Xavi refuses to give up on LaLiga title after Barca edge Sevilla

By Sports Desk April 03, 2022

Xavi promised Barcelona will "keep fighting" until it is mathematically impossible to win the LaLiga title after moving into second place on Sunday.

A hard-fought 1-0 win against Sevilla at Camp Nou came thanks to a well-taken Pedri goal, and it saw Barca leapfrog their opponents and Atletico Madrid in the table.

They remain 12 points adrift of leaders Real Madrid, but Barca ended Sevilla's 15-game unbeaten run in the league, and are now undefeated in 14 LaLiga games themselves.

Speaking after the victory, Xavi was upbeat despite the big gap between his team and Madrid, who Barcelona thrashed 4-0 at the Santiago Bernabeu in their last game away from home.

"I am very positive, I believe in work, effort, sacrifice and collective work," Xavi told reporters. "We are very good. We are supportive, we all work, we run. With this base, the results should come.

"This is the best moment of the season. We have dominated a great opponent, with the best defence in LaLiga. [Sevilla] are a super team, and [Julen] Lopetegui is a magnificent coach."

Barca have now kept a clean sheet in three consecutive league games at Camp Nou for the first time since a run of four between February and June in 2020.

Xavi said his team did not think about "sending a message", but he was pleased with the efforts of the fans and insisted the players will try to chase down Madrid.

"We didn't send a message to anyone," he added. "We sent it to ourselves. We won and enjoyed ourselves.

"The atmosphere was extraordinary. And in LaLiga, as long as the numbers don't say otherwise, we'll keep fighting."

The Blaugrana head coach also had words of praise for the match-winner, suggesting that teenager Pedri "has no comparison".

"He is a super player," said an enthused Xavi. "He has scored an extraordinary goal. He makes a difference. It is a spectacle to watch him play, and he is only 19 years old.

"It does not surprise me. He has no comparison. I encourage him to shoot, but he is a passer and he has in mind the last pass, the decisive one. But he doesn't realise that he has to try [to shoot]. Today he scored a great goal."

Pedri was pleased with that strike and is enjoying playing in an emerging Barca side under Xavi. The teenager has scored two goals in his last seven LaLiga games, as many as in his previous 34 appearance in the competition. This was also his first goal from outside the box for the Catalan giants.

"[The goal was] similar to the one in Turkey [against Galatasaray in the Europa League]," Pedri told reporters after the game.

"We press better [under Xavi], more calm, and we have a lot of firepower with the [January] signings.

"We know that it is difficult [to catch Madrid], but we are Barca, and we have to fight to be first."

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  • The Numbers Game: England desperate to build momentum against Slovenia ahead of last 16 The Numbers Game: England desperate to build momentum against Slovenia ahead of last 16

    England know a win, but more importantly, a performance is needed when they face Slovenia in Cologne on Tuesday. 

    The Three Lions squandered the opportunity to secure qualification to the knockout stages of Euro 2024 after a lacklustre display against Denmark last time out.

    Harry Kane's 18th-minute opener had given Gareth Southgate's side an early advantage but, much like in their opening 1-0 win against Serbia, England then failed to capitalise on an early lead.

    This time they were punished on Thursday when Morten Hjulmand's effort from distance levelled proceedings, with Denmark perhaps unfortunate to not claim all three points. 

    Many involved with England have already acknowledged they must improve and alterations are expected in an attempt to build momentum heading into the last 16, should they get there. 

    Here, we use Opta data to preview the Three Lions' final Group C clash.

    What's expected?

    England are expected to win and top Group C, with the Opta supercomputer handing them a dominant 75.5% chance of getting the job done in Cologne.

    Slovenia are predicted a meagre 10.4% likelihood of claiming a maiden triumph against their opponents in the same data-led simulations, with a draw forecast slightly higher at 14.1%. 

    This will be only England and Slovenia’s second encounter at a major tournament, with the Three Lions winning 1-0 in the group stages of the 2010 World Cup, but Southgate's men have a fine record in this meeting.

    Slovenia have failed to win any of their six matches against England across all competitions (D1 L5). Greece and fellow Group C side Denmark are the only opponents they have faced on more occasions (seven) without ever winning a single match.

    Yet Matjaz Kek may fancy an upset here as the normally resolute England defence has come under fire at Euro 2024. The Three Lions have faced five more shots than they have attempted in Germany (17 shots, 22 faced).

    They have failed to have more attempts than their opponents in five of their last seven Euros group stages (1992, 2000, 2004, 2012, 2020), something that hasn't happened in any of their last seven World Cup group stage appearances between 1998 and 2022.

    England are also averaging just 8.9 shots per game at the Euros under Southgate (80 in nine games). Going into Matchday 3, that is the lowest shots per game any nation has had under a manager to take charge of them in more than five matches at the European Championship on record (since 1980).

    Southgate will be desperate for his side to rediscover the creative spark that some of their star players have found so easy to muster with their clubs. 

    Changes expected for England, but who will Southgate turn to?

    With a plethora of attacking talent, the right blend of experience and youth, along with players picked to travel to Germany based on current form, England arrived at Euro 2024 among the favourites to win the tournament. 

    However, any form of cohesion and fluidity is yet to transpire for Southgate's side as jeers echoed around the Frankfurt Arena from the travelling contingent after their underwhelming display against Denmark. 

    Kane, who scored 44 goals in all competitions in his debut 2023-24 season for Bayern Munich, had the least touches (22) of any England player who started the game on Thursday, while also managing just one touch in the Danes' penalty area. 

    England's attacking quartet of Bukayo Saka, Phil Foden, Jude Bellingham and Kane managed 114 goals between them in all competitions last season, yet Southgate's men managed just two shots on target, forcing the Three Lions boss into a triple change with 20 minutes to go.

    Eberechi Eze, Jarrod Bowen, and Ollie Watkins were introduced but created just one opportunity of note. Meanwhile, Anthony Gordon and Cole Palmer are still yet to make an appearance in the tournament, despite combining for 33 Premier League goals for Newcastle United and Chelsea respectively last term.

    Despite creating more chances (three) and playing more line-breaking passes in the final third (five) against Denmark, it looks likely that Trent Alexander-Arnold's time in midfield could be up, but it remains to be seen who will replace him. 

    Chelsea's Conor Gallagher has replaced him in England's last two games, but only completed 82.4% of his 17 passes against Denmark, also collecting a yellow card for his troubles. 

    Kobbie Mainoo and Adam Wharton are possible replacements and have shown in the Premier League they are more than capable of stepping up, yet an appearance alongside Declan Rice in midfield would mark both's first feature at a major tournament.

    All or nothing for Slovenia

    Slovenia know they must achieve the unlikely to keep their Euro 2024 journey alive, with their confidence taking a hit after coming inches away from securing a maiden success at the European Championships. 

    Luka Jovic's leveller in Thursday's 1-1 draw with Serbia marked the latest result-altering goal in a Euros match of all-time (excluding extra-time), with his equaliser timed at exactly 95 minutes.

    That late heartbreak leaves Slovenia winless across five matches at UEFA's flagship international tournament (D4 L1).

    It had started well for Kek's side when Zan Karnicnik netted his second international goal, but Slovenia succumbed to a familiar fate.

    Their opener was only the second time they'd gone ahead in a game at the finals, with the other instance coming against Yugoslavia at Euro 2000 when Slovenia led 3-0 before collapsing to a 3-3 draw.

    Benjamin Sesko showed the greatest promise for Slovenia, having the joint-most shots (two) and shots on target (one) for his side, but was loose in possession, ending the game with a pass accuracy of 55.8% – the second-lowest in the team. 

    Yet there is still hope for Kek as Slovenia are unbeaten in their last eight games in all competitions (W4 D4), only enjoying a longer such run once in history (nine games between September 2020 and March 2021).

    PLAYERS TO WATCH

    England – Harry Kane

    While much was made of Kane's performance against Denmark, there is no denying the quality he offers the Three Lions in and around the penalty area.

    The Bayern Munich striker has only managed two touches in the opposition box at Euro 2024 so far, the same total as both Kyle Walker and Alexander-Arnold.

    Yet Kane still scored his fifth goal in his last six appearances at the tournament, with only Wayne Rooney (six) and Alan Shearer (seven) managing more Euros goals for England.

    Slovenia – Petar Stojanovic

    With England expected to dominate possession on Tuesday, Slovenia's defence will have to be at their best to give them any chance of getting something from the game. 

    Right-back Petar Stojanovic won possession 11 times against Serbia, with only Ales Ceh at Euro 2000 against Spain (14) managing to win the ball back more often for Slovenia in a major tournament game.

  • Kane hits back at criticism as England captain urges pundits to support squad Kane hits back at criticism as England captain urges pundits to support squad

    Harry Kane insists he is fully fit and firing at Euro 2024 as the England captain reminded pundits of their responsibility, suggesting players "do hear" their scrutiny.

    The Bayern Munich talisman was withdrawn in the second half as England were held to a disappointing 1-1 draw with Denmark on Tuesday.

    Kane opened the scoring after just 18 minutes in that frustrating showing but has struggled to make a decisive impact in Germany, after also failing to deliver in England's opening 1-0 win over Serbia.

    The former Tottenham striker has only managed two touches in the opposition box at Euro 2024, the same total as both Kyle Walker and Trent Alexander-Arnold.

    That led to some scrutiny from some former players-turned-pundits, with Gary Lineker criticising Kane's tendency to drop deep and seemingly negative impact on Gareth Southgate's attempted press.

    Kane acknowledged the comments but suggested the likes of Lineker, an 80-cap England international, must remember their profile when encouraging scrutiny of the national side.

    "I'd never want to be disrespectful to any player, especially a player who's worn the shirt and knows what it's like to play for England," Kane said at Sunday's press conference before Tuesday's clash with Slovenia. 

    "I think what maybe ex-players or ex-players who are pundits now have got to realise is that it's very hard not to listen to it now, especially for some players who are not used to it or some players who are new to the environment. 

    "I always feel like they have a responsibility, I know they've got to be honest and give their opinion but also their responsibility of being an ex-player, an ex-England player that a lot of players looked up to.

    "People do care about what they say and people do listen to them. So like I touched on, everyone's got their opinion but the bottom line is we haven't won anything as a nation for a long, long time.

    "A lot of these players were part of that as well and they know how tough it is. It's not digging anyone out but it's just the reality that they do know that it's tough to play in these major tournaments and tough to play for England.

    "All I'd say is just remember what it was like to wear the shirt and that their words are listened to, you do hear it. We all want to win a major tournament.

    "I'm sure they want us to win a major tournament, and being as helpful as they can and building the lads up with confidence would be a much better way of going about it."

    Kane has scored five goals in his last six Euros appearances, with only Wayne Rooney (six) and Alan Shearer (seven) scoring more European Championship goals for England.

    The England skipper is also only the third player to score in four separate major tournaments for his country (2018 and 2022 World Cup, Euro 2020 and this edition), after Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney.

    Yet still his influence off the ball remains a question that many have posed to Southgate's tactics, but Kane insists he is fit and capable of leading from the front.

    "I'll give everything I have for however long I play," Kane responded when asked about his early withdrawal against Denmark. "If it's 70 minutes, if it's 90 minutes, if it's extra time, I physically feel more than capable of doing any of that.

    "I've done that my whole career and I've done that for pretty much the whole season as well. I'm feeling fresh and I'm feeling fit.

    "I know sometimes when I've had bad games or games not up to the standard, there's always something to look for and find a reason why. But sometimes it's just that's the game, or it's one or two games.

    "If this was in a league season, no one's really talking about it because it's in a small heightened environment.

    "Of course, there's more chatter. So the important thing is that from me personally, I feel fit, I feel ready and I'll play as long as the manager wants me to play."

  • Brazil v Costa Rica: Endrick 'confident' of making Copa America impact Brazil v Costa Rica: Endrick 'confident' of making Copa America impact

    Endrick is confident he can help Brazil claim a 10th Copa America title as he prepares for his first international tournament with the Selecao Canarinho. 

    Brazil kickstart their campaign at the SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Monday against Costa Rica. 

    Dorival Junior's side will also face Paraguay and Colombia in Group E, hopeful of going one better this time around having lost to Argentina in the 2021 final. 

    The 17-year-old, who officially joins Real Madrid next month, has scored three goals in his last four games for Brazil but knows he will have to remain patient for his opportunity at the Copa America. 

    "Only God knows [when I will start]," Endrick said. I am very grateful to have Abel [Ferreira] as a coach, he knew when to play me.

    "Everything is up to God and Dorival Junior, the professor. He is a spectacular coach. He is doing what is best for the Brazilian team.

    "I have always been very precocious in my life and since I became a professional I have played against opponents who have always teased me, insulted me, talked about my family, my girlfriend.

    "But I got used to it quickly because I was 16. I'm calm, and I hope I can help. I think it's right, in football you have to destabilise the other player.

    "It's been like that since I arrived, so I've adapted, and I'm very confident that I can help the team."

    For Costa Rica Gustavo Alfaro, he has experience at the Copa America having guided Ecuador to the quarter-finals of the previous tournament in 2021.

    The 61-year-old also took them to the following year's World Cup, where they opened with a 2-0 win against hosts Qatar before drawing 1-1 with the Netherlands, but failed to reach the knockouts after losing 2-1 to Senegal in their final group game.

    However, Alfaro faces a different proposition with Los Ticos. Costa Rica have failed to make it beyond the group stages in each of the last two appearances; they last did so in 2004, but their recent form holds reason for optimism. 

    Costa Rica have won four of their previous six international fixtures, losing only once over that stretch (3-1 to Argentina). They have also not conceded in any of their last three competitive fixtures, winning 15 of their previous 16 encounters when scoring the opening goal.

    PLAYERS TO WATCH

    Brazil - Vinicius Junior 

    Vinicius Junior played a starring role in Real Madrid's LaLiga and Champions League successes in 2023-24, and claiming a first international honour with his nation would surely put the 23-year-old in pole position to scoop the Ballon d'Or. 

    The Los Blancos star had 35 goal involvements (24 goals and 11 assists) in 39 appearances in all competitions for the Spanish side, his second-best campaign since his move to Madrid in 2021-22 (22 goals and 20 assists). 

     

    Costa Rica - Manfred Ugalde

    Having failed to score for his new side, Spartak Moscow, after his move from FC Twente in January, Ugalde rediscovered his goal-scoring touch at the opportune moment heading into the tournament. 

    The 22-year-old striker grabbed a goal and three assists in Costa Rica's CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers against Grenada and Saint Kitts and Nevis, and will be hoping to continue that form in Inglewood against Brazil. 

    MATCH PREDICTION: BRAZIL WIN

    Brazil and Costa Rica have faced each other twice in the Copa America, with both victories for the Brazilian team in 1997 (5-0) at the Estadio Ramon Tahuichi Aguilera and in 2004 (4-1) with Adriano scoring a hat-trick for Carlos Alberto Parreira's side. 

    The Selecao Canarinho have won 10 of their 11 meetings against their opponents, with their last defeat coming in the Panamerican Championship in March 1960 (3-0), with Brazil backed to continue their nine-game unbeaten run. 

    Costa Rica will look to continue their impressive record against CONMEBOL teams at the Copa America, having lost one of their last four matches against them (W2 D1).

    Gustavo Alfaro's side will seek to string together victories for the first time against CONMEBOL opponents in the competition, having defeated Colombia 3-2 in the 2016 edition.

    OPTA WIN PROBABILITY

    Brazil - 71%

    Costa Rica - 16.1%

    Draw - 12.9%

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