European Super League: Ceferin thanks 'great man' Al-Khelaifi at PSG and other breakaway opponents

By Sports Desk April 20, 2021

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin thanked the club officials who have stood by Champions League reform proposals on Tuesday.

Ceferin was speaking at the UEFA Congress the day after criticising those involved in the breakaway European Super League in emotional comments.

Plans for a new rival competition, widely deemed anti-competitive, were announced at the weekend by 12 clubs including Real Madrid, Barcelona and Manchester United.

They face a backlash from many throughout the world of football, including UEFA and president Ceferin.

But on Tuesday, Ceferin preferred to focus on those who have not at this stage signed up for the Super League as UEFA tries to push through its own new competition format.

Reigning European champions Bayern Munich have released a statement in opposition to the Super League, while last season's beaten Champions League finalists Paris Saint-Germain - chasing their first title again in this year's competition - are also not involved.

Bayern chief executive Karl-Heinz Rummenigge will replace Agnelli as one of the European Club Association's (ECA) representatives on the UEFA executive committee.

And Ceferin picked out Nasser Al-Khelaifi, the PSG president present at the event in Switzerland, for praise.

"Thank you from the bottom of my heart to Nasser," Ceferin said in his opening statement. "You have shown that you are a great man and that you respect football and its values.

"I also thank Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, a fantastic president for the ECA, and [Lyon's] Jean-Michel Aulas, who came here today.

"But also Jose [Castro] from Sevilla, with whom I had a very reassuring discussion yesterday evening and with whom we share the same vision of football. Thank you."

United chief executive Ed Woodward and Juventus chairman Andrea Agnelli had been the subject of particularly scathing comments from Ceferin on Monday.

He spoke of "snakes" and said: "I have seen many things in my life. I was a criminal lawyer. I have never seen people like that."

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    European club football's main event is almost here, with two bona fide giants of the game set to face off at the Stade de France on Saturday.

    Either Real Madrid or Liverpool will be crowned champions of Europe in Paris; whichever team manages it will be providing their fans with a glorious end to a tremendous season.

    Of course, Madrid did what Liverpool could not on the domestic front, as Los Blancos head into this game as LaLiga champions – the Reds ultimately missed out to Manchester City on the last day of the Premier League campaign.

    But this has still been a successful season for Jurgen Klopp's side, who could yet claim a treble having already lifted the EFL Cup and FA Cup in England.

    It promises to be an immense spectacle, with Opta's pre-match facts highlighting the wealth of footballing greatness that is set to be on display.

    The history

    Much of the build-up to this match has centred around two separate narratives of "revenge" relating to the 2018 Champions League final meeting between these two.

    The first obvious desire for retribution comes simply from the fact Madrid won 3-1 in Kyiv – the other surrounds Mohamed Salah, whose match was ended early on that occasion after a collision with Sergio Ramos.

    Either way, if Liverpool – and Salah – are to have their vengeance, they'll need to contend with Madrid's astonishing record: they have won each of their previous seven Champions League/European Cup finals.

    To put that stat into context, no other team have even won the competition more than seven times, let alone won in seven consecutive final appearances.

    But if you're looking for omens, answer this: who last beat Madrid in a European Cup/Champions League final, and where was it played?

    Liverpool, in Paris (1981)…

    The managers

    For about 24 hours, Klopp had joined an exclusive list of managers who had reached the European Cup/Champions League final four times.

    But then Carlo Ancelotti's Madrid pulled off their third great escape in as many knockout ties, meaning the Italian would set a new record for the most final appearances as a manager in UEFA's flagship competition.

    But the historic achievement he'll no doubt be craving is still up for grabs.

    Victory on Saturday will ensure Ancelotti is the first manager to lift the trophy four times, having won the competition in 2003, 2007 and 2014.

    But here's another omen. The only club to beat an Ancelotti team in a Champions League final? That's right, Liverpool in 2005.

    Nevertheless, Klopp doesn't have a particularly encouraging record against Los Blancos. He's faced them nine times in the Champions League, with his 33 per cent success rate the worst among teams he's faced at least three times.

    The danger men

    It would be fair to bill this match as something of a Ballon d'Or shootout.

    Certainly, ahead of Saturday, the favourite is Karim Benzema, and with good reason. The France striker has enjoyed an incredible season and been central to Madrid's route to the final – he has scored 15 goals, two behind the all-time record for a single Champions League/European Cup campaign.

    What helps make that such a remarkable achievement is the fact he would become the second-oldest scorer in a Champions League final (34 years, 160 days) after Paolo Maldini (36 years, 333 days) if he does net in Paris.

    Madrid will likely need to keep the vengeful Salah in check, however.

    Since the start of the 2017-18 season, the Egyptian has 44 Champions League goal involvements, a tally bettered only by Robert Lewandowski (55) and Kylian Mbappe (47).

    If Liverpool are successful, Salah will surely become the frontrunner for the Ballon d'Or – unless Sadio Mane, who has scored three in his past four Champions League games and won the Africa Cup of Nations, has a decisive impact.

    The prize

    Liverpool are bidding to join Milan with seven European Cup/Champions League crowns, the second-most in the competitions' collective history.

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    Either way, a behemoth of European football will enjoy another memorable occasion in Paris on Saturday.

    But if it's Liverpool who succeed, it'll be difficult to look at this as anything other than the early stages of English domination in the Champions League, given Premier League teams have won two of the past three already.

  • 'Looks good' for Thiago and Fabinho ahead of Champions League final, Klopp confirms 'Looks good' for Thiago and Fabinho ahead of Champions League final, Klopp confirms

    Jurgen Klopp is expecting both Thiago Alcantara and Fabinho to be fit to feature for Liverpool in Saturday's Champions League final against Real Madrid.

    The two key midfielders were doubts for the Reds heading to Paris this week.

    Thiago hobbled out of the final match of the Premier League season against Wolves with a calf injury, while a hamstring complaint means Fabinho has not played since the win at Aston Villa on May 10.

    However, Klopp offered a positive update in his pre-match news conference on Friday.

    "The mood is good, very good," the Liverpool manager said. "We're really excited about being here now, getting a feeling of the stadium, the location. That's all good.

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    Liverpool are unbeaten in the nine games they have played this season without either Thiago or Fabinho in the starting XI, although they have drawn three of those matches.

    The pair have appeared together in the line-up 20 times in 2021-22, contributing to an outstanding 17 wins.

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    Teams from Belarus and Ukraine will not be drawn together in future, UEFA has announced.

    European football's governing body has already banned Russian sides from appearing in its competitions following the country's invasion of Ukraine.

    The role of Belarus in facilitating this invasion also prompted sanctions for Belarusian teams.

    UEFA had already decided no matches would be played in Belarus and supporters of Belarusian teams would be banned from attending nominal home games.

    And in a further move announced on Friday, UEFA said it would prevent sides from Belarus and Ukraine from meeting in future competitions.

    "The UEFA Executive Committee will remain on standby to convene further meetings to reassess the legal and factual situation as it evolves and adopt further decisions as necessary," a statement read.

    Meanwhile, UEFA's rules relating to coronavirus for the upcoming Women's Euro 2022 were approved.

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