Sunday, December 3, 2023

Champions League: PSG held by Benfica amid reports Kylian Mbappe wants to leave

Kylian Mbappe
Benfica midfielder Rafa Silva (left) fights for the ball with Paris Saint-Germain's Kylian Mbappe. Photo: Franck Fife/AFP

PARIS, October 12: Kylian Mbappe scored from the penalty spot but Paris Saint-Germain were held to a 1-1 draw by Benfica in the Champions League on Tuesday in a game overshadowed by reports claiming the France star is so unhappy at the club he wants to leave in January.
PSG would have qualified for the last 16 from Group H with two games to spare by beating the Portuguese giants at the Parc des Princes.
They took the lead when Mbappe slotted in a penalty five minutes before half-time.
However, Joao Mario levelled from the penalty spot for Benfica just after the hour mark and the result conserves their unbeaten record this season.
The sides are level on eight points at the top of the group, five ahead of Juventus and Israel’s Maccabi Haifa, who claimed a stunning 2-0 win over the Italians earlier on Tuesday.
PSG, who are top of Ligue 1, should still advance comfortably to the knockout phase but all is far from rosy in the French capital.
The club was unsettled ahead of this match by reports that Mbappe wants away already, a little over four months after turning down a move to Real Madrid to sign a new three-year contract in Paris.
The story was published by Madrid-based sports daily Marca and later by several French media, but PSG firmly denied any suggestion that their superstar striker could depart during the next transfer window.
“I am with Kylian Mbappe every day and he has never spoken to me about leaving in January,” PSG’s football advisor Luis Campos told broadcaster Canal Plus ahead of the game.
“This is not anything the player has said. It is a press report, and reporting such a story before a match like this is very serious.”
Mbappe’s apparent unhappiness appears to stem from the club’s failure to sign a new centre-forward during the close season, with Robert Lewandowski among the players linked with the Qatar-owned outfit before eventually choosing Barcelona.
PSG also missed out to West Ham United for the Italy striker Gianluca Scamacca.
Mbappe, 23, hinted at his frustration after playing for France last month, saying he has “much more freedom” when on international duty playing off Olivier Giroud.
At PSG he forms part of an all-star front three, sharing the limelight with Neymar and Lionel Messi, although the latter was absent on Tuesday with a nagging calf problem.
Messi had scored PSG’s goal in a 1-1 draw in Lisbon last week and without the Argentine they lacked some inspiration.
Starting from a position on the left of the attack, Mbappe — the world’s top-earning footballer according to a recent Forbes magazine report — appeared isolated at times and only showed flashes of his brilliance before the penalty came late in the first half.
Juan Bernat was fouled by teenage Benfica defender Antonio Silva in the box, and Mbappe sent goalkeeper Odisseas Vlachodimos the wrong way from the spot.
It was his 12th club goal in 13 games this season, one more than Neymar and four more than Messi.
He is also now PSG’s all-time top scorer in the Champions League with 31 goals, one more than Edinson Cavani.
Mbappe came close to scoring again early in the second half with a curling shot that ended up just the wrong side of the far post, and instead Benfica equalised in the 62nd minute.
English referee Michael Oliver awarded a penalty after reviewing images of Marco Verratti’s needless challenge on Rafa Silva just inside the area, and Joao Mario smashed in the spot-kick.
Mbappe then had the ball in the net with an acrobatic volleyed effort late on, but the goal was disallowed for a clear offside, before he was substituted off in the dying minutes.
Maccabi Haifa win 2-0 to push Juventus to edge of Champions League elimination
Omer Atzili scored twice as Maccabi Haifa beat struggling Juventus 2-0 on Tuesday in Champions League Group H, pushing the Italian giants to the brink of elimination.
Juve are third in their group after four matches, equal on three points with Maccabi, who remain bottom despite their first win, and four behind Benfica and Paris Saint-Germain, who play later in the evening.
Juventus had suggested their form was improving as they beat the Israeli team in Turin last week, but lost to AC Milan on Saturday to slide to eighth in Serie A.
After the game Juventus president Andrea Agnelli expressed his dismay but repeated his support for coach Massimiliano Allegri.
“I’m ashamed of what’s happening right now,” said Agnelli to Sky Sport Italia.
“There is no one person culpable, it’s not the coach’s fault if we can’t win a tackle. Allegri is going to remain coach of Juventus.”
The hosts dominated the first half at the Sammy Ofer stadium and took the lead after seven minutes.
Atzili outjumped the visiting defence to meet a cross from Pierre Cornud, and although he turned his head away just before making contact, the ball struck his back. Wojciech Szczesny reached the ball but it crawled through his outstretched fingers and in off the post.
Maccabi poured forward. Tjaronn Chery hit the bar. Szczesny saved from Atzili.
The home team continued to dominate after Juventus midfielder Angel di Maria limped off with a thigh problem in the 24th minute.
Three minutes before half time, Atzili shaped to curl a left-footy shot inside the far post, but instead clipped it inside the near post with Szczesny rooted to his line.
Juventus managed their first strike on goal seconds before half time but Joshua Cohen saved low from Dusan Vlahovic’s header.
Juventus pressed from the start of the second half and Cohen saved high from a Daniele Rugani header flying toward the top corner.
He later saved from wingers Juan Cuadrado and Arkadiusz Milik but Maccabi created late chances as they held on comfortably.
In their third appearance in the Champions League group stage, Maccabi claimed their second big scalp 20 years after their first.
In their debut campaign they beat Manchester United 3-0 at home in October 2002. They failed to progress then or on their second appearance in 2009-10. (AFP)