West Ham and Fiorentina haven’t won a European trophy for more than 50 years.
The drought will end for one of them when they play out the Europa Conference League final on Wednesday in Prague.
“This will be the biggest match that the club has had in so long, so it’s going to be an honor to be part of and hopefully we can create some history on the night for the fans to cheer about,” said West Ham captain Declan Rice, who is widely expected to leave the club after the season.
West Ham earned its lone European title in 1965, the old European Cup Winners’ Cup. Alan Sealey scored twice to beat 1860 Munich 2-0 at Wembley Stadium. The Hammers reached the final again in 1976.
Forward Jarrod Bowen scored four goals in helping West Ham reach its third European final and said it will be “certainly be the biggest game of my career.”
“I’ve played for England, but I think achieving this with your teammates who you’ve been with together to get to a final and you have the opportunity to win a trophy together, it will be a massive moment,” Bowen said. “We’re mentally ready, physically ready for a massive game tomorrow night.”
Fiorentina’s only European trophy was also the Cup Winners’ Cup, the first one back in 1961 when it defeated Rangers in a two-leg final 4-1 on aggregate.
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By reaching the second final of the Europa Conference League, Fiorentina has become the first club to contest a final in four major continental competitions.
Fiorentina was defeated by Real Madrid for the 1957 European Cup (the forerunner of the Champions League), and by Juventus in the 1990 UEFA Cup final. It also failed to win the Cup Winners’ Cup back to back, losing the 1962 final to Atletico Madrid.
Fiorentina has had a good buildup. It played the Italian Cup final two weeks ago and was beaten by Inter Milan 2-1. That’s the only loss for the Florence-based club in its last six matches. The last warmup for the Conference final was beating Sassuolo 3-1 last Friday for an eighth-place finish in Serie A.
“We needed this victory,” Fiorentina coach Vincenzo Italiano said after the match. “Now we have a mountain to climb but we will be aiming for the summit in Prague.”
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Despite struggling to a 14th-place finish in the English Premier League, West Ham has been a European title contender for a second straight year under manager David Moyes.
Following a campaign to the Europa League semifinals a year ago, West Ham marched to Prague as the only undefeated team in the third-tier Europa Conference League. West Ham won 13 games including qualifying, and was held by Gent to 1-1 in the first leg of their quarterfinal. The Hammers were the first club to win all six group stage encounters.
“They’re a team that has a lot of ability, they’ve got some top level players, they have got strength all over the pitch,” Italiano said about West Ham in Prague on Tuesday. “But if we’ve made it to the final, then we clearly have some strength as well.”
At Eden Arena in the Czech capital, West Ham will face a team that scored the most goals in the campaign, 36, led by forward Arthur Cabral’s seven.
“I’ve been hugely impressed by Fiorentina,” Moyes said. “A difficult opponent, an Italian opponent is always difficult and we respect that.”
The reward for the winner of the final is not just a trophy but also a berth in the Europa League next season.
The first Conference final was won by José Mourinho’s Roma against Feyenoord 1-0 in Tirana, Albania a year ago.
Cubs announcers rip Braves over ‘absurd’ play stoppage for Ronald Acuña Jr. after historic moment
Atlanta Braves superstar Ronald Acuña Jr. continues to make history.
In the 10th inning of Wednesday night’s game against the Chicago Cubs, Acuña stole his 70th base of the season. Last week, the Braves outfielder hit his 40th home run of the season during a game against the Washington Nationals.
Acuña became the first player in MLB history to enter the 40-70 club.
Moments after he stole the base, Acuña grabbed the base pad from the dirt as Braves fans gave him a standing ovation. The Braves also played a short video montage on the outfield big screen.
The Chicago Cubs’ broadcasters took exception to the extended pause in the game. Announcers Jon “Boog” Sciambi and Jim Deshaies said the decision to stop the game and recognize Acuña’s accomplishment was “absurd.”
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“We’re really stopping the game to do a highlight montage?” Sciambi said during the Marquee Sports Network broadcast.
Deshaies then questioned the need to remove the base during the game.
“Can we get the base after the game? This is pretty absurd. I mean, it’s a hell of an accomplishment, but …,” Deshaies said.
Sciambi reiterated his frustrations with the video montage.
“Totally, but you can’t stop the game to run a highlight montage,” Sciambi said.
The Cubs are fighting for their postseason lives after missing the playoffs the last two seasons.
Shortly after Acuña made it safely to second base, All-Star second baseman Ozzie Albies hit a walk-off single to give the Braves a second straight one-run win over the Cubs. The loss dropped Chicago to 82-76, and the team is tied with the Marlins for third place in the NL wild-card standings.
“It’s really an incredible moment,” Acuña told reporters after the game through an interpreter.
Acuña has hit 41 home runs this year. Alex Rodriguez had been the only player with 40 home runs to steal more than 46 bases in the same season. In 1998, Rodriguez had 42 home runs, 124 RBIs and 46 steals.
MLB added bigger bases this season to bring more base-running excitement to the game.
Acuña and Los Angeles Dodgers star Mookie Betts are widely considered the front-runners for NL MVP.
Preakness winner heads stakes race fields as Santa Anita starts fall meet
Santa Anita opens its fall meeting Friday with higher than normal anticipation because it closes with the Breeders’ Cup on Nov. 3-4. What that means is a mad dash to get in as many big races as possible in the first two weekends of its 19-day meeting. This gives the horses enough time to recover and run in the million-dollar races the first weekend of November that signal the unofficial end of the racing year.
Starting Friday there are nine stakes this weekend, including the Grade 1 $300,000 Awesome Again race that features Preakness Stakes winner National Treasure among a field of nine.
Next weekend there are six stakes over a three-day weekend that ends Monday with three races where the winners are automatically entered, all expenses paid, into a Breeders’ Cup race. Of course, when you are racing at this year’s Breeders Cup track, the expenses for the sanctioning group are a whole lot less.
Saturday’s Awesome Again, also a win-and-your-in race for the Breeders’ Cup, is the most intriguing of the weekend. It grew less interesting Wednesday when trainer Tim Yakteen decided not to enter Practical Move, winner of this year’s Santa Anita Derby. The colt was all set to be one of the favorites in the Kentucky Derby but spiked a fever two days before the race and was scratched. He hasn’t run since.
The entering of National Treasure was a mild surprise, but trainer Bob Baffert has been liking what he’s seen of the 3-year-old colt since he returned to Santa Anita.
“I liked the way he breezed last week,” Baffert said. “The Travers (finished fifth) was sort of a disaster. But I’m putting the blinkers back on. He just doesn’t get into the race without it. You have to just draw a line through the Travers.”
Horses are given blinkers near the outside to their eyes to help focus a horse’s attention on what’s in front of them and not what’s going on around them. National Treasure won the Preakness with blinkers.
The Awesome Again is a 1 1/8-mile race, 1/16th of a mile shorter than the Preakness, which he won in front-running style under a masterful ride by John Velazquez. Juan Hernandez, who has been Baffert’s main jockey of late with Velazquez riding at the Belmont at Aqueduct meeting, will get off Baffert’s other horse, Defunded, to ride National Treasure.
The morning line disagrees with Hernandez’s decision to move to the Preakness winner, making him the 4-1 third choice. Defunded is the 2-1 favorite.
Defunded is no slouch, having won this race last year. He was underwhelming in his last two races at Del Mar, a fourth in the San Diego Handicap as the odds-on favorite, and sixth in the Pacific Classic.
The 5-year-old gelding has been pretty good at Santa Anita, though, winning four of his six lifetime starts at the track. The other two races were a second and third.
“He always run his best races at Santa Anita,” Baffert said. “He never looked comfortable at Del Mar. He’s just a horse for the course down here. He’s worked well here. We’ll see if he runs his race.”
Edwin Maldonado returns to ride Defunded, which he did last year when they won the Awesome Again. The 40-year-old Puerto Rico native finally is starting to get the better mounts as he keeps winning. Last year’s win in the Awesome Again was his first Grade 1 win. On Saturday, he won his first $1 million race, the Grade 1 Cotillion at Parx near Philadelphia, riding Ceiling Crusher over a very sloppy track. The 3-year-old filly is based in Southern California for trainer Doug O’Neill.
The Awesome Again has a pretty good field, which includes Senor Buscador (5-1 odds), winner of the San Diego Handicap; Slow Down Andy (5-2), who always seems to be near the top in tough graded stakes; Skinner (8-1), who was getting a lot of buzz before scratching out of the Kentucky Derby the day before the race this year, and Stilleto Boy (6-1), winner of the Santa Anita Handicap but was eased and didn’t finish in the Pacific Classic.
Another interesting set of matchups Saturday is in the six-furlong Grade 2 $200,000 Santa Anita Sprint Championship. Dr. Schivel, who lost the 2021 Breeders’ Cup Sprint by a nose, won his last race at Santa Anita easily in May. He then finished fifth in the Met Mile at Belmont and third in the Bing Crosby at Del Mar. He is the 9-5 morning-line favorite.
The 5-year-old had to overcome a 10-month layoff after suffering some bone bruising when he ran in the Golden Shaheen in Dubai. His Santa Anita win was his comeback race.
Baffert has three contenders in the nine-horse field. Most notable among them is Arabian Lion (5-2), who recently won the Sir Barton Stakes at Pimlico and the Woody Stephens at Belmont. Baffert also has Fort Bragg (6-1), winner of the Pat Day Mile at Churchill Downs and the Dwyer at Belmont, and Speed Boat Beach (12-1), a bit of mystery in that his last three races were on the turf and his last race was in December, a win in the Cecil B. DeMille at Del Mar.
Hernandez will ride Dr. Schivel and Maldonado will handle Arabian Lion.
There are two other graded stakes Saturday, the Grade 2 $200,000 Eddie D Stakes, which is 6½ furlongs down the downhill turf course. The race is named for legendary jockey Eddie Delahoussaye. There is also the Grade 2 $200,000 City of Hope Stakes for horses going a mile on the turf.
Friday’s opening day has the Grade 3 $100,000 Chillingworth Stakes for fillies and mares going 6½ furlongs on the dirt. Eda is the 4-5 morning-line favorite for the Baffert-Hernandez combination. She has won eight of 10 lifetime, despite a 13-month layoff from 2022 to this year.
Sunday’s card has three graded stakes.
Travis Hunter, Henry Blackburn appear to bury hatchet after brutal hit
Colorado Buffaloes star Travis Hunter and Colorado State safety Henry Blackburn appeared to bury any animosity between them on Wednesday night.
Rams defensive lineman James Mitchell posted on his Instagram Stories showing Hunter and Blackburn shaking hands and meeting.
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“God has a bigger plan,” Blackburn wrote on his Instagram Stories.
Blackburn and Hunter were caught up in controversy during their game this month. Blackburn nailed Hunter with a late hit after a pass meant for the two-way star flew over his head. He was later hospitalized – reportedly for a lacerated spleen.
“It’s football at the end of the day. Stuff like that is going to happen,” Hunter said in a Bleacher Report interview on the Monday after the game. “Just gotta get up and fight again. Good thing the doctors stopped me because if there was no doctors there I’d still be out there playing.
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“But we’re going to do what we’ve got do to take care of him,” Sanders said. “So, I know Travis like a book, he probably is going to want to be out for two weeks, but we’ve got to make sure his health is more important than this game.”
Blackburn reportedly received death threats over the hit.
Colorado coach Deion Sanders condemned the vitriol.
“Henry Blackburn is a good player who played a phenomenal game,” Sanders said. “He made a tremendous hit on Travis on the sideline. You can call it dirty, you can call it ‘he was just playing the game of football.’
“But whatever it was, it does not constitute that he should be receiving death threats. This is still a young man trying to make it in life. A guy that is trying to live his dream and hopefully graduate with honors or a degree, committed to excellence and go to the NFL. He does not deserve a death threat over a game.”
Fox News’ Joe Morgan contributed to this report.
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