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Champions League final: Preview, prediction for Liverpool-Real Madrid clash

It’s here. This Saturday, the globe’s attention turns to the Parisian suburbs, where Real Madrid and Liverpool meet in the Champions League final. Here’s a breakdown of the much-anticipated contest, along with a predicted outcome.

There’s a tendency to bow to the mysticism of Real Madrid. Rather than explaining their escape acts and their opponents’ collapses as part of an obvious pattern – a big team with tremendous players winning a game – some attribute their glories to intangible concepts.

Even their manager does it.

“If you have to say why,” Carlo Ancelotti said after Real Madrid downed Manchester City in dramatic fashion earlier in May, “it is the history of this club that helps us to keep going when it seems that we are gone.”

Past successes can be used for encouragement, but to claim Real Madrid’s journey to the Champions League final is thanks to an off-the-pitch force does the team and its coaching staff a disservice. There’s no fairy dust collecting on Los Blancos’ trophies – instead, their run is fueled by the excellence of three veterans awash with European experience.

Karim Benzema is the most dangerous striker on the planet. He’s already matched his former strike partner Cristiano Ronaldo for most goals (10) in a single season in the Champions League knockout rounds, and arguably no one’s ever been so clinical in front of goal in consecutive doubleheaders against foes of Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea, and Manchester City’s strength.

Antonio Villalba / Real Madrid / Getty

Benzema notched late winning goals against each of Real Madrid’s knockout rivals to further underline his remarkable stamina at 34, but Liverpool will need to do more than subdue his firepower to conquer Europe for a seventh time. The Frenchman poses a constant threat with his ability to lure players from their defensive positions when he drops deep before releasing his fellow attackers into the space he pried open. From those positions, Benzema can instantly instigate attacks with a swift flick or nonchalant back pass.

The midfield protection from Fabinho – who missed Liverpool’s last three matches – will be crucial to hampering Benzema’s buildup play.

Fabinho and his midfield colleagues will also be occupied with Luka Modric, the 36-year-old who delicately dabs at the ball when he has possession but snaps and snarls when he doesn’t. Given his slight 5-foot-8 frame, the physicality of his game is regularly overlooked, but the Croatian playmaker’s willingness to hurl himself into aerial battles and plunge into tackles helped instill belief in his teammates before they battled back from seemingly irreparable scenarios in this Champions League campaign.

But his passing will always be one of his finest features, as his stunning assist for Rodrygo against Chelsea demonstrated. The Liverpool defense simply can’t shut off when the ball is under Modric’s spell.

Soccrates Images / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Real Madrid’s third key veteran is Ancelotti. He may have succumbed to the habit of using history and wizardry to explain his side’s European pedigree, but consistency and the effectiveness of his substitutions are undoubtedly down to his management. Ancelotti, who turns 63 in June, stabilized a club that could’ve lost its way following the departures of Zinedine Zidane and Sergio Ramos within a six-week spell last summer. He became the first boss to win titles in each of Europe’s top five leagues when the team wrapped up La Liga in April.

A victory at the Stade de France would secure Ancelotti a record fourth European title as a coach. The Italian also collected the European Cup twice as a player.

On the opposite end of the scale from the whimsical descriptions of Real Madrid, there can be a habit to oversimplify Liverpool’s achievements. There were no miracles as the Reds dispatched Inter Milan, Benfica, and Villarreal – just as we’d all expected – in the knockout rounds while showcasing their relentlessness in attack and imperious defending led by Virgil van Dijk.

But what about the midfield?

The influence of Thiago Alcantara has grown exponentially this term, so it was a considerable boost when Jurgen Klopp said the Spaniard could play in this weekend’s showpiece. Thiago can take control of the midfield battle, wriggling free of the crowd before invariably making the right decision when he passes. His varied distribution is among the best in the game and helped him become a regular supplier of secondary assists at Bayern Munich. He can break lines with low, measured passes and lift balls over backlines for Liverpool’s attackers with equal quality.

Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA / Getty Images Sport / Getty

With Thiago around, the onus isn’t primarily on Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson to furnish opportunities for the frontmen.

The focus on Alisson, Van Dijk, and the Mohamed Salah-led strikeforce can also detract attention from how excellently constructed Liverpool are. Their domestic and continental rivals have vulnerabilities – Real Madrid are shallow in their full-back slots – but the Merseyside club has at least two strong candidates for each position.

Real Madrid should be wary when Klopp starts to tinker on the sidelines. There is arguably no club in Europe whose replacements are so strong. Ibrahima Konate and Joel Matip are top-level defenders but offer different qualities for different scenarios. Harvey Elliott is one of the most exciting young talents in football and provides boundless energy and positivity as a No. 8. Roberto Firmino and Diogo Jota fit snugly into an attacking triumvirate but are vastly different to both one another and the players they’d replace.

This matchup is bound to be close, but if they resist the Spanish champions’ sorcery, Liverpool possess the depth and overall quality needed to eventually outmuscle Ancelotti’s men.

Prediction: Liverpool win after extra time

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Premier League

Why English football may be at the start of an Asian revolution

Zesh Rehman’s full debut was more memorable than most. The defender helped subdue Tottenham Hotspur’s Jermain Defoe and Robbie Keane in a 2-0 win, but what and who he represented far outweighed Fulham’s three-point haul.

He’d become the first British-born Pakistani to start a Premier League match.

“It wasn’t just in the U.K., but across the world as well, specifically in Pakistan,” Riz Rehman, the Professional Footballers’ Association’s Player Inclusion Executive, told theScore of the attention that greeted his brother’s appearance in 2004.

“It inspired a lot of kids abroad and in the U.K. He was just inundated with emails, phone calls. The club was inundated with the media wanting to talk to him about his journey.”

Zesh Rehman is a trailblazer for British Asians – particularly South Asians – who harbor aspirations of becoming professional footballers, but his landmark didn’t trigger a landslide.

Asian and British Asian people make up almost 7.5% of the U.K. population, but during the 2019-20 campaign, just eight players hailing from those backgrounds made first-team appearances across England’s top four divisions, according to the PFA. A report commissioned by Football Supporters’ Association and Beyond Entertainment in November 2020 stated only 0.25% of professional footballers were British Asian.

“There’s an untapped market out there,” Riz Rehman said.

Jamie McDonald / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Nearly two decades on from his brother’s historic appearance, Rehman is actively addressing English football’s long-overlooked demographic as head of the PFA’s Asian Inclusion Mentoring Scheme. The initiative officially launched in February 2021 following an extended trial period.

Rehman’s role is to meet with clubs to discuss their recruitment strategies and guide them toward communities and programs that fall below their radar.

“It’s not about blaming the clubs,” he explained, “it’s also looking at the community and the current setup. What leagues are players playing in? Where do scouts go?”

In addition to improving the visibility of football in Asian communities, the AIMS provides support that was scarce while the Rehman brothers were emerging at Brentford and Fulham. Welsh international Neil Taylor, Sunderland center-back Danny Batth, and other former and current players of South Asian heritage are among those mentoring the next generation through the program.

Rehman himself talks to players on a daily basis. He estimates he’s engaged with around 80 players from an academy system comprising approximately 15,000 promising youngsters. Rehman can’t imagine he’s missed as many as 20 youth-team footballers from Asian backgrounds, but even if he should be keeping tabs on 100 players, that still represents under 0.7% of the footballers in clubs’ production lines.

“They’re playing just as much as their Black and white counterparts,” Rehman said. “So why not look at them?”

Children’s football participation in England

Kids aged 5-16 Share of young population Share of football participation
White 68.4% 67.1%
Asian 9.6% 10%
Black 4.6% 5.3%

Source: Sport England, January 2020

Asian youngsters’ appetite for the game is unquestionable, yet it’s not being reflected in England’s professional game. This presents an opportunity for clubs to knock down biases in the nation’s No. 1 sport and uncover nascent talents amid relatively little competition from their rivals.

The hunger for a South Asian player to “make it” is also huge, offering clubs potentially lucrative marketing windfalls.

Manchester United’s teenage midfielder Zidane Iqbal is a media sensation. He was born in England and could’ve also donned a Pakistan kit on the international stage, but he instead opted to play for his mother’s homeland of Iraq. He made his debut in a World Cup qualifier in January.

“He’s the second-most requested player at United for media requests after Cristiano Ronaldo,” Rehman said. “He’s only played five minutes of Champions League football. So, that’s the kind of interest there is.”

Reflecting the community

Queens Park Rangers are ahead of the curve. Director of football Les Ferdinand and head of coaching Chris Ramsey are at the forefront of the club’s vision, and its implementation – which began when Ferdinand was hired in 2015 – didn’t require the scouting department to be overhauled or other expensive amendments to QPR’s day-to-day operations.

Andrew Matthews – PA Images / PA Images / Getty

They simply looked around the streets cradling Loftus Road.

“One of the remits (Ferdinand) set the club was to try and make the club’s players or the academy players – any players that we work with on the football front – look like our local community,” football development manager Danny Harrigan, who’s been with the club for 12 years, told theScore.

Harrigan recently helped strike up a relationship with Indian Gymkhana, a multi-sports club based in Isleworth, west London, that’s expanded its football program. Youth coaches at Indian Gymkhana were invited to QPR’s academy, where they met with staff and watched some of their training drills. The visiting coaches then sat down to discuss possible career pathways for their own promising players.

Through simply reaching out, QPR forged a link that could make players from minority backgrounds at Indian Gymkhana – membership isn’t restricted to people of Indian origin – feel a part of British football. Indian Gymkhana and QPR have long been part of the same community, and now it feels that way.

QPR’s inclusive approach extends beyond player recruitment. Manisha Tailor is forging a path for people from diverse backgrounds in her position as QPR’s assistant head of coaching. She’s the first woman and first person of South Asian heritage to occupy such a prestigious coaching role in the men’s game in England.

Tailor was a latecomer to football – only giving up teaching at a primary school in 2011 – who could’ve been involved earlier if there were hints of full-time opportunities in the sport. Role models were in short supply. “I didn’t see people like me in that space,” she said.

It was when she stepped away from full-time employment to finish a qualification and care for her mother that she gradually became acquainted with a “new world.” Upon learning Tailor had stopped teaching, former England attacker Rachel Yankey, whom Tailor had worked with in education, encouraged her friend to join her grassroots program on a part-time basis. Tailor was now making steps in the sport she loved, and it was through football that she met Ramsey at two events relating to diversity.

Andrew Kearns – CameraSport / CameraSport / Getty

Ramsey told an inquisitive Tailor that she needed to hone her craft with minutes on the training pitches and attain a UEFA B license to further her career when they first met in 2014, advice she took. Ramsey, who’d identified Tailor’s aptitude and unbridled work ethic, offered her a volunteer role at QPR during their second encounter two years later.

Tailor recognizes that her mentor, who is Black, had a strong sense of empathy after dealing with adversity himself. The vastly experienced Ramsey’s nine-month spell in charge of QPR in 2015 is his only managerial stint in England’s professional leagues.

“He understands what it’s really like to be the best person for the job but not necessarily get the job,” Tailor said. “He gets what it’s like to go time after time, fill in job applications, but not even get an interview.”

During their visit to QPR, the Indian Gymkhana coaches noted there had been more activity around their players in recent years. But progress is steady. To expedite the process, a quota system could be introduced to ensure clubs are training children in numbers that better reflect the participation rates of ethnic groups in their local areas.

However, there is progress. For a long time, English football couldn’t say that about Asian involvement – especially as it pertains to South Asian players.

The clubs already gaining a presence in previously ignored neighborhoods stand to benefit for years to come. By uncovering players in a less-farmed section of the British football landscape, they can attract a new generation of fans with various outreach projects, such as supporting charitable causes and visiting local schools.

And with more fans come new generations of followers who want to play for the club that represents them.

“There’s a lot more to what we do than just what people see on the Saturday,” Harrigan said. “We are a community club.”

Copyright © 2022 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.

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Premier League

Premier League transfer tracker: Every deal from the summer window

The summer transfer window is officially open. Below, theScore runs through every Premier League deal that has been confirmed by the 20 clubs in England’s top flight.

Arsenal

John Todd/ISI Photos / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Players In

  • Matt Turner (New England Revolution) – permanent transfer (Read more)
  • Hector Bellerin (Real Betis) – return from loan
  • Ainsley Maitland-Niles (Roma) – return from loan
  • William Saliba (Marseille) – return from loan
  • Lucas Torreira (Fiorentina) – return from loan
  • Pablo Mari (Udinese) – return from loan
  • Reiss Nelson (Feyenoord) – return from loan
  • Alex Runarsson (OH Leuven) – return from loan
  • Auston Trusty (Colorado Rapids) – return from loan

Players Out

  • Alexandre Lacazette (Lyon) – free transfer (Read more)
  • Dinos Mavropanos (Stuttgart) – loan made permanent
  • Jonathan Dinzeyi – released
  • Joel Lopez – released
  • Jordan McEneff – released

Aston Villa

David Davies – PA Images / PA Images / Getty

Players In

  • Philippe Coutinho (Barcelona) – £17.2M fee (Read more)
  • Diego Carlos (Sevilla) – reported £26M fee (Read more)
  • Boubacar Kamara (Marseille) – free transfer (Read more)
  • Robin Olsen (Roma) – permanent transfer
  • Anwar El Ghazi (Everton) – return from loan
  • Keinan Davis (Nottingham Forest) – return from loan
  • Trezeguet (Istanbul Basaksehir) – return from loan
  • Frederic Guilbert (Strasbourg) – return from loan
  • Lovre Kalinic (Hajduk Split) – return from loan

Players Out

  • Matt Targett (Newcastle United) – loan made permanent for £15M (Read more)

Bournemouth

Robin Jones – AFC Bournemouth / AFC Bournemouth / Getty

Players In

  • None

Players Out

  • Gary Cahill – released
  • Nat Phillips (Liverpool) – end of loan
  • Todd Cantwell (Norwich City) – end of loan
  • Leif Davis (Leeds United) – end of loan
  • Ethan Laird (Manchester United) – end of loan
  • Freddie Woodman (Newcastle United) – end of loan
  • Morgan Rogers (Manchester City) – end of loan
  • Connor Kurran-Browne – released
  • Ryan Glover – released
  • Brennan Camp – released
  • Luke Nippard – released
  • Owen Palmer – released
  • Aaron Roberts – released
  • Jack Seddon – released

Brentford

Anadolu Agency / Anadolu Agency / Getty

Players In

  • Halil Dervisoglu (Galatasaray) – return from loan
  • Marcus Forss (Hull City) – return from loan
  • Mads Bidstrup (FC Nordsjaelland) – return from loan
  • Joel Valencia (AD Alcorcon) – return from loan
  • Charlie Goode (Sheffield United) – return from loan
  • Dominic Thompson (Ipswich Town) – return from loan
  • Ellery Balcombe (Bromley) – return from loan
  • Luka Racic (KB Koge) – return from loan

Players Out

  • Mathias “Zanka” Jorgensen – released
  • Alvaro Fernandez (Huesca) – end of loan
  • Jonas Lossl (FC Midtjylland) – end of loan
  • Julian Jeanvier – released
  • Ben Hockenhull (Tranmere Rovers) – free transfer

Brighton & Hove Albion

Juan Manuel Serrano Arce / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Players In

  • Florin Andone (Cadiz) – return from loan
  • Aaron Connolly (Middlesbrough) – return from loan
  • Andi Zeqiri (Augsburg) – return from loan
  • Leo Ostigard (Genoa) – return from loan
  • Matt Clarke (West Bromwich Albion) – return from loan
  • Jan Paul van Hecke (Blackburn Rovers) – return from loan
  • Taylor Richards (Birmingham City) – return from loan
  • Abdallah Sima (Stoke City) – return from loan
  • Kacper Kozlowski (Royale Union Saint-Gilloise) – return from loan
  • Deniz Undav (Royale Union Saint-Gilloise) – return from loan
  • Kjell Scherpen (KV Oostende) – return from loan
  • Michal Karbownik (Olympiacos) – return from loan

Players Out

  • Jayson Molumby (West Bromwich Albion) – loan made permanent
  • Tudor Baluta – released
  • Lars Dendoncker – released
  • Ayo Tanimowo – released
  • Adam Desbois – released
  • Ulrick Ella – released
  • John Lucero – released
  • Jaami Qureshi – released

Chelsea

Visionhaus / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Players In

  • Conor Gallagher (Crystal Palace) – return from loan
  • Armando Broja (Southampton) – return from loan
  • Michy Batshuayi (Besiktas) – return from loan
  • Emerson Palmieri (Lyon) – return from loan
  • Ethan Ampadu (Venezia) – return from loan
  • Billy Gilmour (Norwich City) – return from loan
  • Abdul-Rahman Baba (Reading) – return from loan
  • Matt Miazga (Alaves) – return from loan

Players Out

  • Antonio Rudiger (Real Madrid) – free transfer (Read more)
  • Andreas Christensen – released
  • Danny Drinkwater – released (Read more)
  • Saul Niguez (Atletico Madrid) – end of loan
  • Jake Clarke-Salter – released
  • Charly Musonda Jr. – released

Crystal Palace

Zac Goodwin – PA Images / PA Images / Getty

Players In

  • Luke Plange (Derby County) – return from loan

Players Out

  • Conor Gallagher (Chelsea) – end of loan
  • Martin Kelly – released

Everton

Emma Simpson – Everton FC / Everton FC / Getty

Players In

  • Jean-Philippe Gbamin (CSKA Moscow) – return from loan
  • Joao Virginia (Sporting CP) – return from loan
  • Niels Nkounkou (Standard Liege) – return from loan

Players Out

  • Fabian Delph – released
  • Donny van de Beek (Manchester United) – end of loan
  • Gylfi Sigurdsson – released
  • Jonjoe Kenny – released
  • Cenk Tosun – released
  • Anwar El Ghazi (Aston Villa) – end of loan

Fulham

SOPA Images / LightRocket / Getty

Players In

  • Steven Sessegnon (Plymouth Argyle) – return from loan

Players Out

  • Fabio Carvalho (Liverpool) – permanent transfer (Read more)
  • Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa (Napoli) – loan made permanent
  • Jean Michael Seri – released
  • Cyrus Christie – released
  • Michael Hector – released
  • Alfie Mawson – released
  • Neco Williams (Liverpool) – end of loan
  • Fabri – released
  • Jerome Opoku – released
  • Jacob Adams – released
  • Eric Ameyaw – released
  • Xavier Benjamin – released
  • Tyler Caton – released
  • Jonathan Page – released
  • Julian Schwarzer – released
  • Jaylan Wildbore – released

Leeds United

Matthew Ashton – AMA / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Players In

  • Brenden Aaronson (Salzburg) – reported $28M fee (Read more)
  • Rasmus Kristensen (Salzburg) – reported £8.5M fee (Read more)
  • Helder Costa (Valencia) – return from loan
  • Ian Poveda (Blackburn Rovers) – return from loan
  • Leif Davis (Bournemouth) – return from loan
  • Cody Drameh (Cardiff City) – return from loan
  • Mateusz Bogusz (UD Ibiza) – return from loan

Players Out

  • Nohan Kenneh (Hibernian) – permanent transfer

Leicester City

Plumb Images / Leicester City FC / Getty

Players In

  • None

Players Out

  • Eldin Jakupovic – released
  • Vontae Daley-Campbell – released
  • Tyrese Shade – released
  • Jacob Wakeling – released
  • Callum Hulme – released
  • Will Russ – released

Liverpool

Jacques Feeney / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Players In

  • Fabio Carvalho (Fulham) – permanent transfer (Read more)
  • Neco Williams (Fulham) – return from loan
  • Nat Phillips (Bournemouth) – return from loan
  • Ben Davies (Sheffield United) – return from loan
  • Sepp van den Berg (Preston North End) – return from loan

Players Out

  • Divock Origi – released (Read more)
  • Loris Karius – released (Read more)
  • Ben Woodburn – released
  • Sheyi Ojo – released
  • Elijah Dixon-Bonner – released
  • Luis Longstaff – released
  • Sean Wilson – released

Manchester City

DeFodi Images / DeFodi Images / Getty

Players In

  • Erling Haaland (Borussia Dortmund) – reported €60M fee (Read more)
  • Issa Kabore (Troyes) – return from loan
  • Ko Itakura (Schalke) – return from loan
  • Yangel Herrera (Espanyol) – return from loan
  • Nahuel Bustos (Girona) – return from loan
  • Arijanet Muric (Adana Demirspor) – return from loan
  • Morgan Rogers (Bournemouth) – return from loan
  • Ante Palaversa (KV Kortrijk) – return from loan
  • Marlos Moreno (KV Kortrijk) – return from loan
  • Daniel Arzani (Lommel) – return from loan
  • Ryotaro Meshino (Estoril) – return from loan
  • Diego Rosa (Lommel) – return from loan

Players Out

  • Fernandinho – released (Read more)
  • Jayden Braaf (Borussia Dortmund) – free transfer (Read more)
  • Pedro Porro (Sporting CP) – loan made permanent

Manchester United

Quality Sport Images / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Players In

  • Anthony Martial (Sevilla) – return from loan
  • Donny van de Beek (Everton) – return from loan
  • Axel Tuanzebe (Napoli) – return from loan
  • James Garner (Nottingham Forest) – return from loan
  • Amad Diallo (Rangers) – return from loan
  • Brandon Williams (Norwich City) – return from loan
  • Ethan Laird (Bournemouth) – return from loan
  • Tahith Chong (Birmingham City) – return from loan
  • Facundo Pellistri (Alaves) – return from loan
  • Andreas Pereira (Flamengo) – return from loan

Players Out

  • Paul Pogba – released (Read more)
  • Juan Mata – released (Read more)
  • Nemanja Matic – released (Read more)
  • Edinson Cavani – released
  • Jesse Lingard – released
  • Lee Grant – retired
  • Paul McShane – released
  • D’Mani Mellor – released
  • Reece Devine – released
  • Connor Stanley – released
  • Paul Woolston – released

Newcastle United

Serena Taylor / Newcastle United / Getty

Players In

  • Matt Targett (Aston Villa) – loan made permanent for £15M (Read more)
  • Freddie Woodman (Bournemouth) – return from loan
  • Jeff Hendrick (Queens Park Rangers) – return from loan
  • Matty Longstaff (Mansfield Town) – return from loan
  • Alex Murphy (Galway United) – permanent transfer

Players Out

  • Isaac Hayden (Norwich City) – season-long loan
  • Jake Turner – released
  • Mo Sangare (Accrington Stanley) – free transfer
  • Jack Young (Wycombe Wanderers) – loan made permanent
  • Oisin McEntee (Walsall) – free transfer
  • Piotr Banda – released
  • Liam Chrystal – released
  • Joel Green – released
  • Josh Nicholson – released
  • Nathan Robertson – released

Nottingham Forest

Visionhaus / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Players In

  • Lyle Taylor (Birmingham City) – return from loan
  • Harry Arter (Notts County) – return from loan
  • Nikolas Ioannou (Como) – return from loan
  • Mohamed Drager (Luzern) – return from loan
  • Nuno Da Costa (Caen) – return from loan

Players Out

  • Djed Spence (Middlesbrough) – end of loan
  • James Garner (Manchester United) – end of loan
  • Keinan Davis (Aston Villa) – end of loan
  • Philip Zinckernagel (Watford) – end of loan
  • Max Lowe (Sheffield United) – end of loan
  • Carl Jenkinson – released
  • Gaetan Bong – released
  • Tobias Figueiredo – released
  • Baba Fernandes – released
  • Sam Sanders – released
  • Josh Barnes – released
  • Marcelo Valencia – released
  • Morgan Thomas-Sadler – released
  • Joe Watkins – released

Southampton

Catherine Ivill / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Players In

  • Dan N’Lundulu (Cheltenham Town) – return from loan
  • Alex Iwumene (Sutton United) – permanent transfer

Players Out

  • Fraser Forster (Tottenham Hotspur) – free transfer (Read more)
  • Armando Broja (Chelsea) – end of loan
  • Harry Lewis (Bradford City) – free transfer

Tottenham Hotspur

Tottenham Hotspur FC / Tottenham Hotspur FC / Getty

Players In

  • Ivan Perisic (Inter Milan) – free transfer (Read more)
  • Fraser Forster (Southampton) – free transfer (Read more)
  • Tanguy Ndombele (Lyon) – return from loan
  • Giovani Lo Celso (Villarreal) – return from loan
  • Bryan Gil (Valencia) – return from loan
  • Pape Sarr (Metz) – return from loan
  • Jack Clarke (Sunderland) – return from loan

Players Out

  • Pierluigi Gollini (Atalanta) – end of loan
  • J’Neil Bennett – released
  • Tobi Omole – released
  • Josh Oluwayemi – released
  • Kacper Kurylowicz – released
  • Dermi Lusala – released
  • Thimothee Lo-Tutala – released
  • Isak Solberg – released

West Ham United

Jacques Feeney/Offside / Offside / Getty

Players In

  • Conor Coventry (MK Dons) – return from loan

Players Out

  • Mark Noble – retired (Read more)
  • Andriy Yarmolenko – released (Read more)
  • Ryan Fredericks – released
  • Alex Kral (Spartak Moscow) – end of loan
  • David Martin – released
  • Nathan Holland – released
  • Jayden Fevrier – released
  • Amadou Diallo – released
  • Ossama Ashley – released

Wolverhampton Wanderers

Jack Thomas – WWFC / Wolverhampton Wanderers FC / Getty

Players In

  • Hee-Chan Hwang (RB Leipzig) – loan made permanent for reported €16M
  • Morgan Gibbs-White (Sheffield United) – return from loan
  • Patrick Cutrone (Empoli) – return from loan
  • Bruno Jordao (Grasshoppers) – return from loan
  • Bendeguz Bolla (Grasshoppers) – return from loan
  • Leo Bonatini (Grasshoppers) – return from loan
  • Connor Ronan (St. Mirren) – return from loan
  • Louie Moulden (Ebbsfleet United) – return from loan
  • Renat Dadashov (Tondela) – return from loan

Players Out

  • Romain Saiss – released
  • Francisco Trincao (Barcelona) – end of loan
  • John Ruddy – released
  • Marcal – released
  • Ruben Vinagre (Sporting CP) – loan made permanent
  • Jamie Pardington – released
  • Conor Carty – released
  • Pascal Estrada – released
  • Raphael Nya – released
  • Faisu Sangare – released

Copyright © 2022 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.

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Premier League

Wales reaches 1st World Cup since 1958 after beating Ukraine in playoff final

Wales is off to the World Cup for the first time since 1958.

Gareth Bale’s free-kick in the 34th minute forced an own goal from Andriy Yarmolenko, and the Welsh held on to beat Ukraine 1-0 in Sunday’s playoff final at Cardiff City Stadium.

Wales is the 13th and final team from Europe to book a ticket to Qatar. It drops into Group B with England, Iran, and the United States.

Rob Page’s side will face the U.S. first on Nov. 21. It will then meet Iran on Nov. 25 and finish off round-robin play four days later against England.

Welsh goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey – a backup for recently relegated Premier League side Burnley and for his country at last year’s European Championship – made nine saves to preserve a famous clean sheet.

Ukraine outshot Wales 23-10 but couldn’t find a way past the 35-year-old shot-stopper.

The playoff final was originally scheduled to take place in March. UEFA rearranged the fixture following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Six of the players in Oleksandr Petrakov’s starting lineup on Sunday hadn’t played since the war broke out at the end of February. Their first taste of competitive action in months came in Wednesday’s playoff semifinal in Scotland, where Ukraine pulled off an emotional 3-1 victory.

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Petrakov made no changes to the lineup on Sunday, and his players didn’t disappoint him. Ukraine outplayed Wales in the first half, and Hennessey continued to frustrate the visitors in the second. The Welshman kept out Viktor Tsyhankov’s close-range effort 10 minutes after the interval and dove to his left to turn away Artem Dovbyk’s powerful header in the 84th minute.

Brennan Johnson nearly doubled Wales’ advantage when he hit the post in the 75th minute. Ukrainian keeper Heorhiy Bushchan denied Bale from point-blank range a minute later.

The Ukrainians had hoped World Cup qualification would offer the people of their war-torn country a sense of joy amid the continuing barrage on their homeland. Full-back Oleksandr Zinchenko had said he wanted to give his compatriots a reason to smile, even if only “for a few seconds.”

The war is now 102 days’ old, and on Sunday, Vladimir Putin’s Russian regime, which has classified the invasion as a “special military operation,” resumed airstrikes on the capital of Kyiv.

Nearly seven million people have fled Ukraine since the war started on Feb. 24, according to the U.N. refugee agency.

For Wales, the moment has come to celebrate yet another landmark achievement. After reaching the quarterfinals of the 1958 World Cup, the semifinals of Euro 2016, and the round of 16 at Euro 2020, the national team has now qualified for only its fourth major tournament.

Bale, who’s played a starring role in Wales’ revival as a football nation, is likely to continue to captain his country. A pending free agent following the expiration of his contract with Real Madrid, the 32-year-old had previously hinted he could retire.

Asked after the match if he’d postpone his decision, Bale said with a smirk, “For a little bit.”

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