Chelsea and SSC Napoli on Thursday closed in on the UEFA Europa League quarter-finals, but Arsenal face a major battle to reach the last eight after a 3-1 defeat away to Stade Rennais.
Alex Iwobi gave the Gunners a perfect start in northwestern France at a raucous Roazhon Park, but the match hinged on the sending off of Arsenal defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos four minutes before halftime.
Benjamin Bourigeaud equalized moments later and the hosts’ second-half pressure paid off, as a Nacho Monreal own-goal put Rennes ahead before Ismaila Sarr’s late header gave them a two-goal cushion in the tie.
Unai Emery’s side must now turn the tie around in the second leg in London on Thursday next week if they are to progress any further in a competition that represents their only hope of silverware this season and offers a potential route into next season’s UEFA Champions League with Arsenal sitting outside the top four in the Premier League.
“I think we can do better, 3-1 is hard for us,” Emery said. “We are going to think for next week. We will start with 11 against 11, without Sokratis, without [Alexandre] Lacazette, but if we play like we did in the first 40 minutes, with our supporters also, we will have the possibility to come back.”
The Gunners recovered from a first-leg deficit to beat BATE Borisov in the previous round, but Rennes are a step up in quality and reveling in what is already their best-ever European run.
After Iwobi’s early opener, the game turned just before halftime when Hatem Ben Arfa played in Sarr, who was hauled back by Sokratis just outside the area. The Greek defender had already been booked, so a second caution equaled a red card.
Bourigeaud struck the wall from the resulting free-kick, but the ball came back to him and he sent a stunning half-volley into the far corner.
Petr Cech, back facing one of his former clubs, made several interventions before being beaten again in the 65th minute, as Mehdi Zeffane’s cross from the right deflected in off Monreal, and Sarr added the potentially crucial third goal two minutes from time.
Chelsea might also need this competition to get back in the Champions League next season and the Blues eased past Dynamo Kiev 3-0 at Stamford Bridge courtesy of goals from Pedro Rodriguez, Willian and Callum Hudson-Odoi.
Pedro could have had at least a hat-trick, as Denys Boyko denied him four times after the Spaniard had turned home Olivier Giroud’s flick to give Chelsea an early lead.
Willian was more accurate with a brilliant free-kick 25 minutes from time to double Chelsea’s lead and substitute Hudson-Odoi surely put the tie beyond Kiev with a smart finish a minute from time.
“The third goal for us is really very important,” Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri said. “3-0 is an important result, but of course we have to play the second leg, so we have to be careful.”
Sarri’s former side, Napoli, are also well on course for the quarters, as early goals from Arkadiusz Milik and Fabian Ruiz, plus a second-half own-goal from Jerome Onguene, earned a 3-0 win over last season’s semi-finalists RB Salzburg.
Valencia beat Krasnodar thanks to Rodrigo’s double at the Mestalla, but Viktor Claesson’s second-half strike will give the Russians hope of reaching the last eight on home soil in the second leg.
Inter could regret a missed penalty by Marcelo Brozovic as the Italian giants drew 0-0 away to Eintracht Frankfurt.
Sevilla won the Europa League three years in a row between 2014 and 2016 with Emery as coach, but the most successful side in the tournament’s history have work to do after twice blowing a lead to draw 2-2 at home to Slavia Prague.
Villarreal have now won as many games in the Europa League as La Liga this season. Despite languishing in the relegation zone of the Spanish top flight, a 3-1 win away to Zenit Saint Petersburg put them within touching distance of the quarter-finals, while Dinamo Zagreb beat SL Benfica 1-0.
The NBA said was re-evaluating its training program in China following allegations of abuse of young players by local staff and harassment of foreign staffers at a facility in Xinjiang. The comments come after a report by ESPN that quoted unnamed American coaches as saying that Chinese coaches hit young players. One American coach who worked at a camp in Xinjiang complained of harassment by local police, the sports network said. “The allegations in the ESPN article are disturbing,” NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum said in an e-mail statement on Thursday. “We ended our involvement with the basketball academy in Xinjiang in June
Taiwan Steel on Sunday grabbed three points with a narrow 1-0 win against Hang Yuan FC, to move into the No. 2 spot on the Taiwan Football Premier League (TFPL) log, while Taipower FC beat NTUS 2-0 to maintain first place. Taking advantage early in the match of opposition defenders who had not yet settled down, Taiwan Steel’s attacking trio of Wu Chun-ching, Marc Fenelus from the Turks and Caicos Islands, and Benchy Astama from Haiti pushed forward with good passes. After only one minute of play, Fenelus dribbled from the right flank, feeding a short pass inside the penalty area to
LEAVING IT LATE: Rakuten added late runs last night to add to wins on Wednesday against the Brothers and the Lions on Friday that went down to the last batter The Rakuten Monkeys rallied to post three late runs for another close win, prevailing 5-3 over the Uni-President Lions yesterday as Taiwan’s second-half CPBL season got started with lower scoring output, but exciting finishes. It was Rakuten’s third win in a row. In two games this week, they seized victory in dramatic fashion with their last at-bat and have drawn level with the CTBC Brothers on top of the table after yesterday’s results, 0.5 games in front of the Fubon Guardians and 1.5 games ahead of the Lions. It was tied at 1-1 early, with Rakuten hosting the Lions at the Taoyuan Intenational
STAYING COOL: Hamilton said that his ‘heart nearly stopped’ when he noticed the puncture, but he kept going to beat Alain Prost’s total of six home wins in France Lewis Hamilton said he feared he might not make it home when a last lap puncture almost derailed his charge to a record seventh British Grand Prix victory on Sunday. “I didn’t think I would make it round the last two corners,” the world champion said. The front left tire of his Mercedes had delaminated and deflated on his final lap, leaving the six-time world champion to nurse his vehicle to the finish as second-placed Max Verstappen hunted him down. “I just can’t believe it,” Hamilton said. “It was heart-stopping. I backed off and stayed chilled and was so glad it happened on