Skip to Content Facebook Feature Image

Super Mario-themed cleats of Albania player Jasir Asani add cartoon color to Euro 2024 game

Sport

Super Mario-themed cleats of Albania player Jasir Asani add cartoon color to Euro 2024 game
Sport

Sport

Super Mario-themed cleats of Albania player Jasir Asani add cartoon color to Euro 2024 game

2024-06-20 00:57 Last Updated At:01:00

HAMBURG, Germany (AP) — If there is a prize for best footwear at soccer’s European Championship, the Super Mario-themed cleats worn by Albania winger Jasir Asani on Wednesday might win it.

The 29-year-old Asani rocked a pair of vivid turquoise blue cleats with images of the Nintendo video game character to play against Croatia. Albania drew 2-2 in the Group B game played in Hamburg.

About 45 minutes after the final whistle, he posted a photo on his Instagram account of himself wearing them in action.

Asani was playing his 15th game for Albania and his second at Euro 2024, after a 2-1 loss to Italy on Saturday.

He plays his club soccer in South Korea, for Gwangju, after previously being with clubs in Albania, North Macedonia, Sweden and Hungary.

AP Euro 2024: https://apnews.com/hub/euro-2024

Croatia's Josko Gvardiol, left, challenges for the ball with Albania's Jasir Asani, right, and Albania's Elseid Hysaj during a Group B match between Croatia and Albania at the Euro 2024 soccer tournament in Hamburg, Germany, Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)

Croatia's Josko Gvardiol, left, challenges for the ball with Albania's Jasir Asani, right, and Albania's Elseid Hysaj during a Group B match between Croatia and Albania at the Euro 2024 soccer tournament in Hamburg, Germany, Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)

LOND POND, Pa. (AP) — Ryan Blaney popped some bubbly and hopped off a stage in victory lane so he could spray it at all the fans who stuck around to celebrate on a steamy day at Pocono Raceway.

They might need to bust open a few more bottles of the good stuff at Team Penske.

Moments after Blaney slid out of his No. 12 Ford after he secured his second Cup Series win in five weeks, the 2023 NASCAR champion learned that Will Power won the IndyCar race for Team Penske at Iowa Speedway. Penske driver Scott McLaughlin won Saturday at Iowa, giving team owner Roger Penske three wins in two days across 990 miles -- with all directions pointing toward championship runs.

“Penske sweep!” Blaney blurted out.

Pretty impressive.

The pressure is on, though, for the follow-up. NASCAR heads to Indianapolis this week for the anticipated return of the Brickyard 400 on the historic oval at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The track is owned by Penske, the 87-year-old team owner who already has all three of his NASCAR drivers in the playoffs and has Power and McLaughlin in hot pursuit of points leader Alex Palou for IndyCar's open-wheel crown.

Ask any Penske driver, there’s nothing like winning at Indy.

“The big one is next week,” Blaney said. “How do we kiss the bricks with the captain? That’s like a dream come true for me."

Penske drivers Blaney, Austin Cindric and Joey Logano are on a tear in NASCAR, dating to the June 2 race at World Wide Technology Raceway in Illinois. Blaney appeared to be on his way to his first win of the season in that one until he ran out of fuel with the lead coming to the white flag. No worries. Cindric zipped ahead and earned his first win since the 2022 Daytona 500. Logano won four races later at Nashville Superspeedway and Blaney won the inaugural Cup race last month at Iowa Speedway.

Penske drivers have won four of the last seven Cup races.

Why does that make any of the trio a contender to win a Cup championship? Because Logano won it in 2002 and Blaney followed last season, setting up a nice championship blueprint to follow.

“We’ve won the championship with Joey and Ryan the last two years, and it’s all about using that system to be able to get to the next round each time,” Cindric said. “Whether if that’s winning races late in the playoffs or having enough points, our guys have been able to really execute in that round of eight and propel themselves into a position to be in the championship four.”

Blaney already knows the importance of getting hot late in the season. Blaney turned up his performance last season in the No. 12 Ford in the playoffs. Over the final six weeks, Blaney racked up two wins, two runner-ups and didn’t finish lower than 12th.

At Pocono, he put the field on notice a repeat could be in the works.

“We are in a better spot at this time this year than where we were last year at this point,” Blaney said.

It’s the end that counts, of course.

Penske -- and NASCAR -- is celebrating a new beginning of sorts at Indy. NASCAR will return to the 2.5-mile oval for the traditional Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis this weekend rather than the 2.439-mile road course it used the last three seasons.

The last NASCAR driver to win on Indy’s oval was Kevin Harvick in 2020, who retired at the end of last season. The inaugural Brickyard 400 was held on Aug. 6, 1994, and NASCAR raced on the oval through 2020.

“I’m super excited. I think this was a decision that a lot of drivers wanted,” Hendrick Motorsports driver William Byron said. “I think the track is fun to make laps on. I’m sure it will be tricky with the Next Gen car. Probably a little bit edgy. But I think it will be everything we want as drivers, to be back on the oval with the history that it has.”

Penske driver Josef Newgarden won the Indianapolis 500 in May, giving the owner his trio of NASCAR drivers a chance at a season sweep.

The 30-year Blaney felt at Pocono like he had come full circle on the tri-oval track after winning at the site of his first Cup win in 2017. He will take wins at any track, but there’s just something about Indy.

“We’re going to enjoy this and appreciate it and celebrate it,” Blaney said. “But that is the one we have circled. We don’t even talk about it in our camp. You know that is a huge one for RP. It is full speed ahead for Indy.”

AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing

Ryan Blaney crosses the finish line to win a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Pocono Raceway, Sunday, July 14, 2024, in Long Pond, Pa. (AP Photo/Derik Hamilton)

Ryan Blaney crosses the finish line to win a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Pocono Raceway, Sunday, July 14, 2024, in Long Pond, Pa. (AP Photo/Derik Hamilton)

Ryan Blaney celebrates his win with a burnout after a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Pocono Raceway, Sunday, July 14, 2024, in Long Pond, Pa. (AP Photo/Derik Hamilton)

Ryan Blaney celebrates his win with a burnout after a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Pocono Raceway, Sunday, July 14, 2024, in Long Pond, Pa. (AP Photo/Derik Hamilton)

Ryan Blaney celebrates in the victory lane after winning a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Pocono Raceway, Sunday, July 14, 2024, in Long Pond, Pa. (AP Photo/Derik Hamilton)

Ryan Blaney celebrates in the victory lane after winning a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Pocono Raceway, Sunday, July 14, 2024, in Long Pond, Pa. (AP Photo/Derik Hamilton)

Ryan Blaney celebrates in the victory lane after winning a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Pocono Raceway, Sunday, July 14, 2024, in Long Pond, Pa. (AP Photo/Derik Hamilton)

Ryan Blaney celebrates in the victory lane after winning a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Pocono Raceway, Sunday, July 14, 2024, in Long Pond, Pa. (AP Photo/Derik Hamilton)

Recommended Articles