Liverpool sign goalkeeper Alisson in record 72.5-million-euro deal

Liverpool on Thursday signed Brazil goalkeeper Alisson from Roma in a world record deal valued at 72.5 million euros by the Italian club."The 25-year-old signed a long-term contract with the Reds after undergoing a medical and completing the formalities of his switch at (training centre) Melwood today," said the Liverpool website.Roma confirmed the value of the transfer for Alisson who featured at the World Cup in Russia."ASRoma can confirm that Alisson Becker has completed his move to Liverpool, in a deal that could be worth up to 72.5 million euros," the Serie A club said on Twitter.Alisson is a key signing for Jurgen Klopp who was desperate for a new goalkeeper to replace Loris Karius following his calamitous Champions League final performance against Real Madrid.Chelsea were also linked with Alisson who began his career with Internacional in Brazil before moving to Roma two years ago."I'm really happy, it's a dream come true to wear such a prestigious shirt for a club of this size that is used to always winning," Alisson told liverpoolfc.com."In terms of my life and my career, it's a huge step for me being part of this club and this family. You can be certain that I'll give my all."Alisson said that Liverpool striker Mohamed Salah -- also a former Roma player -- had encouraged him to join the Anfield giants."Yesterday, he sent me a text message saying: 'Hey, what are you waiting for?' As the negotiations were at an advanced stage, I replied to him straight away saying: 'Calm down, I'm on my way!'Alisson becomes Klopp's fourth summer signing after Naby Keita, Fabinho and Xherdan Shaqiri.The fee beats the previous record for a goalkeeper of 53 million euros paid by Juventus for Gianluigi Buffon in 2001 and the 40 million euros Manchester City forked out to sign Alisson's compatriot Ederson from Benfica last year."At one point in the last few weeks it came up, the opportunity to sign one of the world's best goalkeepers -- then it's not a long thought, to be honest, it's only that you need to have a little talk with the owners! They were quite excited, so we did it," said Klopp."I think it's something we have to do. He has nothing to do with the price, we have nothing to do with the price, it's the market, that's how it is and we will not think a lot about it."It shows the value of goalkeepers, of course, in this moment. It will happen a lot in the next few weeks I guess and that's it, so we are really happy to have him here now.Klopp added: "His English is surprisingly good and he is a real personality. He has meanwhile a lot of experience in the last few years, in Europe and in Rome, he's played there on an outstandingly high level and he did the same at the World Cup.Klopp was quick, however, to warn fans that Alisson will need time to adapt to life in the Premier League and can still improve further."The full package is just good," the coach added.Alisson has already experienced the famous Anfield atmosphere, playing there for Roma in last season's Champions League semi-final -- which Liverpool won 5-2."Yes (the atmosphere) in part it did influence the decision," he said."When you make an important decision like this it's not just a decision to change clubs, it practically changes your entire life, my family's life, my wife, my daughter."That game definitely did have an influence but I also watched other games. I've seen other games where I could see the way Klopp had the team playing."That has made me really excited to be part of this group. Apart from the fact that the club is massive, the players that have come through here and the titles won, hopefully I can play a part in the history being created here, win titles and be a part of the project that has been developed here in the past few years so we can see Liverpool rise once again."

Chelsea confirm Gianfranco Zola will be Maurizio Sarri's assistant manager at Stamford Bridge

Zola, widely considered one of the greatest players in Chelsea’s recent history, won four trophies during seven years at the club and was a hugely popular figure among the fanbase.

Sarri himself sought out Zola to be his assistant and the 52-year-old, whose managerial CV includes time with the Italy under-21s, West Ham and Watford, is eager to aid the new manager in whatever way he requires.

“For me it is an amazing thing,” Zola said. “I am very willing to work hard because it is going to be a difficult challenge but I am pleased to be here, to work hard with Maurizio to be successful. 

“It would be great to be successful with Maurizio and for the club and I will give my best, as I did in the past as a player, so I will give my best in my new position.

“I am very much looking forward to the challenge in general. I would love us to start well and we are all very excited to start this new adventure.”

Zola scored 80 goals for Chelsea between 1996 and 2003, with his finest hour undoubtedly the winner in the 1998 European Cup Winners' Cup final against Stuttgart. The Italian also won the 1997 FWA Footballer of the Year.

However his managerial career has not been the same unbridled success that his playing days were. Though Zola took Watford to the 2013 play-off final he struggled at West Ham, where he finished just above the relegation zone, and was sacked by his last club, Birmingham, after just two wins in his 24-match reign.

AC Milan’s Europa League ban appeal set for Thursday

AC Milan’s appeal against a European ban for breaking UEFA’s financial fair play rules will be heard Thursday (tomorrow) by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, the court announced.

A spokesman for the Lausanne-based court told AFP that the hearing will be at 9:30 am and a decision would follow “probably within 24 hours”.Last month European football’s governing body UEFA banned Milan from the Europa League for the coming season.

AC Milan have spent a troubled 15 months since they were bought by Chinese businessman Li Yonghong from Silvio Berlusconi in April 2017. The takeover was partly funded by a high-interest loan of 300 million from American hedge fund Elliott Management.

When Milan failed to make a repayment at the start of July, Elliott moved to take over, a process which is due to be ratified by club shareholders on July 21.The Chinese owners spent more than 200 million euros on players last summer and that, combined with the terms of the Elliott loan, triggered the interest of UEFA.

At the end of June, UEFA ruled that Milan were in breach of “the break-even requirement”. That specifically bars clubs from taking debt to fund day-to-day obligations such as wages or transfer fees. UEFA banned the club from its competitions.

Despite the investment in players, the club finished sixth in Serie A and only qualified for the Europa League, Europe’s second-tier tournament.The club at once said they would appeal to CAS.

In April, after a meeting at UEFA’s headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland, Marco Fassone, appointed CEO after Li’s takeover, said Berlusconi’s mismanagement was to blame.“The people who were in charge of the club before us did not respect the rules, because we are under investigation for 2014/15, 2015/16 and 2016/17,” Fassone said.

Best World Cup ever ended with France’s victory in Moscow

FIFA and the Russia-2018 organization committee summed up the tournament’s results shortly before the final match and came to the conclusion that the World Cup was the best in its history

The final of the 2018 FIFA World Cup took place at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium on Sunday. Team France hammered Croatia 4-2 in the final match to grab its second World Cup Trophy.

FIFA and the Russia-2018 organization committee summed up the tournament’s results shortly before the final match and came to the conclusion that the World Cup was the best in its history.

"A couple of years ago, I said this would be the best World Cup ever. Today, I can say that with new conviction. It is the best World Cup ever," FIFA President Gianni Infantino told a news conference in Moscow.

Chairman of the Russia-2018 organization committee Arkady Dvorkovich noted that the tournament helped Russia show its openness to the whole world. "What is most important, the citizens of our country showed who we are. We are an open and friendly nation that undertook responsibility for each guest and fulfilled it. I think that the majority of guests and citizens are satisfied," Dvorkovich said.

The FIFA World Cup was held from June 14 to July 15 at 12 stadiums in 11 Russian cities. More than 3 million people visited the matches.

 

Hazard and Belgium too good for England

Thomas Meunier and Eden Hazard struck at either end of their match for Third Place with England to secure bronze at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. The win is Belgium’s best-ever performance at the global football finals.

Belgium began superbly. Early pressure quickly turned into an early goal, with Meunier nipping in behind Danny Rose to tuck Nacer Chadli’s cross past Jordan Pickford.

Dominant and lively, they looked set to extend that lead until England regained their composure, dulling the incisive swipes of the Belgians’ passing as the half wore on.

Ultimately, as with the semi-final defeat by Croatia, England need to score more goals from open play re-surfaced.

The Three Lions battled to create chances and the half-time introductions of Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard injected a greater threat going forward, yet near-misses from Harry Maguire, Harry Kane and Eric Dier will be rued.

Eric Dier saw his cute, dinked effort hooked off the line by Toby Alderweireld in their best opportunity of the day, with Hazard sealing bronze on the break. Kevin De Bruyne slipped him in superbly and the final result was never in doubt as the Belgium captain tucked away assuredly.

Dejected England, Belgium aim to leave on a high

England manager Gareth Southgate admits the World Cup third-place play-off is a game that no team wants to play, but Saturday’s match against Belgium offers the chance to finish the tournament on a winning note.

A gut-wrenching 2-1 loss to Croatia after extra-time denied England a shot at a second World Cup triumph, instead setting up a consolation game against familiar foes Belgium.

Roberto Martinez’s side, who were beaten 1-0 by France in the last four, topped Group G ahead of England after an Adnan Januzaj goal settled a low-key encounter in Kaliningrad. That game saw both coaches heavily rotate their teams, and a similar scenario is likely in Saint Petersburg, with several fringe players pushing for a start.

“The honest thing is, it’s not a game any team wants to play in,” said Southgate, whose side have drawn praise for the way they have briefly united a country bitterly divided over Brexit.

However, he insisted that will not alter England’s approach as they look to achieve their best finish since they won the competition in 1966.

“We’ll want to give a performance of huge pride, there’s no question about that,” said Southgate.

“Every time we wear the shirt of our national team we want to play with pride, we want to play well and we want to win.”

Reserve goalkeepers Jack Butland and Nick Pope are the only two members of England’s 23-man squad yet to feature in Russia, as Southgate stuck with the same line-up throughout the knockout phase.

For Belgium and their “golden generation”, many of the key players should return for the 2022 World Cup, even if Vincent Kompany and Jan Vertonghen will probably be gone by then.

Martinez, who signed an extension until after Euro 2020 in May, can guide Belgium to the nation’s best result at the World Cup. They finished fourth in 1986. “We want to finish on a high and these players deserve to finish on a high,” said the Spaniard.

“You need to try to see the opportunity of finishing third at the World Cup. That doesn’t happen too often, so we need to understand that this is an important game.

“But I would accept it is very difficult when you had the ambition of getting to the final. It’s very difficult to prepare for the next game.”

European teams have claimed third place at the past nine World Cups. The Netherlands beat Brazil 3-0 in 2014 after the hosts were embarrassed 7-1 by Germany in the semi-finals.

England skipper Harry Kane is the tournament’s top scorer on six goals, while Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku trails by two in the race for the Golden Boot.

With one more goal Kane would become the highest scorer at the competition since 2002, when Ronaldo struck eight times, including twice in the final, as Brazil clinched a record fifth title.

 

Croatia tops England in extra time, will meet France in Final

Croatia’s legs seemed heavy, burdened by the accumulated toll of consecutive penalty-kicks wins needed to get this far. England had gone ahead with a free kick just five minutes in, dominated play and appeared headed to its first World Cup final since 1966.

Then the second half started and it was as if a different Croatian team had replaced the lethargic one.

Ivan Perisic tied the score in the 68th minute , Mario Mandzukic got the go-ahead goal in the 109th and Croatia shocked England with a 2-1 victory Wednesday that advanced a nation of just over 4 million to a World Cup final against France.

“Mentally strong team,” midfielder Ivan Rakitic said. “It’s just unbelievable to get back in the game in this way.” When the final whistle blew and they knew they were going to their first World Cup final, the Croatians ran to their jumping and cheering fans in their iconic red-and-white checkered jerseys. Croatia joined an exclusive club of 13 nations that advanced to a World Cup final, doing it in a tournament where powers Brazil, Germany, Argentina and Spain made early exits.

“They’ve had an incredible route to the final. They’ve shown remarkable character,” said England coach Gareth Southgate, who for now will be remembered more for a fashionable waistcoat than ending a half-century of hurt.

France, which won its only title at home in 1998, will have an extra day of rest after beating Belgium 1-0 on Tuesday.

Croatia, coming off 360 intense minutes at soccer’s highest level, faces its biggest sporting moment since becoming an independent nation in 1991.

“We started slowly, but we’ve shown our character, just as we did in the previous two knockout rounds when we were one-goal down,” Perisic said.

Fans back home in Zagreb took to the streets to celebrate, lighting flares and waving flags in a sea of exuberance. “We are a nation of people who never give in, who are proud and who have character,” said coach Zlatko Dalic, who wore a checkered jersey to his post-match news conference. “There’s no weakness in a team that is in the final.”

England was not among the top 10 nations in ticket sales before the tournament, but the team’s progress caused gallivanting supporters to flock to Moscow.

The front of the stands behind one goal was filled with more than two dozen white banners with a red Cross of St. George, pledging support from many of the island’s clubs, from Bradford to Wolverhampton. Back home, a crowd of 30,000 was in London’s Hyde Park for a large-screen viewing, the British Beer and Pub Association predicted supporters would buy 10 million extra pints at pubs during the match, and No.1 Court at Wimbledon was less than one-third full for the men’s quarterfinal between John Isner and Milos Raonic.

Promise seemed about to be fulfilled when Kieran Trippier curled in a free kick in the fifth minute for his first international goal, above leaping Dejan Lovren and Mandzukic and past the desperate dive of goalkeeper Danijel Subasic. Choruses of “God Save the Queen” began in England’s end.

“We had a couple chances after that to get the second, give ourselves a bit more breathing room,” England captain Harry Kane said.

Football will not be coming home to England, and there will be no title to match the 1966 triumph at Wembley Stadium. Kane & Co. will deal with the same disappointment that felled Shearer and Platt, Gazza and Wazza, Beckham and Gerrard. And Southgate, whose penalty-kick failure led to England’s previous semifinal loss in a major tournament, in the 1996 European Championship semifinals.

“Impossible to say anything to them that is going to make them feel better at this point,” Southgate said after England’s fourth straight loss in a major tournament semifinal.

Croatia tied the score after Rakitic switched the ball from left flank to right, where Vrsaljko crossed. Kyle Walker attempted a diving header to clear. Perisic jumped and from behind raised his left boot over Walker’s head to poke the ball past goalkeeper Jordan Pickford from about 8 yards for his fourth goal in the tournament. England had its moments to go back ahead, but Lingard failed to connect with a Kane through ball in 78th, and Kane miss-hit a header off a free kick in stoppage time.

Croatia defender Sime Vrsaljko kept the score even nine minutes into extra time with a goal-line clearance of John Stones’ header off a corner kick. Then Croatia became the first team since Argentina beat Italy in 1990 to come from behind to win a World Cup semifinal match

Mandzukic scored after Walker stuck out a leg to block Josip Pivaric’s cross. The ball popped up, and Perisic outjumped Trippier to head the ball toward goal. Mandzukic alertly reacted to the unexpected ball in the penalty area, splitting defenders Stones and Harry Maguire, who both had taken four short steps up. The ball bounced twice, Mandzukic ran onto it and one-timed a low, left-footed shot to Pickford’s left.

“Three times 120 minutes and fresher legs today than the English team,” Lovren marveled.

Mandzukic ran to a corner and was mobbed by teammates, who jumped on him and trapped photographers under them in the crush.

Not long after, Dalic was thinking about the short recovery time before the final.

“It’s our fault. Why didn’t we score earlier?” he said. “Why didn’t we finish the job in regulation time?”

Rakitic wasn’t worried.

“We still have lots of energy in the tank,” he said.

 

France into World Cup final after 1-0 win over Belgium

Samuel Umtiti's 51st minute header earned France a place in Sunday's World Cup final as they defeated Belgium 1-0 in St Petersburg on Tuesday night.

Umtiti took advantage of a lapse in defense to nod the ball past Thibaut Courtois via a slight deflection to give them a win in a tight but entertaining game, where one small detail made the difference.

France welcomed Blaise Matudi back into midfield following suspension and retained their habitual 4-2-3-1 system, while Belgium returned to a system of three central defenders, with the powerful Axel Witsel, Moussa Dembele, Nacer Chadli and Marouane Fellaini in the middle of the park in what was virtually a 3-2-4-1 formation.

Kylian Mbappe showed his pace after just 10 seconds with a run down the right and a cross that was just hacked away from the advancing Antoine Griezmann, before Belgium took control of the ball with the mobile Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne both producing dangerous balls into the area, before Hazard fired just wide in the 15th minute and saw Raphael Varene flick the ball over when a shot looked destined for the net.

Hugo Lloris was then twice in the action, punching clear from Fellaini and saving at full stretch to deny Toby Alderweireld's shot on the turn as Belgium pressed for the opening goal.

Hazard was pulling the strings for Belgium, but the game ebbed and flowed as the first half progressed with Giroud the focus of France's attacks, putting a Mbappe cross wide when well-placed 11 minutes before the break.

Benjamin Pavard went closer with a shot Courtois saved with his outstretched foot after Mbappe had hypnotized the Belgian defense.

France took the lead in the 51st minute after Umtiti got in front of Fellaini to nod past Courtois, who five minutes later produced a fine save to deny Olivier Giroud, put through by Mbappe's backheel.

Dries Mertens came on for Dembele, but Fellaini headed his cross just wide in the 65th minute as the game once more opened up.

Witsel drew a good save out of Lloris with 10 minutes remaining as Belgium lay siege to the France goal, but it was a night where the final pass was always just wayward and on Sunday the French will once again march on Moscow.

Cristiano Ronaldo signs for Juventus from Real Madrid

Five-times world player of the year Cristiano Ronaldo has signed for Juventus from Real Madrid, the La Liga club said in a statement on Tuesday.

Ronaldo, who joined Real from Manchester United in 2008 for a then world record 80 million pounds, is the Spanish club’s all-time top scorer with 451 goals in all competitions and won two La Liga titles and four Champions League trophies with them.

“For Real Madrid, Cristiano Ronaldo will always be one of its greatest symbols and a unique reference for the generations to come,” European champions Real said, adding that Ronaldo had asked to be transferred.

“Real Madrid will always be his home”. The transfer fee was not disclosed but Spanish media said Ronaldo had signed a four-year deal and had cost Juventus 105 million euros ($123.24 million).

The Portugal international scored two goals against Juventus in Real’s 4-1 win in the 2017 Champions League final and earlier this season struck a jaw-dropping bicycle kick against the Italians in a 3-0 win in a quarter-final first-leg game in Turin which prompted Juve supporters to give him a standing ovation. The Portuguese, 33, converted a stoppage-time penalty in the second leg to knock the Italians out 4-3 on aggregate.

The signing of the latest Ballon d’Or winner and top scorer in the Champions League for the last six seasons represents a major coup for Juve, who have had a stranglehold on the Italian title since 2012 but have not won Europe’s top prize since 1996.

The signing also strikes a blow for the profile of Serie A against La Liga, which has now lost two of its three most famous players in the last year after Paris St Germain signed Neymar from Barcelona last August.

Pressure on Belgium's golden generation, easy for England

With the quarterfinals done and dusted, there are just four teams left standing at the 2018 World Cup. Out of Belgium, France, England and Croatia, who will book their place in the final on July 15?

Belgium vs France is a game between two European neighbours and arguably the two teams who have produced the most outstanding performances so far.

Belgium's so-called golden generation have fallen short in recent tournaments, failing to deliver at the last two European Championships and the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, but their destruction of the Brazilians in the quarterfinal was the performance of a team that believes it can become world champions.

France, who laboured through their group with only three goals in three games against Australia, Peru and Denmark, showcased their incredible depth of talent when teenager Kylian Mbappe led their second-round dismantling of Argentina in Kazan. France are perhaps peaking ahead of their time, with Didier Deschamps' young team viewed by many as not likely to mature into potential World Cup winners until Qatar 2022.

Mbappe, Ousmane Dembele, Samuel Umtiti, Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann will almost certainly all be around in four years' time, but for Belgium, this World Cup has to be their moment. With so many players in or approaching their 30s, Roberto Martinez's men have to grasp this opportunity or risk seeing it evaporate forever.

But Belgium -- led by outstanding efforts from Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku -- were so hot against Brazil, they go into this game against their big-brother neighbour as favourites. France have the greater pedigree -- winners in 1998 and finalists in 2006 -- but Belgium are the team that seems to have come together at just the right time in Russia.

The Belgians, having kept Neymar quiet against Brazil, must now find a way to do the same with Mbappe, but Vincent Kompany's return to fitness ensures that Martinez can rely on the Manchester City captain's experience to marshal the defence.

France, in turn, have to find a way to nullify De Bruyne and Hazard, but the Belgians possess more match-winners. Do they have the mentality to beat France in a huge game? That is the only real question.

An unlikely semifinal matchup at the start of the tournament, Croatia and England now both stand on the verge of the World Cup final after negotiating a favourable route to reach this stage of the competition. England have eliminated Colombia and Sweden, while Croatia, so impressive having won their group with three victories, have been taken to penalties by Denmark and Russia in the knockout rounds.

But having twice endured the draining, yet ultimately successful, ordeal of extra-time and penalties, the big question over Croatia going into Wednesday's semifinal will be about how much they have left in the tank. And will goalkeeper Danijel Subasic, the shootout hero against Denmark and Russia, be fully fit after appearing to injure his hamstring late in Saturday's game against Russia?

England have no such fitness concerns after coasting to a 2-0 quarterfinal win against Sweden in normal time in Samara, but manager Gareth Southgate does have tactical questions to answer before the Croatia clash. Should he break up the attacking midfield trio of Jesse Lingard, Raheem Sterling and Dele Alli to accommodate an extra holding midfielder (Eric Dier) to help snuff out the threat of Luka Modric or did their combined performance against Sweden make a change a gamble?

If it boils down to a football contest in Moscow, Croatia's ability on the ball will be a huge test for England. The two countries have a colourful history, having met seven times since Croatia earned its independence in the early 1990s.

England won 4-2 at Euro 2004 in the only meeting at a major tournament, but the most famous encounter was in November 2007, when Croatia's 3-2 win at Wembley denied England a place at Euro 2008 and earned manager Steve McClaren the nickname of the "Wally with the Brolly" after he forlornly patrolled the touchline under an umbrella. The last two meetings have ended in big wins -- 4-1 and 5-1 -- for England, so Southgate's men will have no fear on Wednesday, and their extra energy could be decisive.

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