It is a case of survival of the fittest for those playing in the ICC World Cup Qualifier

The UAE are in a World Cup Qualifier group with Ireland, Netherlands, Papua New Guinea and West Indies. (AFP)
Updated 25 February 2018
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It is a case of survival of the fittest for those playing in the ICC World Cup Qualifier

BANGALORE: As much as we have been conditioned to celebrate victory, the average sports fan remembers far more than who lifted the trophy. There may be many, especially Italians, who remember what happened in the 1982 World Cup final, but for the vast majority around the globe, memories of that Spanish summer invariably revolve around a Brazilian team of matchless beauty and skill.
And as much as we might cherish Zinedine Zidane’s headed goals in the 1998 final, who can forget Sunday Olizeh’s rocket from outside the box as Nigeria upset Spain in the opening round? No one but the biggest golf tragic will remember that Paul Lawrie won the 1999 British Open at Carnoustie. But the image of poor Jean van der Velde, water up to his shins in the Barry Burn, is just indelible.
New Zealand’s All Blacks won the 2015 World Cup, as most expected them to, but the game of the tournament featured Japan’s high-risk-high-skill approach that ultimately proved too much for the once-mighty Springboks.
Cricket is no different. The first World Cup I covered, in the Caribbean in 2007, was won by Australia, the dominant team of the decade. But as eventful as the final was, floodlight failures and all, it wasn’t a patch on the drama we witnessed at Sabina Park in the tournament’s opening week, when the new boys from Ireland first tied with Zimbabwe and then upset Pakistan, winners in 1992.
The Irish were at it again four years later, embarrassing England in Bangalore as Kevin O’Brien scored one of the all-time great hundreds. And if you want to go back much further, it could be persuasively argued that cricket’s place at the top of India’s sporting totem pole is largely the result of the magnificent running catch that Kapil Dev took to dismiss a rampant Vivian Richards in the 1983 final.
But as the decades have passed and the sport has become richer, cricket has also become more and more insular and selfish. Instead of building on the gains made by the likes of Ireland and Afghanistan in recent years, the International Cricket Council (ICC) opted to shrink the World Cup. It’s still interminably long, but instead of 14 teams – already far less than football and rugby – the 2019 edition will feature just ten.
What’s more, the top seven in the rankings as of Sept. 30, 2017, and England, the hosts, didn’t even need to qualify. When you consider how mediocre some of those teams have been in recent seasons, the emerging sides’ sense of injustice only becomes more acute.
Ireland, who have beaten at least one higher ranked team in each of their three World Cup appearances, and Afghanistan, whose attack-minded cricket and drum-beating fans added so much to the 2015 spectacle, are among those left to scrap for two remaining places at the top table.
Given what’s at stake, it’s probably no exaggeration to say that the World Cup Qualifier, to be hosted by Zimbabwe between March 4 and 25, will be the most important tournament that many of these players take part in. The Netherlands, and the top three Associate nations, will get ODI status till 2022. For the rest, the price of failure will be especially catastrophic.
Zimbabwe, who reached the Super Sixes in both 1999 and 2003, are trying to claw their way back, but were recently well beaten by Afghanistan, whose spin resources will make every other side wary. West Indies, champions twice (1975 and ‘79) in the halcyon years, continue to undermine their chances by ostracizing some of their most talented white-ball cricketers, while Ireland have slipped a bit as a generation of players has grown old together.
The Netherlands’ Peter Borren and Scotland’s Preston Mommsen were two of the most articulate critics of the reduction in teams when it was announced, and both sides face a tough task to match those sides that have deeper player pools to choose from. Hong Kong are in the same boat, having lost Mark Chapman, their gun batsman, to New Zealand.
Papua New Guinea and Nepal are the Cinderella sides, especially the Nepalese who enjoy frenzied support in the Himalayan kingdom. As for the UAE, with most of the squad having roots in the subcontinent, they can call on some of the best facilities outside the established nations.
The level of competition will be as high as it has ever been, with failure potentially derailing some national programs and playing careers. Instead of learning from rugby, which will host its World Cup in Japan next year and which has grown the sport using the sevens format, cricket has pushed those that aspire to the biggest stage into the Barry Burn. Over the next month, we’ll see which two teams manage to wade out of it.


Jurgen Klopp calls on Mohamed Salah to fire Liverpool into Champions League second round against Napoli

Updated 10 December 2018
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Jurgen Klopp calls on Mohamed Salah to fire Liverpool into Champions League second round against Napoli

  • Liverpool need to beat Napoli to have a chance of making it to the knockout stages of the Champions League.
  • Salah fresh off a hat-trick is the key man, claims Reds boss.

LONDON: Jurgen Klopp has called on Mohamed Salah to maintain his current fine form and fire Liverpool into the knockout stages of the Champions League.
By his own high standards the Egyptian ace had a slow start to the season. Coming off the back of his record-breaking campaign last time around — when he scored 44 goals for the Merseyside club in all competitions — Salah had been quiet in comparison, scoring seven times in the Premier League up until Saturday’s 4-0 win
at Bournemouth.
But a brilliant hat-trick against the Cherries kicked into touch any worries that he would struggle to hit the same heights again, and Klopp is only too aware his return to form comes at the perfect time with Liverpool who must beat Napoli tonight to make the Champions League knockout stages.
The Reds cannot afford defeat against the Italians, and know that even a 2-1 win could see them eliminated.
The Liverpool manager said that he was never worried the Egyptian would struggle to find the form of last season and has called on Salah to find his scoring boots once again to help ensure his side see off the Italians.
“I’m interested in the moment, but I never judge it because the moment is just a little part of all what we do,” Klopp said. “So I was not for one second worried.
“If you score 10 goals in the first five games, everyone would say: ‘It will happen again.’ But if you score 39 (in a season), it would be: ‘Yeah, but it’s not 41.’
“What Mo did (against Bournemouth) was just exceptional. I don’t know at the moment a lot of players who would have scored these goals.”
The hat-trick against Bourne-mouth took Salah’s tally to 10 Premier League strikes this season as he also became the fastest Liverpool player to reach 40 goals in the competition after he reached the milestone in his 52nd match.
The Merseyside club, who were beaten by Real Madrid in the final last season, could do with another Salah masterclass — they need either a 1-0 victory or to win by two clear goals to progress to the last 16.
“We have the chance with a specific result still to go through when this Champions League campaign so far was not really ours,” Klopp said.
“We have to be on our toes — it’s a big one, our people know that and I know they are already warming up.”
Liverpool’s Champions League campaign has never really got going this season. An impressive 3-2 win over Paris Saint-Germain in the first match promised much better than to be going into the final clash knowing that even victory may not be enough. Defeats away at Napoli (1-0) and, surprisingly, Red Star Belgrade (2-0) dented any hope of quick qualification from one of the tougher groups.
A 2-1 defeat to PSG in the French capital last time out has left the group and Liverpool’s participation in the second round on a knife edge.
“We were not good at Napoli, so first of all we would like to show we are better than that,” said Klopp. “So we also have to call again on Anfield, and they should help us because that is a massive game, a really massive game.
“Last year we did nearly everything to get qualified for that tournament again, because we had the final in the background but we also knew we had to do the job in the league.”
But with Salah scoring and playing the clash at home, Klopp is hopeful Liverpool can get the result needed. “They know as well it will be tough, but they are strong and we need to be very strong,” the German said.