UAE send Australia crashing out of Asian Cup

United Arab Emirates’ defender Ismail Ahmed, left, and midfielder Majed Hassan after their victory over Australia at Hazaa bin Zayed Stadium, in Al-Ain. (AFP)
Updated 25 January 2019

UAE send Australia crashing out of Asian Cup

  • Ali Mabkhout poached a 1-0 win for UAE over Australia to set up a semifinal with Gulf rivals Qatar
  • Degenek, who this week signed for Saudi giants Al Hilal, rolled a casual ball to Ryan but Mabkhout nipped in and rounded the ‘keeper before scoring into an empty net

AL-AIN, United Arab Emirates: Asian Cup hosts UAE sent defending champions Australia crashing out in the quarter-finals on Friday.

Ali Mabkhout poached a 1-0 win for UAE over Australia to set up a semifinal with Gulf rivals Qatar.

Milos Degenek’s defensive mistake allowed UAE sharpshooter Mabkhout to pounce for a win that was greeted by joyous drumming and a sea of smartphone torches at a packed Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium in Al Ain.

Japan and Iran, with seven Asian Cup titles between them, will play the other semi as the 24-team continental showpiece nears its final in Abu Dhabi on February 1.

Graham Arnold’s Australia will feel aggrieved by their defeat after having the best of it against UAE, only to be undone by a single defensive error on 68 minutes.

Degenek, who this week signed for Saudi giants Al Hilal, rolled a casual ball to Ryan but Mabkhout nipped in and rounded the ‘keeper before scoring into an empty net.

Trent Sainsbury flashed a header over as Australia proved an early threat but UAE were also looking sharper than their previous games.

Mabkhout nearly connected with a header with the goal at his mercy, and Ismail Al-Hammadi forced a reaction save from Mat Ryan when one-on-one with the Brighton goalkeeper.

Apostolos Giannou saw a shot palmed away as Australia finished the first half strongly, but Mabkhout was inches away when his header just cleared the bar.

The second half was one-way traffic as Degenek and Jackson Irvine went close with headers, and Giannou had the ball in the net but the goal was chalked off for offside.

All Australia needed was a goal and there was disbelief when it went the other way as Mabkhout, a peripheral figure for most of the half, pounced on Degenek’s misplaced back pass.

Mabkhout’s ninth Asian Cup goal put him joint third in the all-time top-scorers list, alongside Japan’s Naohiro Takahara and behind only South Korea’s Lee Dong-gook with 10 and Iranian legend Ali Daei’s 14.


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."