Xavi: Alaves win shows there is life in Barcelona yet

By Sports Desk January 23, 2022

Barcelona head coach Xavi says Sunday's 1-0 win at Alaves shows that there is life in the Blaugrana yet.

Frenkie de Jong netted an 88th-minute winner to clinch the points for Xavi's side, who move up to fifth in LaLiga, one point behind fourth-placed Atletico Madrid.

Barcelona bossed possession (76-24 percent) and generated 10-6 shots with 4-2 on target, getting their just reward with the Dutchman's late goal.

"It cost us a lot, but they were three crucial points and the team needed and deserved them," Xavi told reporters. "The sun has risen again, this victory shows that there is life."

He added: "It means a lot of confidence, continuing to believe in what we do."

Barcelona will enjoy a break before their next league game against Spanish champions Atletico Madrid on Sunday 6 February.

“We are in the fight, one point away from the Champions League," Xavi said. "These days are going to come in handy. They will come in very handy."

The Barcelona boss was also complimentary towards teenager Pedri, who has only just returned to the fold following a thigh injury. Pedri made his first LaLiga start since August.

"He’s a marvellous little player, and at 19, to do everything well is spectacular," Xavi said.

"How he looks in possession, how he perceives the game, he is excellent and the model player. He can lead by character, quality, ambition, it’s great to have him back in the team."

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    Spain clinched top spot in Group B at Euro 2024 with Riccardo Calafiori's own goal handing them a thoroughly deserved 1-0 win over defending champions Italy.

    Four days on from their statement 3-0 victory over Croatia, Luis de la Fuente's team produced another dominant display and should have won by a far greater margin in Gelsenkirchen.

    Some excellent goalkeeping from Gianluigi Donnarumma and wasteful finishing from Pedri kept Italy level until early in the second half, when Calafiori put through his own net.

    Luciano Spalletti's side hardly laid a glove on their opponents after that, and they now need to avoid defeat against Croatia on Monday to be certain of their place in the last 16.

    Spain, meanwhile, have the luxury of being able to rotate against Albania on matchday three, ahead of facing a third-place finisher in the last 16.

    Nico Williams teed up Pedri for an early shot that was brilliantly saved by Donnarumma before somehow heading wide when picked out unmarked by Alvaro Morata.

    La Roja kept the pressure on, but they found Donnarumma in inspired form. 

    The goalkeeper stood firm to keep out Morata's near-post strike before getting a fingertip to Fabian Ruiz's rasping drive to turn it over the crossbar. 

    Seven minutes into the second half, Spain created their best chance yet as Marc Cucurella got forward on the underlap to square for Pedri, who failed to sort his feet out and side-footed wide from eight yards out. 

    They finally made the breakthrough three minutes later, but it came via an Azzurri player as Donnarumma tipped Morata's header against the unfortunate Calafiori.

    Lamine Yamal went close with a curling effort from outside the area, then Williams almost scored one of the goals of the tournament, a mazy run down the left ending with a thunderous strike that left the crossbar shaking.

    Spain held Italy at arm's length in the closing stages and should have added a second goal in stoppage time, only for Donnarumma to deny Ayoze Perez with a fine one-on-one save. 

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    Many expected to see Italy go toe-to-toe with Spain in a battle of two high-pressing, possession-focused sides. Instead, La Roja made it one of the most one-sided games of the tournament to date.

    Italy's first shot of any kind came via Federico Chiesa in first-half stoppage time, with their only attempt on target arriving when Bryan Cristante headed straight at Unai Simon four minutes from full-time.

    Overall, they attempted just four shots worth 0.22 expected goals (xG), with Spain registering 1.9 xG from 20 attempts.

    Italy's woes were compounded when Calafiori put through his own net, becoming the first Italian to score an own goal at the Euros and just the second to do so at a major tournament, after Cristian Zaccardo against the United States in the 2006 World Cup.

    The Azzurri, of course, won that tournament on German soil 18 years ago, but they looked a long way off Spain, who have now benefitted from four own goals from opposition players at the Euros, the joint most in the competition's history, alongside France. 

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    On Wednesday, it was his opposite winger Williams who did the damage. 

    When the in-demand 21-year-old was substituted in the 78th minute, he led all players on the pitch for chances created (four), dribbles attempted (11) and completed (four, alongside Yamal) and touches in the opposition area (eight).

    Williams was also heavily involved in the build-up to the goal and was desperately unlucky not to get on the scoresheet himself when he rattled the woodwork.

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    It was during that time when she rubbed shoulders with the boys in her community that her talent quickly became evident, resulting in her inclusion in local teams and, eventually, Jamaica’s national programme.

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    Brown puts pen to paper

    “I remember when I just started playing football with the boys in my community, I always aspired to play professionally, and to do so with a club like Benfica is an incredible honour. It’s a nice club, with a lot of history and I always strived to ensure that whichever club I join is one where I can improve and develop my game at a different level. So I’m really excited to join Benfica and can’t wait to get started,” she declared.

    Brown's rise in football has been somewhat meteoric, as she first captured international attention at the Under-15 level and she hasn’t looked back since.

    In fact, Brown is one of only a few players who have so far represented the country at all four levels — Under-15, Under-17, Under-20 and now the senior level. And she has done so with distinction, as she played a crucial role in Jamaica's historic qualification for the 2019 and 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cups.

    "Being a part of Jamaica’s Reggae Girlz has been an amazing experience. It's where I learned to handle pressure and developed my game against some of the best players in the world and I can say that those experiences have prepared me for this next step in my career,” she shared.

    “If I should attribute my rise to this level to anything, I would say it is a testament of all the hard work, dedication, and support from my family, coaches, and teammates over the years,” added Brown, who recently assisted Florida State University to the NCAA Division 1 Women's Championship and their retention of the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship title last season.

    Brown shares the occasion with former Reggae Girlz Head coach Hue Menzies.

    Standing at a shade over 5ft 2in, Brown’s physical presence is by no means imposing, but when the ball is at her feet, she is bound to cause all kinds of problems. It is that explosiveness and the ease at which she glides past opponents on occasions that will make the Reggae Girlz winger a key factor at SL Benfica.

    Beyond that, Brown, who has a Bachelor's degree in Humanities, believes the club’s strong commitment to developing talent, coupled with the fact that the Portuguese league is known for its technical style of play, provides the perfect environment for her to continue her growth.

    “The opportunity to train and play at such a high level is something I'm really looking forward to as I always aim to grow more as a player and a person, so I can't wait to learn from my new teammates and coaches and to contribute to the team's success. Benfica has a fantastic reputation, and I'm excited to be part of this club's journey,” she noted.

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    Benfica, the current champions of Portugal, will be involved in Champions League football next season.

    “⁠I’m just ready to get settled and hopefully achieve all the goals of the team. I’m ready to adapt in every way possible because that’s a part of the journey of wanting to be the best person or player in an environment where you are not afraid to be yourself. I know what I’m capable of doing and I’m just going to continue learning and improving,” the soft-spoken player said with an air of confidence.

    Brown shows off her team scarf.

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    “It shows that with talent and determination, they too can reach the pinnacle of the sport. We knew she was going to be a special player, so we invested the effort to get her through the process, because she was only 14, so we had to get her acclimated academically and then get her into the youth club system.

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