Beware of sharks: Queiroz wary as Iran storm into Asian Cup semis

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Iran’s Karim Ansarifard celebrates scoring their third goal with team mates at the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium, in Abu Dhabi. (Reuters)
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Iran’s coach Carlos Queiroz looks on during the 2019 AFC Asian Cup quarter-final football match between China and Iran at the Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium Stadium, in Abu Dhabi. (AFP)
Updated 24 January 2019

Beware of sharks: Queiroz wary as Iran storm into Asian Cup semis

  • Iran continued their quest to end a barren run at the Asian Cup dating back 43 years with Mehdi Taremi, Sardar Azmoun and Karim Ansarifard all on target in Abu Dhabi
  • Queiroz insisted his side should not be labelled title favorites, despite ending Marcello Lippi’s reign as China coach in such clinical fashion

ABU DHABI: Iran coach Carlos Queiroz warned of the Asian Cup’s apex predators Thursday after his title chasers ruthlessly dispatched China 3-0 to set up a semifinal against Japan.
Iran continued their quest to end a barren run at the Asian Cup dating back 43 years with Mehdi Taremi, Sardar Azmoun and Karim Ansarifard all on target in Abu Dhabi.
But Queiroz insisted his side should not be labelled title favorites, despite ending Marcello Lippi’s reign as China coach in such clinical fashion.
“Now we know the big sharks will come for us,” said the former Real Madrid boss.
“The suit of favorites doesn’t fit us. Japan, Korea are coming, so we need to be more alert — what we did against China will not be enough.”
Iran drew first blood after 18 minutes of a lop-sided quarter-final when Azmoun squared for Taremi to sweep home after some calamitous Chinese defending.
Their second was almost a carbon copy — much to the chagrin of Lippi, who stood staring in horror.
This time Liu Yiming misjudged a hopeful punt down-field, allowing Azmoun to nip in and round goalkeeper Yan Junling to score his fourth of the tournament.
China’s best chance came after just six minutes when Hao Junmin wriggled free, only for Iran defender Ramin Rezaeian to slide in with a superb goal-line clearance.
Iran could have been out of sight by half-time as Azmoun — dubbed the “Iranian Messi” — twice went close and Taremi missed a sitter, before picking up a yellow card that rules him out of the semifinal.
After Ehsan Hajjsafi had forced a sharp save from Yan on the hour mark, Ansarifard raced clear to add a third in stoppage time.
It was another dominant performance from Iran, who also equalled South Korea’s record of keeping clean sheets in their first five games at a single Asian Cup.
China finished runners-up in 1984 and 2004 but the sleeping giants of Asian football were no match for Iran as their challenge ended in a whimper.
“Many people might have expected this result, but I’m angry at how it happened,” growled Lippi, who is stepping down after two years in charge.
“You cannot afford to gift a team like Iran three goals,” added the 70-year-old, who steered his native Italy to World Cup glory in 2006.
“It has been a huge honor to be the coach of China. I wish it didn’t have to end on such a gloomy note.”


Djokovic not worried about blisters ahead of US Open

Updated 25 August 2019

Djokovic not worried about blisters ahead of US Open

  • When the year's last Grand Slam tournament begins Monday, Djokovic will be in Arthur Ashe Stadium during the afternoon session, facing Roberto Carballes Baena of Spain

NEW YORK: During a break in practice two days before opening his US Open title defense, Novak Djokovic pulled off his blue shoe and white sock so a trainer could look at his right foot.

Did it again a little while later.

And then, toward the end of Saturday’s training session in Louis Armstrong Stadium with 2014 runner-up Kei Nishikori, Djokovic stopped a sprint and pulled up short of a ball, raised his right leg off the ground entirely and hopped repeatedly on his left, wincing. Nothing to worry about, Djokovic said later at his pre-tournament news conference: Just blisters.

“A minor thing,” Djokovic called it. “Like anybody has ... Nothing major that is causing a concern for the event.”

When the year's last Grand Slam tournament begins Monday, Djokovic will be in Arthur Ashe Stadium during the afternoon session, facing Roberto Carballes Baena, a 26-year-old from Spain whose career-best ranking was 72nd.

Carballes Baena has an overall career record of 43-50. That includes 2-7 at major tournaments, 1-1 at Flushing Meadows, where he made his debut a year ago and lost in the second round.

Djokovic, meanwhile, has won 33 of his past 34 Grand Slam matches en route to collecting four of the past five major titles. That allowed the 32-year-old Serb to raise his career haul to 16 trophies, putting him just two away from second-place Rafael Nadal’s total of 18, and Roger Federer’s 20, which is the record for men.

He’s not shy about trying to catch those guys.

“More or less everything is about Grand Slams, in terms of how I see tennis and how I approach it, because they matter the most,” Djokovic said. “So I will definitely try to play my best tennis — and aim to play my best tennis — at these events.”

And while many would attribute Djokovic's success to his ability to return serves, say, or his mental strength and propensity for coming up big in the biggest moments — such as saving two match points along the way to edging Federer in a fifth-set tiebreaker in the Wimbledon final last month — there's something else the man himself would point to as his most vital quality.

That's the way Djokovic can cover a court, which is why the state of that right foot is actually a rather big deal.

His movement, Djokovic said Saturday, is "the base of everything" and "the most important thing."

"It just allows you to be more in balance. And at the end of the day, that is what you're looking for as a tennis player," he explained. "How can you hit the ball, being in the right balance, so you can penetrate the ball with the right speed, accuracy and precision?"

Watch Djokovic during a match, and you'll see him change direction in a heartbeat, twist and turn, contort his limbs, slide — on clay, on grass, even on hard courts — always getting to the right spot at the right time.

He attributes his strength in that area to the flexibility of his ankles and is grateful he used to participate in another sport while growing up back home in Serbia.

"I credit my childhood spent on the skis. I used to spend a lot of time skiing," Djokovic said. "That had an effect as well, with kind of coordination and changing movement from one side to another. Even though they're different sports, in essence, you're using some major muscle groups and joints and stuff like this in most of the sports."

It is Djokovic's right elbow that gave him the most trouble a couple of seasons ago.

He missed the last half of 2017, including that year's US Open because that arm was bothering him, then wound up having surgery in February 2018. It took some time for Djokovic to get going after that. All's good these days, though.

"Novak had a couple years where he didn't seem like the same guy," ESPN's John McEnroe said. "Now he's back with a vengeance."

Only 1½ months have passed since Djokovic edged Federer in that classic title match at the All England Club.

Not a lot of time to savor the victory. Not a lot of time to rest a weary body.

"This sport can be a little bit 'cruel,'" Djokovic said, using fingers to indicate air quotes, "when it comes to, I guess, marveling or celebrating your own success. You don't have that much luxury of time to really reflect on everything because the season keeps going."