Italy, Netherlands, Wales aim to secure Euro 2024 qualification

Italy, Netherlands, Wales aim to secure Euro 2024 qualification
Italy, Netherlands, Wales aim to secure Euro 2024 qualification

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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - BARCELONA: Barcelona striker Robert Lewandowski ended his barren goalscoring spell with a brace to rescue the Spanish champions a 2-1 win over visiting Alaves in La Liga on Sunday.

Elsewhere, Atletico Madrid came from behind to beat Villarreal 3-1 and Ivan Rakitic snatched Sevilla a 1-1 home draw against Real Betis in a pulsating Seville derby.

Samu Omorodion sent Alaves ahead in the first minute against a dire Barcelona but Lewandowski’s second half double rescued the hosts three points.

The victory keeps Barcelona in touching distance of shock leaders Girona, who are four points ahead, and second place Real Madrid, who have a two-point advantage, after both won Saturday.

Veteran forward Lewandowski scored a brilliant header early in the second half and thrashed home a penalty in the 77th minute to reach seven league goals.

Catalonia is in drought and Lewandowski was enduring one too, with the striker on his worst stretch of form for over a decade, having failed to score in six appearances prior.

Barcelona are also on their own miserable run of performances, which Xavi said is because the players are nervous, especially the younger ones, due to heavy media criticism.

“We were more tense than normal because of all the noise generated around the team,” Xavi told reporters after Barca’s comeback.

“It happened to me as a player and it’s happening to my players.”

Before the match Xavi said the team were not in crisis despite the recent Clasico defeat and a stumble against Shakhtar Donetsk in midweek, and that it was up to him to bring them out of their slump.

However it took just 18 seconds for Alaves to strike.

Ilkay Gundogan lost the ball in midfield and with Barcelona’s defense in total disarray, Javi Lopez crossed for Omorodion, who slotted through Marc-Andre ter Stegen’s legs.

“We cannot make those mistakes, it’s unacceptable,” said Xavi.

“We’re giving far too much away and that takes a toll.”

Barcelona were easily pulled apart on multiple occasions on the first half, with Alaves target man Omorodion, on loan from Atletico and only 19, bettering Jules Kounde repeatedly.

Xavi switched the French center-back to right-back midway through the first half, after the striker barged past Kounde and hit the crossbar.

Omorodion fired wide one-on-one with Ter Stegen on another occasion and Alaves could easily have walked off three goals up.

Fans whistled Barca players at the break and they reacted, levelling early in the second half.

Kounde crossed from the right and Lewandowski arced a brilliant header beyond Sivera’s reach and into the net.

Barcelona clinched the win when substitute Ferran Torres was clumsily felled in the area by Abdel Abqar and Lewandowski smashed the penalty into the roof of the net.

An inspired Antoine Griezmann helped Atletico Madrid come from behind to beat Villarreal.

The French forward netted his 300th strike for club and country in the win which keeps Atletico fourth, two points behind champions Barca.

Atletico coach Diego Simeone penned a new deal this week until 2027 and was able to celebrate in style, after Gerard Moreno put Villarreal ahead early on at the Metropolitano.

Axel Witsel, set up by Griezmann, levelled before the break and the Frenchman pounced to turn the game on its head after 80 minutes.

Substitute Samuel Lino wrapped up a 17th home win across all competitions five minutes later, further punishing managerless Villarreal, 14th, who sacked Pacheta this week.

“I know that Antoine will go down in the history of the club, for sure, because of the number of goals that he has scored and that we hope that he continues to score,” said Simeone, lavishing praise on his key player.

Griezmann said that he was delighted that Simeone had penned a new contract and he too would like to pledge his future to the club.

“Surely his turn will come,” the coach told Movistar.

“The club is working to continue growing and Griezmann is very important in the present and in the future.”

Seventh-placed Betis took the lead against Sevilla through Ayoze Perez in the 72nd minute as the visitors looked to pile on the misery for their suffering rivals.

Diego Alonso’s side have not won in La Liga since September, drawing five matches in a row.

However, Rakitic earned them a point on this occasion with a superb strike from outside the area, to keep his side in mid-table.

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