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Liverpool Win League Cup As Van Dijk Strikes Late To Sink Chelsea

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Liverpool players pose with the trophy after the English League Cup final football match between Chelsea and Liverpool at Wembley stadium, in London, on February 25, 2024. Virgil van Dijk scored the only goal deep into extra-time as Liverpool won the League Cup for a record tenth time. (Photo by Glyn KIRK / AFP)

Liverpool won the League Cup in dramatic fashion as Virgil van Dijk’s header late in extra-time sealed a 1-0 win against Chelsea at Wembley on Sunday.

Jurgen Klopp’s injury-hit side finished a gruelling clash with a host of raw youngsters on the pitch, but it was their experienced captain who clinched the club’s 10th League Cup triumph.

Van Dijk earlier had a goal controversially disallowed by VAR, but the Dutch defender pounced to nod home with just two minutes left.

It was Liverpool’s first trophy following Klopp’s bombshell announcement that he will step down at the end of this season.

The German will hope Liverpool’s first silverware since the 2022 FA Cup will be the springboard for an incredible farewell tour.

Quadruple-chasing Liverpool sit top of the Premier League, face Southampton in the FA Cup fifth round on Wednesday and take on Sparta Prague in the Europa League last 16.

It was another bitter Wembley experience for Chelsea, who lost the 2022 League Cup and FA Cup finals against Liverpool.

Blues boss Mauricio Pochettino has asked Chelsea fans not to judge him on “winning titles” in the midst of a troubled first season in charge.

But Chelsea remain without domestic silverware since the 2018 FA Cup and had only themselves to blame after missing a host of chances in normal time.

Ravaged by injuries to 11 players, Liverpool’s list of star absentees included Mohamed Salah, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Alisson Becker, Darwin Nunez, Diogo Jota and Dominik Szoboszlai.

That meant starts for 20-year-olds Conor Bradley and Harvey Elliott, while six of Klopp’s substitutes were 21 or younger.

Chelsea’s Serbian goalkeeper #28 Djordje Petrovic dives but is unable to prevent a header from Liverpool’s Dutch defender #04 Virgil van Dijk (not pictured) beating him during the English League Cup final football match between Chelsea and Liverpool at Wembley stadium, in London, on February 25, 2024. (Photo by Adrian DENNIS / AFP)

– Goals Ruled Out –
Despite their youthful line-up, Liverpool settled quickly as Luis Diaz led the charge.

Taking advantage of Chelsea’s hesitant defending, Diaz advanced into the area for a fierce strike that forced a good save from Djordje Petrovic.

Against the run of play, Chelsea should have taken the lead with their first incisive raid.

Conor Gallagher’s cross deflected to Cole Palmer just six yards out, but his strike produced a superb save from Caoimhin Kelleher.

Ryan Gravenberch joined Liverpool’s ever-growing injury list when he was stretchered off after the midfielder’s leg twisted awkwardly in a challenge with Moises Caicedo.

Raheem Sterling thought he had given Chelsea the lead with a close-range finish from Nicolas Jackson’s cross, but the goal was disallowed for a tight offside against the Senegal striker before his assist.

Responding to Chelsea’s improvement, Liverpool were inches away from taking the lead through Cody Gakpo, whose glancing header from Andrew Robertson’s cross hit the far post.

Liverpool kept coming and Bradley’s goalbound shot was brilliantly blocked by Levi Colwill, who threw himself into the fray to repel the close-range effort.

Liverpool looked to have broken the deadlock on the hour when Van Dijk climbed above Ben Chilwell to head in Robertson’s free-kick.

But VAR intervened, prompting referee Chris Kavanagh to disallow the goal for offside against Wataru Endo, who blocked Colwill from marking the Dutch defender.

Axel Disasi should have rubbed salt into Liverpool’s wounds but the Chelsea defender made a complete hash of a close-range chance.

Chelsea went close again as Gallagher met Palmer’s cross with a flick that cannoned off the far post.

Gallagher wasted a golden opportunity to win it in the final minutes, receiving Palmer’s pass in acres of space but taking a heavy touch that allowed Kelleher to save.

In a pulsating finale, Kelleher made two more saves from Palmer and Christopher Nkunku in quick succession to force extra-time.

Bobby Clark, James McConnell, Jarell Quansah and Jayden Danns were all on by now, but if Liverpool’s youngsters lacked Chelsea’s experience, they were never overawed.

Danns almost guided his header over Petrovic and Elliott was inches away when he volleyed against the post.

Liverpool would not be denied and with penalties just two minutes away, Van Dijk met Kostas Tsimikas’s corner with a header that flashed past Petrovic as Klopp raised his arms with a smile that bordered on disbelief.

AFP

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Mbappe’s PSG Punish 10-man Barca To Reach Champions League Semis

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Kylian Mbappe struck twice as Paris Saint-Germain battled back to beat 10-man Barcelona 4-1 and book a place in the Champions League semi-finals with a 6-4 aggregate triumph on Tuesday.

Raphinha fired Barcelona ahead early on but Ronald Araujo’s 29th-minute red card turned the tide in PSG’s favour, despite the Spanish champions leading by two goals following a 3-2 quarter-final first-leg win.

Ousmane Dembele and Vitinha levelled the tie for PSG and the deadly Mbappe hit a brace to put them into the final four for the first time since 2021.

The French champions have never won the trophy despite huge investment but demonstrated they have the attacking weapons in their squad to do so.

Five-time winners Barcelona were dreaming of a first semi-final return since 2019 but Araujo’s red card for pulling down the relentless Bradley Barcola undermined their grip on the tie.

PSG coach Luis Enrique, who led Barca to the 2015 Champions League, said he believed his team would turn things around despite never having managed to after a first-leg defeat, and so it proved.

The visitors started with determination and penned Barcelona back in their territory, but it was the hosts who took the lead.

Explosive 16-year-old starlet Lamine Yamal ripped past Nuno Mendes and crossed to the near post where Raphinha turned home despite pressure from Achraf Hakimi.

It was the Brazilian winger’s third goal of the tie after his brace in Paris.

Robert Lewandowski fired another chance over the top for Barcelona before Barcola tilted the tie in PSG’s favour. The winger was a nightmare for his French compatriot Jules Kounde to handle.

Barcola teed up Mbappe but Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen denied him well before Araujo was sent off for bringing him down.

The Uruguayan centre-back pulled Barcola back as he burst into the area, leaving Barca with 10 men.

Dembele whizzed the resulting free-kick narrowly over, but soon found the net, as he did in the first leg.

The former Barcelona winger struck after 40 minutes from another Barcola cross, which raked across the area to the back post where Dembele was arriving to fire into the roof of the net.

Barcelona sacrificed Yamal for defender Inigo Martinez after Araujo’s red card and it left them with few outlets in attack.

With PSG controlling the game Barcelona soon paid the price for their inability to keep possession.

Vitinha was given far too much space on the edge of the box and he drilled into the bottom corner to put PSG ahead on the night.

Ilkay Gundogan hit the post at the other end for Barcelona before their coach Xavi was sent off for a show of dissent on the touchline.

The Catalans were losing their heads and Joao Cancelo clumsily fouled Dembele to hand PSG a penalty.

Mbappe, who had been kept quiet in the first leg, hammered it into the top corner for his 40th goal across all competitions.

The striker’s future may lie in Spain, with Real Madrid aiming to sign him in the summer at the end of his contract, and he made no friends in Barcelona by hopping the advertising hoardings and running towards fans to celebrate.

Another member of Barcelona’s backroom staff was dismissed after Gundogan had a penalty appeal waved away and it became clear the hosts had no response.

Mbappe wrapped up the win in the 89th minute after a fine Ter Stegen double save, leaving Barcelona the victims of another bitterly disappointing night in Europe.

AFP

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CAF Set To Scrap Confederation Cup, Elevate African Football League

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The Confederation of African Football, CAF, is set to scrap its second-tier club competition, the Confederation Cup, according to reports.

The Confederation Cup was established in 2004 from a merger of the CAF Cup and the African Cup Winners’ Cup.

CAF introduced a new competition, the African Football League last year.

The African Football League, which started with eight teams will now be expanded to include more teams.

It will now be the major club competition on the continent.

The CAF Champions League will take the place of the CAF Confederation Cup as Africa’s second-tier club competition.

The winner of the African Football League will now be representing the continent in the FIFA Club World Cup.

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Why my 10-year marriage ended – Brazil legend Kaka

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By Francesca Hangeior

Brazilian football icon Kaka has broken his silence on his 2015 divorce after a rumoured claim made by his ex-wife.

Kaka, who married his childhood sweetheart Caroline Celico in 2005 while playing for AC Milan, recently addressed the split during a podcast interview reported by Spanish outlet Sport.

The couple, who share a son and daughter, ended their marriage after a decade together.

Reports surfaced last week suggesting that Celico attributed the breakup to Kaka being “too perfect” for her – however, Celico has debunked the reports.

Reacting, Kaka, 41, refuted this claim during the podcast, stating that he had done everything possible to prevent the separation.

He said: “In 2015 I was married, and my wife at the time decided she didn’t want to be married anymore.

“She said, ‘I’m not happy and I attribute my unhappiness to marriage’.

“I was living in the United States, and she asked to go back to Brazil.

“Her words were, ‘I want to go back to Brazil, I want to live there and I don’t want to be married anymore’.”

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