Sept 16 (Net) – A look at what’s happening in European soccer on Saturday:
After a slew of off-field issues at the start of the season, Manchester United needs to focus on results as it returns to action with a home game against Brighton in the Premier League. Issues regarding Mason Greenwood, Antony and Jadon Sancho have cast a shadow over the opening weeks of a campaign that has seen United lose two of its first four games. Brighton beat United home and away last season, so there is the potential for another setback for manager Erik ten Hag. Wolverhampton hosts Liverpool in the early kickoff, while league leader and defending champion Manchester City travels to West Ham. Newcastle has lost its last three games in the league and hosts Brentford in the late game.
Serie A returns with a bang after the international break as the Milan derby features the only squads with perfect starts. The match at the San Siro also features the league’s top scorers so far: Inter Milan striker Lautaro Martinez (five goals) and AC Milan counterpart Olivier Giroud (four goals). It’s also the first Milan derby for a host of new players in the Italian league, like U.S. standout Christian Pulisic at Milan and France international Marcus Thuram at Inter — with both players having made a big impact in the opening rounds. Juventus, which is two points behind the leaders, hosts Lazio, which beat defending champion Napoli before the break. Napoli looks to bounce back in a visit to promoted Genoa.
Barcelona hosts Real Betis in the Spanish league following the international break and with its Champi-ons League opener three days away. Barcelona is two points behind Spanish leader Real Madrid and can move in front with a win over Manuel Pellegrini’s Betis. Barcelona hosts Antwerp on Tuesday. Atletico Madrid will play its first match in more than two weeks when it visits Valencia after its last game was postponed because of bad weather. Athletic Bilbao hosts Cadiz without forward Nico Williams, who injured a muscle while playing for Spain. Mallorca is winless so far this season through four games be-fore visiting Rafa Benítez’s Celta Vigo.
Borussia Dortmund is already under pressure in the Bundesliga after making its worst start to the league in 14 years. Edin Terzić’s team has only five points from its first three games and faces another poten-tially tough match at Freiburg. Italy captain Leonardo Bonucci could make his Union Berlin debut at Wolfsburg. The 36-year-old defender would need to stop Wolfsburg’s Jonas Wind from adding to his five goals so far. Leipzig hosts Augsburg, Stuttgart visits Mainz and Cologne welcomes Hoffenheim. Eintracht Frankfurt visits Bochum in the late game.
Lens pushed Paris Saint-Germain all the way in a close-fought French title race last season and finished second by one point. It’s a different situation this time and Lens is still looking for its first win of this campaign. The northern side is in next-to-last place and has picked up only one point from the first four matches heading into the home game against promoted Metz. In the other game, Rennes hosts Lille with the winner of that game able to move into second spot.
Women’s World Cup winners maintain boycott of Spain’s national team. Coach delays picking her squad
BARCELONA, Spain , Sept 16 (Net) — The new coach of Spain’s women’s team had to delay the an-nouncement of her first squad Friday after nearly all of the country’s World Cup-winning players main-tained their boycott of the national team as part of their fight against sexism in soccer.
Spain coach Montse Tomé was set to announce her squad on Friday. But 20 minutes before she was sup-posed to hold a news conference, the federation said it was postponed to a time to be determined.
The federation said the players had rejected their attempts to convince them to return to the team early on Friday.
That leaves Tomé with the difficult decision of whether to still call up the players revolting, or select a completely different team for upcoming Nations League games against Sweden and Switzerland on Sept. 22 and 26. According to Spanish sports law, athletes are required to answer the call of its national teams unless there are circumstances that impede them from playing, such as an injury.
Spain’s women have had little chance to celebrate their greatest soccer achievement because Luis Rubial-es, the now former president of the federation, caused an uproar when he kissed player Jenni Hermoso on the lips at the awards ceremony in Sydney on Aug. 20.
The team members, along with dozens of other players, responded to his subsequent refusal to step down in the days after the kiss by announcing that they would not play for their nation again until the federa-tion underwent deep reforms and had new leadership.
The federation has been in upheaval since. Rubiales was first suspended by soccer governing body FIFA, then his interim replacement fired women’s national team coach Jorge Vilda, who was unpopular with players. Rubiales himself eventually resigned under immense pressure.
Many expected that the firing of Vilda and the exit of Rubiales would clear the path for the return of the players, but the players want more changes and, it appears, more officials and employees to be removed from the federation.
The players, through the FUTPRO players’ union, issued a statement Friday signed by 21 of its 23 World Cup winners, and 18 other players, explaining that “the changes that have been made are not sufficient.”
In the statement, the players said they want interim president Pedro Rocha, who was picked to succeed him by Rubiales, to also step down; the women’s team staff to be overhauled; and for personnel changes to also be made to the cabinet of the federation’s presidency and secretary general, the press relations and marketing department, and its integrity department charged with fighting discrimination.
“The charges we specified to the federation are based on showing zero tolerance toward people, who from their position in the federation, have practiced, incited, covered up or applauded attitudes that dis-criminate against women,” the players’ statement read.
They concluded their statement by saying “what most fills us with pride is wearing the shirt of the na-tional team.”
Athenea del Castillo and Claudia Zornoza, both Real Madrid players, were the only two women from the World Cup team not to sign the statement.
Zornoza said on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, that she was retiring from in-ternational soccer at the age of 32.
“The moment has arrived for me to say goodbye and focus on my objectives with Real Madrid,” the midfielder said. “I desire with all my strength that for once and for all all the areas of the national team change so they can be at the same level as our achievements.”
Last year, 15 players similarly rebelled, asking for more “professional” coaching from Vilda. The fed-eration — led by Rubiales — firmly backed Vilda, and only three of those players relented and were eventually included in the World Cup squad.
Quietly, however, the player revolt did appear to lead to some changes. The staff was increased to more than 60 members to accompany the team to Australia and New Zealand, the team flew on chartered flights, and players were given money to help bring their families along. Players with children were also given time to spend with them.
With Rubiales — Vilda’s biggest supporter — out of the way, the federation has sided more fully with the players during this second rebellion. In Vilda’s place, the federation hired Tomé, his former assistant, as the first female coach of Spain’s women’s team.
Spain midfielder Alexia Putellas, a two-time Ballon d’Or winner, said Wednesday that the players want sweeping reform.
“We are asking for changes so no woman, inside or outside of soccer, should ever have to experience again situations of disparagement, disrespect, or abuse,” Alexia said. “We need consensus, courage and leadership from the institutions, please. This is why we will not stop here.”
The federation followed that with a statement saying that Rocha would lead “a process of transition” un-til the federation can hold elections.
But it also asked for time, in an apparent appeal to the players.
“A call has also been made in favor of dialogue and cooperation given the especially atypical scenario that the Spanish national team is going through,” the federation said. “The federation wants to reinforce its commitment with the world champions, whom the federation is enormously proud of.”
Rocha added in his own words: “It is fundamental to guarantee the future of Spanish soccer that we car-ry out transformations in a progressive manner and recover the dignity and credibility lost after the inci-dents at the World Cup.
“It is fundamental that our players, the media and society at large understand this and help us carry it out. A lot is at stake and we must be aware of that.”
Spain is part of a joint bid along with Portugal and Morocco — and possibly Ukraine — to host the 2030 men’s World Cup. The Spanish government has warned the federation that the Rubiales controversy could hurt the bid’s prospects.
The latest chaotic day for the federation coincided with Rubiales denying any wrongdoing to a judge investigating accusations by state prosecutors that the ex-official committed sexual assault and coercion against Hermoso. The judge placed a restraining order on Rubiales, prohibiting him from being within 200 meters (yards) of Hermoso.