Time-traveler Messi sets up goals in Barça 2-0 win v Osasuna

Time-traveler Messi sets up goals in Barça 2-0 win v Osasuna
Barcelona's Lionel Messi, second left, tries to score during the Spanish La Liga soccer match between Osasuna and FC Barcelona at El Sadar stadium in Pamplona, Spain, on March 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos)
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Updated 07 March 2021

Time-traveler Messi sets up goals in Barça 2-0 win v Osasuna

Time-traveler Messi sets up goals in Barça 2-0 win v Osasuna
  • Barcelona extended its undefeated run to 16 league matches to keep the pressure on Atlético

BARCELONA, Spain: Lionel Messi linked up with two generations of teammates to ensure that Barcelona will gain ground on at least one of its two Spanish league title rivals this weekend.
Barcelona won 2-0 at Osasuna on Saturday as Messi undid the hosts’ disciplined defense on the half-hour mark when he repeated a pass that has led to plenty of goals over his career — sending the ball behind the defensive line to meet a darting run by Jordi Alba.
The 31-year-old left back, who has made a career of returning that initial through-ball back to Messi, this time sought his own shot and drilled a powerful strike right past the head of goalkeeper Sergio Herrera.
Messi then fast-forwarded to Barcelona’s future with seven minutes left in the match when he served as the link between two of the team’s 18-year-old talents. After receiving the ball from Pedri González, Messi quickly laid it off for substitute Ilaix Moriba to cut back to his left foot and curl a shot into the corner of the net.
Barcelona extended its undefeated run to 16 league matches to keep the pressure on Atlético a day before it hosts third-place Real Madrid in a Spanish capital derby. Atlético will also have one more game to play after this round.
Ilaix thanked Messi for the pass, and coach Ronald Koeman for the chance to play, after scoring his first goal for the team two weeks after his debut.
“From the first game, Koeman told me to look to score and that is what I did,” said Ilaix. “Messi gave me the pass and I don’t know how I cut back ... but I shot and it went in. I will never forget this. I will take this to my grave.”
Koeman arrived last summer to overhaul a team that had looked old and worn out when it finished the season without a title and capitulating 8-2 to Bayern Munich. Instead of promising immediate titles, he lowered expectations and focused on rejuvenating the team for years to come.
And that he has done.
Ilaix is the latest of a number of young players that Koeman has nurtured along, including Pedri, the injured Ansu Fati, Frenkie de Jong, Ousmane Dembele, Ronald Araújo, Óscar Mingueza, and Sergiño Dest.
“We are proud to give opportunities to the young players” Koeman said. “They are demanding a chance because they are the future of the club. It is important to bring some fresh air into the team. Playing for Barcelona, you are obligated to win, but if we can do so while introducing young players and the changes we are making, then even better.”
The win comes before Barcelona’s club members vote on Sunday for a new president, who will inherit a club with a ballooning debt and the task of convincing Messi to stay on when his contract expires this summer.
Barcelona’s good form in Spain will face an extremely tough test on Wednesday when it visits Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League. PSG won 4-1 in the first leg of the round of 16 with a hat trick by Kylian Mbappe at Camp Nou.
Before kickoff at El Sadar Stadium, Barcelona’s players wore shirts with “8M” — March 8 — to commemorate International Women’s Day on Monday.

SEVILLA SLIPS
After losing both games of its league-cup doubleheader against Barcelona in the last week, Sevilla was upset 2-1 by Elche.
Raúl Guti and Guido Carrillo scored for Elche in the 70th and 76th minutes, before Luk de Jong pulled one back for Sevilla.
Sevilla remained in fourth place and in control of Spain’s last Champions League spot. Elche escaped the relegation zone.
“I am angry with our game,” Sevilla coach Julen Lopetegui said. “We were completely out of the match. We lacked heart. (But) there is no need to search for someone to blame. When a team is not playing well, the first one to blame is the coach.”

LONG-AWAITED WINS
Valladolid beat Getafe 2-1 to end an eight-round winless streak, while Cádiz edged Eibar 1-0 to end a seven-round winless run.
Eibar’s loss left it in in the relegation zone.


Saudi nearly there, UAE playoff hopes alive: 5 things we learned from latest Asian World Cup qualifiers

Saudi nearly there, UAE playoff hopes alive: 5 things we learned from latest Asian World Cup qualifiers
Updated 15 sec ago

Saudi nearly there, UAE playoff hopes alive: 5 things we learned from latest Asian World Cup qualifiers

Saudi nearly there, UAE playoff hopes alive: 5 things we learned from latest Asian World Cup qualifiers
  • Iraq continue to underachieve despite plenty of talent while Lebanon’s lack of firepower proved costly again

Seven down and just three to go. Qatar 2022 and the end of Asia’s World Cup qualification journey is in sight for those at the top of the two groups. Below are five things Arab News learned from Thursday’s games.


1. Saudi Arabia missed Al-Faraj but got the crucial win

(AFP)

While Saudi fans will be celebrating the 1-0 win over Oman that keeps them four points clear at the top of Group B, there will be a slight worry there too. It wasn’t exactly a secret that Salman Al-Faraj is a classy customer and it wasn’t a surprise that Saudi Arabia’s worst performance so far in the final round of qualification came without the Al-Hilal star sitting in the middle. The Green Falcons had 55 percent of the possession but continuously gave the ball away. 

It was his presence that was conspicuous by its absence. Al-Faraj is a calm influence for Al-Hilal and Saudi Arabia and it all felt a little rushed without him in the face of speedy Omani midfielders. His replacement, Sami Al-Najei, did not last long and was withdrawn after half an hour as coach Renard made a tactical switch that improved the team’s control of the middle, but even then Al-Faraj was still missed.

The most important part was the three points, however. Sometimes in qualification you just have to grind out a win and that is what happened in Jeddah. 

 
2. Energetic UAE get crucial cushion

(AFP)

Suddenly it is all smiles in the UAE after a second successive win, this time a 2-0 victory over Syria in Dubai. It was a much-improved performance against an opponent that is never easy, despite their bottom ranking, and surely the UAE’s best display in this stage so far.

Finishing in the top two spots in a group containing South Korea and Iran was always going to be difficult, even if the fact that those two powerhouses were never put under any pressure was disappointing.

Now however, the UAE can focus on securing third place and a place in the play-offs. It was especially pleasing given that there were some major absentees such as Ali Mabkhout and Fabio De Lima. Caio Canedo scored the opener and was lively throughout.

Coach Bert van Marwijk had said before the game that there was a new energy in the team, and that is what proved to be the difference. There was movement and an intensity that had been missing. If the Whites can build on this win against the already-qualified Iran on Tuesday then third spot will be virtually secured.

 
3. Oman deserved more than Jeddah defeat

(AFP)

If an alien, or just a non-Asian football fan, had sat in the King Abdullah Sports City Stadium and watched Saudi Arabia and Oman then they would not have been able to tell which team was leading Group B and which was in fourth. They would not have been able to tell which team was missing several players due to COVID-19 and injury. 

Apart from the goalkeeping mistake that allowed Firas Al-Buraikan to bundle the ball home from close range, Saudi Arabia never really looked like scoring in Jeddah. Instead, it was Oman who looked the more dangerous. Perhaps it was because they were free from pressure; the underdogs with little chance of reaching the play-off spot, but Oman deserved a point from the game. Rabia Al-Alawi never stopped running up front and was a constant thorn in the side and the center of the Saudi backline.

Ultimately, Saudi Arabia will barely remember this game and will take the points and move on but Oman should take heart from a big performance and further proof, after September’s win in Japan, that they can live with the big boys of Asian football. 

 
4. Iraq do their best but questions to answer

(AFP)

The 1-0 loss to Iran in Tehran leaves Iraq with just four points from seven games, a full five points off the UAE in third place. It’s just not good enough for a team that has genuine talent and slim hopes of a play-off spot are hanging by a thread.

The latest defeat was hardly a surprise given that they were missing eight players — seven through COVID-19 and one through injury — and were unable to fill the bench at the Azadi Stadium with just 18 players available. It could have been worse, with the best performer on the day Fahad Talib in goal.

The big question now is: What direction do Iraq go in now? There was the big-name foreign coach experiment with Dick Advocaat that didn’t work as the Dutchman resigned in November after just six games to leave his assistant Zeljko Petrovic in charge, but there are still issues in terms of who really calls the shots and regardless of all that, preparation remains overly chaotic and ad hoc.

The Iraq national team needs a reset. The World Cup has virtually gone and while the talent remains, there is a lack of direction. 

 
5. Lebanon need a striker

(AFP)

Losing 1-0 to South Korea is no disgrace for Lebanon but while the Taeguk Warriors were the better team, the Cedars will know they could have got something from a hard-fought game.

It has been the story of the stage for Lebanon. They have given everything and pushed the bigger teams all the way only to fail to get the necessary points on the board. 

Korea may have dominated first-half possession but nobody in Lebanon, or watching back in East Asia, will ever know how the hosts did not take the lead not long before the break. 

Alexander Melki hit the bar from close range but, no problem, as his brother was there to shoot the rebound into an empty net. Somehow, however, Felix Melki shot wide when it was easier to score. 

Heads had not long been removed from hands when the visitors took the lead in a razor-sharp move. A beautiful inswinging cross from the left was met first-time by a sliding Cho Gue-song. It was more of the same after the break and again Lebanon hit the woodwork with a fierce low shot from Felix Melki. And then substitute Fadel Antra headed a cross over the bar when unmarked as the game entered injury time. Lebanon had the chances but just lack that little quality in the final third.


Jake Dennis keen to face fellow Brit in new Formula E head-to-head qualifying format

Jake Dennis keen to face fellow Brit in new Formula E head-to-head qualifying format
Updated 28 January 2022

Jake Dennis keen to face fellow Brit in new Formula E head-to-head qualifying format

Jake Dennis keen to face fellow Brit in new Formula E head-to-head qualifying format
  • The eighth season of the all-electric championship begins this weekend with a double-header of night races in Diriyah on Friday and Saturday

DIRIYAH: Avalanche Andretti’s Jake Dennis said he looks forward to the possibility of facing his long-time friend, Mahindra driver Oliver Rowland, in a head-to-head battle under Formula E’s new “dueling qualifier” format.

Dennis said he and Rowland have been friends for 15 years and recalled his fond memories of the pair coming up in the sport together, as he told Arab News he would love to take him on in the championship’s new knockout qualifying format.

“I’d like to go against Oliver Rowland,” he said. “He’s a fellow Brit and a good friend of mine and we never went head-to-head in qualifying. I’d pick Ollie — it would be quite cool to see that.”

The championship’s eighth season gets underway this weekend with a double-header of night races in Diriyah on Friday and Saturday. This year the all-electric series has introduced a new qualifying format that uses a knockout system to determine who takes pole position.

In the first round of qualification the drivers are split into two groups of 11, and each driver can make multiple attempts at a fast lap within a 10-minute session. The four fastest in each group progress to head-to-head duels in a knockout format featuring quarter-finals, semi-finals and a final, the winner of which secures pole-position. The other grid positions will be based on the results of the head-to-head duels or lap times depending on what stage of qualifying the drivers managed to reach.

“The competition was tough last year; I think Formula E is just becoming more challenging in terms of difficulty and I think it’s just going to be even tighter this year,” Dennis said.

Last year, he proved himself to be a title-contender during a stunning rookie season in which he took third place in the ABB FIA Formula E 2020-21 Driver’s Championship, after a DNF (did not finish) in the season finale Berlin left Mercedes-EQ driver Nyck de Vries to claim victory in the overall championship.

“I think people’s expectations of me are definitely different this year,” said Dennis. “People see me as a proper title contender going into the new season. There’s always that added pressure but I’m looking forward to it.”

Considered the most successful rookie the championship has yet seen, Dennis now has his sights set on becoming the first British driver to win it. His confidence is evident, after his successes last season when he clinched his first win in Valencia then another in London. No rookie, other than drivers in Formula E’s first season, has won more races than the 26-year-old managed, and nobody led more laps than he did last season. This season he aims to achieve even more.

“I’m coming in this year with a lot more experience,” he said. “I think I’m a faster driver than what I was last year and that’s what it ultimately comes down to. It’s been a really busy winter for us and we ended up pretty competitive in Valencia (during pre-season testing).

Avalanche, known for being an eco-friendly blockchain company, took over from BMW last October to sponsor Andretti in what both parties hope will be a long partnership committed to sustainability.

Dennis said minor difficulties presented themselves in the beginning, as dealing with new team members can be challenging, but he feels the team are now prepared for the season ahead.

“Working with Andretti feels like a big family environment and I’ve got a new teammate this year as well, Oliver (Askew), and we’re going to do the best job we can for the team.”


‘A fairer chance to fight at the front:’ Stoffel Vandoorne

‘A fairer chance to fight at the front:’ Stoffel Vandoorne
Updated 28 January 2022

‘A fairer chance to fight at the front:’ Stoffel Vandoorne

‘A fairer chance to fight at the front:’ Stoffel Vandoorne
  • The Diriyah E-Prix gets underway on Friday with fans returning to the UNESCO World Heritage site for the first time since the pandemic

DIRIYAH: Belgian driver Stoffel Vandoorne seeks to redeem himself in Diriyah this weekend after the title eluded him last season, and the opportunity may take for the Mercedes-EQ driver in what he called a “fairer chance to fight at the front” under the championship’s new qualifying format.

The Diriyah E-Prix gets underway on Friday with fans returning to the UNESCO World Heritage site for the first time since the pandemic. The double-header race weekend kicks off the eighth season of the all-electric racing championship, with reigning team world champions Mercedes-EQ stepping into their final season in Formula E.

Vandoorne, who is embarking on his fourth campaign with Mercedes-EQ, is heading into this weekend having finished ninth in last season’s championship with a victory in the Berlin finale, three poles and three podiums to his name. 

“Last year was a very close season between a lot of the competitors, I remember getting into the final race with 17 drivers still able to win the championship,” Vandoorne told Arab News. “Maybe I didn’t have luck on my side, but with the changes to qualifying we’ll have fairer chance to fight at the front.” 

For this season, the championship introduced a new qualifying method that uses a knockout format to determine who will take pole position for the race.

The format changes feature a first round of two 11-driver groups, each driver able to make multiple attempts at fastest laps within their allocated time in a 10-minute session. The top four fastest-lap drivers in each group will progress into head-to-head duels on a knockout basis in quarter-finals and semifinals. Pole-position will be decided in a final head-to-head duel.

“I think this will equalize the field a little bit more and qualifying now won’t be decided purely on track evolution,” he said. “It’s still going to be hard but I think the way the system is right now should be a lot fairer and I think we’ll generally see more of the same faces at the front, rather than having some sort of mixed-up grid — or when if you found yourself in group one last year, you basically had no chance to be in the top 15.

“I think it will change in a good way, but it’s so competitive that we’ll still see some some crazy weekends or some unexpected things that will happen,” Vandoorne said.

Vandoorne’s teammate, De Vries, qualified on pole for the first race of last season’s opening Diriyah E-Prix, leading every lap thereafter en route to his first victory in the series, ending the campaign with two wins, four podiums and 99 points, becoming the first official FIA Formula E World Champion, following the series’ long-awaited FIA sanctioning.

“Obviously you know me and Nick have some good competition and we always want to be better than the other every time we get to get out on track,” the Belgian driver said. “So far it’s been a very healthy relationship, we get on really well and we do it in a constructive way. It’s been a good collaboration. And, you know, for sure, once we get out on track, we always want to want outdo one another and that’s no different this year.”

The Diriyah E-Prix Season 7 opener hosted the first all-electric night race as part of the 2020-21 calendar. The spectacular double-header in the dark used renewable lights with the latest low-consumption LED technology, which reduced energy consumption by up to 50 percent compared to non-LED technologies, which all fits into the racing ethos of sustainability the championship embodies.


Aston Villa add Arsenal’s Chambers to January splurge

Aston Villa add Arsenal’s Chambers to January splurge
Updated 27 January 2022

Aston Villa add Arsenal’s Chambers to January splurge

Aston Villa add Arsenal’s Chambers to January splurge
  • The 27-year-old joins Philippe Coutinho, Lucas Digne, Robin Olsen and Kerr Smith at Villa Park
  • Chambers made 122 appearances for Arsenal after joining from Southampton in 2014

LONDON: Aston Villa signed versatile defender Calum Chambers from Arsenal on Thursday to take their tally of new recruits this month to five.
The 27-year-old, who can play in both central defense and at right-back, joins Philippe Coutinho, Lucas Digne, Robin Olsen and Kerr Smith at Villa Park as manager Steven Gerrard reshapes his squad.
Chambers has signed a three-and-a-half year contract after an undisclosed fee was agreed between the clubs.
He made 122 appearances for Arsenal after joining from Southampton in 2014, also spending time on loan at Middlesbrough and Fulham.
However, he has struggled for game time this season following the arrivals of Ben White and Takehiro Tomiyasu, making just five appearances, only two of which came in the Premier League.
“It’s a very exciting place to be and everyone can see that from the outside. Things are happening here and it’s definitely moving in the right direction,” said Chambers.
“For me, it was a no-brainer to join a great club. It was the right thing for me to do.”
Villa have moved up to 11th in the Premier League table since the arrival of Gerrard, who has won five of his 11 games in charge.


Meet the drivers who will battle for glory at the 2022 Diriyah E-Prix

Meet the drivers who will battle for glory at the 2022 Diriyah E-Prix
Updated 28 January 2022

Meet the drivers who will battle for glory at the 2022 Diriyah E-Prix

Meet the drivers who will battle for glory at the 2022 Diriyah E-Prix
  • 22 drivers from 11 teams will fight for the win at the launch of Formula E season 8 in Riyadh

RIYADH: The all-electric championship is back. The Diriyah E-Prix returns in the historic desert surroundings of the UNESCO World Heritage site for its season-opening double-header on Jan. 28-29.

Twenty-two of the best drivers in the world will race for eleven teams and only one trophy in season eight of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship.

Here are the heroes behind the helmets:

Mercedes EQ

Reigning team world champions Mercedes-EQ return for their final season in Formula E with another stellar lineup, bringing back season seven champion Nyck de Vries and Belgian star Stoffel Vandoorne.

The flying Dutchman De Vries qualified on pole for the first race of last season’s opening Diriyah E-Prix, leading every lap thereafter en route to his first-ever victory in the series.

His second victory came soon after, in Valencia. De Vries ended the campaign with two wins, four podiums and 99 points, becoming the first official FIA Formula E World Champion, following the series’ long-awaited FIA sanctioning. Vandoorne heads into his fourth season on the circuit, having finished ninth in last season’s championship with victory in the Berlin finale, three poles and three podiums to his name.

Jaguar TCS Racing

Jaguar race into season eight off the back of their best year yet, and led by a duo of strong, proven race winners: Kiwi Mitch Evans, and Britain’s Sam Bird. With two wins and 10 podiums last season, Evans returns as a serious challenger in 2022. A race winner in every season of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship to date, Bird bagged first place in both Diriyah and New York last year.

Avalanche Andretti Formula E

It’s a new look for the Andretti team in 2021, as Avalanche replaces BMWi as title partner. On the driving side, Jake Dennis returns alongside the rookie US driver Oliver Askew.

Dennis had a spectacular start to his Formula E career last year, becoming the most successful rookie in championship history, in terms of podium visits, with victories in Valencia and London.

Dragon / Penske Autosport

Dragon showed real signs of improvement last season, and have now added the Italian Antonio Giovinazzi from Formula 1’s Alfa Romeo. He joins forces with teammate Sergio Sette Camara, who had his best drive in Diriyah last year — finishing fourth in the opening race.

TAG Heuer Porsche Formula E Team

The German team return to battle in season eight with Andre Lotterer once again alongside Pascal Wehrlein. Both Wehrlein and Lotterer — the latter a three-time Le Mans winner and five-year Formula E veteran — scored consistently through a strong second half of the season last year.

Mahindra Racing

A stunning victory in London on home soil for driver Alex Lynn was the highlight, but he departed at the end of the season. Fellow Brit Oliver Rowland replaces him, racing alongside another British driver, Alexander Sims, for 2021-22.

Sims has a race win and podiums to his name in Formula E, and Rowland joins the team having made the move from Nissan e.dams.

Nissan e.dams

Nissan e.dams are heading into season eight with one of the most promising talents on the grid, Maximilian Guenther, who proved himself with a win in New York last year. He joins one of the most experienced drivers on the grid in 2015-16 champion, Sebastian Buemi, a multiple winner at Le Mans and in sportscar racing.

Envision Racing

Envision kick off season eight with a striking new green design for their cars, while retaining their driver pairing of Nick Cassidy and Robin Frijns.

After returning to Formula E in 2018-19, Frijns is now embarking on his fourth season with Envision, while Japanese Super Formula and Super GT champion Cassidy joined the Envision team last year and recorded two podium finishes in Mexico and New York.

NIO 333 Racing

NIO 333 retain veteran Oliver Turvey, who joined them just before the 2014-15 season finale in London, and add rookie Dan Ticktum for season eight.

Ticktum was a successful Formula 2 racer, winning his home event at Silverstone in his rookie season, and securing three further podiums.

ROKiT Venturi Racing

After three podium finishes, including two wins, last year, the 2016-17 champion Lucas di Grassi, who spent seven years with Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler, has joined Venturi. Edoardo Mortara finished second in the standings last year — his fourth campaign with Venturi, narrowly missing out to Nyck De Vries in dramatic fashion in the finale in Berlin.

DS TECHEETAH

DS TECHEETAH had their streak of back-to-back teams and drivers’ championships halted last season when they finished third by just a single point.

Jean-Eric Vergne and Antonio Felix da Costa return and could arguably be regarded as the strongest pairing on the grid. Both are past title winners — Vergne twice — with seven seasons of Formula E experience to their names.