Royal Antwerp 3-4 Rangers: Advantage Gers after late fightback in first-leg thriller

By Sports Desk February 18, 2021

Rangers scored twice in the final seven minutes to salvage a 4-3 victory in Thursday's thrilling Europa League last-32 tie with Royal Antwerp. 

The Gers, who progressed through the group stage as one of six unbeaten sides, survived a scare at Bosuilstadion in the first leg to take a big advantage into next week's return fixture in Glasgow. 

Felipe Avenatti's header and a contentious Lior Refaelov penalty late in the first half followed on from Joe Aribo's opener for the visitors, before Borna Barisic levelled up from the spot just before the hour. 

Antwerp regained their lead through Martin Hongla's strike to put Rangers, who lost influential captain James Tavernier and attacker Kemar Roofe to first-half injuries, on the brink of a first defeat in 13 games. 

However, substitute Ryan Kent scored a third away goal for the Scottish Premiership leaders and Barisic kept his cool with another penalty to mark his 100th appearance for the club with a double, sealing a remarkable victory in Belgium.

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    Qatar 2022 is a World Cup like no other, and the host nation performed like no other.

    Theirs was the worst group-stage record of any home side at a World Cup, becoming the first to lose all three matches and conceding a landmark seven goals. Only South Africa, in 2010, had previously failed to make it out of the first round.

    Controversially awarded the tournament months after Spain's Barcelona-inspired success at South Africa 2010, Qatar had plenty of time to prepare and soon put its faith in Catalan coach Felix Sanchez.

    He worked first with the nation's youth teams before taking the top job five years out from the World Cup.

    Although Sanchez led Qatar to Asian Cup success in 2019, he never considered a World Cup run a serious possibility – or so he said after a third straight defeat last month.

    "Our country has 6,000 federation football licences, so this was a likely outcome," he explained. "We never set a goal to reach the round of 16 or quarter-finals."

    While Sanchez believed this to be a "very realistic" approach, Qatar undoubtedly underwhelmed.

    However, fortunately for those with a vested interest in the country boosting its reputation at the finals, its presence on the pitch extends beyond Sanchez's national team.

    Lionel Messi and Neymar, like Sanchez, were poached by Qatar from Barcelona, and they are having a far greater impact.

    Of course, neither are counted among the naturalised Qatari citizens who turned out in the colours of the gulf nation, but the South American superstars, along with Kylian Mbappe, represent Qatari-owned Paris Saint-Germain every time they step out on the field.

    If disappointed by Qatar's woeful displays before his eyes, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, the Emir, could at least therefore be heartened by the influence of his club side.

    PSG's takeover by Qatar Sports Investments followed hot on the heels of FIFA's vote for the 2022 hosting rights, yet it scarcely could have dreamed of the status its players would enjoy when the tournament finally came around.

    Admittedly, things could have been very different had this World Cup taken place in the Northern Hemisphere's summer, as is the norm.

    At the end of the 2021-22 season, Messi was coming off the worst club campaign of his career, Neymar had again spent long stretches out injured, and Mbappe appeared set to leave PSG for Real Madrid.

    Six months on, all three were in form, all three were fit, and all three were still at PSG.

    In Europe's top five leagues, Erling Haaland (21) alone has more goal involvements in 2022-23 than Neymar (20). Mbappe (10) leads the same metric in the Champions League. Both in Europe's top five leagues and in the Champions League, Messi sets the benchmark for assists (10 and four).

    For Messi and Mbappe, that level of performance has continued in Qatar. They have carried Argentina and France respectively into the quarter-finals, with Messi scoring three and assisting one of La Albiceleste's seven goals while Mbappe has netted five and created two of the world champions' nine.

    Meanwhile, Neymar was forced to watch as his club colleagues seized control of this competition, injured after a brutal Brazil opener in which he was fouled nine times by Serbia players and hobbled off with a severely swollen ankle.

    But now he has come to the party – and it is always a party where Brazil are concerned.

    Neymar scored one goal and assisted another in a dazzling first half against South Korea that set up a 4-1 last-16 victory. He is the first Brazil player since at least 1966 to both score and assist at three different World Cups.

    The first of those Neymar World Cup goals came back in 2014 against next opponents Croatia, who have not looked capable of stopping a Selecao side in full flow, scraping past Japan only after a penalty shoot-out.

    As in Sao Paulo at Brazil's home World Cup, the stands at Education City Stadium will be decked in yellow for Friday's quarter-final, although many of those present will be supporting Neymar himself as much as his team.

    Travelling fans from outside the Middle East are in relatively short supply in Qatar, but there are no shortage of Neymar, Messi or Mbappe shirts at Brazil, Argentina or France matches.

    It speaks to the success of the PSG project that this foothold in the world game has been established not by Qatar's investment in its national team or by its hosting of the greatest tournament of all.

    While there is focus in Europe on QSI's failure to deliver Champions League glory, its thirst for star-power has been rewarded with a genuine interest in the last eight of a World Cup, Qatar's own World Cup.

    And unlike in club competitions, where cohesion is key and PSG cannot blow the best teams away, superstars can single-handedly decide the day at this level.

    Brazil – and QSI – have one of those; there could yet be cause for celebration for Sheikh Tamim and Qatar if Neymar again performs like the world's most expensive player over the next 10 days.

  • Rumour Has It: Barcelona and Chelsea hoping to secure teenage phenom Moukoko Rumour Has It: Barcelona and Chelsea hoping to secure teenage phenom Moukoko

    Barcelona and Chelsea are reportedly moving Borussia Dortmund teenager Youssoufa Moukoko to the top of their priorities as he approaches the end of his contract.

    Moukoko, who turned 18 in November, has been with Dortmund since he was 12 years old, making his first-team debut in the Champions League as a 16-year-old, breaking the record as the youngest player in the history of the competition.

    He is also the youngest goalscorer in the history of the Bundesliga, and after being used primarily off the bench up to this point in his career, he started seven consecutive league fixtures leading into the World Cup break.

    With six goals and three assists in his 14 Bundesliga appearances this season, he has emerged as one of the top prospects in world football, but his time in Dortmund could be coming to an end.

     

    TOP STORY - MOUKOKO SET TO DECIDE BETWEEN EUROPE'S ELITE CLUBS

    Moukoko's contract expires at the end of this season, and if he does not sign an extension to remain with Dortmund, he will be able to leave as a free agent.

    According to Sport, Barcelona believe Moukoko's history as a childhood Lionel Messi and Barca supporter puts them in the prime position at the front of the line to secure his services. The report claims the Spanish giants view themselves as the only landing spot if Moukoko decides against remaining at Dortmund.

    Meanwhile, the Express states Chelsea feel more confident about their chances with Moukoko than they ever did about Palmeiras prospect Endrick, a player who journalist Fabrizio Romano is reporting has chosen Real Madrid.

    Chelsea's willingness to propose a five-year deal with the option of a sixth year is said to be a key selling point, per the Secret Scout on Twitter, while Sport also added Chelsea "would be willing to pay a fortune".

     

    ROUND-UP

    – According to Revelo, Real Madrid are interested in 18-year-old Manchester United talent Alejandro Garnacho.

    – ESPN is reporting United are working on a deal to sign 33-year-old Borussia Monchengladbach goalkeeper Yann Sommer on a free transfer at the end of the season.

    Milan should give 23-year-old winger Rafael Leao an ultimatum in January that he must agree to a new contract or be sold, per Calciomercato.

    – Fichajes is reporting Milan are interested in bringing in Barcelona's Ferran Torres but prefer Arsenal's Gabriel Martinelli if he becomes available.

    – According to Sky Sport Italia, Inter and Juventus could both attempt to sign Roma centre-back Chris Smalling when his contract expires at the end of the season.

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    Chelsea missed the chance to qualify for the Women's Champions League quarter-finals after they were held to a 1-1 draw by Real Madrid.

    Runners-up to Lyon last year, a fourth successive victory in this season's competition would have seen Emma Hayes' side through Group A with two games to spare.

    However, they were forced to settle for a point at Estadio Alfredo di Stefano after Guro Reiten's penalty, which cannoned in off goalkeeper Misa Rodriguez, cancelled out an earlier effort from Caroline Weir.

    Paris Saint-Germain leapfrogged Madrid to second place in Group A following a commanding 4-0 victory over Vllaznia, whose elimination was subsequently confirmed.

    Kadidiatou Diani scored twice while Ramona Bachmann and Magnaba Folquet were also on target for PSG, who will be through with victory over Madrid when they clash at Parc des Princes next week. 

    Elsewhere, two-time champions Wolfsburg are the first side through to this season's quarter-finals after an entertaining 4-2 win over Roma.

    Ewa Pajor's brace, which took her group-stage tally to six goals, sandwiched strikes from SveindIs Jonsdottir and Lena Lattwein, ensuring efforts from Andressa Alves Da Silva and Sophie Roman Haug were merely consolations for Roma.

    The German side's 11th last-eight appearance in as many continental campaigns was confirmed after St Polten failed to beat Slavia Praha in the other Group B encounter.

    The Czech outfit netted their first goal of the campaign through Kristyna Ruzickova, but Mateja Zver's free-kick means they can no longer qualify for the knockout phase.

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