Xavi targets second after 'titanic effort' to secure Champions League place

By Sports Desk May 07, 2022

Xavi is not ready to welcome the end of Barcelona's season despite the relief of clinching Champions League qualification on Saturday.

The Blaugrana beat Real Betis 2-1 in Seville to ensure the fifth-placed side can no longer catch them in second.

Ansu Fati's scuffed shot broke the deadlock, before ex-Barca defender Marc Bartra responded with a similarly untidy header.

It fell to Jordi Alba to win the match and secure Barca's top-four place with a sublime 94th-minute volley.

Coach Xavi saluted his side for the effort they put in to recover from a poor start to the season, having won every match they have played against top-10 opposition in 2022.

But he still has his sights set on tying up second place.

"We've taken a weight off our shoulders," Xavi said. "It could have been a more complicated and difficult season.

"The team has competed a lot. We have not played excellently in many games; in others, yes, but we have a winning soul and competitive character.

"We beat the top 10 in this second round of the season. It's evidence that we have to play better. It has to be analysed, but we have made a titanic effort from November to here.

"We will be in the Champions League, the competition we deserve. Now we want to be second."

However, Xavi added this achievement was the "minimum required" at Camp Nou, saying: "I want to compete for titles. We can't miss another year not being competitive."

The former Barca midfielder will hope Fati can have a big role to play in an improved 2022-23 campaign, having been limited to 12 appearances – in which he has still scored six goals – due to injuries this term.

Xavi hailed Fati as his "difference-maker", scoring 75 seconds after his introduction from the bench, and said: "It's a very good feeling to have him back."

Related items

  • Tedesco refuses to point finger as Lukaku struggles in Belgium's shock Euro 2024 defeat Tedesco refuses to point finger as Lukaku struggles in Belgium's shock Euro 2024 defeat

    Domenico Tedesco refused to place the blame on any individual performance as Belgium slumped to Euro 2024 defeat against Slovakia, with Romelu Lukaku missing a host of chances.

    Ivan Schranz's seventh-minute finish in Frankfurt proved the difference on Monday as Slovakia stunned the world's third-best side in their tournament opener.

    Belgium forward Lukaku produced a profligate showing, spurning a pair of glorious first-half chances before seeing two goals disallowed by the VAR as Tedesco's side chased a late equaliser.

    Lukaku accumulated an expected goals (xG) tally of 0.82 throughout the Group E meeting, with that total far greater than the entire Slovakia team combined (0.59).

    Yet Tedesco, who suffered a first defeat in 15 games since replacing Roberto Martinez as Belgium boss, did not pinpoint specific players when discussing Belgium's downfall.

    "For me, it hurts a lot," Tedesco said. "I don't want to point the finger at people. You can be sure we will speak about many things but we will do it internally and not through the media.

    "I knew we would lose one day but unfortunately it was today. Honestly, there is not much I can say to the team to improve.

    "We created many chances, big chances. Of course, if we take one, then it makes the game easier."

    When pressed on Lukaku's form in front of goal, Tedesco defended the former Chelsea and Manchester United striker.

    "Romelu has been playing for Belgium for a long time," the Red Devils' head coach said. 

    "He knows how to score goals, I don't need to tell him that. He is a top-class player with great character."

    Lukaku saw his first effort ruled out for an offside after Amadou Onana's headed knockdown before his late finish was again overturned as Lois Openda was deemed to have handled in the build-up.

    "It's tough to speak," Tedesco continued. "If we had won I could tell you more about my opinion.

    "But we lost and I want to be seen as a fair manager so I don't say anything. We have to trust these guys. I trust the VAR. If they decide it's handball, we have to accept it."

    Belgium's defeat leaves Group E wide open after Romania hammered Ukraine 3-0 on the same day, with Tedesco's side needing a response against Edward Iordanescu's team on Saturday.

    Another loss would push Belgium further towards an unlikely group-stage exit, though Tedesco wants to use the Slovakia disappointment as motivation.

    "Naturally everyone is disappointed but you can harness that," he said. "You can make use of it. I always said our group would be very tricky and shouldn't assume that we will go through."

    Belgium captain Kevin De Bruyne was also frustrated as his side suffered their first group-stage defeat at the European Championship since losing 2-0 to Italy in 2016.

    The Manchester City star said: "It is a pity. The first 20 minutes we were really good and we made such a mistake for which we were punished.

    "In the second half it was better, we upped the tempo. We deserved to win but did not score and that is the way it is. Apart from a few other chances we didn't give much away.

    "We adjusted some things at half-time and then played well. We pushed, we created chances. We certainly deserved to at least a draw because we didn't play badly."

  • Keane backs Foden to deliver after criticism from England's Euro 2024 opener Keane backs Foden to deliver after criticism from England's Euro 2024 opener

    England must stick with Phil Foden despite an "off night" against Serbia in their Euro 2024 opener, according to Manchester United great Roy Keane.

    Foden created just one chance in Sunday's 1-0 victory as the Manchester City star moved to the left flank, making way to accommodate an attack of Jude Bellingham, Bukayo Saka and Harry Kane.

    The 24-year-old still managed 19 passes in the final third, only bettered by match-winning team-mate Jude Bellingham (24), but failed to register a single shot in an unusually quiet outing.

    Former United midfielder Keane has no doubts over Foden's ability, however, and lamented critics calling for his dropping from Gareth Southgate's starting XI.

    "This idea that you should start taking him out of the team, Phil Foden is an amazing, fantastic player who has had a great season," Keane said on ITV on Monday.

    "OK, he was quiet last night but he is entitled to an off night. Don't be writing this kid off. He has got so much talent. You stick with him.

    "You can talk about tactics and systems until the cows come home. Foden and these quality players will produce. He had a quiet night. Relax, everyone. He will be fine."

    Bellingham stole the show as his 13th-minute header from Saka's deflected right-wing cross proved the difference.

    Real Madrid's Champions League-winning midfielder also became the first player to score for the Three Lions at both the World Cup and European Championship while playing his club football outside of England.

    Kane was another to be kept quiet by Serbia, though the England captain had a late header expertly pushed away by Predrag Rajkovic.

    Keane insists Southgate's plethora of talent will always deliver in some form, though, whether it comes from Kane, Bellingham, Foden or any other player.

    "They have got to stay calm with it all," Keane added. "Because they have three or four world-class players, when Kane or Foden are having a bit of an off-night, players like Bellingham will step up.

    "It might be Foden or Kane in the next game. That is the beauty of having four or five world-class players."

    England head to Frankfurt on Thursday to face Denmark, aiming to extend their embryonic lead at the top of Group C before their final meeting with Slovenia.

  • Napoli caught up in war of words with Kvaratskhelia's agent amid exit talk Napoli caught up in war of words with Kvaratskhelia's agent amid exit talk

    Napoli insist Khvicha Kvaratskhelia is not on the market after his agent Mamuka Jugeli claimed he is looking to leave the club. 

    The Georgia international, who is preparing for his country's Euro 2024 opener against Turkiye on Tuesday, has been linked with a move to both Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona in the current transfer window. 

    Kvaratskhelia scored 11 times in the league in 2023-24, as the Partenopei finished 10th in what was a disappointing defence of their third Serie A crown. 

    "We want to leave Napoli, but now we're all waiting for the Euro 2024," Jugeli told Sport Imedi last week. "With [Antonio] Conte, Napoli have big plans.

    "I'm sure they will qualify for the Champions League again next season and fight for the Scudetto. But that doesn't mean Kvaratskhelia wants to stay there, I don't mean it.

    "I didn't talk with Khvicha about this issue, the most important thing for him is the national team. Our goal is the team that plays in the Champions League.

    "The worst thing is that if he stays here, Khvicha will lose one year because of that… we are worried."

    However, Napoli have hit back with a statement of their own, citing the fact Kvaratskhelia has three years remaining on his contract at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona. 

    It read: "In reference to the statements of Kvaratskhelia's agent, Mamuka Jugeli, and his father Badri, Calcio Napoli reiterates that the player has a contract for another three years with the club.

    "Kvaratskhelia is not on the market. It is not the agents or fathers who decide the future of a player under contract with Napoli but the club!!! End of the story."

© 2023 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.