European champions Portugal comfortably dispatched New Zealand 4-0 to reach the Confederations Cup semi-finals on Saturday after Cristiano Ronaldo set them on their way with a penalty.Portugal’s all-time leading scorer swept the ball home in the 33rd minute, his 75th goal for his country, and Bernardo Silva added the second four minutes later.A solo effort from Andre Silva, his eighth goal in 11 appearances, in the 80th minute and a stoppage-time goal from substitute Nani completed the scoring.It was a typically efficient performance from Portugal who never looked in danger despite a sluggish start.However, it was not all good news as Bernardo Silva went off injured at halftime while a needless and reckless challenge from Pepe ruled the controversial central defender out of Wednesday’s semi-final.Portugal were 2-0 up when he picked up his second yellow card of the tournament for a tackle in the middle of the pitch.New Zealand goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic, who helped Unterhaching win promotion from the German fourth division last season, kept the score down with a superb second-half display.The Oceania champions were far from disgraced but have now completed four participations in the tournament without winning a game and have an overall record of 11 defeats and a draw in 12 matches.Portugal topped Group A with seven points from three games, ahead of Mexico on goal difference after the CONCACAF champions beat hosts Russia 2-1. New Zealand finished bottom of the group after losing all three games.Portugal came to life after a Ronaldo header thumped against the underside of the crossbar in the 26th minute.advertisementThey went ahead when Danilo went tumbling under a challenge from two defenders, the referee pointed to the spot without asking for a video replay and Ronaldo swept home the penalty.Four minutes later, Eliseu was set free down the left by Ricardo Quaresma’s clever pass and he pulled the ball back into the middle where Bernardo Silva turned it into the net, although he suffered a knock on the ankle in the process.Marinovic made impressive saves to deny Ronaldo, Andre Silva and Nani but was powerless stop Andre Silva or Nani late in the game.
LONDON — Henrikh Mkhitaryan will not play for Arsenal in the Europa League final against Chelsea next week because of concerns about political tension between his native Armenia and Azerbaijan, which is hosting the game.Arsenal said on Tuesday it reached the decision following discussions with the midfielder and his family and after “thoroughly” exploring all the options available.“We have collectively agreed he will not be in our travelling party,” Arsenal said in a statement, adding that it has “written to UEFA expressing our deep concerns about this situation.”Mkhitaryan said on Instagram it had been a “tough decision” to pull out of the game, adding: “I must admit, it hurts me a lot to miss it.”He has missed previous group games in Azerbaijan for both Arsenal and former club Borussia Dortmund.“Micki has been a key player in our run to the final,” Arsenal said, “so this is a big loss for us from a team perspective.”The Azerbaijan government previously said it would allow Mkhitaryan to play in the final in Baku on May 29. UEFA had also said it would ensure Mkhitaryan’s safety.“Working alongside Arsenal FC, UEFA sought and received assurances regarding the player’s safety in Azerbaijan from the highest authorities in the country,” European soccer’s governing body said in an emailed statement.“As a result of these guarantees, a comprehensive security plan was developed and given to the club. While the club acknowledges the efforts that UEFA and the Azeri government have gone to in this matter, we respect the personal decision not to travel with the player.”Nagorno-Karabakh is a region of Azerbaijan which has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since a war there ended in 1994. Some neighboring districts are also under the control of those ethnic Armenian forces. International efforts to settle the conflict have stalled.“We at all times put the sport as something very separate from these political issues and of course the same issue is again with Mkhitaryan,” Azerbaijan Sports Minister Azad Rahimov said last week.Tensions between Azerbaijan and Armenia have spilled into European soccer tournaments since the neighbouring nations were drawn together in a qualifying group for the 2008 European Championship.Both games were eventually cancelled, after Azerbaijan refused to host Armenia and no agreement could be reached on neutral venues.UEFA has since separated the countries in its competition draws ensuring that their national and club teams do not play each other.Arsenal will be playing its first European final in 13 years and looking to win its first continental trophy since the 1994 European Cup Winners’ Cup. The game has even greater importance because Arsenal needs to win to secure qualification to the Champions League after missing out on a top-four finish in the Premier League.“We’re also very sad,” Arsenal said, “that a player will miss out on a major European final in circumstances such as this, as it is something that comes along very rarely in a footballer’s career.”Arsenal also has been critical of the choice of Baku as host of the final after receiving only 6,000 tickets by UEFA and because of the “extreme” problems fans face to get to the match.There are relatively few flights to Baku from Western Europe, though more are being operated for the final, and prices are far above usual levels.Arsenal’s then-chief executive, Ivan Gazidis, was on the UEFA executive committee when Baku was chosen as Europa League host in September 2017. Mkhitaryan was then with Manchester United, playing in the Champions League, and joined Arsenal the following January.Baku won the Europa League final hosting rights in a bidding contest that originally included Seville, Spain, and Istanbul. Seville was excluded because Madrid was awarded the Champions League final, which will be played on June 1.UEFA evaluated each bidder, though a subsequent report did not mention the Armenia issue in a section analyzing security issues for Baku.TweetPinShare0 Shares