Lethal Messi leads Barca to thumping Alaves win ahead of PSG test

Lethal Messi leads Barca to thumping Alaves win ahead of PSG test
Barcelona's Lionel Messi, right, tries a shoot during the Spanish La Liga soccer match between FC Barcelona and Alaves at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on Feb. 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Joan Monfort)
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Updated 14 February 2021

Lethal Messi leads Barca to thumping Alaves win ahead of PSG test

Lethal Messi leads Barca to thumping Alaves win ahead of PSG test

MADRID: Barcelona might not be able to catch Atletico Madrid but they may fancy their chances against Paris Saint-Germain after Lionel Messi scored twice in a 5-1 thrashing of Alaves on Saturday.
Messi fired in two sensational long-range efforts and would have had a hat-trick at Camp Nou had a dubious VAR decision in the first half not ruled Antoine Griezmann offside.
He did tee up a second of the night for the 21-year-old Francisco Trincao and was instrumental in Junior Firpo adding a fifth too, a flamboyant scoop freeing Griezmann to send a pass to Firpo at the back post.
“Leo is focused, he’s happy, he’s ruthless. When we play those passes through the lines to him and he finds those gaps, everything is easier,” said Ronald Koeman.
Victory means Barca trail Atletico by eight points again after the leaders temporarily pulled 11 clear thanks to a hard-fought 2-1 win over Granada earlier on Saturday.
Barcelona and Real Madrid have both played a game more than Atleti, with Zinedine Zidane’s side facing Valencia at home on Sunday.
Atletico’s win was a significant psychological boost on the back of slipping up for the first time in nine games at home to Celta Vigo earlier this week.
Their advantage may prove too big to close but Barcelona’s Champions League tie against PSG, which had the French side as firm favorites when the draw was made in December, now feels harder to call.
The question is whether a free-flowing Barca attack, full of talent and orchestrated by Messi, can hurt PSG enough to make up for what remains a shaky defense, depleted by injuries and vulnerable to the counter-attack.
“We’re in good form,” said Koeman. “We keep creating chances and improving in all aspects of our game. PSG are a great team but I see the tie as very balanced. We go into it with confidence, knowing we need to be at our best to go through.”
With Gerard Pique and the emerging Ronald Araujo both out injured, Frenkie de Jong filled in again in central defense, although the Dutchman has arguably been Barcelona’s most improved player this year in the midfield three.
Instead there was a start for Ilaix Kourouma in midfield, the 18-year-old academy product who assisted Trincao’s opening goal but whose misplaced pass led to Luis Rioja briefly giving Alaves hope.
After Trincao had swept home, Messi thought he had made it two, pouncing on a rebound after Griezmann missed but the goal was ruled out, even though replays suggested Griezmann was onside.
Messi made amends soon after, latching onto a Sergio Busquets pass, darting in-field and ripping a shot in off the post.
Rioja capitalized on Ilaix’s mistake just before the hour but Barca pulled away with three goals in six minutes.
Pedri’s pass freed Messi but he failed to round Fernando Pacheco and instead the ball spilled out for Trincao to score his second.
Messi slammed a stinging strike into the top corner from 25 yards to make it 4-1 before perhaps the goal of the night came last, Messi scooping over for Griezmann, who volleyed to the back post where Firpo could not miss.
Atletico had earlier swerved a second consecutive slip by squeezing past Granada at Los Carmenes, a victory secured by Angel Correa’s fortuitous winner in the second half.
There was a hint of luck in Granada’s equalizer too, Yangel Herrera’s shot deflecting off Marcos Llorente, who had himself put Atletico in front only three minutes earlier.
“The most important thing today was the fight and the energy of the team,” said Simeone afterwards.
At the full-time whistle, he shook his fists and sprinted down the tunnel, his relief evident at the end of a game that could easily have seen more points dropped for his side.
Luis Suarez had scored in six of the previous seven games but for once the 34-year-old was not the matchwinner, with Llorente and Correa — two unsung heroes this season — instead proving the difference.
Llorente’s goal was his seventh of the season while his lay-off for Correa was his sixth assist.
“As coaches trophies are wonderful because they fill you with excitement and glory,” Simeone said of Llorente. “But when you work with a footballer and see them grow, you feel even more joy and more enthusiasm to keep doing what you’re doing.”

The evolution of the international cricket coach in the modern game

The evolution of the international cricket coach in the modern game
Updated 11 sec ago

The evolution of the international cricket coach in the modern game

The evolution of the international cricket coach in the modern game
  • For long captains were in charge of tactics and they remain important today, but the importance of the coach has skyrocketed in recent decades

In soccer, managers and coaches are a high-profile part of the game. This is less the case in cricket. Traditionally, an overseas touring party had a manager appointed to oversee the logistics of the tour and to be its public face. An assistant manager sometimes doubled up as a coach, with the team captain also taking on coaching responsibilities.

In both Australia and England coaches were not selected on a long-term basis until 1986. India had started earlier down this route in 1971, although a feeling of “Indian-ness” had been instilled in the 1960s by the princely captain Tiger Pataudi.

Less international cricket was played at that time and players had more opportunities to work on technical errors that might have entered their game. In the professional (and amateur) domestic game, captains, or their delegates, ran matters, both on and off the field.

However, first-class cricket was entering a new era as commercial sponsorship placed greater emphasis on winning. One aspect of this was increased attention given to diet, fitness and nutrition, although this may have been difficult for the bon viveurs on the professional circuit to embrace enthusiastically. The management of all these developing trends became too much for one person, the captain, to cope with and the role of coach/team manager emerged at both domestic and international levels.

In the latter arena, countries tended to have a panel of selectors, whose chair was a powerful figure. This dynamic has changed with the arrival of a full-time manager/head coach. In England, the power was removed completely when, in April 2021, responsibility for selection was given to the head coach, although the views of the captain are brokered. It is too early to know if this power concentration is for the best.

Over the past four decades a group of elite head coaches has emerged in international cricket. Generally, but not exclusively, they had represented their country at cricket and graduated to become the coach of their national team through a learning stage of coaching regional teams both at home and abroad. As their reputation grew, they attracted the attention of boards of other countries looking to improve their national team’s performance.

England appointed its first overseas coach in 1999, India its first in 2000, but it took until 2011 for Australia to appoint one. A South African famously coached India to World Cup victory in 2011, and an Australian coached England to 2019 World Cup victory.

Each of these coaches has had a different approach to their roles. One approach is to be hands-off, giving space to the players, especially the captain, so that they can express themselves in a relaxed environment. The coach manages emotions, knowing when to be formal or informal with the players, providing a sounding board for concerns that an individual player may wish to discuss privately.

Another approach is to be more technical and theoretical, driven by the statistics and analysis of performance, seeking improvements in technique through practice. The amount of data available to coaching staff is now substantial and is used to inform strategy and game plans.

It can lead to overcomplicating simple aspects of the game and runs the risk of players stopping to think for themselves and communicating with each other. Some elite players have been known to be dismissive of the data-driven approach.

A third approach is that of being a hard taskmaster. Several who tried being this have mellowed with experience. Recently, the Australian head coach has been subject to leaked complaints about his micromanagement, draining intensity and unpredictable mood swings. This has led to a resetting of the relationship between him and the players.

Essentially, cricket is an individualistic team sport. A coach must set a strategy and game plans that act as a driving force for the team and which can be executed by both the captain and the players. In setting out to achieve this, the relationship between the head coach and the captain must be, at the very least, in tandem. The manager/coach is seeking to blend private individuals and team players, givers and takers, established performers and newcomers, trying to create an environment in which, ideally, they can all flourish and improve both as players and individuals, helping each one to maximise their potential.

High skills are required to coach an international team across three formats – 20 overs, 50 overs and Test cricket. It has become standard practice to have specialist batting, bowling and fielding coaches in order for the head coach to concentrate on keeping the team focused, functioning and united, taking pressure off the captain. The coach can fine-tune.

A good example of this occurred in respect of an Australian bowler on his first tour to England. In the opening Test match his performance was below par. The coach took him to the nets, placed two cones either side of the pitch at a certain distance from the stumps and told him to bowl until he could consistently land the ball between the two cones, since that was the length to bowl in England. In the next match the bowler claimed eight wickets out of 10 and a stellar career followed.

The demand for top-class coaches is increasing, especially with the expansion of the IPL, women’s and emerging nations cricket. In the 2021 IPL, where the relationship between the coach and the franchise owners is an added dimension, only one head coach was Indian. Out of the 16 head coaches in the T20 World Cup this year, seven are nationals and, remarkably, of the other nine, six are South Africans.

A coach’s task is all-consuming, carrying a relatively short span per contract, requiring cricketing credibility, high-quality person-management skills and the ability to create a nurturing environment for the team. At the top end of the scale, their value is reflected in salaries around the $1 million mark. Cricket coaches now play a vital and significant role in contributing to a team’s success or failure in the professional game.

Riyadh’s King Abdulaziz Racecourse set for world’s most valuable racing weekend with showpiece Saudi Cup worth $20 million

Riyadh’s King Abdulaziz Racecourse set for world’s most valuable racing weekend with showpiece Saudi Cup worth $20 million
Updated 47 min 9 sec ago

Riyadh’s King Abdulaziz Racecourse set for world’s most valuable racing weekend with showpiece Saudi Cup worth $20 million

Riyadh’s King Abdulaziz Racecourse set for world’s most valuable racing weekend with showpiece Saudi Cup worth $20 million
  • Prince Bandar Bin Khalid Al-Faisal, chairman of the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia, highlights rapid progression of the sport as newly promoted Group 1 Saudi Cup headlines $35.1 million two-day meeting in February

The Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia has announced that total prize money for the two-day Saudi Cup meeting on Friday, Feb. 25 and Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022, will increase to $35.1 million, making it the most valuable fixture in global racing.

The Saudi Cup, which will be run as a Group 1 event for the first time, remains the world’s most valuable horse race at $20 million, while five thoroughbred races on the Saturday card have been awarded Group 3 status.

Prize money for both the Group 3 Neom Turf Cup and Group 3 1351 Turf Sprint has increased by $500,000 to $1.5 million. The Obaiya Arabian Classic, a $1 million contest for purebred Arabian horses, was this week promoted to a Group 2 race by the IFAHR.

At a series of press events held via video link from King Abdulaziz Racecourse in Riyadh, Prince Bandar Bin Khalid Al-Faisal, chairman of the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia, spoke of the rapid progression of racing in the region.

“We could never have imagined the immediate impact the Saudi Cup would have on the international racing landscape, or indeed on our domestic racing product,” Prince Bandar said.

“In 2020 we launched our first ever international meeting and less than three years later we enter our first racing season as a Part II racing nation, having been promoted by the IFHA earlier this month. We are now looking forward to hosting the world’s most valuable race, the Saudi Cup, as a Group 1 for the first time, as well as five Group 3 races on the undercard.

“None of this would have been possible without the buy-in and support of the international racing community and, on behalf of the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia, I would like to thank everyone within the industry for the way they have embraced the Saudi Cup,” he said.

“As the Saudi Cup makes advances, so does our domestic racing offering,” Prince Bandar added. “We continue to focus not only the international aspects of this sport but also understand that building strong foundations upon which a sustainable industry can be built is a vital element to securing the future of this incredible and unique sport for generations to come, both in Saudi Arabia and overseas.”

The highlight on the opening day of the meeting, the STC International Jockeys Challenge, won last year by Ireland’s Shane Foley, will incorporate a turf contest into its four-race format, while a new international turf race, the Listed Al Mneefah Cup, worth $1 million for purebred Arabians, is also being added.

“Despite the global challenges, the 2021 Saudi Cup was a huge success, attracting a truly international field,” said Tom Ryan, the JCSA’s director of strategy and international racing. “We had a brilliant winner in Mishriff who is the perfect example of the high-class horse the race can attract, and his victory showed how well-placed the race is in the calendar.

“Following his subsequent two Group 1 wins, he has proved to be one of the best horses in the world,” he added. “We then had Saudi Cup fourth Knicks Go land the Grade 1 Whitney Stakes at Saratoga in August, while 11th-placed Max Player was also successful at Saratoga last month in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup.”

Ryan said that one of the things the JCSA is most proud of is the versatility of the racing surface at King Abdulaziz Racetrack, with the 2021 Saudi Cup proving conclusively that turf horses can perform on the dirt track and that their form on dirt translates back to turf.

“Mishriff had only run once on dirt before in last year’s Saudi Derby, while this year’s Saudi Derby winner, Pink Kamehameha, had previously only raced on turf in his native Japan,” he said. “We hope this shows owners and trainers all over the world that they can come to Saudi and compete in both our dirt and turf races.”

UAE golfers get shot at big time in Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship with place at Masters, Open up for grabs

UAE golfers get shot at big time in Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship with place at Masters, Open up for grabs
Updated 28 October 2021

UAE golfers get shot at big time in Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship with place at Masters, Open up for grabs

UAE golfers get shot at big time in Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship with place at Masters, Open up for grabs
  • Local players will hope course knowledge of Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club can secure passage to 2 Majors in 2022

DUBAI: Five leading UAE-based amateur golfers have a chance of claiming a once-in-a-lifetime place at both the Masters and the 150th Open championship, at St. Andrews next year, as they line up for a winner-takes-all four days at the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship on Nov. 3-6, 2021 at the Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club.

The AAC was created in 2009 by the Asia-Pacific Golf Confederation, the Masters Tournament and The R&A to further develop amateur golf across Asia, and the 2021 championship will mark the first edition held in the UAE, one of the APGC’s 42 member countries.

To mark the latest golfing first for the UAE, five of the country’s leading amateurs have been invited to take their place alongside Asia’s finest in the four-round shootout.

The UAE’s No. 1 Ahmad Skaik has secured a spot along with compatriots Khalid Yousuf, Khalifa Al-Masaood and Rashid Al-Emadi. Arkesh Bhatia, another big name on the UAE scene, will be representing India.

“The Dubai Creek championship course is a world-class venue befitting of this prestigious tournament, and the event offers a wonderful opportunity to the top-ranked amateur golfers from across Asia, including some of our top UAE talent,” said Sheikh Fahim bin Sultan Al-Qasimi, chairman of the Emirates Golf Foundation, the sport’s governing body in the country.

“The course provides players with a true test, the home players know it well, so we are set for an intriguing four days of golf and a potentially life-changing opportunity that is sure to bring the best out of the leading UAE players on home soil.”

The UAE players will be hoping that course knowledge will give them an advantage as the AAC champion will receive an invitation to compete in the Masters Tournament at Augusta in April 2022 and The Open, two of the four Majors on the global golfing calendar, with the runner-up gaining a place in final qualifying for The Open.

Winning the four-day event will be tough ask, however, as the field includes China’s defending champion Yuxin Lin, who is aiming for an unprecedented third AAC title, and in-form Japanese world No. 1 amateur Keita Nakajima, who has secured two victories in his last three starts.

Over the AAC’s 12-year history, the championship has served as a springboard for some of the world’s top players today, including current Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama, Australia’s Cameron Smith, Korean Kim Si-woo, Thailand’s Jazz Janewattanond and Chinese Taipei’s C.T. Pan, who won a bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics this year.

Maria Fassi off to a flyer with nine-under 63 on opening day of Dubai Moonlight Classic 

Maria Fassi off to a flyer with nine-under 63 on opening day of Dubai Moonlight Classic 
Updated 28 October 2021

Maria Fassi off to a flyer with nine-under 63 on opening day of Dubai Moonlight Classic 

Maria Fassi off to a flyer with nine-under 63 on opening day of Dubai Moonlight Classic 
  • The 23-year-old from Mexico carded eight birdies, an eagle and two bogeys in a career-high round to lead Lee-Anne Pace by one stroke

DUBAI: Mexican sensation Maria Fassi carded a course-record equalling nine-under par 63 to hold a one-stroke lead over South Africa’s Lee-Anne Pace after the first round of the Dubai Moonlight Classic presented by EGA at Emirates Golf Club.    

Rising star Fassi, 23, starting on the 17th hole in the day-to-night competition, carded eight birdies, an eagle and two bogeys in a thrilling career-high round. The round, her personal best as a professional, included a run of three straight birdies on holes four to six, another trio of consecutive birdies on holes 13 to 15, and a chip-in eagle on hole 16.

Pace led the field for most of her blemish-free round of 64, which featured an opening birdie on hole four that was quickly followed with twin birdies on 8 and 9, an eagle on 10, and further birdies on holes 14,16 and 18. Pace was only usurped at the leaderboard summit by Fassi’s closing eagle, while her playing partner, Germany’s Olivia Cowan, carded a bogey-free seven-under par 65 to sit one stroke ahead of Sweden’s Jessica Karlsson.

“It was pretty flawless today out there,” Fassi said. “It was my first time playing in the dark but it was awesome. I enjoyed it a lot and the course was great. Shooting 63 is a personal best; it’s awesome to tie the course record on the Faldo course, it’s a pretty big deal in my opinion. Now I’ve tied it, I want to beat the course record, but the reality is I just have to keep doing what I did today.”

Pace was happy with her performance and admitted some aspects of night golf were a real positive: “I’ve never played under floodlights before and I struggled in the Pro-Am, but it was a lot easier today — I’m glad I played the Pro-Am now. I like the tournament format, the night golf, it’s nice to sleep in in the morning.”

Welshwoman Lydia Hall and England’s Alice Hewson finished with five-under par rounds of 67, with Hall satisfied with the flat stick after carding 29 putts.

“It was a solid round tee to green. I only missed three greens today and that’s what cost me my two bogeys, but it was a good start to the tournament,” Hall said. “I always start a bit apprehensive as we’re not used to playing in the dark, but it’s a good start. I shot 29 putts today and that’s been my goal all year, to stay under 30, and it seems to be working.”

Two-time Major winner Ariya Jutanugarn, making her Dubai debut and first ever professional round under the floodlights, carded a four-under 68 to stay in touch with the leaders. Jutanugarn is in a chasing pack that includes England’s Bronte Law and Spaniard Carmen Alonso, the trio one ahead of Ariya’s sister Moriya in tied 10th. 

Dame Laura Davies and Solheim Cup-winning captain Catriona Matthew had to settle for one under par rounds of 71.

“I played really well to be honest, it’s a shame I bogeyed the last (17th),” Davies said. “I drove really well, hit a few ropey irons a little bit left, but they were hitting the greens so two putting for par. It was quite an easy one-under par, could have been two or three, but I gave one back at the last.”

Davies also spoke of her delight at the progress Dubai is making in encouraging junior female golfers after participating in a special Emirates Golf Federation clinic with local youngsters. “It’s lovely seeing Dubai grow in the golf world. I did a junior clinic this morning and you wouldn’t have seen that 15 years ago, young girls from the area and all around the UAE coming for a bit of coaching. It’s lovely how Dubai is growing, but also how the game is growing,” Davies said.

One Dubai-based youngster making the headlines earlier this week was Chiara Noja, the 15-year-old who turned pro on the eve of the tournament. After a promising start, Noja finished on one over par after three bogeys in her last six holes.

“I made it a little bit difficult for myself at times, shot some birdies but also a couple of unnecessary bogeys,” Noja said. “I had some really good shots and was two under at one point, but lost it a little bit. I still had a great time. To be honest, this is the most relaxed I’ve been in a long time. I went out there, tried to focus on the game and not really think about the pressure of being a pro. The course was incredible, and the greens were great. I loved it.”

Saudi Arabia draw 2-2 with Uzbekistan in opening qualifier for 2022 AFC U23 Asian Cup

Saudi Arabia draw 2-2 with Uzbekistan in opening qualifier for 2022 AFC U23 Asian Cup
Updated 28 October 2021

Saudi Arabia draw 2-2 with Uzbekistan in opening qualifier for 2022 AFC U23 Asian Cup

Saudi Arabia draw 2-2 with Uzbekistan in opening qualifier for 2022 AFC U23 Asian Cup
  • Match result will not affect qualifiers as next year’s tournament is in Uzbekistan meaning hosts already have spot

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia on Wednesday drew 2-2 with Uzbekistan in the opening match of the qualifiers for the 2022 AFC U23 Asian Cup, a tournament that will also act as a qualification campaign for the Paris Olympics in 2024.

The result of the match, however, will not affect the qualifiers as next year’s tournament is being held in Uzbekistan, meaning the hosts have already secured their spot.

The young Falcons scored through Hamid Al-Ghamdi in the 40th minute, and Abdulmohsen Al-Qahtani two minutes into the second half, while the hosts twice equalized on 45 and 79 minutes.

The Saudi team is playing in Group D alongside Uzbekistan, Kuwait — who will meet Saudi Arabia in the second round matches on Saturday — and Bangladesh, who they face on Nov. 2.

The non-hosting trio will be vying for the two qualification spots for the 2022 AFC U23 Asian Cup which will take place from Jan. 6 to 24 next year.