Al-Ahly dreaming big at FIFA Club World Cup

Al-Ahly, African club champions (L), were given a raucous welcome on their arrival in Qatar ahead of the FIFA Club World Cup. (AFP/File Photos)
Al-Ahly, African club champions (L), were given a raucous welcome on their arrival in Qatar ahead of the FIFA Club World Cup. (AFP/File Photos)
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Updated 03 February 2021

Al-Ahly dreaming big at FIFA Club World Cup

Al-Ahly, African club champions (L), were given a raucous welcome on their arrival in Qatar ahead of the FIFA Club World Cup. (AFP/File Photos)
  • Coach Pitso Mosimane wants African champions to draw inspiration from Leicester City’s heroics

LONDON: Heading into the FIFA Club World Cup, Al-Ahly coach Pitso Mosimane has invoked the spirit of Leicester City’s 2016 English Premier League triumph as the Egyptian giants look to take the global title.

The African champions face Al-Duhail, representing host nation Qatar, on Thursday.

The winner earns a mouth-watering semifinal against the mighty Bayern Munich four days later, which means that while the final on Feb. 11 may seem far away, the South African boss is allowing himself to dream.

“Who thought that Leicester could win the Premier League? Anything is possible,” Mosimane, appointed to take charge of the Cairo giants in September, told Arab News. “If you ask any coach here, whether they are from South Korea or Germany, they will say the same thing: ‘We are in the tournament on merit and are here to win.’ Can we win? We are here to represent Africa and Egypt and we know what we can do but, of course, it will be very difficult.”

Even before a match with Bayern on Monday, Al-Duhail, champions of Qatar, will have to be seen off and Mosimane, who played for Doha club Al-Sadd in 1996, is wary.

“You know what Qatari teams are like, they are full of talented foreigners and they are a good team with a good attack. It will be a tough game but we are champions of Africa and this is a big positive. We will have our chances.”

The favorites to lift the trophy next week are, of course, the European champions.

“To beat Bayern is not easy. They beat Barcelona 8-2 and who are we to say that we could beat Barcelona? We will have fun and do our best. First, though, we have to focus on Al-Duhail and then dream from there.”

One advantage is the Egyptian population in Qatar. Capacity on Thursday at the new Education City Stadium may be reduced to 30 percent of its usual 45,000 seats due to COVID-19 restrictions, but there is sure to be strong support for Al-Ahly.

“We have fans everywhere and they are the 12th player for us,” said Mosimane, who led South Africa’s Mamelodi Sundowns to the 2016 tournament.

“You may have seen the videos but the reception we received when we arrived shows how special our fans are. It was unbelievable.”

While the 56-year-old has had some of the biggest jobs in South Africa, where he won five league titles from 2013-20 following a two-year spell in charge of the national team, Al-Ahly has still been an eye-opener.

“There is pressure in South Africa but this is something else and you have to get results.”

That he has done with no defeats in the 22 games since he arrived, a run that has seen him lift the Egyptian league and cup as well as the CAF Champions League — the first for the club since 2013. Despite that, there has still been criticism from some former players.

The latest came last week as former player Reda Abdel Aal said that the South African would not last more than one game in the Egyptian second division as he was a limited head coach.

“There will always be legends who played here who feel that you took the opportunity and say: ‘Why him and not us?’” Mosimane said.

“It is normal for ex-players to give their opinion. They played here and I did not, so you have to respect that. We won the cup, the league and the Champions League so it is not about who says what. In the UK, ex-players criticize Jose Mourinho and even Pep (Guardiola); this is part of football.”

Perhaps being from elsewhere in Africa makes it harder to be accepted.

“I am lucky to be the first foreign coach not from Europe or South America but Sub-Sahara. This is an opportunity, but the team asked for me, I did not apply. They had not won the Champions League for years but believed I could win it for them, and we won it thanks to the players, the fans and the club. I have the support of the club, and if others think they could do better, then they can have that opinion.”

Mosimane wants to concentrate on the coming game against Al-Duhail and hopefully Bayern Munich. “This tournament is very important and good for the club. We feel good about ourselves. We are here because we are the champions. We will go for it and see what happens.”

Just like Leicester.

The social network that wants to unite the football community

The social network that wants to unite the football community
Updated 12 April 2021

The social network that wants to unite the football community

The social network that wants to unite the football community
  • TheFutbolApp allows members to earn cryptocurrency through engagement on its news feeds, games and chatrooms.

DUBAI: What do you get if you let a tech wizard and a football-mad businessman brainstorm together for long enough?

The answer, perhaps not surprisingly in hindsight, is a social media network for football fans.

Specifically, TheFutbolApp, the brainchild of American Steve van Zutphen and British-Cypriot George Kafkarkou.

News feeds, games, prediction leagues, and chatrooms. Uniquely for social networks, it also looks to share its wealth with its members through its own cryptocurrency, TheFutbolCoin (TFC). The more you engage, the more likes you get, the more you make.

Van Zutphen is a veteran of the tech industry and has had several experiences of creating social networks since the early days of the century.

“It’s really hard to create a social network technically,” he said.

“It’s a lot more difficult than people expect, because of the amount of polish they see on Instagram and Facebook. They have tens of thousands of technologists as you can imagine. But if you break into a social network, you have to be better than the existing ones, not be equal or lesser.”

It took a long time to perfect an idea which, according to van Zutphen, initially came about after his friend and champion skier Jan Hudec - nicknamed the Panda - had asked him to devise a mechanism in which money can be poured back into the skiing community.

And so the tech behind TheFutbolApp was born.

“We’re used the advantage of the big technology toolkit we developed over a decade with a really world class team of guys and we felt that the way to get in the market was through sports, as a primary interest base, because we knew that Twitter was riding the coat-tails of football.”

To what extent football fans flock to Twitter came as shock to van Zutphen, as it might for many people.

“I’ve talked to executives at Twitter, and they said straight to me that of 100 million daily active users (two years ago), 70 million are there primarily because of football. So really Twitter is a football app, it’s football’s Instagram. So we thought that we could field something different and better, maybe to combine the features of these popular networks. We could do it, and we chose football.”

“It wasn’t easy, it’s technically very difficult,” he added. “But we did get it off the ground now and it’s running really beautifully.”

TheFutbolApp was launched in 2019 and currently has just over half a million active members. The founders where after creating a community that will benefit all its members equally.

“Steve and I and the whole team have a burning desire to make difference for everybody involved in this community,” Kafkarkou said.

“The biggest community in the world is football. Everybody is equal, everybody shares the passion.”

The established social media networks are not exactly enjoying positive press these days and Kafkarkou is keen to point out how TheFutbolApp will differentiate itself from the pack.

“One of the benefits of the TFC, the token, is that it's a mechanism for us to share the wealth of advertising in football with our users,” he said.

“As opposed to Facebook and Twitter who keep all their revenue, our approach is to share it with the community.”

This holistic mindset can benefit all partners he says, including football clubs, whose finances, shoddy at the best of times, have been devastated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The most important stakeholder, however, is always the individual fan.

“We [TheFutbolApp] are closer to the fans of any club than the clubs themselves and that will continue to grow,” he added.

“We’re growing without any promotional activities at eight percent per month in terms of users. And we’ve barely warmed up, there are many more things to come.”

Having held an executive position at a Fortune 500 company in New York, Kafkarkou says it would have been easy for him and his partner to conceive of other money-making ideas.

Their motivation, however, was to create a model where “everybody wins or nobody wins”.

As with other social networks, registering on TheFutbolApp is simple. Name, location, favorite team, or teams.

“If you install the app and activate your wallet, the first thing you get is one free TFC,” Kafkarkou said. “Today that token is listed on one of the most prestigious cryptocurrency exchanges and has value of 42 cents. If you invite a friend and they activate their wallet, you get another TFC. The three most popular areas of the app are the social feed of your club, the games and the chatrooms. People can earn a lot of points which we convert to TFC playing games. In the bitcoin world you mine electronically, in our world, you socially mine. You spend time in the app and you earn it.”

The early signs were that it had universal appeal. Fifty percent of users are women.

In Cyprus, where the founders reside, over 100 businesses accept TFC in part or in whole for goods and services. The co-founders expect similar engagements elsewhere.

“We love data because you have to work with reality, not dreams,” said Kafkarkou.

“We are approaching one million transactions paid for in part or in whole with the TFC here in Cyprus. So when setting up in the UK or US, the adoption will be at least as great as Cyprus.”

The Middle East, like Africa, is proving fertile ground for new members.

“We just recently did the Arabic translations, we started updating all the social feeds for all the teams in the region,” said van Zutphen.

“It’s one of the greatest markets. The top four markets in the world in terms of the degree of intensity for the love of football are Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Brazil and Egypt. We’re super excited about being able to bring the Middle East to this app.”

Crucially, according to Kafkarkou, Arab football fans, as opposed to, say, a supporter of Premier League club, tend to support several teams in several different countries, or markets.

That will translate to more time on the app.

“We well understand the passion in the Arab states for football,” he said.

“The typical Arab fan follows three or four clubs. They follow their local club, but they also typically follow a team in La Liga, the English Premier League and also in Serie A in Italy. Frankly, they almost love them equally.”

“If you’re following your favorite player or club on Instagram you’re not allowed to post in their feed, but in our system you can, so you’re actually in the party there,” he added.

It is by design a one-stop shop, or network, for football fans. Kafkarkou calls it an “app in an app” and Van Zutphen believes it could well replace different chatrooms, forums, WhatsApp and Facebook groups, which he sees as “scattered to the wind”.

A fan on his way to a football match, can plan to meet up with supporters in a coffee shop near the stadium while checking the team line-up on his club’s feed. And then pay for his latte with TFC.

“And that is, turning [engagement] into knowledge of where you can go and also into money, tokens, that you can use to actually buy things,” he added.

The Saudi Arabian GP is ‘going to beat Monaco’ — Prince Khalid

The Saudi Arabian GP is ‘going to beat Monaco’ — Prince Khalid
Updated 12 April 2021

The Saudi Arabian GP is ‘going to beat Monaco’ — Prince Khalid

The Saudi Arabian GP is ‘going to beat Monaco’ — Prince Khalid
  • Chairman of Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation (SAMF) breaks ground on Jeddah’s new Formula 1 circuit
  • Jeddah circuit will be 6.175 kilometers long, making it the second longest circuit in F1 track in history

JEDDAH: Silverstone, Circuit de Monaco and Spa-Francorchamps; Jeddah’s new Formula 1 race circuit will soon be rivaling some of the world’s greatest tracks when it is completed ahead of the inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix next December.

On Sunday, Prince Khalid bin Sultan Al Faisal, chairman of the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation (SAMF), cut the ceremonial ribbon to officially signal the start of construction on the track — with completion expected around mid-November this year.

“It means a lot. We know Formula 1 is the pinnacle of motorsports, it’s the biggest event that Saudi Arabia will host,” the SAMF chairman said. “It’s very important for the Kingdom, for our youth, for the sport, for the economy, and for tourism.”

Despite the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic over the last year, the Kingdom actively continued to be home to some of the biggest motorsports events on the local and international tours, and is now set to host the grandest of them all.

When Jeddah holds the Kingdom’s first-ever Formula 1 Grand Prix it will cap off a landmark year which has already seen the Dakar Rally, Formula E, and Extreme E championship races.

“We are preparing ourselves to host the most thrilling and exciting race ever,” Prince Khalid said. “The Jeddah circuit will be amazing. It’s the fastest street circuit, and it’s the longest street circuit.”

The ceremony to lay the foundation stone for the new circuit for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in Jeddah. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)

The Saudi Arabian GP — one of 23 races — is set to take place on Dec. 5, 2021, and the circuit will be built on a coastal stretch of Jeddah’s Corniche, giving the spectators and drivers an open view of the Red Sea.

“How many Formula 1 race tracks are on the side of the sea?” Martin Whitaker, CEO of the Saudi Arabian GP said. “It’s a fantastic location, the community of Jeddah is going to experience something completely different. This will be a real differentiator for F1 racing as well. It’s a great new home for F1.”

With just over seven months until the race, Whitaker says the biggest challenges are time and the pandemic.

The ceremony to lay the foundation stone for the new circuit for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in Jeddah. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)

“We have two plans,” he said. We’re planning for a race with full spectators, but also, we have a COVID plan as well.”

Prince Khalid believes the design of the circuit will make it one of the most exciting in Formula 1.

“Normally, the street circuits are a bit boring in terms of racing because of the location, there’s not a lot of changes that can be done, but we are very lucky here in this area of the Corniche,” he said. “It’s still not developed, so this gave us the opportunity to do a street circuit that is fast and thrilling and exciting, so it’s going to beat Monaco.”

“With what the Kingdom is doing regarding vaccination, and the progress we are seeing, from here until December I’m sure that a lot of people will be vaccinated,” The SAMF chairman added. “And I pray and I hope that the situation will be much better and we’ll be in a position where we can allow our fans to come and enjoy this lovely race with us.”

The ceremony to lay the foundation stone for the new circuit for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in Jeddah. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)

Last year saw Lewis Hamilton win his seventh world championship after the 20th race of the season. Max Verstappen turned up the heat this year with a breathtakingly close second-place podium finish - behind Hamilton - at the season-opening Bahrain GP to confirm himself as the biggest threat to the champion's dream of what would be a record-breaking eighth title in 2021.

“Max Verstappen proved in Bahrain he’s fast. Hopefully, we’ll see other drivers challenge Hamilton and make the championship more difficult to achieve,” Prince Khalid said.

The ceremony to lay the foundation stone for the new circuit for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in Jeddah. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)

A new Formula 1 circuit is also currently under construction in Qiddiya, Riyadh, and is set to host future editions of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix once completed in a few years’ time.

“The initial plan was to host the Formula 1 race in Qiddiya, but the Crown Prince, His Royal Highness, wanted us not to wait,” Prince Khalid said. “I think Qiddiya should be ready by the end of 2023, so we wanted to bring the race sooner than that and we chose a perfect location — Jeddah."

Matsuyama becomes first Japanese in Masters green jacket

Matsuyama becomes first Japanese in Masters green jacket
Updated 12 April 2021

Matsuyama becomes first Japanese in Masters green jacket

Matsuyama becomes first Japanese in Masters green jacket

AUGUSTA, Georgia: Hideki Matsuyama delivered golf-mad Japan the grandest and greenest prize of all.
Ten years after Matsuyama made a sterling debut as the best amateur at Augusta National, he claimed the ultimate trophy Sunday with a victory in the Masters to become the first Japanese winner of the green jacket.
Matsuyama closed with a 1-over 73 and a one-shot victory that was only close at the end, and never seriously in doubt after Xander Schauffele’s late charge ended with a triple bogey on the par-3 16th.
Moments before Dustin Johnson helped him into the green jacket, Matsuyama needed no interpreter in Butler Cabin when he said in English, “I’m really happy.”
So masterful was this performance that Matsuyama stretched his lead to six shots on the back nine until a few moments of drama. With a four-shot lead, he went for the green in two on the par-5 15th and it bounded hard off the back slope and into the pond on the 16th hole.
Matsuyama did well to walk away with bogey, and with Schauffele making a fourth straight birdie, the lead was down to two shots with three to play.
The next swing all but ended it. Schauffele’s tee shot on the par-3 16th bounced off the hill left of the green and dribbled into the pond. His third shot from the drop area went into the gallery. It added to a triple bogey, and his third close call in a major.
Never mind that Matsuyama bogeyed three of his last four holes, the first Masters champion with a final round over par since Trevor Immelman shot 75 in 2008.
All that mattered was that uphill walk to the 18th green, needing only to blast out of the bunker and take two putts for the victory.
And that’s what he did, soaking in the moment with a few thousand spectators on their feat to celebrate a career-changing moment — for the 29-year-old Matsuyama, and he hopes for an entire country.
“Hopefully, I’ll be a pioneer and many other Japanese will follow,” Matsuyama said.
Will Zalatoris, the 24-year-ld Masters rookie, holed an 18-foot par putt on the last hole for a 70 and was runner-up. It was the best performance by a first-timer to the Masters since another Dallas kid, Jordan Spieth, was runner-up in 2014 to Bubba Watson.
Spieth had a few fleeting thoughts of coming from six shots behind except for too many missed putts early and missed opportunities late. He bogeyed his last hole for a 70 and tied for third with Schauffele, who shot a 72 with a triple bogey and a double bogey on his card.
Matsuyama finished at 10-under 278 for his 15th victory worldwide, and his sixth on the PGA Tour.
He becomes the second man from an Asian country to win a major. Y.E. Yang of South Korea won the 2009 PGA Championship at Hazeltine over Tiger Woods.
Returning to the 18th green for the trophy presentation, he again put on the green jacket and raised both arms in triumph. Augusta National allowed limited spectators, believed to be about 8,000 a day, and most might have remembered him from a decade ago.
He won the Asia-Pacific Amateur to earn an invitation to the Masters, and he was low amateur — tied with defending champion Phil Mickelson that year — to earn a trip into famed Butler Cabin. He won in Japan as an amateur, and four times after he graduated college and turned pro. His first PGA Tour victory was at the Memorial in 2014, prompting tournament host Jack Nicklaus to say, “I think you’ve just seen the start of what’s going to be truly one of your world’s great players over the next 10 to 15 years.”
That moment came Sunday.
Matsuyama is not big on emotion, and he speaks even less even when cornered after every round by the large contingent of Japanese media.
Most of the media was absent this year due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, and Matsuyama had said on the eve of the final round that it has been a lot less stress.
There was plenty on the golf course, right from the start.
Matsuyama sent his opening tee shot into the trees right of the first fairway. He punched it under the trees from the pine straw, hit a soft pitch that rolled down the slope away from the pin and was happy to leave with bogey. Two groups ahead of him, Zalatoris opened with two straight birdies.
Just like that, the lead was down to one.

A brief look at the final round Sunday of the Masters:

  • WINNER: Hideki Matsuyama became the first male golfer from Japan to win a major championship, closing with a 73 for a 10-under 278 total.
  • RUNNER-UP: Masters rookie Will Zalatoris stamped himself as a future star by finishing one stroke behind Matsuyama.
  • ANOTHER CLOSE CALL: Xander Schauffele had another heartbreaking finish in a major championship, his hopes ruined by a triple-bogey at No. 16 after he had made four straight birdies to close within two shots of Matsuyama.
  • TOUGH FINISH: Bryson DeChambeau struggled again at Augusta after coming into the tournament as one of the favorites. He closed with a 75 and finished 15 shots behind the winner.
  • ASIAN CHAMPIONS: Matsuyama became the second man from an Asian country to win a major. Y.E. Yang of South Korea won the 2009 PGA Championship at Hazeltine over Tiger Woods.
  • SHOT OF THE DAY: Schauffele’s 8-iron off the tee at the par-3 16th came up short, rolling off the bank and into the pond to clear the way for Matsuyama’s victory.
  • ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Zalatoris, who does even have a full PGA Tour card, turned in the best performance by a Masters first-timer since Jordan Spieth was runner-up in 2014 to Bubba Watson.
  • JAPANESE SWEEP: Matsuyama was Japan’s second winner at Augusta National in eight days, following Tsubasa Kajitani’s playoff victory in the Women’s Amateur.
  • KEY STATISTIC: Matsuyama was the first Masters winner to play a final round over par since Trevor Immelman shot 75 in 2008.
  • NOTEWORTHY: The Masters is now the only major that has champions from every continent where golf is played.
  • QUOTEWORTHY: “Hopefully, I’ll be a pioneer and many other Japanese will follow.” — Matsuyama.

No one got any closer until the final hour. Matsuyama made birdie from the front bunker on the par-5 second hole. He didn’t make another birdie until the par-5 eighth, and it didn’t matter because no one could put any pressure on him.
Zalatoris misjudged the speed on No. 3 and three-putted for bogey from just off the back of the green. Schauffele was within three of the lead going to the third hole, only to go bogey-bogey-double bogey on the toughest three-hole stretch on the course.
Matsuyama delivered what appeared to be a knockout punch with a nifty up-and-down from right of the green on the eighth for a tap-in birdie, and a lob wedge to the dangerous left pin on the ninth that rolled out to 3 feet. That sent him to the back nine with a five-shot lead.
For the longest time, it looked as though Matsuyama couldn’t wait to get to Butler Cabin and see how he looked in green.
Schauffele, however, rammed in a 20-foot birdie putt from behind the 12th green. He two-putted from 10 feet for birdie on No. 13. He nearly holed out from the fairway for a tap-in birdie on the 14th. And with he nearly holed his greenside bunker shot on the par-5 15th for a fourth straight birdie.
And then all that that worked ended when his ball disappeared below the surface of the pond.
Matsuyama could afford a few bogeys, and all that affected was the final margin. He is the Masters champion, a major that defines his elite status in the game and gives Japan the biggest week it has ever had in April. The week started a week ago Saturday when Tsubasa Kajitani won the second Augusta National Women’s Amateur.
Matsuyama wasn’t around to see it, but he was well aware of it. All he wanted was to follow her path and made Japan proud. His play spoke volumes.

Inter streak towards Serie A title as Juve consolidate third spot

Inter streak towards Serie A title as Juve consolidate third spot
Updated 12 April 2021

Inter streak towards Serie A title as Juve consolidate third spot

Inter streak towards Serie A title as Juve consolidate third spot
  • Inter are 11 points clear of second-placed AC Milan who won 3-1 at Parma on Saturday

MILAN: Matteo Darmian scored the only goal as Serie A leaders Inter Milan held off lowly Cagliari 1-0 to stretch their winning streak to 11 games as they close in on a first league title in over a decade.

Champions Juventus consolidated third place with a 3-1 win over Genoa as Napoli moved fourth and back into the Champions League spots with a 2-0 win at Sampdoria.

Inter are 11 points clear of second-placed AC Milan who won 3-1 at Parma on Saturday, as a first title since 2010 beckons for Antonio Conte’s side with eight game left to play.

Moroccan Achraf Hakimi came off the bench and minutes later set up Italy defender Darmian to grab the winner in the San Siro to inflict a fourth consecutive defeat on Cagliari.

“We are starting to see the finish line, but we’re not there yet and can’t afford to make calculations,” Conte said.

“It’s not easy to be under constant pressure but we’re getting used to it.

“We just need to continue pedalling to the max as we approach our goal.”

Inter had been pegged back against 18th-placed Cagliari whose goalkeeper Guglielmo Vicario, replacing COVID-19 hit Alessio Cragno, kept his team in the game.

Vicario denied Christian Eriksen in both halves, while Inter loanee Radja Nainggolan also missed a chance to open the scoring for the visitors against his parent club.

Romelu Lukaku set up Alexis Sanchez who thought he had broken the deadlock after quarter of an hour, but the goal was ruled out for offside.

Stefan de Vrij rattled the crossbar before Conte made a double substitution bringing on Hakimi for Ashley Young after 69 minutes, with Lautaro Martinez replacing Sanchez.

It paid off and minutes later Hakimi combined with Lukaku to tee up Parma loanee Darmian to push Inter closer to a 19th Serie A crown after finishing runners-up last season.

“On a psychological level we gave an important signal today,” said former Manchester United defender Darmian.

“Conte transmits the passion and the desire to win, you can see this on the pitch.

“Everyone feels they have a role to play.”

Juve’s nine-year reign looks set to end as they are 12 points adrift of Inter, but despite the pressures Andrea Pirlo’s side kept their push for Champions League football on track against Genoa.

“My idea of football is to dominate the game, but this season we haven’t always managed to put it into action,” said Pirlo.

“Every day you feel under scrutiny, me in particular because I’m in my first coaching experience.

“So far I give myself an estimate of six out of 10 because I could do more.”

Juan Cuadrado pulled the ball back to an unmarked Dejan Kulusevski to curl in the opener after four minutes.

Juve doubled their lead after 22 minutes when Federico Chiesa forced a Mattia Perin save with a Cristiano Ronaldo follow-up coming off the post before Alvaro Morata sent in the rebound.

Gianluca Scamacca headed in to pull a goal back for Genoa four minutes off the break, with Marko Pjaca missing two quick-fire chances to equalise for the visitors six minutes later.

Substitute Weston McKennie sealed the win after 70 minutes for a valuable three points before next weekend’s trip to Champions League rivals Atalanta.

Napoli returned to winning ways after their midweek defeat to Juventus with goals from Fabian Ruiz 10 minutes before the break and Victor Osimhen three minutes from time.

Gennaro Gattuso’s side climbed one point ahead of Atalanta who travel to Fiorentina later on Sunday.

Sixth-placed Lazio beat Hellas Verona 1-0 thanks to a Sergej Milinkovic-Savic header in injury time.

Man Utd battle back to gain revenge on Tottenham

Man Utd battle back to gain revenge on Tottenham
Updated 12 April 2021

Man Utd battle back to gain revenge on Tottenham

Man Utd battle back to gain revenge on Tottenham
  • Tottenham have now lost 18 points from winning positions in the Premier League this season

LONDON: Manchester United avenged being hit for six by Tottenham earlier in the season by dealing a body blow to Spurs’ hopes of a top-four Premier League finish with a 3-1 win at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Sunday.

United came from behind to win for the ninth time in the league this season as second-half goals from Fred, Edinson Cavani and Mason Greenwood canceled out Son Heung-min’s opener.

Victory kept alive United’s slim title hopes by cutting the gap on local rivals Manchester City to 11 points with a game in hand for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men to come.

Even if they do not manage to reel in City in their final seven games of the campaign, United opened up a nine-point cushion over fifth-placed Chelsea in the battle for a place in next season’s Champions League.

Tottenham’s hopes of a return to Europe’s premier club competition are dwindling fast as they are now six points adrift of West Ham in fourth and could slip to eighth if Everton win at Brighton on Monday.

“Same coach, different players,” was Jose Mourinho’s explanation when quizzed last weekend why his side perpetually blow leads compared to the ruthless teams he has managed in the past.

Tottenham have now lost 18 points from winning positions in the Premier League this season.

The last time they came from behind to win in the league was when they thrashed United 6-1 at Old Trafford in October.

By contrast, United have picked up 28 points after falling behind, although they only did so this time after controversially having a goal ruled out.

Paul Pogba and Cavani combined brilliantly for the Uruguayan to drill the ball low between the legs of Hugo Lloris.

However, the goal was ruled out after a VAR review by referee Chris Kavanagh for a foul by Scott McTominay on Son in the build-up.

The Scottish international made minimal contact with Son’s face as he swotted the South Korean aside.

Tottenham’s claims for a double punishment were ignored by Kavanagh, though, as McTominay escaped without being shown a second yellow card.

United’s fury was compounded four minutes later when Son had bounced back up to give Tottenham the lead.

Harry Kane freed Lucas Moura in on goal and the Brazilian unselfishly squared for Son to slot home his first Premier League goal in over two months.

However, Solskjaer’s men fueled their anger to produce another second-half fightback.

Lloris had to be down sharply to his left to parry a warning shot from McTominay.

United deservedly got their equalizer on 57 minutes. A fine team move saw Fred feed Cavani and after Lloris saved his initial effort, the Brazilian fired into the roof of the net for just his fourth goal in three seasons since joining from Shakhtar Donetsk.

Dean Henderson justified the faith Solskjaer has shown in promoting him ahead of David de Gea with smart saves with his feet to prevent Son and Kane restoring Tottenham’s lead.

At the other end, Lloris also produced a brilliant stop from Bruno Fernandes’s dipping strike from outside the box.

Lloris was powerless 11 minutes from time, though, when substitute Greenwood whipped in an inviting cross for Cavani to power into the bottom corner.

Greenwood then continued his return to form by smashing past Lloris at his near post in stoppage time.