EPL

Chelsea 2-1 Bournemouth: Blues secure European spot with victory over Cherries

By Sports Desk May 19, 2024

Goals from Moises Caicedo and Raheem Sterling secured a 2-1 victory for Chelsea over Bournemouth at Stamford Bridge, ensuring the Blues will play European football next season.

Chelsea headed into the final game of the campaign on Sunday knowing a win would secure at least a Europa Conference League spot, and Caicedo put them on course for three points in the first half with a stunning long-range finish.

Sterling then fired home after the interval to put Mauricio Pochettino's men firmly into the ascendancy, and though a Benoit Badiashile own-goal gave the Cherries hope, Chelsea saw out the victory.

The win means the hosts finish the campaign in sixth, and if Manchester City beat Manchester United in the FA Cup final next weekend, Chelsea will play in the Europa League next season.

The hosts started brightly with Nicolas Jackson and Cole Palmer both going close early, while Antoine Semenyo tested Djordje Petrovic at the other end with a dipping effort.

Caicedo put Chelsea ahead in spectacular fashion, seizing upon Neto's loose clearance before sending an audacious lob into the back of the net from close to the halfway line.

The hosts then made it 2-0 moments into the second half, Sterling driving into the box before firing past Neto from a tight angle.

That two-goal advantage lasted less than two minutes, though, as Enes Unal brought down a cross from the left and lashed goalwards, leading to Badiashile turning into the back of his own net.

Bournemouth pressed for a leveller late on and nearly found one when Dominic Solanke failed to hit the target in injury time, but the hosts held on to confirm they'll be playing European football next term.

Chelsea finally flourishing

It has been another tumultuous campaign at Stamford Bridge, and doubts are lingering over whether Pochettino will be in charge come the start of next term, but Chelsea's strong form to end the season has certainly been impressive.

Pochettino finally seems to be getting the best out of his talented but young squad, with the win over Bournemouth making it five straight Premier League victories, the first time they have managed that since 2022 under Thomas Tuchel.

One of those Blues players who has enjoyed their football of late is Caicedo, and his goal here was the perfect reminder of what a talent he is. The first-half strike was the furthest scored in a Premier League game since Wayne Rooney for Everton in November 2017 (57.7 yards v West Ham).

Iraola impresses in first season

Bournemouth may have finished the season with three straight defeats, but the Cherries have still finished 12th in Andoni Iraola's first season since joining from Rayo Vallecano.

It looked like Iraola's time in charge at the Vitality Stadium could be brief as Bournemouth failed to win any of their first nine Premier League games of the season.

But it's been quite the turnaround from the Cherries, who will end the season 22 points above the relegation zone having won 13 Premier League games, their joint-most in a single campaign, and Bournemouth fans will be looking to the future with optimism.

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    Zlatko Dalic was left to apologise for Croatia's woeful Euro 2024 showing on Saturday against Spain, whose head coach Luis de la Fuente heaped praise on teenage star Lamine Yamal.

    Spain opened a European Championship tournament with a victory by 3+ goals for just a second time, following their 4-1 win against Russia on MD1 at Euro 2008, after a 3-0 triumph against Croatia.

    Alvaro Morata, Fabian Ruiz and Dani Carvajal were all on target in a dominant first half, while Bruno Petkovic had a late goal ruled out after his penalty was saved and Ivan Perisic encroached to setup the striker's rebounded finish.

    The defeat marked Croatia's joint-heaviest ever defeat at a major international tournament (Euros/World Cup), following 3-0 losses against Portugal at Euro 1996 and Argentina at the 2022 World Cup.

    Dalic could only offer his apologies to the travelling Croatia fans after an underwhelming Group B showing in Berlin.

    "It was a great atmosphere," the 57-year-old Dalic, who led Croatia to the 2018 World Cup final and semi-finals of the same tournament four years later.

    "I apologise for this bad show today. We were not aggressive enough.

    "I hope this was just a bad day."

    Yet the opening win largely centered around Yamal, who became the youngest player to ever feature at the European Championships after appearing aged just 16 years and 338 days.

    The Barcelona winger saw his inviting cross prodded home by Carvajal for La Roja's third goal, much to the delight of Spain boss De La Fuente.

    "Yamal is impressing everyone and going up through the levels," De la Fuente said.

    "He has to keep improving every day, and over time he will become a wonderful footballer."

    De La Fuente also reserved special praise for Fabian, who teed up Morata's opener after 29 minutes.

    "[Fabian] is at the top level," he added. "Based on what we see from him on a daily basis, he's fantastic. He has brilliant technique.

    "We should recognise the quality that he has. He has real imagination."

  • Italy 2-1 Albania: Defending champions overcome record-breaking setback in Group B opener Italy 2-1 Albania: Defending champions overcome record-breaking setback in Group B opener

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    The reigning European champions were shocked early on when Nedim Bajrami hammered home after just 23 seconds for the fastest goal in European Championship history.

    Alessandro Bastoni soon levelled with a routine header, however, before Nicolo Barella's fizzing finish muted Albania's short-lived celebrations in their first Group B encounter.

    The Azzurri, champions just three years ago at the delayed Euro 2020 tournament, never appeared troubled after the interval as Italy moved level on points with Spain, who hammered Croatia 3-0 earlier on Saturday.

    Backed by thousands of Albanian supporters in Dortmund, Bajrami stunned the defending champions with his record-breaking strike after less than 30 seconds of action.

    A sloppy Federico Dimarco throw-in proved Italy's undoing as Bajrami powered into the area before launching into the top-right corner past the helpless Gianluigi Donnarumma.

    Yet Luciano Spalletti's side soon turned things around with two goals in the space of six first-half minutes.

    Lorenzo Pellegrini lifted a well-worked short corner towards the far post, where Bastoni headed in with ease, before Barella arrowed a perfect half-volley past Thomas Strakosha from the edge of the box.

    Matters almost worsened for Sylvinho's team, but Strakosha produced an expert reflex save to push Davide Frattesi's deft lob against the left-hand post and away from danger.

    A far more subdued opening to the second half followed as Albania dominated possession without reward, though Federico Chiesa went close for Italy when driving a rocketed effort wide of the top-left corner.

    Donnarumma was, however, required late on to keep Italy's lead intact, racing out to deny Rey Manaj's chip, though somehow the referee gave a goal-kick in the dying seconds.

    Youthful Italy respond emphatically

    An eye-catching Bajrami strike ensured Italy conceded the opening goal in successive European Championship games for the first time since a three-game run between June 2004 and June 2008.

    Yet that fast start proved to matter little as Spalletti's side, who are attempting to become just the second team to win back-to-back Euros after Spain (2008, 2012), roared back with an emphatic response.

    Bastoni headed in just his second international goal on his 24th appearance, with both strikes coming on German soil, before Barella's 10th goal for Italy returned Spalletti's men to their expected course.

    A dominant performance followed with a showing belying their youthful age as Italy fielded their youngest starting line-up (26 years and 287 days) at the Euros since June 1988 – against the Soviet Union in the semi-finals (25y 2d).

    Albania's Azzurri struggles persist

    Bajrami's goal was just Albania's second ever at the European Championships and shattered the record for the fastest strike in the tournament's 64-year history.

    Yet it was a familiar tale for Sylvinho's side, who have now lost their last five meetings with Italy across all competitions after a remarkable turnaround in the first half.

    Albania will be desperate to respond when they meet Croatia on Wednesday, aiming to add to their sole Euros victory that came in a 1-0 win over Romania in the final group game of the 2016 edition.

  • Yamal revels in 'dream' Euros bow as Spain crush Croatia Yamal revels in 'dream' Euros bow as Spain crush Croatia

    Lamine Yamal described his historic Euro 2024 bow as a "dream" after Spain hammered Croatia 3-0 in their Group B opener on Saturday.

    Starting at the age of 16 years and 338 days, Yamal became the youngest player to ever feature at the European Championships, and he rewarded Luis de la Fuente's faith with a terrific performance.

    The Barcelona winger saw his inviting cross prodded home by Dani Carvajal for La Roja's third goal, after Alvaro Morata and Fabian Ruiz had put them in control.

    Only fellow youngster Pedri matched his total of three chances created, while he led all players for crosses (three) and saw his three successful dribbles equalled only by Dani Olmo.

    Speaking after the game, Yamal said of Spain's fine display: "We trust ourselves a lot. We went out to give it our all, because three points already does a lot in the group stage.

    "It's a dream. I'm very happy to have played in the European Championship.

    "The team is very confident. Now we have to go all out against Italy. Nothing changes for one game. We go with the same confidence. The work of these last few months has been reflected today."

    Spain are now in the driving seat in a group many regard as the toughest at the tournament ahead of facing Italy and Albania.

    Captain Morata moved to seven European Championship goals with his opener, with only Cristiano Ronaldo (14) and Michel Platini (nine) ever scoring more.

    Morata later seemed to be holding his leg in discomfort when he was withdrawn for Mikel Oyarzabal, but the striker has assured fans he will be fit to face Italy on Thursday.

    "It was important to start like this," Morata said. "We pressed a great team very well. We must go for the games from the start and now think about the next one."

    On the knock he suffered in the second half, he said: "It was just a blow, I was loading other parts of my leg. 

    "The best thing was to go out and have another team-mate play better."

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