Ronaldo: Looking Back at 6 of The Brazilian’s Most Iconic Moments on His Birthday

That lightning acceleration. That Brazilian flair. That dodgy haircut. 

We all have our own memories of Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima, or simply ‘Ronaldo’. The big man burst onto the scene whilst playing for PSV Eindhoven, and terrorised defences with his breathtaking speed, quick feet and ability to round any goalkeeper on the planet. 

Brazil's forward Ronaldo, wrapped in the

Ronaldo is considered one of the greatest footballers to have ever walked this earth, and he truly was a joy to watch. The two-time Ballon d’Or winner played with such a grace and speed that he made the game look so easy – a sign of an elite player. 

As football fans, we were privileged to watch the genius at work for a number of years, but his plaguing knee injuries undoubtedly robbed us all of many more historic goals and tricks. 

The former Brazil international is a footballing legend, and it’s only fair that we look back at the great man’s most iconic moments on his 43rd birthday. 


Hat-Trick vs Bayer Leverkusen in 1994 

This is the night where it all began for Ronaldo. He was making a name for himself in Holland with PSV, but the teenager burst onto the European stage in an exhilarating encounter against Bayer Leverkusen in the UEFA Cup. 

Ronaldo, unknown to most at the time, single-handedly destroyed the Leverkusen defence in one of the most impressive individual displays of all time. Although the crumbling Eindhoven backline continued to ship goals, this irrepressible youngster stunned the world with his frightening pace, rocket-powered shots and deft touch in front of goal. 


Ronaldo bagged a hat-trick on the night, his second goal a wonder-strike from 25 yards, and although PSV fell to a 5-4 defeat in Germany, the Brazilian wonderkid had given the world a glimpse of what was to come over the next decade. 


Barcelona Goal vs SD Compostela 

Still incredibly young and raw, Ronaldo was taking the world by storm. It’s a crying shame that the Brazilian only spent one season at Camp Nou, but he certainly made the most of his time with the Catalan club.

The ​Barca striker scored an incredible 47 goals in 49 appearances for La Blaugrana and the majority of them were pieces of art, but his goal against SD Compostela ranks highest of all. 

Picking up the ball in his own half, Ronaldo danced away from a challenge, released himself from the grip of the most cynical shirt-pull of all time, and set off on a storming charge towards a visibly quaking backline. 

O Fenomeno weaved through several tackles before rifling home, leaving Barca manager Bobby Robson gobsmacked on the touchline. A goal so good, no one in the stadium could truly believe it had happened.


UEFA Cup Final Goal vs Lazio 

Cup final goals are always special, but a goal to seal a win against your league rivals in European competition always tastes a little bit sweeter. ​Inter striker Ronaldo wrapped up a 3-0 victory against fellow Serie A side Lazio, and he delivered his trademark finish which summed up the man’s brilliance.

FOOT-UEFA-INTER MILAN-LAZIO ROME

Breaking the offside trap with expert timing, Ronaldo tore away from the flagging defenders, sucked the goalkeeper in before rounding him with ease, and nonchalantly rolled the ball home. 

It was a move he produced so regularly, but no keeper in the game could live with his devastating drop of the shoulder when through on goal. 


Real Madrid Debut vs Alaves 

Debuts are not an easy occasion for some players. So much expectation to deliver, and the world’s eyes are boring into you.

You know what helps? Scoring 61 seconds into your first match. And that’s exactly what O Fenomeno did. 

Brazilian World Cup winner Ronaldo waves

Coming on as a substitute, Ronaldo immediately got his name on the ​Real Madrid scoresheet, bringing down a difficult cross from the left and lashing a volley past the helpless goalkeeper. 

I imagine that calmed the nerves of just about everyone at the Santiago Bernabeu, although I doubt Ronaldo was too concerned to begin with. The new Galactico went on to add a second goal later in the match, and became an instant fans’ favourite in the Spanish capital.


 World Cup Final Brace  

This was the pinnacle of the great man’s career. Ronaldo had suffered heartbreak four years prior when Brazil lost the World Cup final to France, and the young talisman had suffered a serious convulsion hours before kickoff. 

The tournament favourites entered the competition with great expectations and the weight of a nation on their shoulders, but the Samba boys duly delivered, banishing the memories of France ’98. 


Ronaldo was the star of the World Cup, and O Fenomeno ended the tournament as top scorer with eight goals; bagging a brace in the final. 

And of course, we all remember that suspect trim he rocked against Germany, which unfortunately never really caught on.


Real Madrid Hat-Trick vs Manchester United 

This is still one of the greatest moments in Champions League history, and Ronaldo’s Real Madrid treble is considered one of the best hat-tricks that football has ever witnessed. 

The Spanish giants rode into Manchester brimming with confidence, and O Fenomeno delivered one of the outstanding performances of his career against Sir Alex Ferguson’s side. 

​His first goal was a brilliant first-time finish, catching goalkeeper Fabien Barthez by surprise, lashing the ball fiercely in at the near post. 

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Ronaldo’s second goal was a tap-in, finishing off some neat buildup play, but the pièce de résistance however, was his hat-trick goal. 

Picking up possession midway inside the ​Man Utd half, the Madrid number 11 took a few strides forward, shifted the ball onto his right foot, and unleashed a vicious effort which somehow curled, dipped and arrowed past Barthez. 

Ronaldo was applauded off the pitch by the entire Old Trafford crowd, which tells us all we need to know about one of football’s greatest servants. 

Parabéns O Fenomeno!


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Antonio Conte Calls Out Inter ‘Ducklings’ After Disappointing Slavia Praha Draw

​Antonio Conte left no stone unturned as he accused his Inter players of severely under-performing as they got their Champions League campaign off to a disappointing start in their 1-1 home draw with Slavia Praha.

Taking charge of the club for the first time on the European stage, the Nerazzurri fell behind to a Peter Olayinka strike in the first-half after failing to convert chances of their own. It took until second-half stoppage time for the hosts to snatch an unlikely point, as Nicolo Barella’s mis-hit volley nestled into the far corner on his first European club appearance.


Nevertheless, Conte was left fuming with his side’s decision to go against the methods practiced in training, after seeing his side opt for long ball tactics and failing to match their Czech Republic opponents in various facets at the San Siro.

“Slavia beat us in terms of intensity, determination, pace…We showed nothing of our ideas of football. You seem to think I arrive here, touch and the ducklings turn into swans. There’s a lot of work to do and we need to improve, but that was not our football,” the ​Inter boss told Sky Sports, via ​Football Italia.

“I generally hate the long ball and run routine, as that is not our football, but that’s what we largely did today. It wasn’t the plan.”

While the ​Serie A side failed to impart his ideas onto the pitch, the former ​Chelsea boss did insist the blame should be placed on his shoulders, not just his players, for failing to hold up his end of the bargain.

Romelu Lukaku

“I must be the first to take responsibility, because evidently I didn’t have the effect I wanted in my initial choices or in explaining the kind of match we were going into,” he added.

“When I say we shouldn’t let ourselves get swept up in enthusiasm, I mean it. I am here to help these lads improve, so put the blame on me. I refuse to talk about individuals, because we were all below par today, starting from me. I am the first onto the naughty step, the main dunce.”

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Inter 1-1 Slavia Praha: Report, Ratings & Reaction as Barella’s Late Volley Saves Nerazzurri Blushes

Inter snatched a point from Czech giants Slavia Praha in their Champions League group stage opener thanks to a strike from substitute Nicolò Barella in added time.

Sitting in one of the tightest groups in the competition with Barcelona and Borussia Dortmund, ​Stefan de Vrij and Danilo D’Ambrosio wasted golden chances to put Inter into an early lead, although it still highlighted a potential weakness that Slavia Praha had from set-pieces.

Samir Handanović just avoided being left with egg on his face by conceding the opening goal while trying to play out from the back, but he was helpless to stop striker Peter Olayinka putting the visitors into a shock lead from close range after half-time.

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Inter then snatched a point from the match in added time after Stefano Sensi’s free-kick rebounded back to Barella, who mishit a volley into the far corner of the net in his first-ever appearance in European competitions.


Inter

Key Talking Point

Antonio Conte will be all too aware that his side won’t be able to control every minute of every match this season, but Inter’s slow start highlighted the fact that they are only three games into their campaign – compared to Slavia Praha, who have played nine league matches.

The Nerazzurri had better options in each position than Tuesday’s opposition, but as a collective, Inter didn’t show any signs as to why they’re being tipped as a team who could topple Juventus in Italian football’s hierarchy this season.


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There seemed to be a severe lack of confidence in defence which gave Slavia Praha’s attacking players confidence as the match went on, but it was Inter’s crippling deficiency of creativity in the final third which proved to be most telling at San Siro.

In the end, a mishit volley from substitute Barella saved Inter from an opening day defeat, but Inter are now walking on thin ice if they want to make it through Group F unless their performances improve drastically over the next few weeks.


Player Ratings

Starting XI: Handanovic (5); D’Ambrosio (5), de Vrij (6), Skriniar (7); Candreva (4), Gagliardini (6), Brozovic (5), Sensi (7), Asamoah (6); Lukaku (6), Martinez (7*).

Substitutes: Lazaro (6), Barella (4), Politano (6).


Star Man

We’re clutching at straws Inter struggled to create anything of note for large chunks of the match, but striker Lautaro Martínez brought the hosts’ toothless attacking lineup an important chunk of South American bite.

Lautaro Martinez

Although the Argentina international wasn’t able to create any chances for himself, Martínez was the only Inter player who looked to press Slavia Praha’s defenders and he even forced the visitors into the odd mistake.


Slavia Praha

Player Ratings

Starting XI: Kolar (5); Coufal (6), Kudela (5), Hovorka (6), Boril (7); Soucek (6), Traore (6), Husbauer (7); Masopust (6), Stanciu (7), Olayinka (8).


Substitutes: Zeleny (7), Provod (6), Helal (6).


Looking Ahead

Inter might have got over their first hurdle in Europe, but the Serie A fixture schedule is now set to turn ugly for the Nerazzurri as they race rivals Milan, as well as Lazio, Sampdoria and Juventus in their next batch of fixtures.

Conte’s side will also have to travel to Barcelona on matchday two in the Champions League, just before they host Italian champions Juventus.

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Champions League: Picking a Combined XI From Teams in Group F

​Europe’s elite competition returns this week and when the group stage draw was made at the end of last month, there was one group that had us all rather excited: Group F.

​​The group contains eight European Cup titles and three of Europe’s finest; BarcelonaBorussia Dortmund and Inter. Oh, and of course, Slavia Prague. 

Barca will be welcoming back Lionel Messi for their group-stage opener against Dortmund, who currently sit second in the Bundesliga and behold one of the most exciting young squads in the continent. 

Antonio Conte’s Inter have also started the season well, winning all three of their games and conceding just once in the process. They sit atop of Serie A and look to be a real threat to Juventus’ crown this season.

​​Here’s our attempt at a combined XI between the teams in the ‘Group of Death’: 


Goalkeeper and Defenders

Gerard Pique

Marc-Andre ter Stegen (GK): Fantastic shot-stopper and one of the best with the ball at his feet. Incredibly unlucky to not have more Germany caps to his name than he currently does. 

Nelson Semedo (RB): This was a tricky one but Semedo gets the nod over the young Achraf Hakimi. Semedo is incredible athletic and has cemented himself as Valverde’s first-choice right-back. He would be in the conversation for one of the best in the world if he developed the attacking side of his game.

Gerard Pique (CB): He’s been elite for a decade and still is, so a no brainer really. Next. 

Milan Skriniar (CB): Gets in over an ageing Diego Godin. Skriniar has developed into one of Europe’s highest rated centre-backs and will be key for Antonio Conte this season. The Slovakian is strong, dominant in the air and is comfortable in possession. A complete centre-half.

Jordi Alba (LB): Read Pique.


Midfielders

Frenkie De Jong

Axel Witsel (CDM): Undoubtedly the hardest position to pick with so much talent to choose from between three European giants (sorry Slavia). For Inter, Stefano Sensi has started the season brilliantly whilst Nicolo Barella has impressed every time he’s represented the national side. Barca’s Arthur, who is an incredible ball-retainer, and Sergio Busquets (read Pique) could’ve easily got into this side, but Witsel gets the nod. The Belgian is pivotal in Lucien Favre’s 4-2-3-1, breaking up attacks and then getting his team moving in the other direction with his slick passing. He’s the midfield presence needed in this side.

Frenkie de Jong (CDM): Last season’s UEFA Midfielder of the Year partners Witsel in the double-pivot. Fantastic breaker of lines with the ball at his feet and is certainly underrated defensively. He’s already considered one of the best central-midfield players in the world at just 22 years of age.

Lionel Messi (CAM/Wherever He Wants): The ​third greatest footballer of all time; pretty simple.


Forwards

Marco Reus,Jadon Sancho,Paco Alcacer

Jadon Sancho (RW): Arguably the hottest prospect in world football at the moment. Sancho’s electric pace and eye for a pass make him a nightmare for opposing left-backs. The 19-year-old burst onto the scene last season with 29 goals and assists in 34 Bundesliga games and he looks to be carrying on his form this season, already notching up six goals and assists in the league.

Paco Alcacer (ST): Despite Romelu Lukaku starting brightly at Inter and the elite Luis Suarez returning from injury, Alcacer is arguably Europe’s most in-form striker at the moment so it’s difficult not to pick him. Seven goals already this season to go with the 19 he registered last term show the quality the Spaniard has in front of goal.

Antoine Griezmann (LW): Playing out of position, but we’d still take him over Dortmund’s Julian Brandt or Inter’s Kwadwo Asamoah. Griezmann has built a reputation for being one of the finest second-strikers in Europe over the past few years and has impressed playing centrally for Barca this season. However, when Luis Suarez and the ‘GOAT’ return, he will likely be forced out to the left.


Let’

The Jerry Seinfeld 2019/20 UEFA Champions League Preview

‘What’s going onnnnn?!!!’

I’ll tell you what’s going on Jerry, the UEFA Champions League is back this week, and it’s been confirmed that your sitcom – Seinfeld – is set to hit Netflix in 2021. 

And to celebrate these two great bits of news, we’ll pour out ​a little bit of the bubbly, and re-work/butcher some of the Jerry Seinfeld’s best jokes to preview each of the eight ​UEFA Champions League groups. 


Group A

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Club Brugge, Galatasaray, Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid

My theory is 98% of all football played in Group A is merely killing time. 

Let’s face it, we don’t really want to watch Club Brugge or Galatasaray play football, do we? 

‘F**k no.’

That’s what I thought. 


Group B

FBL-ENG-PR-TOTTENHAM-CRYSTAL PALACE

Bayern Munich, Red Star Belgrade/Crvena Zvezda, Olympiacos, Tottenham Hotspur

Jerry Seinfeld once said: “there’s no such thing as fun for the whole family”, and he was WRONG, because Group B really is fun for the whole family.

We have the blockbuster heavyweight clash between ​Bayern Munich and ​Tottenham Hotspur for your Dad and his tin of Carlsberg.

Crvena Zvezda for your hipster son to try and pronounce and pretend he’s heard of.

Mauricio Pochettino as eye candy for your mother.

And the wonderful city of Athens for your daughter, just back from interrailing, to cite as the ‘third nicest city’ she was in during the summer. 

Fun for the whole family. 


Group C

Pep Guardiola

Atalanta, Dinamo Zagreb, Manchester City, Shakhtar Donetsk

Men don’t care about what’s happening in Group C, they care about what’s happening in Group D. So, moving on…


Group D

Cristiano Ronaldo

Atletico Madrid, Bayer Leverkusen, Juventus, Lokomotiv Moscow

I tell you what I like about ​Atletico Madrid, they’re hanging in there with the park the bus football, aren’t they? You know they’ve seen the Gegenpress. They’re staying with the bus. I’m impressed by that.

I tell you what I don’t like about ​Juventus, they’re chopping and changing at every opportunity, aren’t they? You know they’ve seen how continuity breeds success. But they’re staying with the reactionary decision making. I’m not impressed by that. 


Group E

FBL-ENG-PR-LIVERPOOL-NEWCASTLE

Genk, Liverpool, SSC Napoli, Red Bull Salzburg

The Gegenpress is one of the only pieces of evidence we have that football managers are still thinking for themselves. 

Jurgen Klopp is one of the only managers in world football that’s not trying to copy Pep Guardiola, and you have to respect that. 


Group F

FBL-EUR-C1-BARCELONA-TRAINING

Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund, Inter, Slavia Prague

Group F is kind of like having a blender, but you don’t have the top for it. Anything can come out of it at any point in the near future…except for Slavia Prague. Obviously.


Group G

Timo Werner

Benfica, Olympique Lyonnais, RB Leipzig, Zenit St Petersburg

It’s incredible that everything that could possibly happen in Group G can be summed up in exactly two words: 

Who cares? 


Group H

Tammy Abraham

Ajax, Chelsea, LOSC Lille, Valencia

Group H is thought of by many as the most competitive, and therefore best, of all of the UEFA Champions League groups this season. So if Group H is the best group, why are you watching E instead? 


Let’

90min’s Definitive European Player Power Rankings: Week Five

After an international break full of the kind of nothingness international football has practically patented (this is just a joke to impress you guys, I actually like international football), club football came back with a bang this week.

Which is why we at Power Rankings HQ had to respond with similar firepower (‘Daddy‘!*). Luckily we found it, with one of the greatest tv shows of this decade, hell, this century: ‘Atlanta‘. And seeing as it ain’t Robbin Season just yet, we’re hitting you with Season One of this Donald Glover-helmed modern classic. 

*This joke will become clear by number four.


15. Henrikh Mkhitaryan (New Entry)


“What? This is a great environment for you!”

This could be taken in the sarcastic vein that it is delivered in the show, as a means to show just how badly Henrikh Mkhitaryan was suited to his surroundings at Manchester United and Arsenal. 

But it could also be taken at face value where Roma is concerned, with the Armenian netting a fine goal on his Italian bow to cap off a finer-still display in the 4-2 win over Sassuolo. As you will see, Arsenal rejects scoring on their debut, just as the Gunners’ were themselves faltering in Watford, was a theme this week. As was Arsenal affiliates letting themselves down with their own hubris. See the above tweet and Mateo Guendouzi.


14. Robert Lewandowski (Re-Entry)

FBL-GER-BUNDESLIGA-LEIPZIG-BAYERN MUNICH

“Well, why would I shoot at a human target?”

While it ultimately wasn’t to be for Bayern against a valiant/luck-riding RB Leipzig side, Robert Lewandowksi’s goalscoring heroics continued, thanks to a consummate finish inside just three minutes. 

Asked how he’s so darn accurate in front of goal, the Pole’s response is quoted above. 


13. Stefano Sensi (New Entry)

Stefano Sensi

“Can I measure your tree?”

With several feet, let alone inches, between Stefano Sensi and Udinese’s covering defender, you can image Antonio Conte and co’s surprise when the diminutive playmaker snuck ahead of him to sneak in a gloriously taken header into the net via the underside of the bar. 

Inter’s 2019 breakout star can head a ball, and he’s barely breaking 5ft.


12. Nacho Monreal (New Entry)

Nacho Monreal

“You look like a fake Ellen Degeneres. A Felon Degeneres.”

Yes, you guessed it (did you?), Nacho Monreal was the second Arsenal reject to score on his debut this weekend, and it came in one of the results of the weekend, with Real Sociedad blotting Atletico Madrid’s unblemished record with a hard-earned 2-0 victory. 

He may look like a BTEC Ellen Degeneres (at least enough for this bit to work…?), but the man can finish his dinner and, in keeping a clean sheet against Diego Simeone’s men, he proved he’s not all forward-thinking, either. 


11. Dries Mertens (Re-Entry)

Dries Mertens

“If you could use a rat as a phone, man, that’d be genius.”

Just as the above observation from Darius was met with derision, many pundits baulked at the use of Dries Mertens as a number nine all those moons ago. Look at him now. Bagging braces against Sampdoria like it’s nothing, and making Fabio Quagliarella (of all people) look blunt. 


10. Duvan Zapata (New Entry)

Genoa CFC v Atalanta BC - Serie A

“Hello, cousin. How are you today?”

Not only did Duvan Zapata nab Atalanta (eerily close to ‘Atlanta’, I hear you say!!) all three points with a 95th-minute thunderbolt against Genoa, he also won a penalty for his side by doing his cousin, Cristian, all ends up. 


9. Karim Benzema (New Entry)

TOPSHOT-FBL-ESP-LIGA-REAL MADRID-LEVANTE

“I don’t know, man, I like Flo Rida. I mean, moms need to enjoy rap, too.”

Karim Benzema is the Flo Rida of football. Think about it.


8. Neymar (Up 3)

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“The price is on the can, though.”

With Kylian Mbappe sidelined, it was all about the return of the banner-provoking Brazilian forward Neymar this weekend. 

And, after some initial stuttering against Strasbourg, he delivered in a big, big way, with a 91st-minute bicycle kick to win it. Special stuff. I’d also like to add that PSG are the Arizona Iced Tea (the ‘can’ in question) of football and, as the slogan goes, the price is there for all to see. It’s right on the can. It is. 


7. Marco Reus (New Entry)

Jadon Sancho,Marco Reus

“You want to manage a rapper but you can’t do business high?”

You are Bayer Leverkusen. You want to beat Borussia Dortmund away from home, you have 67% of the possession, three more shots than they do, but you don’t mark Marco Reus? 

Weird.


6. Sadio Mane (Re-Entry)

Sadio Mane

“Money is an idea.”

This is unequivocally true.

Here’s another idea, just off the top of my head. Sadio Mane is world-class. Real Madrid wanted him, but wouldn’t cough up. So here’s the idea: cough up. Whether Mane wants to join the Santiago Bernabeu circus remains to be seen, but at least test some Liverpudlian resolve. The man’s worth all you got, Zizou.


5. Son Heung-min (New Entry)

Heung-Min Son

“This here’s a lightsaber – Luke Skywalker’s.”

Son Heung-min is Tottenham’s Luke Skywalker, here to return the club to the light after some dark times. 

The fact that this is uttered by a bumbling (and potentially homeless?) man who’s set up his own impromptu, and very much unofficial, parking lot should not take away from the initial point. 


4. Luis Suarez (New Entry)

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[while polishing his gun] “Man, I ain’t scared of nothing. I got Daddy right here.”

Not that Barcelona needed to be scared on Saturday against Valencia, considering their current chaos, but if any Copa del Rey Final flashbacks did occur, they knew they had the sharpshooting Luis ‘Daddy’ Suarez right there just in case.

And, though he wasn’t necessarily needed from the bench, he was used, springing straight into the action to nab a 20-minute brace. And, if you object to the use of ‘Daddy’ here, well, then, have another quote from this very exchange:

“Yo, you not gonna see this, but your assumed perversion of the word ‘Daddy’, I think that’s stemming from the fear of mortality, man. What you call your gun?”

Yeah. What do you call your ageing strikers?


3. Tammy Abraham (Re-Entry)

Tammy Abraham

Is Paperboi Atlanta’s 2Pac? They said no. But apparently John Boyega is the new Magic Johnson.”

Is Tammy Abraham Chelsea’s second coming of Didier Drogba? No. As previously established in these here rankings, Tammy Abraham is the new Magic Johnson. Move over, Boyega. 


2. Teemu Pukki (Up 3)

Teemu Pukki

“I just think we need a chance as humans to fail in order to discover what actually works, you know? People don’t think there’s a process to being happy.”

Teemu Pukki is the living embodiment of this quote, and he’s now reaping the rewards from this time-honoured policy, pulling the strings in the result of the weekend from across Europe. 

He is also now the only man to maintain his spot across the first five weeks of these rankings, which makes him a winner in his own right. So why, you ask, is he not the outright winner this week? Well, he’s not 16.


1. Ansu Fati (New Entry)

FBL-ESP-LIGA-BARCELONA-VALENCIA

“AIDS was invented to keep Wilt Chamberlain from beating Steve McQueen’s sex record. And by ’69 he was already number three on the all-time list. By ’71 he would’ve been that boy for sure.”

Has Ansu Fati been invented to keep Lionel Messi from beating Cristiano Ronaldo’s Champions League goalscoring record? I can’t say it with the same certainty as ya boy Darius above, but the precocity of Barca’s youngest ever goalscorer sure does beg the question. 

And that’s not the only record he’s broken, as he became the youngest ever play to record a goal and an assist in the same game in La Liga history against Valencia.

And what a goal and an assist they were, the former being an oh-so-composed first-time finish after a bursting run into the box inside just two minutes of action, the latter comprising a mazy run down the left flank, the retiring of Ezequiel Garay and an expertly placed cut-back for Frenkie de Jong just five minutes later. 

By the 15th-minute mark he was centimetres away from a brace, and moments after that he should have had a penalty. Need I remind you that this kid is 16 years old, and just two weeks ago was a mere unknown.

Now he’s spreading his arms to the Camp Nou crowd, soliciting the kind of response that – yes, I’LL SAY IT – only Messi himself can garner in modern times. Hence the €100m release clause, and hence the placing atop these prestigious rankings.

Remember the date, remember the name.


Let’

UEFA Champions League: The 5 Must Watch Group Stage Fixtures of Matchday 1

The 2019/20 UEFA Champions League group stage begins with matchday one this week, with all 32 teams in action all over the continent across Tuesday and Wednesday.

Here’s a look at five of the biggest ‘must watch’ games taking place…


Napoli vs. Liverpool

Tuesday 17 September, 21.00 (CEST) @ Stadio San Paolo

Sadio Mane

Liverpool begin the defence of their Champions League title by facing a team they had to beat at home no matchday six just to get out of the group stage last season.

The Reds may have gone on to lift the trophy in May, but they were beaten when they travelled to Stadio San Paolo in early October. Liverpool, who would lose all three group stage away games, failed to score and conceded a late Napoli winner from Lorenzo Insigne.

With Genk and Red Bull Salzburg completing Group E, this trip to Napoli is likely to be Liverpool’s most challenging game and toughest test in this phase of the competition.


Borussia Dortmund vs. Barcelona

Tuesday 17 September, 21.00 (CEST) @ Westfalenstadion 

FBL-ESP-LIGA-BARCELONA-REAL BETIS

Already a huge game as one of Europe’s most exciting young teams takes on an established giant, the potential return of Lionel Messi makes Barcelona’s visit to Borussia Dortmund even more enticing as the superstar is in the squad after missing the first four games of the season.

Dortmund have plenty to prove in Europe this season as they were eliminated from the group stage last year, while their overall reputation does not marry up with a team that has won just two Champions League knockout ties since playing in the 2013 final.

Barcelona will be desperate to make a strong start in difficult times as Group F also features a resurgent Inter and will claim a high profile scalp.


Chelsea vs. Valencia

Tuesday 17 September, 21.00 (CEST) @ Stamford Bridge

Mason Mount,Tammy Abraham

Group H could hardly be more open and that is why it is vital for Chelsea to get an early win under their belt when Valencia visit Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea were fired to Premier League victory over the weekend by home-grown youngsters Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount and Fikayo Tomori, all of whom will be taking a step into the known for what will be their respective Champions League debuts.

Chelsea have the second leakiest defence in the Premier League this season after conceding 11 goals in five games, and they will therefore be vulnerable against a technical La Liga side, even one that has started the 2019/20 domestic season poorly.


Paris Saint-Germain vs. Real Madrid

Wednesday 18 September, 21.00 (CEST) @ Parc des Princes

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The team that has been craving Champions League glory for years without success against the team that has won it more times than other club history, Paris Saint-Germain will host Real Madrid in a heavyweight clash at the Parc des Princes in Group A on Wednesday.

After brushing off an early season blip, PSG are on in Ligue 1, which is more than can be said for Real, who have only won two of their opening four domestic games and conceded six times.

A lot of focus will be on Neymar in Paris this week. The Brazilian superstar didn’t get his dream return to Barcelona during the summer and was heckled and booed by his own club’s fans when he made his first appearance of the season over the weekend – despite scoring a fairly incredible bicycle kick. 


Atletico Madrid vs. Juventus

Wednesday 18 September, 21.00 (CEST) @ Wanda Metropolitano

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Atletico Madrid and Juventus meet in matchday one of Group D after playing out an epic two-legged knockout tie in the Champions League last season. On that occasion it took a Cristiano Ronaldo hat-trick to overturn the tie for Juventus after a 2-0 first leg deficit.

Atletico have undergone a mini transformation since then, shedding Antoine Griezmann and Diego Godin and bringing in younger talents like Joao Felix and Marcos Llorente.

These great clubs are two of European football’s biggest underachievers at a continental level. They have played in 12 European Cup/Champions League finals between them over the years, but have lost as many as 10 of those – including four in a row between 2014 and 2017.


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Italian TV Pundit Sacked After Racist Remarks Directed at Inter’s Romelu Lukaku On Air

An Italian TV pundit has been relieved of his duties after making a racist remark towards Inter striker Romelu Lukaku on air, suggesting that ‘throwing bananas’ at the Belgian is the only way to stop him. 

The former ​Manchester United man has started well since moving to Serie A last month, scoring twice in his first three matches, and impressed again as his side made it three wins from three at the expense of Udinese on Saturday. 

Unfortunately his impressive start to life in Italy has been underpinned by some abhorrent abuse, as he found himself subject to alleged racist chanting from Cagliari supporters before the international break – something that was ​defended by Inter ultras, who said that what may have been ‘perceived’ as racism was simply a ‘mark of respect.’ 

That argument has come universally under fire, with a widespread show of support towards Lukaku coming to light from across the world of football. Racial abuse remains a serious issue, particularly in Italy, however, and Italian TV pundit Luciano Passirani has been removed from TV following his insensitive comments towards the 27-year-old after the Udinese clash. 

Speaking on ​TopCalcio24, Passirani said: “If you go one-on-one with him he will murder you. The only way to come up against him is maybe give him 10 bananas to eat…”

Programme director Fabio Ravenazzi did attempt to explain the comments, but takes a no-tolerance stance towards them regardless of their ‘complimentary’ intent


“Mr Passirani is 80 years old and to compliment ​Lukaku he used a metaphor that turned out to be racist,” he said, as quoted by the ​BBC. “I think it was a terrible lack of momentary lucidity.

“I cannot tolerate any kind of errors, even if momentary.”

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Antonio Conte Insists Inter Must ‘Keep Their Feet on the Ground’ After Positive Start to the Season

​Internazionale manager Antonio Conte is happy about I Nerazzuri’s positive start to the season but insists his side must not be distracted by talks of the club being Juventus’ main challenger for the Serie A title. 

Conte couldn’t have imagined a better start to his reign at the San Siro, with Inter winning all of three of their opening games – conceding just once in the process. 

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Speaking about ​Inter’s excellent form, Conte said, according to ​Goal, that “We are growing and I’m happy about how we’re maturing. But I also know that now you talk about us so you can beat us when something goes wrong.

“Today we talk about Inter as ​Juventus’ main rivals. I know the game and it is what it is. But we have to keep our feet on the ground. Let others talk, we must shut up and work.”

Inter fans could be forgiven for their optimism however, after spending almost a decade in the wilderness. I Nerazzuri have only recently started qualifying for the ​Champions League again, mainly thanks to Italy being given four spots in the competition. 

Romelu Lukaku

There is a sense that Inter are a club on the up. They appointed one of most talented managers working in Conte, while also splashing the cash on ​Romelu Lukaku. They also made a series of smart acquisitions in the loan market, with Stefano Sensi, Nicolo Barella and ​Alexis Sanchez all joining the club. 

Sensi, in particular, has been impressive for the Nerazzurri, scoring two goals in his first three appearances for the club. Lukaku is also well on his way to justifying his €80m price tag. The Belgian is already on two goals for the season while his overall performances have been quality as well. 

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Inter face a tough week, playing Slavia Prague in their first Champions League fixture of the season on Tuesday, before facing ​Milan in the Derby della Madonnina on Saturday.

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Inter vs Slavia Prague Preview: Where to Watch, Buy Tickets, Live Stream, Kick Off Time & Team News

Inter welcome Czech champions Slavia Prague to San Siro in the opening group fixture of their 2019/20 Champions League campaign.

The ​Nerazzurri will be eager to pick up all three points after finding themselves drawn in a group with Barcelona and Borussia Dortmund, and go into the game on the back of three wins from their opening three Serie A fixtures.

Antonio Conte

Slavia have made an equally impressive start to the season, unbeaten in their opening nine fixtures – picking up seven wins and two draws along the way. Heading into the game on top of their domestic league, they will be optimistic of maintaining this momentum in Milan.

Here’s 90min’s preview of the showdown.


Where to Watch

When is Kick Off? ​Tuesday 17 September
What Time is Kick Off? ​17:55 (BST)
Where is it Played? ​San Siro
​TV Channel/Live Stream? BT Sport 1​
Referee​ ​Ruddy Buquet

Where to Buy Tickets

​Tickets are available via both club websites, with availability in the home and away ends. However, if you are planning on buying tickets in the home end you will be required to register with the club.


Team News

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Perhaps a sign that the 2019/20 season is still young, but both teams go into the game with a clean bill of health and no notable absentees.

Romelu Lukaku has started his Inter career in impressive fashion, looking calm and composed alongside Lautaro Martinez. Former Manchester United teammate Alexis Sanchez may have to wait for his first European start, with Diego Godin, Stefan de Vrij and Milan Skriniar operating in central defence.


Potential Lineups

Inter Milan Handanovic; Godin, de Vrij, Skriniar; Candreva, Brozovic, Sensi, Barella, Asamoah; Lukaku, Martinez​
Slavia Praha ​Kolar; Hovorka, Coufal, Kudela, Boril; Traore, Masopust, Soucek, Stanciu, Olayinka; Skoda

Head to Head Record

​Given that this is only the second time Slavia have reached the Champions League group stage, it’s no surprise that this is the first competitive meeting between the two teams. 

It’s been 12 years since their only appearance in the competition, so they’ll no doubt be looking to grasp their opportunity with both hands and put in an impressive showing in Milan.


Recent Form

Inter have started the season in impressive fashion, scoring six and conceding just a solitary goal en-route to three successive wins in Serie A.

They are, however, yet to face any top class opposition, but momentum could be key to Conte’s side enjoying a successful campaign.

The former Chelsea boss has already made his mark on the side, deploying his trademark three at the back in each fixture. Lukaku and Martinez have been among the goals and might fancy adding to their tally on Tuesday night, as they aim to build an understanding capable of toppling Juventus at the summit of Serie A.

Slavia are no pushovers and will be buoyed by their unbeaten start, as well as last season’s Europa League run to the quarter-final. They ran Chelsea close across two legs, the second of which ended 4-3 on the night as they crashed out 5-3 on aggregate.

Here’s a look at the two sides’ last five results:

Inter Slavia Prague
Inter 1-0 Udinese​ (14/9) ​Slavia Prague 3-0 Slovacko (14/9)
​Cagliari 1-2 Inter (1/9) Slavia Prague 5-3 Chrudim (5/9)​
​Inter 4-0 Lecce (26/8) ​SFC Opava 1-1 Slavia Prague (1/9)
​Inter 2-1 Empoli (26/5) Slavia Prague 1-0 CFR Cluj (28/8)​
​Napoli 4-1 Inter (19/5) CFR Cluj 0-1 Slavia Prague (20/8)​

Prediction

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For Inter to have a realistic chance of qualifying for the knockout stages, they need to pick up six points from their double header against Slavia. A good start is imperative as they then head to Camp Nou before facing Dortmund home and away in their following three ​Champions League fixtures.

They should have the quality to do so, and will hope to banish the memories of last season’s late slip-up against PSV Eindhoven – which cost them dearly.

Prediction: Inter 2-0 Slavia Prague

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