Nelson Akpo

Nelson Akpo

James Forrest continued an impressive run of scoring form and Odsonne Edouard produced a superb free-kick as Celtic beak AIK 2-0 to take control of their Europa League play-off tie.

Scotland winger Forrest drilled home early in the second half at Celtic Park to register for a fifth straight game in all competitions.

Edouard then ensured a deserved victory for Neil Lennon's side, who had suffered a disappointing exit in Champions League qualifying to Cluj, and the final margin of victory would have been even greater were it not for

visiting goalkeeper Oscar Linner.

Celtic thought they had the lead when Edouard turned home Ryan Christie's throughball, only for the offside flag to curtail the celebrations.

Michael Johnston was thwarted by Linner at the end of a nicely worked move and the visiting keeper was also sharp to turn Edouard's edge-of-the-box drive wide.

Callum McGregor saw a rasping drive tipped over by Linner shortly after the restart, but the keeper was unable to prevent Forrest's 48th-minute effort finding the back of the net despite getting strong hands to the

shot.

There was no coming back for AIK when Edouard curled home a superb 25-yard free-kick into the right side of the goal, giving Linner no chance.

Linner kept out McGregor and Edouard late on, but Celtic still have a comfortable cushion to protect in next week's return fixture in Sweden.

Wolves moved a step closer to reaching the group stage of the Europa League by winning 3-2 at Torino in the first leg of their play-off round clash.

Bremer's own goal put Nuno Espirito Santo's side in front before half-time at the Olimpico Grande Torino on Thursday with Diogo Jota extending their advantage after the break.

Lorenzo De Silvestri's header cut the deficit but Raul Jimenez struck in the 72nd minute to earn Wolves a potentially crucial third away goal, though Andrea Belotti's late penalty leaves the tie more balanced.

Although they now face a tough task to qualify, Torino were close to opening the scoring in the 19th minute.

Nicolas Nkoulou rose highest to meet Armando Izzo's right-wing cross, but his header clipped Rui Patricio's crossbar and Wolves then missed a good chance when Leander Dendoncker narrowly failed to hit the target

from a typically precise Joao Moutinho centre.

Crosses continued to provide the best chances and Wolves took the lead from another in the 43rd minute when an inswinging Moutinho cross was flicked in at the back post by helpless defender Bremer.

Wolves doubled their lead in the 59th minute thanks to more fine wing work, Adama Traore doing brilliantly on the right to pull a low cross back for Jota to finish, but Torino swiftly hit back.

Cristian Ansaldi whipped the ball in from the left and De Silvestri arrived to power home a header from close range.

Jimenez restored Wolves' two-goal cushion, though. The Mexico striker collected possession midway in Torino's half and burst away from a series of challenges before slotting a calm low finish past goalkeeper Salvatore

Sirigu.

Walter Mazzarri's Torino visit Molineux next Thursday with renewed hope thanks to Belotti's 89th minute penalty, the striker converting after he was felled by Ruben Vinagre, while Rui Patricio had to save well from

Belotti in added time.

Wolves moved a step closer to reaching the group stage of the Europa League by winning 3-2 at Torino in the first leg of their play-off round clash.

Bremer's own goal put Nuno Espirito Santo's side in front before half-time at the Olimpico Grande Torino on Thursday with Diogo Jota extending their advantage after the break.

Lorenzo De Silvestri's header cut the deficit but Raul Jimenez struck in the 72nd minute to earn Wolves a potentially crucial third away goal, though Andrea Belotti's late penalty leaves the tie more balanced.

Although they now face a tough task to qualify, Torino were close to opening the scoring in the 19th minute.

Nicolas Nkoulou rose highest to meet Armando Izzo's right-wing cross, but his header clipped Rui Patricio's crossbar and Wolves then missed a good chance when Leander Dendoncker narrowly failed to hit the target

from a typically precise Joao Moutinho centre.

Crosses continued to provide the best chances and Wolves took the lead from another in the 43rd minute when an inswinging Moutinho cross was flicked in at the back post by helpless defender Bremer.

Wolves doubled their lead in the 59th minute thanks to more fine wing work, Adama Traore doing brilliantly on the right to pull a low cross back for Jota to finish, but Torino swiftly hit back.

Cristian Ansaldi whipped the ball in from the left and De Silvestri arrived to power home a header from close range.

Jimenez restored Wolves' two-goal cushion, though. The Mexico striker collected possession midway in Torino's half and burst away from a series of challenges before slotting a calm low finish past goalkeeper Salvatore

Sirigu.

Walter Mazzarri's Torino visit Molineux next Thursday with renewed hope thanks to Belotti's 89th minute penalty, the striker converting after he was felled by Ruben Vinagre, while Rui Patricio had to save well from

Belotti in added time.

Thursday, 22 August 2019 08:18

Ronaldo: I could have been worth €300m

Cristiano Ronaldo believes a 25-year-old version of himself would be worth up to €300million in today's transfer market.

Juventus splashed out €112m including add-ons when they signed the Portugal captain from Real Madrid in 2018.

Only five players – Neymar, Kylian Mbappe, Joao Felix, Antoine Griezmann and Philippe Coutinho – have commanded larger fees.

Two members of the quintet made their mega-money moves as teenagers and Ronaldo, now 34, has reservations about the increasing prices for youngsters who are yet to prove themselves at the top level.

"Today there is a lot of focus on potential and the football industry is different," the superstar forward told Portuguese broadcaster TVI.

"I'll put the case of Joao Felix aside. Nowadays any player is worth €100m, even without proof. There is more money in football.

"Central defenders and goalkeepers are worth €70million, €80million.

"I do not agree with it, but this is the world we live in. The market is like that, we have to respect it."

Ronaldo formerly held the all-time transfer fee record after Madrid forked out €94m to prise him away from Manchester United in 2009.

Asked how much he would be worth aged 25 in modern terms, the five-time Ballon d'Or winner replied: "It is hard to calculate.

"If a goalkeeper is worth €75m, a player who has done what I had must be worth three to four times more. Easy.

"But I have no such illusion."

Ousmane Dembele is certain to remain with Barcelona despite interest from elsewhere, according to his agent.

Dembele, 22, has been linked with a move away from the LaLiga champions amid reports he could be included in a deal that would see Barca sign Neymar from Paris Saint-Germain.

However, the France attacker's agent, Moussa Sissoko, said Dembele would stay at Barcelona.

"Evolving in a club as prestigious and ambitious as FC Barcelona involves a competition that will advance and sublimate any player," Sissoko said in a widely reported statement on Tuesday.

"In any case, it is the point of view rooted in Ousmane's mind. He is Barcelona and he will remain 1,000 per cent with the firm desire to honour the colours of the club."

Dembele is set to miss five weeks for Barcelona – who suffered a 1-0 loss to Athletic Bilbao on Friday – after straining his left hamstring.

Injuries hampered Dembele's first season at the club after a €105million move from Borussia Dortmund in August 2017, while he scored 14 goals in 42 games in 2018-19.

However, Dembele is still hungry to deliver for Barcelona despite his injury woes, his agent said.

"I wanted to clarify firmly and definitively the situation of Ousmane Dembele. He does not plan to leave FC Barcelona for a moment," Sissoko said.

"This is the course of action fixed for several months now and no element is or will be likely to cause us to deviate. Ousmane feels perfectly well within the club and he remains in his determination to impose himself in

the long term.

"Despite the solicitations of several great European clubs, Ousmane is convinced to be in the heart of the largest of them and everything is there to make it flourish.

"Ousmane is aware of what he has to do on a daily basis to make his Barcelona adventure a complete success. Unfortunately, his injury temporarily stops him in his motivation to make a great and beautiful

season, symbolised by its anticipated recovery of a week.

"But this has no impact on his thirst for success and he is confident to return as soon as possible."

Borussia Dortmund have reportedly doubled Jadon Sancho’s wages in a bid to fend off interest in the England star from the Premier League.

The 19-year-old has emerged as one of the most promising talents in world football since moving to the German side from Manchester City in 2017, the talented teenager establishing himself as a key figure for the

Bundesliga side.

Sancho’s performances have attracted the attention of a host of Europe’s leading clubs, and Dortmund have looked to tie down their prized asset amid reported interest from the likes of Manchester United and Paris

Saint-Germain.

According to Bild, Sancho’s new deal will double his wages to a huge £190,000-a-week, as Dortmund look to ensure the winger’s long-term future remains at the club.

Sancho starred as Dortmund finished as runners-up in the Bundesliga last season, scoring 13 goals and providing 15 assists for Lucien Favre’s side.

Dortmund are anticipating strong interest in Sancho next summer, and whilst the club are believed have internally accepted they are unlikely to be able to keep the player forever, the forward’s new deal will ensure any

potential suitors will have to pay a huge price to land the in-demand star.

Thursday, 22 August 2019 08:03

Franck Ribery completes Fiorentina moves

Franck Ribery has completed a move to Serie A side Fiorentina following his departure from Bayern Munich.

Ribery, 36, became a free agent when his Bayern contact expired at the end of June.

The French winger spent 12 years in Bavaria, winning nine Bundesliga titles, and was given a warm welcome by Fiorentina fans when he flew into Florence on Wednesday.

Patrick Cutrone is grateful to AC Milan but claims he was sold by his former club because there is a preference for Italian teams to field foreign players.

The one-cap Italy international ended his 12-year association with boyhood club Milan in July after taking up Wolves' offer of a four-year deal.

He came through the Rossoneri's youth ranks and scored 18 goals in all competitions in an impressive breakthrough campaign in 2017-18, but the 21-year-old was less prolific last term and was moved on for a reported

€22million during the close season.

Portuguese forward Rafael Leao, 20, was brought in as a replacement and Cutrone believes that move - as well as Moise Kean's switch from Juventus to Everton - is indicative of the way teams operate in Serie A.

"Me and Kean in the Premier League? It's always the same story - foreigners are preferred to us," he told Gazzetta dello Sport. 

"For us twenty-somethings, it's hard, but in any case I'd like to emphasise something - I’ll always be grateful to Milan for what they gave me."

Cutrone will be back in Italy this week as part of Wolves' squad for their Europa League play-off first leg against Torino.

The Milan youth product has made four appearances for his new side and is expecting a difficult test in Turin on Thursday.

"My first impressions of Wolves have been excellent," he said. "I was received very well and I've already settled in. 

"I didn't like living in a hotel, so I've found a house where my best friend has been keeping me company.

"It'll be tough against Torino. They're a good team and there are several similarities between us and them - passionate fans, character, pride, a sense of belonging."

Two matches into the new season and we’ve already witnessed two hat-tricks in the Premier League – one from Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling last weekend and now one from newly-promoted Norwich City’s

Teemu Pukki.

The hat-trick came during their emphatic victory over Newcastle, with the Fin claiming all three of the Canaries’ goals in the 3-1 win. Pukki looked dangerous the previous week against Liverpool in the opening game,

but Newcastle presented enough opportunities for the 29-year-old to convert three times over, which he did clinically.

His first goal, in particular, must have been re-watched a fair few times by Norwich fans by now – an absolute cracker of a volley gave Pukki’s side the lead after 32 minutes. The other two goals should not be

overlooked though, as they were both finishes that are trademarks of a striker that possess natural finishing talent.

The Championship’s top scorer of last season did not go under the radar in Gameweek one either, despite his team being beat 4-1 by the European champions Liverpool. The Fin seized the first of his four-goal tally in

that match after looking sharp for much of the evening.

Within a team that wasn’t treated to the warmest Premier League welcome that day, Teemu Pukki stood out in the Norwich squad. This being the opening game of the season, the spectators were manifold and

Norwich fans certainly gained some consolation from the striker’s performance after a miserable day in defence.

Racking up 29 goals in the Championship last season was no small feat and with Pukki off and running in this year’s Premier League campaign, could he challenge the golden boot at the end of the season?

The top of his trade

At 29 years old, Pukki is certainly an experienced striker, evidenced by the manner in which he has taken his goals thus far. After a four-year spell with Danish team Brondby IF, Pukki joined Norwich City for free at

the beginning of their league-topping campaign and is now only participating in his second season at the Canaries.

The telling stat is that, in his last three seasons, Pukki has scored a total of 66 league goals. The striker has mastered the art of sticking the ball in the net – Norwich picked up on this and decided to sign him for

free. Bearing in mind the decisive role he played on Norwich’s road to Championship glory, he must be one of the best free transfers to be currently playing in the Premier League.

Of course, as it is so early in the season, there is a chance his goalscoring form tails off as the pressures of being in England’s top division take their toll. However, his goal conversion rate of 29% shows that if Pukki is

given the chances, he will continue to score – and Norwich have certainly displayed impressive attacking qualities that will present Pukki with opportunities in a game, even if they do run into defensive problems.

To put the goal conversion stat in perspective, while Pukki scores with 29% of his shots, Aguero scores with 24% of his, Kane with 22% and Firmino with 21%. Like many statistics, these percentages don’t tell the

whole story, but you have to wonder what kind of level Pukki could have reached during his career if he had been playing for a top European club.

With such a high attacking rate, the determined forward would surely be a valuable asset to any team in England. He is a consistent threat to the opposition back line due to his desire to get into the best place to

score from. 28 of his 29 goals came from inside the box last season, but only one of these was a header. So the Norwich midfielders certainly know what they have to do – it’s all about the direct approach to set

Pukki up for goalscoring opportunities.

Always in the right place

It seems pretty obvious that Pukki must be in the right places at the right times to score so many goals, but we all know that this is part of the trade. The awareness that Pukki has to pull away from defenders and

into the perfect place is fascinating to observe.

The Finnish international will try to find any areas of space in the attacking third where he could receive the ball along the ground. He is consistently aware of where defenders may be leaving spaces, meaning those

guarding the goal have to be constantly switched on. If Norwich can keep producing quick attacks and provide the ball fast and low to Pukki it seems he is going to find the back of the net.

On top of this, Pukki seems happy to come into deeper areas if necessary, but avoids coming too deep, perhaps to conserve energy for his bursting runs – another part of his attacking style. Although not possessing

blistering pace, Pukki has enough speed to be able to make those penetrating runs that can catch a defender off-guard, or the darting runs that are nearly impossible to react to.

So Norwich have a range of routes to follow when attacking. When dealing with pacey defenders, Pukki may opt to keep his distance from them and find spaces in the box to shoot from. Otherwise, he will look to

run in behind the defenders, formulating his own path to goal, rather than simply acting as the apex of an attacking move.

Will he keep it up all season?

With Pukki’s price slowly on the rise, fantasy football players may be tempted to include Pukki in their team for the upcoming matches. However, with games against Chelsea, West Ham and Manchester City on the

agenda, it may be wise to hold off until the Norwich striker has been put through his paces against these teams.

Having said this, none of these clubs have been structurally sound in defence so far this season, so Pukki may be licking his lips at the upcoming games. It’s a great start to life in the Premier League for the Fin, but

can he maintain his form throughout the rest of the season? Only time will tell.

Juventus and Portugal star Cristiano Ronaldo remains unsure when he will retire, saying it could be as soon as next year or he could play into his 40s.

Ronaldo, 34, has continued to star after joining Juve last year, scoring 28 goals in 43 games in all competitions and helping the Italian giants win another Serie A title in 2018-19.

The five-time Ballon d'Or winner is uncertain when he will stop playing, although the star forward said it may not be far away.

"I don't think about that," Ronaldo told TVI on Tuesday.

"Maybe I can leave my career next year … but I can also play up to 40 or 41.

"I don't know. What I always say is to enjoy the moment. The gift is excellent and I have to continue to enjoy it."

Along with numerous individual honours, Ronaldo has won a record five Champions League titles (four with Real Madrid and one with Manchester United), three Premier League crowns and two LaLiga trophies.

Ronaldo wants to make history and is seemingly motivated by setting records.

"Are there any soccer players who have more records than me?" he asked.

"I don't think there are any footballers who have more records than me."

Ronaldo's Juventus begin their Serie A campaign with a trip to Parma on Saturday.

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