Simeone concedes 'it is not easy' for Atletico to compete with Madrid

By Sports Desk May 25, 2024

Diego Simeone believes Atletico Madrid have fallen short of their objectives this season, but conceded it is difficult to compete with the "best team in the world" in Real Madrid.

Although they are set for a fourth-place finish in LaLiga, Los Rojiblancos are 21 points adrift of Carlo Ancelotti's newly crowned champions. 

Atleti fell to Borussia Dortmund following a 5-4 aggregate defeat in the Champions League quarter-finals, while they were soundly beaten by Athletic Club in the Copa del Rey semi-finals.

And as a third successive trophyless season comes to pass at the Metropolitano Stadium, Simeone admits his side could have done better.

"We have the responsibility to get into the Champions League every year. You can be left out, but you can also be champions," he told reporters ahead of Atletico's final LaLiga game of the campaign against Real Sociedad.

"But with Real Madrid, who are the best team in the world and will continue to be because they have rejuvenated the squad, it is not easy.

"We have to keep working at 120 per cent because 100 per cent is not enough, and 80 per cent is even less to be able to get closer to them, keeping in mind that those below us are also improving.

"We were close to the Copa del Rey final and were expecting to reach the semi-finals of the Champions League. We created the illusion of being in a possible final, and we weren't able to do it, so now we have to think about what comes next to improve things.

"I have had players who have allowed me to compete as we have done since I arrived, and a coaching staff where everyone who has walked this path has given maximum effort. There is always room for improvement and growth."

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    As Jamaica’s senior Reggae Boyz gear up for their highly anticipated Copa America campaign, two players, Michael Hector and Wes Harding, find themselves at different junctures of their international careers. Despite their varied experiences and career timelines, both England-born defenders are eager to leave a significant mark on Jamaica's journey in the tournament.

    Hector has been a stalwart in the Reggae Boyz setup for over a decade in which he paraded his skills at three Concacaf Gold Cup tournaments –2015, 2019, 2021 –and he is now on the cusp of making his third Copa America outing.

    In fact, Hector, known for his versatility and composure, is the only player in Heimir Hallgrimsson’s current squad, who has the privilege of being a part of three Copa America squads over the years.

    “Obviously my first Copa America appearance was my debut and I’ll never forget that. Obviously, massive games, great atmosphere and I don’t get to appreciate it much, but when you’re in a tournament, you obviously know how big it is with the countries that are playing in it, so it is a special tournament to be a part of,” Hector said in an interview with Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) media, on Monday.

    As he reflected on the journey, which has been marked by consistent performances and a deep-rooted commitment to the country, Hector also shared his excitement about their prospects on this occasion.

    The 31-year-old’s leadership and defensive prowess will be crucial for Jamaica, as they rub shoulders with some of the most formidable teams in South America, as well their usual foes from Concacaf. His ability to read the game, coupled with his calm presence on the field, provides the Reggae Boyz with a solid defensive foundation.

    “For me, every cap I got, every time I can have a chance to represent this country, it's an honour and I always try do my best. The journey has been special, but it has not ended. Hopefully, there's a lot more special moments to come, special nights, and special days, but, it's been a fantastic journey, one that I always treasure and want to be a part of for longer,” Hector noted.

    Michael Hector challenges Lionel Messi during the 2015 Copa America.

    Though only two caps into his international career, Harding, like Hector, is determined to play a key role in Jamaica's campaign, aiming to do his teammates and family proud on his long-awaited return.

    “It's amazing to be back. It's been a while, over two years now, so, I’m over the moon. It's been a long, gruelling time waiting, watching from the distance, so, when he [Hallgrimsson] called me, I was really excited," said Harding, who made his debut against Serbia in 2021.

    At 27, Harding, known for his speed and aerial ability, is also rated as a strong, aggressive, and tenacious player, who can contribute to Hallgrimsson’s team in the right back or centre back positions.

    With Copa America representing a unique opportunity for Harding to again showcase his talent on an international stage against some of the world's best teams, he is ready to navigate the challenges to come.

    Jamaica's Reggae Boyz will open against Mexico on Saturday.

    "Yeah, of course, that first time (I represented Jamaica) was beautiful. I remember playing really well, I really enjoyed it, and then obviously the last time is Panama, which was so long ago as well. But, I'm just really excited to be here,” Harding beamed with delight.

    “It feels good to be back with a squad. I know a lot of the players, played against them as well, so, we've got a really good squad here and I am really looking forward to it. As I said, it (Copa America) is a big thing. This is, like the Euros (European Championships) over this side of the world, so, yeah, it is really amazing to be in, and I can't wait to get started,” the Millwall FC man said with an air of confidence.

    The Reggae Boyz, who are set to open their Group B account against perennial rivals Mexico on Saturday, will be aiming to be more formidable than they were in the recent World Cup qualifying fixtures.

    To do that, they will have to display indomitable spirit and resilience, especially as they chase history, of not only securing a point or win, but more importantly, possibly progressing beyond the group stages on this occasion. Venezuela and Ecuador are the other teams in the group at the tournament being hosted by the United States.

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    Los Angeles FC head coach Steve Cherundolo is hoping to maintain their "contagious" winning feeling when they travel to the Q2 Stadium to take on Austin FC. 

    The Black and Gold are unbeaten in their previous six MLS fixtures after emerging 3–1 victors away at Orlando City last time out to keep them within striking distance of league leaders Real Salt Lake.

    Cherundolo's team have the comfort of an extra game in hand over the surrounding sides, but the 45-year-old wants an improved performance after their display last week. 

    "Winning is contagious, and winning is important," Cherundolo said. "Winning away from home is a lot of fun. 

    "It certainly wasn't one of our prettiest games, but we had solutions at times, but not all the time. We were hoping to manage our game a little better in possession, but we were unable to do that. 

    "That is what we will take away for something to improve on, but the result, the effort are some big pluses to take away from tonight."

    Meanwhile, Austin are eighth in the Western Conference having suffered a third consecutive defeat as they went down to the Colorado Rapids.

    Austin are winless in their last three games against their opponents, and head coach Josh Wolff expects another difficult encounter on Thursday. 

    "LAFC are one of the best teams in the league," Wolff began. "They have enough weapons, and their attacking players are ruthless and are extremely dangerous.

    "For me they are the best team in the league once again. I think they have so much talent and so much depth which goes a long way in this league. If it's a difficult day, they still have players to make plays. 

    "We have got to do better with our chances. Our key players have to perform and execute."

    PLAYERS TO WATCH

    Austin FC – Sebastian Driussi

    The Austin captain will hope to mark his 100th appearance for the club with a goal, and is currently the top scorer for the Verde and Black's with five goals. 

    LAFC – Mateusz Bogusz

    Mateusz Bogusz has been involved in a goal in six consecutive league matches with four goals and two assists. 

    Only Carlos Vela (11 in 2019-20) has produced more in LAFC history, while only two players (Luciano Acosta - nine, Lionel Messi - eight) have had a longer streak in MLS this season.

    MATCH PREDICTION: LAFC WIN

    LAFC enter the contest as the favourites to emerge with the three points.

    Cherundolo's side have won eight consecutive matches in all competitions. The only MLS team to win nine straight matches outright (excluding breakaway shootout wins) in all competitions were the Seattle Sounders in 2018.

    The Black and Gold's are unbeaten in their last three meetings with Austin scoring at least three goals in each of those triumphs. 

    Austin's last victory over their opponents came in 2022, with the Texas side winning both of their MLS encounters with LAFC that season. 

    OPTA WIN PROBABILITY

    Austin FC - 27.6%

    Draw - 24.1%

    LAFC - 48.3%

  • Bolt undergoes successful surgery to repair ruptured Achilles Bolt undergoes successful surgery to repair ruptured Achilles

    World 100m, 200m and 4x100m record holder Usain Bolt has had a successful surgery to repair a ruptured Achilles heel.

    The eight-time Olympic gold medalist, who is 37 years old and retired in 2017, suffered the injury while playing in Soccer Aid, a match played annually to raise funds for UNICEF, on June 9 at Stamford Bridge, home of English Premier League club Chelsea FC.

    “Surgery was successful,” said Bolt on social media on Monday.

    Bolt, who has been a regular fixture in the charity game in recent years, was captaining the Soccer Aid World XI against England before going down with the injury early in the second half.

     

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