Villarreal, Nice share spoils
The inaugural edition of the Visit Malta Sela Cup, a preseason tournament held at Newcastle’s St. James’ Park, kickstarted on Saturday with two consecutive matches. Hosts Newcastle United beat Serie A side Fiorentina 2-0, while Spanish and French outfits Villarreal and Nice shared the spoils in a 1-1 draw.
The tournament, which spans until Sunday, will be the teams’ final preparation for the new season in the respective leagues.
Premier League side Newcastle, who start their league campaign on August 12 against Aston Villa, faced a Fiorentina side that has made several changes to their squad during the summer. However, it was two goals by household names Miguel Almiron and Alexander Isaak that made all the difference.
The match had an energetic opening, as expected from what was the main match of the day, in front of around 36,000 spectators and a welcoming reception for new star signing Sandro Tonali, who joined from Milan.
Anthony Gordon could have put Newcastle ahead with the best chance of the first half in between two Nico Gonzalez bicycle kicks which went wide. Gordon met a low cross from young forward Elliot Anderson on the counter but his shot ricocheted off the post close to the half-hour mark.
Newcastle went ahead on 38 minutes when Almiron lost his marker on the right, crossed the Fiorentina box to meet a short delivery from Isaak in between three defenders, and fired past Michele Cerofolini in the Viola goal.
After the break, the pace remained high but Fiorentina remained lacking in their attack. Struggling to find a way forward, they were made to pay as Newcastle closed off the encounter on 82 minutes when Isaak turned scorer after heading in from a corner.
Earlier on, Villarreal and Nice could not be separated after a seemingly calm fixture.
The opening fixture of the tournament had a balanced start, as remained the case all throughout the match. In fact, none of the keepers were troubled much during the first half.
The intensity changed after the change of ends however, as six minutes into the second Hal, Villarreal opened proceedings through new signing Ben Brereton Diaz, who joined the Spanish outfit from English Championship side Blackburn Rovers.
The Chilean initially had a penalty saved by Nice goalkeeper Marcin Bulka but grabbed the rebound and gave his side the lead after a largely ineffective run so far into the game.
Nice wasted no time in equalising, however, as they made amends within four minutes. Fellow new boy Morgan Sanson impressed his bosses with a goal of his own on the 55th minute, firing into the Villarreal goal’s bottom corner.
Following the two tournament fixtures, Newcastle’s women cruised past West Bromich Albion 3-0 in a friendly match.
On Sunday, Newcastle face Villarreal while Nice play Fiorentina.
Newcastle 5; Nice, Villarreal 2; Fiorentina 0.
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