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Football Extras: Messi comes off bench to rescue Barcelona

Last updated on: January 21, 2019 20:04 IST

Lionel Messi

IMAGE: Lionel Messi celebrates scoring the third goal for Barcelona. Photograph: David Ramos/Getty Images

Lionel Messi came off the bench to inspire Barcelona to a 3-1 win over a dogged Leganes side on Sunday, creating one goal and scoring another to keep the Catalans five points clear at the top of La Liga.

Messi, left out of the starting line-up for only the second time this season when fit, was called on in the 64th minute with the game poised at 1-1 after Leganes forward Martin Braithwaite had cancelled out Ousmane Dembele's first-half opener with a 57th-minute strike.

 

The Argentine quickly provided the spark Barca needed by firing a venomous shot from the outside the area which was too powerful for goalkeeper Ivan Cuellar to hold, and Luis Suarez pounced to stab home on the rebound in the 71st minute.

The goal was awarded after a lengthy video assistant referee (VAR) review, with Leganes furiously claiming that Suarez had fouled Cuellar, who needed treatment on the pitch after being struck by the foot of the Uruguayan striker.

Messi made sure of the victory in stoppage-time, sweeping across the area and hammering the ball past a helpless Cuellar for his 18th goal of the season in La Liga, taking leaders Barca on to 46 points, five clear of nearest challengers Atletico Madrid, after 20 games.

There were worrying scenes for Barca when France forward Dembele was forced off injured midway through the second half after writhing on the floor in pain. The club later confirmed he had sprained his ankle.

Lionel Messi

IMAGE: Lionel Messi tries to get the ball past a few Leganes players. Photograph: David Ramos/Getty Images

Dembele has shaken off previous criticism over lapses in discipline to become one of Barca's most productive players in recent weeks.

With Messi resting on the bench in the first half, Dembele was the team's focal point in attack, frequently finding holes in the Leganes defence with thrilling bursts of pace and wild dribbles.

He put Barca in front shortly after the half-hour mark with a first-time shot in off the post, receiving a cut-back from Jordi Alba.

Dembele later combined with Philippe Coutinho which should have led to the Brazilian doubling Barca's lead, but the club's record signing fired just wide.

Leganes, who stunned Barca by coming from behind to beat the champions 2-1 at home back in September, also refused to give in after conceding the opener and after limiting Barca's attempts to stretch their lead, they drew level.

Danish forward Braithwaite slid in to meet a perfectly- weighted cross from Youssef En Nesyri and knock the ball into the net from close range for a second goal in four days after scoring against Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey.

Dembele narrowly fired wide, so Barca coach Ernesto Valverde turned to Messi to see Leganes off, and the club's all-time top scorer duly delivered.

Japan edge profligate Saudis to reach Asian Cup quarter-finals

AFC Asian Games

IMAGE: Japan players celebrate. Photograph:  AFC Asian Games/Twitter

A first-half goal from Takehiro Tomiyasu was enough to send Japan into the Asian Cup quarter-finals for the eighth consecutive tournament after a 1-0 win over Saudi Arabia at Sharjah Stadium on Monday.

The Saudis, looking to end a 23-year drought since their third continental title, paid the price for failing to convert their chances and so the four-times champion Samurai Blue progress to face Vietnam on Thursday.

Japan went in front in the 20th minute when defender Tomiyasu rose above a Saudi defender in the centre of the box to head a corner into the bottom left-hand corner of the net.

Saudi Arabia dictated play in both halves but were simply unable to finish in front of goal as the Samurai Blue defenders put in a solid shift.

Midfielder Salem Aldawsari had a golden opportunity to put the Green Falcons level in the 62nd minute but sprayed the ball over the bar with a right footed shot from the centre of the box.

Moments later defender Ali Hadi Albulayhi guided the ball well over the bar with a free header after an inviting Aldawsari cross into the penalty area.

Japan, who claimed their last title in 2011, had won all three of its previous tournament matches to finish top of their group, while Saudi Arabia finished second in theirs with wins over North Korea and Lebanon.

Rashford on same level as Ronaldo, Rooney, says Solskjaer

Marcus Rashford

IMAGE: Manchester United's Marcus Rashford in action. Photograph: Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images

Manchester United forward Marcus Rashford is showing maturity beyond his years and can be a 'top-class' player in the mould of Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney, interim manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has said.

Rashford scored in Saturday's 2-1 Premier League win over Brighton and Hove Albion to take his overall tally to 41 goals in 150 appearances since making his debut in 2016.

Rooney, the club's all-time top scorer with 253 goals, had scored 59 in his first 150 appearances, while Ronaldo had scored 31, and Solskjaer said Rashford was playing at a similar level to the duo at the same stage in their careers.

"Definitely, he can be absolutely top-class," Solskjaer told reporters when the comparisons were suggested to him. "He is only 21 but the maturity he is showing at times is more than 21."

"The way he works during the week is fantastic because he practises a lot. You can't kick him and keep him down. It is a pleasure working with him."

United take on Arsenal in the FA Cup fourth round on Friday before returning to league action against Burnley on Jan. 29.

Torment for Llorente but Winks spares his blushes

IMAGE: Dele Alli scores the first goal for Tottenham Hotspur. Photograph: Clive Rose/Getty Images

Harry Winks proved an unlikely Tottenham Hotspur hero with a last-gasp winner in his side's 2-1 Premier League victory at lowly Fulham on Sunday after a nightmare afternoon for Fernando Llorente.

With Tottenham talisman Harry Kane absent injured, Spanish striker Llorente was handed a rare league start.

He made an impression too, clumsily gifting Fulham a 14th-minute lead with an own goal. Llorente also spurned two gilt-edged chances as Spurs suffered from the absence of Kane and South Korean Son Heung-min.

Thankfully for Llorente, Dele Alli equalised in the 51st minute and, just when it looked like third-placed Tottenham would draw for the first time in the league this season, Winks stooped to head the winner in the last seconds of stoppage time.

It was England midfielder Winks's first goal for Tottenham in just over two years and a crucial one as his side opened up a four-point gap on fourth-placed Chelsea and restored their seven-point lead over Arsenal and Manchester United.

For Fulham it was a heart-breaking defeat after they had belied their lowly position to cause Tottenham problems.

Manager Claudio Ranieri was left to rue the naivety of his side who have now conceded 51 league goals this season -- seven more than any other club.

He was especially disappointed that Tottenham's winner originated from a Fulham free kick at the other end.

"With one minute at the end we have a free kick and put it in the box, why? Take it to the corner," said the Italian, whose side remain deep in relegation trouble seven points behind 17th-placed Newcastle United.

With so much negativity about Tottenham's prospects without top scorer Kane, who could be missing until March with an ankle injury, it was a chance for Llorente to prove his worth.

But he endured a difficult day.

In the 14th minute he was back to defend a corner but when Jean Michael Seri swung it in Llorente inadvertently poked it into his own goal attempting a clearance.

Almost immediately he had a chance to make up for it when Jan Vertonghen curled in an inviting ball but Llorente headed powerfully straight at fellow Spaniard Sergio Rico.

If anything Fulham looked the more dangerous side with Ryan Babel making a lively debut. He headed one chance over and floated a perfect pass for Andre Schuerrle whose thunderous volley was pushed by Lloris straight to Aleksandar Mitrovic who headed in the rebound but was flagged offside.

Fulham's defensive frailty allowed Tottenham to level six minutes after the break. Tim Ream failed to clear and when Christian Eriksen took possession of the ball his delivery was perfect for Alli to head home.

Alli went off injured with a hamstring injury, but still Llorente should have scored, somehow glancing a header wider from in front of goal.

But there was still time for another Tottenham misfit to make an impact. The ball was played to Georges-Kevin N'koudou and his ball in was met by Winks to seal an 11th win in 13 away games for Tottenham.

Acerbi's 149-match run ends as Napoli beat Lazio

IMAGE: Napoli's players celebrate after Arkadiusz Milik scored the second goal. Photograph: Francesco Pecoraro/Getty Images

Napoli scored twice before halftime and hit the woodwork three times in Sunday's 2-1 Serie A win over Lazio, who had defender Francesco Acerbi sent off to end his remarkable run of 149 consecutive matches.

The win, their 15th in 20 league games this season, left second-placed Napoli six points behind leaders Juventus who host bottom club Chievo on Monday while Lazio dropped out of the Champions League places.

Acerbi had been ever-present since October 2015 in all competitions, firstly for Sassuolo and then for Lazio following his move at the start of this season.

After playing 148 matches in a row - staying on the pitch for the full 90 minutes in each - the 30-year-old's run ended when he was given a second yellow card for a foul on Jose Callejon in the 70th minute.

As a result he will be suspended for the next game at home to Juventus.

Lazio coach Simone Inzaghi argued, however, that Acerbi should not have been dismissed.

"I'm sorry because we were back to 2-1 and there were 25 minutes left. Acerbi clearly took the ball, then maybe even the opponent. They are the sort of episodes which have gone against us recently."

Arkadiusz Milik volleyed against the post and then saw a header pushed onto the woodwork by Thomas Strakosha before Jose Callejon fired the hosts ahead with his first goal of the season in the 34th minute. Milik doubled Napoli's tally three minutes later by curling an exquisite free kick into the top corner.

Fabian Ruiz smacked a left-foot shot against the top of the upright early in the second half but Ciro Immobile reduced the arrears in the 65th minute with a shot through the legs of defender Raul Albiol.

Despite having Francesco Acerbi sent off for a second yellow card shortly afterwards, Lazio did enough to make Napoli's life uncomfortable towards the end and the final whistle was greeted with huge relief by the San Paolo crowd.

Napoli, with 47 points, opened up a seven-point gap between themselves and third-placed Inter while AS Roma's 3-2 win over Torino on Saturday took them fourth, the last of the Champions League places, with 33. Lazio are a further point behind in fifth. "We had some difficult moments and could have dealt better with some of them and there were some naive errors, but overall there was a lot of quality," said Napoli coach Carlo Ancelotti.

Soccer star Ronaldo to answer tax fraud charges in Spain

Cristiano Ronaldo is due in court in Spain on Tuesday to answer charges of evading taxes during his nine-year reign as Spanish side Real Madrid's all-time highest scorer.

The Portuguese striker is expected to plead guilty after he struck a deal last year with authorities in Spain to settle the case by paying an 18.8 million euro ($ 21.4 million) fine and accepting a suspended jail sentence.

The 33-year-old Juventus forward is unlikely to serve any time in jail, as the 23-month term prosecutors have requested is within a two-year threshold that can be served on probation for a first offence under Spanish law.

Ronaldo asked for special security measures for accessing the court, but the request was denied, a Madrid judge said in a statement. Spanish media reported he had asked to be allowed to enter the courtroom via the car park.

Officials say Tuesday's hearing will be short, and only require Ronaldo to confirm he accepts the deal.

Ronaldo's agent in Portugal did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment.

In 2017, Ronaldo denied the accusation that he knowingly used a business structure created to allegedly hide income his image rights generated in Spain between 2011 and 2014.

He had paid a fine of 5.7 million euros, plus interest of about 1 million euros, in July 2018, the prosecutor's office said last week.

Between 2005 and 2010, the so-called "Beckham law" allowed foreign soccer players in Spain to curb their tax payments.

It was lifted as financial crisis strained state coffers and prosecutors set their sights on the tax affairs of household names of the soccer world including Ronaldo and Barcelona's Lionel Messi.

Ronaldo's former team mate Xabi Alonso is also due in court on Tuesday to respond to charges in a separate tax fraud case, in which prosecutors are seeking a five-year jail term and a 4 million fine.

Alonso, who was part of Spain's World Cup-winning national team before retiring from the game in 2017, is accused of defrauding the Spanish state of two million euros between 2010 and 2012. He has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

Barca's Dembele sidelined for two weeks with injury

Barcelona's French international forward Ousmane Dembele will be out for two weeks after spraining his ankle in Sunday's 3-1 victory over Leganes, the Spanish champions said on Monday.

The news comes as a blow for the 21-year-old, who opened the scoring for the La Liga leaders and has impressed in recent weeks, netting six times in his last 10 outings.

The injury means he is likely to miss both legs of their Copa del Rey quarter-final with Sevilla, and Sunday's Catalan derby at Girona.

It is also possible that he could be sidelined for the visit of Valencia at the beginning of February, although he should be fit for Barca's Champions League last-16 meeting with Olympique Lyonnais in February.

Fellow big-money arrival Philippe Coutinho will be expected to fill the void created by Dembele's absence, with the Brazilian struggling for game time since his 160 million Euros ($ 181.87 million) move from Liverpool 12 months ago.

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