Monday, May 23, 2016

Hibernian: 2015-16 Scottish Cup Champions

Rangers finds it incomprehensible that no one, either from within the Scottish FA or Hibernian Football Club, has condemned Hibernian’s supporters following the violent scenes at the end of yesterday’s Scottish Cup final when Rangers players and members of our backroom staff were physically and verbally assaulted. We have not even had the courtesy of any contact whatsoever from Hibernian to ask after the wellbeing of those who were attacked by their club’s supporters.

There must be a full independent investigation into the shameful scenes at Hampden. Rangers is also at a complete loss to understand why certain individuals have hastily attempted to gloss over the appalling events which unfolded at the end of Saturday’s final.

No matter how many times Hibernian’s chairman and Scottish FA vice-chairman, Rod Petrie, and certain other biased commentators wish to play down Saturday’s mayhem and violence, the truth must not be distorted. What unfolded on Saturday cannot and must not be put down to exuberance. That is a complete insult to Rangers, our supporters, and those individuals who were intimidated and attacked.

It was clear to most of those who watched in horror that the Scottish FA’s security procedures failed when Hibernian’s fans went over the top in their thousands.  It is to be hoped that all of Scottish football will share Rangers’ disgust and any attempts to attach blame to our supporters for the disgraceful and violent behaviour, which led to our players and fans fearing for their safety, will not be accepted or tolerated by this Club.

We acknowledge that a tiny minority of Rangers fans also encroached on the pitch but only after having been faced with prolonged and severe provocation and in order to protect our players and officials who were being visibly attacked in front of them. Any club’s supporters would have done the same. This distressing and deeply disturbing episode would never have happened had Hibs fans behaved properly but as they swarmed across the pitch it became immediately obvious that the security procedures were inadequate and had failed.

These fans were allowed to rush, unchecked, towards Rangers supporters at the opposite end of the stadium – all the while goading and threatening them. This makes it preposterous to suggest Rangers fans were somehow to blame as some commentators appear anxious to do. This thuggish behaviour must be investigated and as many culprits as possible brought to book and formally charged. This is the second time in a year that Rangers fans have had to endure attacks by another club’s supporters.

It must also be said that it was not at all helpful to see leading members of the Scottish Government, including the First Minister whose parish is Govan, passing comment on social media without any attempt to condemn the behaviour of Hibernian’s fans. These failures are unbecoming of our elected representatives.

Certain media outlets have also attempted to distort reality.  In the case of the BBC this is, of course, not news. BBC employees, in particular Stuart Cosgrove, believe Rod Petrie’s comments to be ‘balanced’ and others speak of a ‘minority’ of Hibernian supporters. Another, Tom English, who was not even at the match, would prefer the authorities to focus on Rangers fans’ reaction. We will not endure this insult.

So, let everyone be clear on one thing – Rangers demands that players, staff and fans be protected from the violence and hatred of supporters of other clubs. Rangers fully expects the Scottish FA and Police Scotland to take action to provide our people with a safe environment. When players are unable to accept medals at the end of a final because of fears for their safety and our supporters are alarmed and extremely concerned for the women and children among them, then surely every step must be taken to ensure that this is never repeated.

FC Barcelona: 2015-16 Copa Del Rey Champions

Jordi Alba’s goal in the seventh minute of extra time capped a stunning turnaround of events and handed FC Barcelona a well-deserved 2–0 victory over Sevilla in the 2016 Copa del Rey final on Sunday night at the Vicente Calderón Stadium in Madrid.

Neymar tacked on a goal just instants before the final whistle. Lionel Messi had both assists.

Overall, the title is Barça’s fourth of the season. The Catalans beat Sevilla in an extra-time thriller in the UEFA Super Cup final to start the season before winning the FIFA Club World Cup in December.

With the La Liga championship already in the bag, Sunday’s Copa del Rey win — the 28th in Club history — means Barça have emerged on top in both of this season’s national competitions, giving them the coveted domestic double and ensuring the 2015/16 season will be hailed as a success for years to come.

An hour before Alba’s scored the eventual game-winner, though, the outlook was not as bright.

After dominating possession through the first 30 minutes of the final, FC Barcelona’s Javier Mascherano were slapped with straight red card in the 36th minute for getting tangled up with Sevilla’s Kevin Gameiro as he raced in on goal.

Later, not long after the second half had gotten underway, Barça received a second shock, as Luis Suárez had to leave the game with an injury after stretching just a bit too far to haul in a pass.

As Suárez sauntered off gingerly, Luis Enrique conferred with his assistants in the face of what was looking more and more like a chess match.

With Sevilla getting ever deeper into Barça territory and threatening to take the lead, midfielder Éver Banega was shown a red card after tackling Neymar from behind just outside the box. Just like Mascherano, Banega was also judged to be the last man.

Tasked with a 22-metre free kick to essentially win the game, Messi somewhat awkwardly lobbed the ball over the wall before it was slapped over the bar by Sergio Rico.

Nevertheless, when the whistle came signalling the end of regulation, Barça, no longer down a man, were visibly relieved and used the hiatus to regroup both physically and mentally.

The Barça XI came out of the huddle looking as confident as they had all evening. If they were going to win this one they would have to do it like they did in last summer’s Super Cup — in extra time.

And that’s just what happened.

Retaking control of the game, Messi picked out Alba with a long pass and the speedy full-back hauled it in before flicking it past Sergio Rico for the game’s first score in the 97th minute.

Celebrations erupted on the Barça bench and among the throngs of supporters who had made the trip to Madrid.

There were still 20 minutes left of extra time. As the clock plodded on into triple digits, players from both sides appeared to be on the verge of physical exhaustion.

With Sevilla now fighting for their lives, defender Daniel Carriço was booked twice in the 120th minute after a hard tackle on Messi followed by a surplus of vociferous protest.

On the ensuing play, and with the game, and the tournament, all but over, Messi found Neymar in the Sevilla area and the Brazilian slotted past Rico, touching off FC Barcelona’s second title celebration in the last eight days.

Juventus: 2015-16 Coppa Italia Champions

Juventus created more history on Saturday evening by beating Milan 1-0 in a tense Coppa Italia final to become the first ever Italian side to win domestic league and cup doubles in consecutive seasons.

The win was sealed in especially dramatic fashion courtesy of substitute Alvaro Morata’s strike in extra-time within three minutes of entering the field.

After a first half in which Milan enjoyed the upper hand in proceedings, Juve stepped up their game marginally in the second period, but were unable to create a truly clear-cut opportunity as the encounter required a further 30 minutes of extra-time to determine the winner.

The game, in truth, was in need of a spark from somewhere when Morata was brought on by Massimiliano Allegri in the 109th minute and the Spaniard repaid the manager’s decision in the most emphatic of fashions, helping the Bianconeri to win their 11th Coppa Italia with the same level of extra-time drama with which they had claimed La Decima last season.

In a pulsating opening period, Cristian Brocchi’s men had the better of the early chances, as Giacomo Bonaventura fired over the crossbar from range before prodding whiskers wide of Neto’s near post.

Mattia De Sciglio would be next to try his luck for the Rossoneri, hitting over from outside the box, and after 24 minutes, the lively Bonaventura forced Neto into an extremely smart save after the Milan midfielder’s low shot took a wicked deflection towards the bottom corner.

The Bianconeri demonstrated that they too posed danger going forwards courtesy of a strong run down the right by Stephan Lichtsteiner, whose menacing cross was ultimately dealt with by Alessio Romagnoli.

But it was Milan who continued to threaten more in the final third, Andrea Poli taking Keisuke Honda’s pass into his stride before shooting wide of the mark from the edge of the area.

The Bianconeri knew they had to improve after the break and began the second period with renewed purpose as Mario Lemina’s centre almost located Mario Mandzukic, who would have had a simple tap-in were it not for Gianluigi Donnarumma’s interception at the crucial moment.

The Rossoneri would dust themselves down from that scare and reassert the attacking intent of the first half, as Honda flicked Davide Calabria’s cross just inches beyond the reach of an onrushing Carlos Bacca.

In the 69th minute, Juve very nearly found the breakthrough, when Paul Pogba’s attempted cross spun off Calabria’s leg and was heading inside the near post before Donnarumma got down low to avert the danger.

Just four minutes later, Milan’s towering keeper had to palm away Lichtsteiner’s powerful header from Lemina’s cross, as Massimiliano Allegri’s men began to step up a gear or two into the final stretch of regulation time.

The Tuscan tactician’s introductions of Alex Sandro and Juan Cuadrado had indeed injected greater life into the Bianconeri’s legs, the latest sign of which culminated in a fierce long-range attempt from Pogba that was too central, however, to trouble Donnarumma.

A quiet ten minutes would follow before Romagnoli nodded wide from a promising position, paving the way to extra-time.

Both sides cancelled themselves out after the second restart of the night until Pogba warmed Donnarumma’s gloves with a venomous right-footed drive in the 102nd minute.

Milan too would have a good chance of their own to open the scores only moments later when Alex Sandro’s clearance fell to Bacca and the Colombian’s acrobatic kick ended up just the wrong side of the crossbar.

Shortly after extra-time’s midway stage, Allegri made the decision to bring on Morata and within just three minutes the change paid dividends with the Spaniard showing exceptional composure to turn home Cuadrado’s cross from the right.

Three minutes of added time spurred the Rossoneri on to encamp Juve’s half as they eagerly pursued an equaliser, but the Bianconeri were in no mood to let history slip from their hands as they held firm until the final whistle, sparking scenes of jubilation from all in black and white half on a truly unforgettable night in the capital.

Neto, Rugani, Barzagli, Chiellini, Lichtsteiner (Cuadrado 75), Lemina, Hernanes (Morata 109), Pogba, Evra (Alex Sandro 62), Dybala, Mandzukic
Unused substitutes: Buffon, Rubinho, Padoin, Sturaro, Asamoah, Pereyra, Zaza
Coach: Allegri

Donnarumma, Calabria, Zapata, Romagnoli, De Sciglio, Poli (Niang 84), Montolivo (J. Mauri 109), Kucka (Balotelli 111), Honda, Bonaventura, Bacca
Unused substitutes: D. Lopez, Abbiati, Mexes, Alex, Boateng, Locatelli, Bertolacci, Menez, L. Adriano
Coach: Brocchi

Paris Saint-Germain: 2015-16 Coupe de France Champions

Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored twice on his final appearance for Paris Saint-Germain as the capital club completed a second successive domestic treble with a 4-2 defeat of Olympique de Marseille in Saturday's Coupe de France final.

 Olympique de Marseille 2 - 4 Paris Saint-Germain

Given the gaping 48-point gulf between the pair in the 2015/16 Ligue 1 table, few expected the encounter at the Stade de France to be close, but Abdelaziz Barrada's first-minute shot that fizzed just wide of Salvatore Sirigu's goal suggested OM would not be the lambs to the slaughter many neutrals had predicted they would be.

Those neutrals would have been somewhat more smug less than 60 seconds later, however, as PSG went in front. When picked out wide on the right-hand side, Angel Di Maria flicked a cross into the box - the ball fell perfectly into the stride of the onrushing Blaise Matuidi, whose touch at close range meant Steve Mandanda had next to no chance of saving his side.

Despite their travails in league competition this season, OM gave PSG two keenly-contested Ligue 1 games, and they showed their abliity to match the champions with an equaliser just ten minutes later (12'). When the ball arrived at the feet of Florian Thauvin, he turned beyond Maxwell and fired low into Sirigu's bottom left-hand corner. The Italy international goalkeeper appeared to think the shot was going wide before realising too late it would find the net instead.

Brave block

Sirigu did get everything behind Steven Fletcher's goalbound touch to a Thauvn cross just after the half-hour mark (32') as OM continued to provide a counter-riposte to PSG's promptings at the opposite end where Di Maria, in particular, was proving a handful. It was one of the Argentina international's free-kicks that led to the scramble that afforded Edinson Cavani a sight of goal, but a brave block sent the Uruguay international's shot spinning to safety.

'Safety' was only a relative term, however, as the subsequent corner was not cleared by the OM defence, and Ibrahimovic saw the ball drop kindly - from a tight angle, PSG's all-time leading scorer fired goalwards, but his shot found a phalanx of OM defenders in its path. The Sweden captain then found a diving Mandanda denying him as the OM goalkeeper flew to his right to snare a low drive (37').

Given their start to the game, OM interim boss Franck Passi no doubt told his side to remain alert at the restart. He would have been all the more frustrated, then, to see Nicolas Nkoulou send Matuidi tumbling inside the box with a handful of seconds on the clock - Ibrahimovic stepped up to gleefully send his spot-kick to Mandanda's left as the OM captain dived right (47').


Fletcher sent an effort narrowly wide at the opposite end, and a cleaner contact from the on-loan Sunderland AFC forward might have reaped greater reward. PSG showed OM how to be clinical on 56 minutes, capitalising on possession lost cheaply by their opponents with Ibrahimovic slipping the ideal ball into Cavani's path - the striker fired low beyond Mandanda to give the holders breathing space.

An opportune Nkoulou leg prevented Ibrahimovic from finding Di Maria with a ball that surely would have seen the former Real Madrid CF and Manchester United FC man add a fourth. Instead, it was Ibrahimovic himself who capped a convincing triumph. With OM tiring, Matuidi was able to play the ball into space behind the Marseille back four - Ibrahimovic sprinted goalwards before effortlessly beating Mandanda (82').

To their credit, OM continued pushing, and Michy Batshuayi pulled one back (87'), but the only significant action of the closing minutes was the substitution of Ibrahimovic, who was given a deserved ovation.