Chile open Copa America title defense with win over Japan

Chile's Alexis Sanchez, left, scores his side's third goal during a Copa America match against Japan. (AP)
Updated 18 June 2019

Chile open Copa America title defense with win over Japan

  • The victory moved Chile to the top of Group C along with Uruguay
  • Japan, playing as a Copa America guest for the second time

SAO PAULO: Chile’s experienced Copa America team proved too good for Japan’s young squad.

The two-time defending champions opened their Copa America campaign with a 4-0 win over the Asian guests on Monday, with Eduardo Vargas scoring a pair of goals to become Chile’s all-time leading scorer in the South American competition.

Erick Pulgar and Alexis Sanchez also scored for the titleholders, which are trying to become the first nation to win three straight Copa titles since Argentina in the late 1940s. Vargas scored twice in the second half to reach 12 goals with Chile in the tournament, two more than Enrique Hormazabal.

The victory moved Chile to the top of Group C along with Uruguay, which opened with a 4-0 win over Ecuador on Sunday.

“Chile has players who are very experienced, who know each other very well,” Chile coach Reinaldo Rueda said. “The challenge today was to avoid a bad debut. We were humble and entered with our feet on the ground. We were playing against a team that was very competitive in all sectors.”

Japan, playing as a Copa America guest for the second time, brought to Brazil a young squad focused on the Olympic tournament at home next year. The Japanese youngsters struggled against the veteran Chilean squad which was in control from the start at the Morumbi Stadium.

Chile won the last two editions of the Copa America, beating Argentina in penalty shootouts in the final both in 2015 and 2016. Argentina is the only team to have won three consecutive South American titles, from 1945-47.

Boosted by most of the 23,253 fans at the Morumbi, Chile created most of the significant chances.

After Pulgar headed in a corner-kick cross by Charles Aranguiz in the 41st minute, Vargas added to the lead with a shot from outside the area in the 54th after a pass by Mauricio Isla.

Sanchez found the net with a header in the 82nd, and Vargas closed the scoring about a minute later with a long lob shot over goalkeeper Keisuke Osako as he charged from his net.

It was a good opening match for Sanchez after a difficult season with Manchester United.

“I was coming off a difficult month-and-a-half,” said the 30-year-old Sanchez, who injured his ankle late in the season. “I struggled in the first 45 minutes, I felt tired, but I improved in the second half.”

Rueda, debuting with Chile in an official tournament, has been gradually revamping the squad since he took over in 2018. Among the veterans back from the team’s recent triumphs were Vargas, Sanchez and Arturo Vidal, who also had a good opener.

Japan last played in the Copa America in 1999, when it was eliminated in the group stage. Among the youngsters in Brazil was Takefusa Kubo, the 18-year-old who has joined Real Madrid’s “B” team for next season. He played from the start and was a threat for Japan in attack. He got an ovation from the crowd at the Morumbi after getting past a defender with a ball through his legs about 10 minutes into the match. He nearly scored after a nifty move past a defender inside the area in the 65th, but his shot hit the outside of the net. Japan had a few good chances to get on the board toward the end of the game but could not capitalize on them.


Almulla and Salhab give thumbs-up for inaugural Saudi Ladies Championship

Saudi Arabia will hold its first-ever women’s professional golf tournament in March when the Saudi Ladies Championship tees off at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club. (Supplied)
Updated 25 January 2020

Almulla and Salhab give thumbs-up for inaugural Saudi Ladies Championship

  • Record prize money of $19.87 million for the LET 2020 season offered

JEDDAH: Saudi golfers Othman Almulla and Faisal Salhab have said they cannot wait for the Saudi Ladies Championship to happen in the Kingdom, after a UK newspaper confirmed the tournament was one of three new events added to the Ladies European Tour (LET) schedule.

The Daily Telegraph said the Ladies European Tour would offer record prize money of £15.2 million ($19.87 million) for the 2020 season, an increase of almost £4 million on last year. The cash injection comes in part due to having three new events, all offering prize money of at least $1 million, including the inaugural Saudi Ladies Championship to be held in March.
The exclusive report said there would be 24 events on the LET this year, an increase of four from last year. In addition to the Saudi tournament and the Scandinavian Mixed event, the third event to have a prize pot of over $1 million will be a new event to be held in the UK in August, ahead of the Ladies Scottish Open and the Women’s Open.
Almulla and Faisal will both tee off alongside the biggest names in golf in the Saudi International, which starts next Thursday at the Royal Greens Golf & Country Club at the King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC).
Almulla, who turned professional during the inaugural staging of the Saudi International last year, is playing on a pro invite while the 23-year-old Riyadh-based Faisal qualified following his victory in the 5th Saudi Open at the Riyadh Golf Course in November last year.  
Saud Alsharif, from the Eastern Province like Almulla, completes the Saudi trio in action in the Jan. 30 to Feb. 2 European Tour event. Alsharif earned his second straight stint in the tournament by virtue of his top ranking.
Almulla, a decorated amateur golfer and the youngest to qualify for the Dubai Desert Classic before another Saudi, Khaled Attieh, broke his record, told Arab News: “I think it’s a wonderful time for the sport of golf in Saudi Arabia, with the big developments the Saudi Golf Federation and Golf Saudi have put in place.”
“We already see the rewards of their ambitious plans with the first-ever female participation in an international event at the Pan Arab and GCC Championships in Egypt and Oman this year.
“And now with the first-ever ladies professional golf championship happening in Saudi Arabia, this will further motivate and inspire the next generation of golfers to continue improving,” Almulla added.
Salhab, who just ended a training camp with Alsharif and coach Jamie McConnell, director of instruction at the Claude Harmon Golf Academy in Dubai, said: “It’s great to have a Ladies European Tour event in Saudi Arabia. It emphasizes how the game is growing.
“It’s unreal to have such big events for men and women hosted in the Kingdom and hopefully inspire the next generation of golfers to pick up the sport.
“By having an event like this one take place in our backyard will hopefully expose many women to learn about the beautiful game,” Salhab added.
The Saudi Ladies Championship, professional golf’s newest high-profile tournament being hosted by the country, will take place March 19 to 22 at the Royal Greens Golf & Country Club under the aegis of the LET and the Saudi Golf Federation.
Golf Saudi announced last month that it was working with several LET stars to promote golf to local audiences, and to enhance the visibility of its Saudi golf development program and the country’s golf tourism. The UK’s Carly Booth, Amy Boulden and Rachel Drummond, and Swedish pair Camilla Lennarth and Isabella Deilert, will each wear the Golf Saudi logo as ambassadors of the program.