Ronaldo and Griezmann have points to prove

Cristiano Ronaldohas cut a restlessfigure this season.(AFP)
Updated 18 November 2017
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Ronaldo and Griezmann have points to prove

MADRID: Accustomed to unrelenting success in recent seasons, both Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid enter today’s first ever Spanish capital derby at Atletico's new Wanda Metropolitano stadium with little room for error.
Early season struggles have left both sides eight points adrift of La Liga leaders Barcelona and four points back on a revitalized Valencia.
Twice finalists in the past four seasons, Atletico also look set for an embarassing group-stage exit in the Champions League, while Real also suffered their first group-stage defeat for five years to Tottenham Hotspur earlier this month, although they should still progress to the last 16.
A large part in the downfall of both sides of the Madrid divide has been the poor form of their normally reliant source of goals in Cristiano Ronaldo and Antoine Griezmann.
The two went head-to-head for the Ballon d’Or last year after Real and Ronaldo’s Portugal edged out Atletico and Griezmann’s France in the Champions League and Euro 2016 finals respectively.
However, Ronaldo has scored just once in seven La Liga appearances so far this season despite having 48 shots on goal.
“It’s not my fault if (the ball) does not want to go in,” Ronaldo told French sports newspaper L’Equipe on Thursday. “People look at me like a goal machine, like a guy who has to score all the time.”
However, Ronaldo’s restlessness on the field has been mirrored by rising tension off it with more Madrid-based sports daily Marca reporting on his fractious relationship with Real captain Sergio Ramos this week.
After the 3-1 defeat at Wembley to Spurs, Ronaldo admitted that the Madrid squad that delivered a first La Liga and Champions League double for 59 years last season had been weakened by the departures of Alvaro Morata, Pepe and James Rodriguez among others. Ramos later described those comments as “opportunisitic.”
Griezmann's commitment has also been questioned despite the Frenchman turning his back on a move away from Spain to sign a new deal with Atletico just five months ago.
“Whoever doesn’t want to be here should leave,” Atletico midfielder Koke said on Thursday. Koke’s return after a month out through injury should at least inject some creativity back into an Atletico side badly lacking a spark.
Griemzann hasn’t scored in his last seven Atletico games and was even substituted by Diego Simeone before Thomas Partey’s injury-time strike ground out a 1-0 win at Deportivo la Coruna two weeks ago. “Compared to previous years it is different," admitted Griezmann.
“We have a new stadium, we are struggling to score goals and win games. At the back we are fine, we just need a bit of luck up front.”
Atletico’s slow adaptation to the 68,000-capacity Wanda Metropoli-tano has played its part in their struggles as Simeone’s men have failed to win any of their last four games at home in all competitions. As well as Koke’s return, Yannick Carrasco is fit again for Atletico.
Real, by contrast, are still riddled with injuries with Gareth Bale ruled out for another month and doubts over Isco, Dani Carvajal, Keylor Navas and Mateo Kovacic.
Barcelona are also in action in Madrid today and can open up a seven-point lead at the top when they travel to Leganes.
Valencia will look to maintain the chase and continue a club record run of seven straight La Liga wins ahead of their top-of-the-table clash with Barca next weekend when they travel to Espanyol tomorrow.
— AFP

• Atletico Madrid v Real Madrid, 10:45 p.m. kick-off


Meet the Saudi Arabian businessman shaping squash’s Olympic dream

Updated 14 November 2018
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Meet the Saudi Arabian businessman shaping squash’s Olympic dream

LONDON: A Saudi Arabian businessman is driving the bid to get squash included in the Olympics for the first time.
The World Squash Federation has petitioned three times for squash to join the Games, but each bid has been rejected by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The decision has prompted frustration in the squash community, particularly as sports such as climbing, surfing and skateboarding have been admitted.
Ziad Al-Turki is the Chairman of the Professional Squash Association (PSA) and has done wonders in marketing the game and broadening its appeal. He is now pushing hard for the game to be showcased on the biggest stage of all at the 2024 Olympics Games in Paris.
Squash has huge global appeal, with the men’s singles final in the last Commonwealth Games attracting a TV audience of more than one million.
“Everyone’s ultimate goal is the Olympics,” said Al-Turki. “The main push comes from the World Squash Federation (WSF) and for many years they were stuck in their ways. We changed a lot at the PSA and ticked every box with the IOC. The WSF just stayed stagnant and didn’t do anything. They didn’t want to put our hand in their hand and work together.”
Relations between the PSA and the WSF came to a head in 2015 in the wake of squash losing out to wrestling for a spot at the 2020 Olympics. A statement from the PSA described the then president of WSF, Narayana Ramachandran, as an “embarrassment to the sport.”
“Nothing could happen with the president of the WSF. Nothing would change. It was just a one-man show. We tried to help but he wouldn’t accept any help,” Al-Turki said. “We have a new president now and they are all very keen,” he added.
Jacques Fontaine is the new president and at his coronation in 2016 he encouragingly said “the Olympic agenda remains a priority.”
“The WSF love the sport and they understand the needs of the IOC,” said Al-Turki.
“They understand the PSA is at a completely different level to the WSF and we’ve now joined forces and are working together. Hopefully 2024 will be the year squash is in the Olympics. Right now, the way we are working together is the strongest collaboration ever and hopefully we can tick all the boxes for the IOC.
“We ticked all the right bodies as a professional association but the WSF didn’t. Now they are putting their hands in ours and we will tick all the right boxes for the ICO.”
Al-Turki, once described as the Bernie Ecclestone of squash, has certainly transformed the sport since he took up office in 2008.
“When I joined the PSA we didn’t have any media coverage,” he said. “Right now we are live in 154 countries. the women’s tour has just grown stronger and stronger — the income has gone up by 74 percent.
“I just love the squash players. I think they are incredible athletes are are some of the fittest athletes in the world. I felt they deserved better and I wanted them to have better.
“I don’t think we’ll be able to reach the levels of football and tennis in terms of exposure and prize money, but I want to reach a level where they will retire comfortably. It’s one of the fastest growing sports in the world right now.
“It’s all about the player and their well being. Nick Matthew retired recently and I think he’s retired comfortably. I think I’ve contributed to this as the income has improved. That’s all I want – nothing more.”