Napoli and Barcelona display 'stop war' banner after Russia invades Ukraine

By Sports Desk February 24, 2022

Napoli and Barcelona demonstrated opposition to Russia's full-scale invasion of neighbouring Ukraine ahead of their Europa League tie on Thursday. 

Ahead of kick-off at Stadio Diego Armando Maradona, the two sides came together to hold a banner displaying the message "STOP WAR" after Russian president Vladimir Putin launched military action into Ukraine on Thursday. 

UEFA are set to move this season's Champions League final, which was due to be played in St Petersburg. 

Meanwhile, Poland, Sweden and the Czech Republic have all called for Russia to be stripped of the right to host their forthcoming World Cup qualifiers. 

The knockout round play-off second leg between Napoli and Barca was finely poised following a 1-1 draw at Camp Nou last week, where Ferran Torres cancelled out Piotr Zielinski's earlier effort. 

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    Fernandinho has penned a poetic farewell to Manchester City supporters on social media following his move to Athletico Paranaense.

    Brazilian side Paranaense confirmed on Monday that an agreement is in place to re-sign Fernandinho, who previously spent three years with the club.

    The 53-cap former Brazil international left Paranaense in 2005 to join Shakhtar Donetsk, before spending nine seasons with City, the last two of those as captain.

    After making 383 appearances for City and winning 12 major honours, including five Premier League titles, Fernandinho bowed out at the end of the 2021-22 campaign.

    And on the day his contract at the Etihad Stadium officially expired, Fernandinho took to Twitter to pay an emotional tribute to everyone connected with City.

    "I saw. I saw my family proud. I saw supporters that never forgot where they came from," he posted in an open letter. 

    "I saw the beauty of being part of a winning team. I saw titles, superstars and geniuses. I saw an opportunity to fulfil my dream.

    "And then I realised. I realised the importance of all reading this letter. I realised that I made the right choice, the best choice of my entire life.

    "I hope one day when you remember me, you feel the same way that I'm feeling when I'm writing this."

    He added: "Athletes, coaches/trainers, laundry staff, kit managers, cleaners, concierge, security team, door staff, advisors, executives, cooks, directors, doctors, masseuses, physiotherapists, sports psychologists, media team, analysts, youth teams, charity teams…

    "Apologies if I missed anyone, but you know who you are. Today is the last day of my contract with Manchester City.

    "I can only say that I gave my very best and I would do it all over again. The story continues and after playing for nine years, I will become an avid Cityzen supporter for many more titles and victories.

    "I am certain that many more will come judging by the quality of all your daily work."

    Fernandinho signed off the letter: "My memories will last forever. Many thanks, your eternal captain."

    The 37-year-old previously revealed he turned down numerous offers to return to Paranaense, who are now managed by former Portugal and Brazil boss Luis Felipe Scolari.

  • Fernandes quells Ronaldo exit rumours but hopes for Sporting return Fernandes quells Ronaldo exit rumours but hopes for Sporting return

    Bruno Fernandes has addressed speculation Cristiano Ronaldo is seeking to leave Manchester United, saying he "doesn't believe" such a move will materialise.

    Ronaldo returned to Old Trafford from Juventus last year and finished as United's highest scorer in the Premier League with 18 goals – only behind Tottenham's Son Heung-min and Liverpool's Mohamed Salah in the division (both 23).

    However, it was a disappointing season for United as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer lost his job and Ralf Rangnick failed to steady the ship, with the club missing out on a top-four finish and Champions League football.

    Recent speculation has suggested Ronaldo is unhappy with United's direction and is seeking a move, and Chelsea have reportedly shown an interest.

    Fernandes does not believe a departure will follow, however, and expects to see his compatriot in United training when the pair return from holiday next week.

    "From what I've talked to him – we're both on vacation still, and no-one bothers friends on holiday – I hope in four days to find him to train there. I'm not expecting more than that," he told reporters on Thursday.

    "As far as I know, there's nothing more to it than that, but everyone takes care of their future. I do not believe that the club is willing to lose an asset like Cristiano."

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    Pedri has been hailed as "the Iniesta, the Xavi" of the Spain team that will go after World Cup glory in Qatar.

    The praise came from former Liverpool and Newcastle United left-back Jose Enrique, a player who was crowded out of the Spain squad by the country's last golden generation.

    Jose Enrique's peak playing years coincided with Spain's most dominant period in international football, and although he does not consider Luis Enrique's squad quite at that same level, the likes of Barcelona youngster Pedri make him optimistic for the World Cup.

    Spain won Euro 2008, the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and Euro 2012 in a sensational period of dominance. They have not won a major tournament since, but a burgeoning group of young talent is emerging once again, with 19-year-old midfielder Pedri among the most exciting talents in the world game.

    "To me, the player that has more projection in terms of image on that team is Pedri, he won't be out of the team," said Jose Enrique.

    "You also have Ferran Torres doing well for Barcelona and Pau [Torres], the central defender of Villarreal; I think he will be key for the team as well."

    Speaking to Stats Perform, Jose Enrique said Spain's final squad for the finals would be "difficult to predict" due to head coach Luis Enrique often filtering players in and out of his squad.

    "But to choose one who will make the difference 100 per cent, and that already did in the past, it is Pedri," Jose Enrique said.

    "For me, he is the star of the national team, the Iniesta, the Xavi. Back in that day it was different because there were many and that is why Spain won everything. But if you mention Spain now, the first player that comes to my mind is Pedri."

    Pedri endured an injury-disrupted 2021-22 season with Barcelona, scoring five goals and having one assist in 22 games across all competitions. Only five Barcelona players created more chances than the 31 he carved out.

    In the previous season, he played a team-high 52 matches, going on to win Tuttosport's prized Golden Boy award as Europe's top young talent. He will be expected to continue to grow into his responsible role in coach Xavi's Barcelona team in the new season.

    Barcelona greats Xavi and Iniesta were at the heart of Spain's indomitable midfield for their three successive big tournament triumphs.

    Jose Enrique was starring in the Premier League at the time but got no further than the Spain Under-21 team, such was the strength throughout the national squad.

    He says the current group of players and the pool that brought glory to Spain during a dazzling four-year period cannot be compared, but stressed that does not mean the new breed cannot be successful.

    A run to the Euro 2020 semi-finals was a step in the right direction for Spain, after a run of disappointing big-stage performances, fuelling Jose Enrique's belief they will be a threat when Qatar hosts in November and December.

    Spain must navigate a challenging group that will see them face Germany, Japan and Costa Rica.

    "Spain will always be one of the favourites because I believe that Spain always is," Jose Enrique said. "But to win a World Cup isn't easy and Spain did it: Euro-World Cup-Euro when they had a brutal selection of players, and now it is completely different.

    "It has a magnificent coach and a squad that changes depending on the players' performances and I love this about Luis Enrique, but it is true that we cannot compare.

    "We now have a young squad with few veterans, and they could win the World Cup because anything can happen in football. England had a very young squad and made it to the [2018 World Cup] semi-finals.

    "Youngsters have more support than before and Spain can be a surprise because Luis Enrique knows very well how to play. He has young players but full of desire and hunger. The most important thing for me is to start well. If they do, they are capable to win against any team, and why not Germany."

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