes is reportedly set to join from Lyon.

Three months after a takeover from the Saudi sovereign wealth fund the Magpies are flexing their financial muscles in a bid to avoid relegation from the Premier League.

While Newcastle have won only two games all season and are in the relegation zone, they are only one point adrift of safety.

Howe’s squad has already been bolstered this month by the arrivals of English international Kieran Trippier and striker Chris Wood from relegation rivals Burnley.

Guimaraes looks set to be next through the door at St. James’ Park with a deal worth up to £40 million reportedly agreed between the clubs for the 24-year-old, who is currently on international duty with Brazil.

“We are hopeful we are getting close to completing a transfer,” Howe said during a press conference from a training camp in Jeddah. “You can guess (who it is) if you want but there’ll be no confirmation from me.”

And the former Bournemouth boss is expecting more business to be done before Monday’s transfer deadline.

“From my perspective I don’t imagine that would be the end of our interest in bringing new players in,” he added

“Whether that turns into reality, who knows? Things change very late in this window as everybody knows, it can be quite unpredictable in the last couple of days.

“We’re open. We’re working hard to improve the squad. Our biggest aim is to give the team the best chance of staying in the league.”

Read Also: Stallions look to gallop into AFCON semifinals

The takeover backed by Saudi’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) was fiercely criticised by human rights groups.

Accusations of sportswashing by the Gulf Kingdom have reemerged this week as the Newcastle squad travelled to Saudi.

Howe said he had met the club’s chairman and governor of the PIF Yasir Al-Rumayyan.

“I’ve spoken with the chairman, we met him and that was a great experience to hear his thoughts on the club and his vision and how the future looks,” added Howe.

“The players enjoyed that, I enjoyed that and a lot of people around the PIF team have been around here as well so it was a very good experience to bring everybody closer together.”

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EPL: Rooney turns down approach from Everton

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Derby manager Wayne Rooney said on Friday he turned down the chance to be interviewed by Everton to stay with the financially stricken Championship club.

The former England and Manchester United captain had two spells with his boyhood club Everton as a player.

However, the lure of a return to Goodison Park was not enough for Rooney to give up on the challenge of keeping the Rams in the second tier of English football despite a 21-point deduction due to financial problems.

Derby are second bottom of the Championship, but just eight points adrift of safety.

“Everton approached my agent and asked me to interview for the vacant job, which I turned down,” Rooney told a press conference.

“I believe I will be a Premier League manager. I believe I’m ready for that, 100 per cent. And if that is with Everton one day in the future that would be absolutely great.

“But I’ve got a job here that I’m doing at Derby County which is an important job to me.”

Derby went into administration in September and there remain fears the club may not have the funds to fulfil their fixtures for the rest of the season.

On Thursday, the English Football League (EFL) handed the club’s administrators a one-month extension to be able to provide proof of funding.

Rooney’s reluctance to return to Everton is also a reflection on the state of affairs at the Premier League club.

The Toffees are four points clear of the relegation zone after a dismal run of just one win in 14 league games.

Rafael Benitez, who had been a deeply unpopular appointment due to his history as a former Liverpool manager, was sacked by Everton earlier this month.

Fans protested after last weekend’s 1-0 home defeat to Aston Villa and throughout this week outside Goodison Park.

Rooney’s former England teammate Frank Lampard is now the leading candidate for the job after supporters voiced their opposition to the prospect of Vitor Pereira taking over.

Read Also: Stallions look to gallop into AFCON semifinals

Pereira has won league titles in Portugal, Greece and China, but he is deemed a risky appointment given his lack of experience in English football.

Objections to Pereira’s appointment are also rooted in resentment at agent Kia Joorabchian’s reported influence on key decisions made by Everton owner Farhad Moshiri.

“I think these critics are not directed at me. It is the environment now as the club is not in a good position and the supporters are passionate,” Pereira told Sky Sports.

“But I understand the feelings of the supporters because, in the last few years, the club didn’t get good results and it is normal they are not happy.”

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