Rayo Vallecano 2-1 Barcelona: Below-par Blaugrana condemned to shock defeat

By Sports Desk April 26, 2023

Barcelona missed the chance to go 14 points clear at the top of LaLiga as goals from Alvaro Garcia and Fran Garcia fired Rayo Vallecano to a 2-1 win over the below-par leaders.

Real Madrid's 4-2 defeat at Girona on Tuesday gave Barca the chance to pull further clear at the summit, but Xavi's men started slowly and soon found themselves behind to Alvaro Garcia's low drive.

Barca's woes were deepened when Fran Garcia broke clear to finish after the break, and although Robert Lewandowski halved the deficit late on, the visitors were unable to find a leveller.

Boasting an 11-point lead over Madrid, Barca still appear destined to win their first league title since 2019, but the Catalan giants have dropped points in three of their last four games after another flat performance.

The first big chance fell to Rayo 17 minutes in, Sergio Camello bursting through after Pedri was caught in possession, only to be denied by Marc-Andre ter Stegen when one on one.

Ter Stegen was unable to save Barca two minutes later, Alvaro Garcia drilling into the bottom-right corner after being found by Camello on the left-hand side of the area.

Stole Dimitrievski preserved Rayo's lead by smothering Lewandowski's dinked attempt, and the hosts escaped again on the stroke of half-time, as a VAR review confirmed an on-field decision to disallow the striker's left-footed finish for offside.

Barca found themselves 2-0 down seven minutes after the restart as Fran Garcia – who is set to re-join former club Real Madrid at the end of the season – raced clear to side-foot calmly under Ter Stegen.

Lewandowski ensured a nervy finish when he volleyed into the top-right corner after Ansu Fati's shot deflected into his path, but Rayo held on to claim a surprise victory.

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  • The Numbers Game: Georgia looking to cause an upset on Ronaldo's big day The Numbers Game: Georgia looking to cause an upset on Ronaldo's big day

    Georgia know that knockout football is still within their reach as they prepare for their toughest test so far at Euro 2024 against Portugal.

    Roberto Martinez's side secured top spot in Group F with a game to spare after following up a 2-1 win against Czechia with a commanding 3-0 victory over Turkiye.

    Meanwhile, Georgia missed the chance to claim a maiden victory at a major tournament as they drew 1-1 with Czechia, but they did set themselves up with a chance of getting out of the group.

    Here, we use Opta data to preview Wednesday's clash.

    What's expected?

    After their strong start to Euro 2024, Portugal are the favourites to make it three wins from three games, with the Opta supercomputer giving them a 75.8% chance of getting the job done.

    While Georgia's spirited performances have earned them the plaudits, they are predicted just a 10.4% likelihood of an upset, and a 13.9% chance of taking a point.

    This will be just the second-ever meeting between the nations, with Portugal coming out on top with a 2-0 friendly win in May 2008.

    The Selecao look set to repeat that result, after putting a recent European Championships hoodoo behind them. Having won both of their group-stage games so far, Portugal have now won more than they had across the 2016 and 2020 editions combined (W1 D4 L1).

    However, only once before have Portugal won all three of their group games in the competition (2000).

    As for Georgia, they are chasing what would be a historic first major tournament win, having drawn and lost their opening two matches. Only Greece have got their first such victory against Portugal, beating them en route to lifting the trophy at Euro 2004.

    Georgia have proven tough to beat in the last year - since losing three in a row between June and September 2023, they have only lost two of their last nine games (W4 D3).

    Georgia aiming for a big finish

    Making their major tournament bow at Euro 2024, Georgia have caught the eye with their high-intensity approach to games, pushing both Turkiye and Czechia all the way in their first two fixtures.

    Georges Mikautadze etched his name into Georgia's history books after scoring their first goal at the Euros, before becoming the sixth player to net both of his nation's first two goals at the tournament, and the first since Andriy Shevchenko in 2012 for Ukraine.

    After a free-flowing attacking performance in their 3-1 defeat to Turkiye, which saw Georgia have 14 shots and hit the woodwork twice, they failed to recapture that same spark against Czechia.

    They did earn their first point, though, agonisingly missing out on that first victory as Saba Lobjanidze squandered a golden chance with the last kick of the game.

    Across the first two matchdays of Euro 2024, Georgia faced more shots (49), more shots on target (20) and had a higher expected goals against (xGA) figure (6.1) than any other side.

    Then again, Giorgi Mamardashvili made more saves (16) – 11 of which came against Czechia – and had a higher expected goals on target (xGoT) prevented figure (+3.05) than any other goalkeeper in the first two matchdays, conceding just four goals (excluding own goals) despite facing an xGoT of 7.05.

    It will be a much sterner test for the Valencia goalkeeper against the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Bruno Fernandes and Bernardo Silva, but if he can maintain that level, he will give Georgia a chance.

    Ronaldo set to make more Euros history

    Playing at a record sixth Euros at 39 years old, Ronaldo had seen his place in the squad debated in the build-up to the tournament.

    He has started both matches in the competition so far though, and should he retain his place against Georgia, he will become the first European player in history to make 50 major tournament appearances (28 of those will have come at the Euros, while he has played 22 times at the World Cup).

    Questions continued to circulate after a frustrating outing for Ronaldo in their 2-1 victory against Czechia on MD1, as he failed to score from five shots worth 0.73 xG, including missing one big chance, as defined by Opta.

    However, he silenced some of those with another slice of history in their dominant win over Turkiye on Saturday, teeing up Fernandes to get his seventh assist at the European Championships - the most on record of any player in the competition's history.

    Despite being the tournament's all-time top scorer, Ronaldo is yet to hit the net so far, though the Selecao are the second-highest scorers at Euro 2024 with five goals. 

    Portugal have benefitted from an own goal in both of their games – only Spain in the 2020 edition have benefitted more at a single Euros (three), while no team has ever done so in three consecutive games at the finals before.

    Martinez will not be too worried about that though, after two commanding performances, as they look to stay perfect heading into the last 16.

    PLAYERS TO WATCH

    Georgia – Georges Mikautadze

    Mikautadze, as things stand, is the joint-top scorer at Euro 2024, with two goals.

    With the chance to continue their run into the last 16, another goal from him could be the key to setting Georgia on their way.

    If he does score on Wednesday, he would be just the third player in history to net each of his side's first three goals in the competition, after Gerd Muller (Germany) and Hristo Stoichkov (Bulgaria). Not bad company to be keeping.

    Portugal – Bruno Fernandes

    The pre-match headlines are likely to be firmly focused on Ronaldo.

    But on the pitch, it could be Fernandes who sets the tone for Portugal, having been directly involved in 28 goals in his last 23 appearances for the national side in all competitions, scoring 15 and assisting 13.

    His strike against Turkiye was his first goal at the European Championships (in his sixth appearance), the second major tournament match he has scored in for Portugal, after his brace against Uruguay at the 2022 World Cup.

  • Switzerland draw felt like a victory, says Neuer after record Euro appearance Switzerland draw felt like a victory, says Neuer after record Euro appearance

    Manuel Neuer said Germany's draw with Switzerland felt like a win, going on to praise the impact made by Julian Nagelsmann's substitutions in Frankfurt on Sunday. 

    In a battle between Group A's unbeaten sides, it was Murat Yakin's team who took the lead through Dan Ndoye's first international goal in the first half.

    Germany had seen Robert Andrich's earlier effort ruled out by VAR after Jamal Musiala was adjudged to have committed a foul in the build-up. 

    However, substitutes David Ruam and Niclas Fullkrug combined to rescue a point for Die Mannschaft, ensuring they topped the group and remained unbeaten heading into the knockout stages. 

    "You should never write off a team, especially ours, especially with the substitutions we were able to make," said Neuer. 

    "The players who came on were a breath of fresh air and the result feels a bit like a victory."

    Neuer, who made his 18th appearance for Germany at the Euros, overtook Gianluigi Buffon (17) to become the goalkeeper with the most appearances in the tournament’s history but was unable to celebrate with a clean sheet. 

    During that time, the 38-year-old has made 32 saves across his appearances in the tournament, an average of 1.7 per game.

    When compared to Buffon, the Italian made more saves (60) from fewer outings, averaging 3.5 saves per game, as well as keeping more clean sheets (eight) compared to Neuer's six.

    The Bayern Munich goalkeeper is playing in his eighth major tournament for Germany and knows his side must improve in the last-16 if they are to add to their three European Championship titles.

    "We weren't quite as good over the 90 minutes (as the first two games) and I think a draw was a fair result. We can be satisfied with the point."

    Germany will face the runner-up of Group C in Dortmund on Saturday, with all four sides potential opponents for Nagelsmann's team. 

  • Scotland denied '100% penalty' against Hungary, says Clarke Scotland denied '100% penalty' against Hungary, says Clarke

    Scotland head coach Steve Clarke was adamant his side should have been awarded a penalty as their Euro 2024 campaign ended with a 1-0 defeat to Hungary in Stuttgart. 

    Kevin Csoboth scored the winning goal in the 10th minute of injury-time to put Scotland out of another major tournament in the group stages. 

    However, things could have been much different for Clarke's side.

    Stuart Armstrong looked to have skipped beyond Hungary's Willi Orban in the 80th minute, before the RB Leipzig defender grappled across the midfielder, with both tumbling inside the area. 

    Referee Facundo Tello waved away Scotland's appeals, and a subsequent check by VAR deemed the challenge not worthy of awarding a spot-kick. 

    “It was 100% a penalty," Clarke said. "Somebody, somewhere has to explain to me why that's not a penalty. It’s a one goal game, we get the penalty and it could have been a different night.

    “I've got other words, but I'm not going to use them. I don't understand how VAR can look at that and say it's not a penalty.

    “In a European competition, it may have been better to have a European referee but we had European VAR and maybe a referee didn't see the challenge clearly on the pitch, so what's the purpose of VAR if they are not going to come in on something like that. It was a penalty.”

    Having qualified for successive European Championships, this was Scotland’s 12th major tournament group stage, and in 50% of those they have failed to win a single match – at the 1954, 1958, 1986, and 1998 World Cups and EURO 2020 and 2024.

    “We gave everything, there’s nothing you can fault there. It was a very tough game against a good opponent," said Clarke. "A very close game that was always going to be decided by the first goal. You could tell that after half an hour.

    “Unfortunately for us when we opened up towards the end of the game to try and chase the winner, that we felt we needed to get to the next stage, we got caught on the counter.”

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