Careless United undone by Messi double as Barca cruise into semis

United’s pair of early errors made this another night about Messi. (Reuters)
Updated 17 April 2019
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Careless United undone by Messi double as Barca cruise into semis

  • United were undone twice in four minutes by Messi

BARCELONA: Lionel Messi pounced on two Manchester United mistakes to score twice and end their hopes of another Camp Nou comeback as Barcelona breezed into the Champions League semifinals on Tuesday.
After an excellent start, United were undone twice in four minutes by Messi, who first nicked the ball off the careless Ashley Young and then watched as a weak shot from distance squirmed underneath David de Gea.
Philippe Coutinho, in perhaps his best performance of the season, added a third with a curling effort into the top corner and by the end, an outclassed United might have been relieved the score was not more traumatic than 3-0, 4-0 on aggregate.
A dizzying opening spell, in which Marcus Rashford had hit the crossbar, was long-forgotten, even if it could offer Barcelona’s next opponents some encouragement.
Liverpool, who take a 2-0 lead to Porto on Wednesday, are the most likely obstacle between Barca and their first Champions League final since they last won this tournament in 2015. Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane might feel encouraged.
Instead, United’s pair of early errors made this another night about Messi and ensured any faint hopes of repeating the comeback against Paris Saint-Germain, or even the famous 1999 rescue act against Bayern Munich, on this same pitch, were dashed.
Messi now has his 109th and 110th Champions League goals and, potentially, three extra matches to reduce the gap on Cristiano Ronaldo’s 126, after Juventus were dumped out by Ajax. Barcelona’s fans celebrated that too.
United’s coach Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had urged his strikers to be more lethal here but it felt ominous that even before kick-off, Rashford, Anthony Martial, Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez had hit 42 goals this season, while Messi on his own had 43.
Around an hour before kick-off, Alex Ferguson was on the side of the pitch, shaking hands with Ryan Giggs and sharing words with Solskjaer, the scorer of that goal against Munich here 20 years ago.
They could have hardly have asked for a better start. United were brilliant for eight minutes and could have been ahead within 30 seconds as Rashford raced onto a curving Paul Pogba pass and toed away a shot, which Marc-Andre ter Stegen bravely left to graze his own crossbar.
Barca were flustered, so much so the crowd even cheered with relief when Arthur Melo played his team’s first convincing pass.
Then, Barcelona had their own eight-minute flurry as United almost conceded a penalty, ruled out after Fred took the ball before bringing down Ivan Rakitic, and then did concede, twice, to Messi.
Both could have been avoided, even if Young’s turn on the edge of his own box was punished in devastating fashion. Young lunged in to atone for his mistake but Messi skipped away from him, poked it through Fred’s legs and then whipped the ball past into the corner.
The second was simpler. Fred and Scott McTominay closed in on Coutinho and the ball spilled out to Messi, whose dribbling shot with his right foot should have drawn a routine save. Instead, De Gea let is squirm under his body for 2-0.
Pogba lashed out at the increasingly influential Arthur and Barca could have had a third before half-time, De Gea scrambling across to save on the line when Sergi Roberto should have finished.
Messi could have had his hat-trick too after Luis Suarez found him with a superb cutback and there was an almost comical sequence in the second half when the Argentinian played with his United chasers before finally being bundled over by McTominay.
Rashford might have made it interesting if he had controlled Pogba’s ball over the top but Barcelona were in exhibition mode, helped by a vintage Coutinho curler after he had cut inside from the left.
Messi even attempted a bicycle kick and there were celebrations from the home fans when news went round that Ajax had taken the lead in Turin. They believe this is their year.


Refugee swimmer Mardini rising fast after fleeing war

Updated 21 July 2019
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Refugee swimmer Mardini rising fast after fleeing war

  • Mardini’s time was more than 12 seconds slower than that of reigning champion Sarah Sjostrom and 47th overall
  • Mardini famously competed at the Rio Olympics under the refugee flag

GWANGJU, South Korea: Syrian refugee Yusra Mardini, who almost drowned at sea fleeing her war-torn country four years ago, heaved a deep sigh after failing to set a personal best at the world swimming championships on Sunday.
Representing FINA’s independent athletes team, the 21-year-old looked up at the giant scoreboard and winced at her time of 1min 8.79sec in the 100 meters butterfly heats in South Korea.
“I’m not very happy actually,” Mardini told AFP.
“I had some problems with my shoulder but I’m back in training. I still have the 100m freestyle and I’m looking forward to that.”
Mardini’s time was more than 12 seconds slower than that of reigning champion Sarah Sjostrom and 47th overall, but she has come a long way since risking her life crossing from Izmir in Turkey to the Greek island of Lesbos in the summer of 2015.
Thirty minutes into that treacherous journey, the motor on their dinghy cut out and the tiny vessel, carrying 20 people rather than the six or seven it was designed for, threatened to capsize.
As the only people who could swim, Mardini and her sister Sarah jumped into the water to push and pull the stricken dinghy for over three hours until they finally reached the shore.
“I arrived in Greece in only jeans and a T-shirt,” said Mardini, who also swims in the 100m freestyle later this week. “Even my shoes were gone.”
Mardini famously competed at the Rio Olympics a year later under the refugee flag.
“In the beginning I refused to be in a refugee team because I was afraid people would think I got the chance because of my story,” said Mardini, who now lives with her family in Berlin.
“I wanted to earn it. But then I realized I had a big opportunity to represent those people — so I took the chance and I never regretted it,” she added.
“Rio was amazing. It was really exciting to see the reaction of people to the team. Now I’m representing millions of displaced people around the world and it really makes me proud.”
It is a far cry from life back in Syria, where rocket strikes would often shake the pool she trained at in Damascus.
“There were bomb attacks sometimes that would crack the windows around the pool,” said Mardini, who has addressed the United Nations general assembly and whose story is set to be told in a Hollywood movie.
“We were scared the whole time.”
Fellow Syrian Ayman Kelzieh was also forced to flee the country before competing at the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon.
Returning to Korea five years later, the 26-year-old now owns a fistful of national swim records, including the 50m, 100m and 200m butterfly.
“When the war started I had just moved to Damascus and I couldn’t get back home to Aleppo,” said Kelzieh, who now lives on the Thai island of Phuket.
“But even in Damascus bombs sometimes even went off at the swimming pool we trained at,” he added after taking a poolside selfie with his idol, South African star Chad le Clos.
“There were even attacks at the hotel I stayed in — I was lucky.”