With Barcelona out of title race, Messi has future to decide

With Barcelona out of title race, Messi has future to decide
Barcelona’s Lionel Messi during the match against Celta Vigo in the Spanish La Liga at the Camp Nou stadium on Sunday. Celta overhauled a goal by Messi and rallied for a 2-1 win. (AP)
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Updated 17 May 2021

With Barcelona out of title race, Messi has future to decide

With Barcelona out of title race, Messi has future to decide
  • Last summer, Messi had said he wanted to leave Barcelona after a campaign that finished without a title

BARCELONA: With Barcelona’s season effectively over, Lionel Messi now has a big decision to make.

Should he finish out his career at the club that helped him become an all-time soccer great?

Or have the team’s struggles to keep winning trophies convinced him that he can find more success in Paris or Manchester?

Barcelona were left without any chance of winning the Spanish league on Sunday, bowing out the title race in demoralizing fashion after letting Celta Vigo overhaul a goal by Messi and rally for a 2-1 victory.

Atletico Madrid beat Osasuna 2-1 and can now only be caught by Real Madrid in next weekend’s final round.

Barcelona have one game left on the calendar, but with nothing to play for except third place in the league, the club’s attention is now fully on the future of its inscrutable star.

Last summer, Messi had said he wanted to leave Barcelona after a campaign that finished without a title and a humiliating 8-2 loss to Bayern Munich in the Champions League. When that exit was denied by the club, Messi said that he would focus on this season and put off any decision until this summer when his contract expires on June 30.

Since then, Joan Laporta has been elected for a second stint as the club’s president. Laporta ran Barcelona when Messi was just blossoming with the team and maintained a good relationship with the player and his family. Even so, Messi has not confirmed a decision on his future.

“I hope not,” coach Ronald Koeman replied when he was asked if he believed Messi had played his final match at Camp Nou — a stadium still without fans because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“He is still the best player in the world and today he showed that it is impossible to play without him,” Koeman said. “He has scored 30 goals this season (in the league) and earned us a lot of points.

“It is up to Messi. For me and the club, we want him to stay with us. Because if Leo is not here, we have doubts about who can score.”

On the same night that Barcelona’s women won the Champions League for the first time by routing Chelsea 4-0, Barcelona’s men’s lineup was again undone by some sloppy defending and failing to converting their scoring chances.

The 33-year-old Messi extended his club-record tally to 672 goals with a header to give Barcelona a first-half lead against Celta. But like too many times in recent weeks, Barcelona’s defense let it down. Celta striker Santi Mina equalized before halftime on a shot that goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen could have done more to try to keep out. Mina then added a second goal in the 88th after defender Clément Lenglet left Barcelona a man down when he earned a second yellow card.

Koeman had succeeded in bringing in some younger players to rejuvenate Barcelona’s squad this season and steering the team to the Copa del Rey title last month.

The former Barcelona defender had also inspired his team to a hot streak in the league that had allowed it to almost erase a double-digit lead by Atletico.

But when Barcelona had the opportunity to move past Atletico and take the lead in late April, it was upset 2-1 by Granada at home. That loss derailed the team. Barcelona drew with Atletico and at Levante before the loss to Celta. If it does not beat the already relegated Eibar in the last round, Barcelona could finish in fourth place.

The late-season collapse of his team that may have put Koeman’s job in danger comes with midfield great Xavi Hernández apparently being groomed to take his place.


WHO concerned about eased virus curbs around Euro 2020

WHO concerned about eased virus curbs around Euro 2020
Updated 22 June 2021

WHO concerned about eased virus curbs around Euro 2020

WHO concerned about eased virus curbs around Euro 2020
  • WHO is concerned about easing of restrictions in some of the host countries, said a WHO official
  • Britain Tuesday said over 60,000 spectators will be allowed at London’s Wembley stadium semi-finals and final

COPENHAGEN: The World Health Organization on Tuesday said it was concerned about the easing of Covid-19 restrictions by nations hosting Euro 2020 matches, noting that some were already seeing rising cases.
“WHO is concerned about easing of restrictions in some of the host countries,” Robb Butler, an executive director at WHO’s Regional Office for Europe, said in an emailed statement to AFP.
“A few of the stadiums hosting the tournament are now increasing the number of spectators allowed,” Butler said.
The UN health agency did not single out any cities, but Britain announced Tuesday that more than 60,000 spectators will be allowed at the Wembley stadium in London for the semifinals and final of the tournament.
Originally, it was intended to limit the crowd to 40,000.
UEFA has also been in talks with the UK government to ease virus-related travel restrictions to allow up to 2,500 VIPs to attend the final on July 11.
In some “host cities, Covid-19 cases are already on the rise in the area where matches will be held,” said Butler.
In areas where infection rates are on the rise, WHO Europe called on the cities concerned to act quickly.
“Learning from experience, we must act fast on signals showing increasing cases.
“Expanding testing and sequencing; stepping up contact tracing; and building very high vaccine uptake fast among those vulnerable and most at risk,” he added.
In Denmark, 29 cases have been detected in connection with the Euro games taking place in Copenhagen.
The reported infections involved people who were either already ill during the match or were infected during the game, Anette Lykke Petri, a health authority official, told a Tuesday press briefing.
“In theory, there could be more people infected,” she added.
In Denmark, the permitted audience has also recently been increased to 25,000, from 16,000. The higher number was first applied for last Thursday’s game between Denmark and Belgium.
In Budapest, games at the Puskas Arena, which has a capacity of 68,000, have been played to a full stadium.
UEFA had also stripped two cities, Dublin and Bilbao, from hosting games in the tournament because the capacities allowed were too low.
Among the host cities, Russia’s St. Petersburg in particular has reported an increase in the number of cases in recent days.
Meanwhile the trend has been downward in Spain’s Seville and in Rome, Italian authorities assure that no cases of Covid-19 linked to the competition have been detected.
While the situation across Europe has improved over the past two months, the WHO has nevertheless urged continued caution.
“Although we have come far, we have not come far enough,” Hans Kluge, WHO’s regional director for Europe, warned in early June.
Vaccine uptake was still too low to protect the region from a resurgence, he said.


ROKiT Venturi Racing’s Edoardo Mortara wins Peubla E-Prix in Mexico to lead Formula E standings

Edoardo Mortara celebrates winning the Peubla E-Prix in Mexico. (Supplied/LAT)
Edoardo Mortara celebrates winning the Peubla E-Prix in Mexico. (Supplied/LAT)
Updated 22 June 2021

ROKiT Venturi Racing’s Edoardo Mortara wins Peubla E-Prix in Mexico to lead Formula E standings

Edoardo Mortara celebrates winning the Peubla E-Prix in Mexico. (Supplied/LAT)
  • The team from Monaco completed a successful weekend with two podium finishes

DUBAI: ROKiT Venturi Racing and Edoardo Mortara returned to winning ways at the Autodromo Miguel E. Abed, storming to a dominant victory at the Puebla E-Prix on Sunday night.

After finishing on the podium one day earlier, the Monegasque team maintained its form into the second leg of the double-header event in Mexico, with the Swiss-Italian driver taking first place.

“I’m incredibly proud of the team and Edo for delivering our second victory in Formula E but also for doing it in such a dominant fashion,” said Susie Wolff, ROKiT Venturi Racing team principal. “Throughout the season, we’ve shown that we have the pace and potential to be at the front of the field, it was just about putting everything together and that’s what happened in Puebla. Two races, two podiums. Forty points on the board. We really couldn’t ask for any more from this weekend.”

Mortara started the Formula E season with a second-place finish at the first of the Diriyah E-Prix’s double header, but suffered a serious accident in practice the following day. Having recovered, he now leads the season’s standings after his latest win.

In qualifying, Mortara had claimed a season-best starting position of P3 while team-mate Norman Nato took P12, sitting in a prime position to challenge for points.

Taking the chequered flag, Mortara crossed the finishing line in P1, leading 27 of the race’s 32 laps enroute to ROKiT Venturi Racing’s second victory in the FIA Formula E World Championship and third podium of season seven.

“What a weekend. Yesterday, we finished third on the podium and today, we went two steps further to take the win. Scoring 40 points on one race weekend alone is incredible and after winning today, I’m honestly speechless,” said Mortara. “This has been the best race weekend of my entire career. The team delivered an excellent strategy today but that didn’t make it a straightforward drive.”

He added: “In the final 10 laps, Pascal (Wehrlein) kept me under immense pressure, especially because he had more usable energy. This meant that we had to find a way to save more energy without sacrificing speed. 

“It was difficult to resist him but we didn’t make any mistakes and we were able to maximise our potential to come out on top. 

“This is an incredibly proud moment for both myself and the team and standing on the top step. I can’t quite believe it.”

After dropping down to P16 on lap 1, Nato fought through the field to threaten for points in his recovery drive, however, an accident on lap 12 forced the Frenchman to retire.

After claiming 25 points and 40 points in two races, Mortara now leads the Drivers’ Championship with a 10-point advantage while ROKiT Venturi Racing sits in P6 in the Teams’ Standings, holding 83 points.


Jordan advances to 2021 FIFA Arab Cup after qualifier against COVID-19-hit South Sudan abandoned

Jordan advances to 2021 FIFA Arab Cup after qualifier against COVID-19-hit South Sudan abandoned
Updated 22 June 2021

Jordan advances to 2021 FIFA Arab Cup after qualifier against COVID-19-hit South Sudan abandoned

Jordan advances to 2021 FIFA Arab Cup after qualifier against COVID-19-hit South Sudan abandoned
  • African nation forfeits match 3-0 after 7 players test positive for virus before match in Doha

DUBAI: Monday night’s FIFA Arab Cup qualifier between Jordan and South Sudan was abandoned after the confirmation of COVID-19 cases among the latter’s delegation.

As reported by the Asian Football Confederation’s official website, the FIFA Bureau for Men’s Senior Tournaments declared the match a forfeit with a 3-0 win to Jordan, which now advances to the 2021 FIFA Arab Cup taking place in Qatar between Nov. 27 and Dec. 18.

Upon their arrival in Qatar for the match, and as per the protocols established by its Ministry of Health, the delegations of both teams were tested for COVID-19.

After two rounds of polymerase chain reaction tests, it was confirmed that seven players and one team member of South Sudan were positive, with another five players receiving a reactive test result, meaning they were likely incubating the virus.

Given that another seven players had close contact with those who tested positive, a total of 19 players are currently in isolation.

There are no cases presenting severe symptoms, and everyone who tested positive is being monitored and receiving medical care for free through Qatar’s national healthcare system. 


MoU signed to promote healthy lifestyles in King Abdullah Financial District

MoU signed to promote healthy lifestyles in King Abdullah Financial District
Updated 22 June 2021

MoU signed to promote healthy lifestyles in King Abdullah Financial District

MoU signed to promote healthy lifestyles in King Abdullah Financial District
  • Signatories are KAFD CEO and president of Saudi Sports for All Federation

RIYADH: The Saudi Sports for All Federation (SFA) and King Abdullah Financial District (KAFD), represented by CEO Gautam Sashittal, have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to create a framework of cooperation that promotes active and healthy lifestyles in the district.

The MoU was signed in a ceremony at the Conference Center in KAFD, and was attended by resident SFA President Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed bin Talal Al-Saud.

The SFA and KAFD will work together to create a healthy community for residents and visitors by designing a program of initiatives focused on health and wellness.

Simultaneously, an action plan will be carried through to benefit from KAFD’s facilities to host workshops and community sports activities. 

“Our agreement with KAFD is an important new milestone in our journey to create a health-first mindset in Saudi Arabia and ensure that physical activity is attractive and accessible for all our communities,” said Prince Khaled.

“We are looking forward to working collaboratively with KAFD to find ways of turning the district into a hub for sports and physical activity, while creating a grassroots culture of corporate and residential wellbeing,” he added.

“The district is forward-looking in its purpose and design, and we are excited about exploring new ways of engaging and enriching our communities together.”

The partnership will look to add to existing work with local and national entities — such as the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs and Housing, and the Saudi Data and AI Authority (SDAIA) — to achieve its goal of a healthier, more active Kingdom.

As part of its support for the Quality of Life Program, the SFA in early 2021 launched its Start Now campaign, calling residents of all ages, abilities and backgrounds to engage in physical activity.

It also recently launched a T20 cricket tournament and the Ehsan Steps Challenge in partnership with SDAIA, encouraging people to step forward for charity.

The SFA is also actively working with local authorities across the Kingdom to activate public spaces and parks to host community-oriented sporting activities.

“As an extension to the strategic goals of Vision 2030, lifestyle and liveability are two main elements that elevate quality of life,” said Sashittal.

“These two elements are extremely crucial in creating a vibrant society with a healthy and active lifestyle. KAFD embodies these elements, and that is clearly manifested by the advanced infrastructure and urban planning when it comes to liveability. Moreover, when it comes to lifestyle, KAFD is designed with people in mind, and it encourages walkability and being physically active,” he added.

“Therefore, we are pleased to partner with the SFA to explore ways in which we can foster a new culture focused on health and green living. We are looking forward to working collaboratively to turn the KAFD into a hub of new ideas and initiatives to promote a healthy lifestyle.

“The size, scope and ambition of KAFD adds strategic significance to the agreement and boosts the role of KAFD as a center for sustainability in the region, hence its advanced infrastructure, smart urban planning and human-centered approach.”


Baumgartner sends Austria into last 16 with win over Ukraine

Baumgartner sends Austria into last 16 with win over Ukraine
Updated 21 June 2021

Baumgartner sends Austria into last 16 with win over Ukraine

Baumgartner sends Austria into last 16 with win over Ukraine
  • Austria plays Italy at Wembley on June 26 after advancing at a major tournament for 1st time since 1982 World Cup
  • “We wanted to write history, we did it, those are the great moments of football," said coach Franco Foda

BUCHAREST: Christoph Baumgartner’s first-half goal sent Austria through to the last 16 of Euro 2020 on Monday after a 1-0 win over Ukraine that left their opponents facing an anxious wait to see if they qualify.
Hoffenheim midfielder Baumgartner turned in David Alaba’s corner on 21 minutes in Bucharest as Austria pipped Ukraine to second place in Group C behind the Netherlands, who eased past North Macedonia 3-0 in Amsterdam.
Austria will play Italy at Wembley on June 26 after advancing from the opening round at a major tournament for the first time since the 1982 World Cup.
“I can’t quite comprehend it all, my head is really hurting! This is really special for all of us,” Baumgartner told Austrian broadcaster ORF.
“The emotions right after the match were great. We wanted to write history, we did it, those are the great moments of football,” said coach Franco Foda.
Ukraine, eliminated in the group stage at the past two European Championships, must wait to find out if they advance as one of the four best third-placed teams.
“I have no idea yet what to expect or what will happen,” said Ukraine coach Andriy Shevchenko.
“We’ve have to wait until the last games. If we’ve the slightest chance we have to be ready.”
Shevchenko had ruled out his Ukraine team playing for the draw they needed to finish as runners-up, having snapped a run of six straight losses at the competition with their 2-1 win over North Macedonia.
Marko Arnautovic was recalled to the Austria line-up after the forward missed the 2-0 defeat by the Netherlands while serving a one-match ban for insulting a North Macedonia player in their opening game.
Needing victory to be assured of a place in the next round, Austria went ahead as Baumgartner beat 18-year-old defender Illia Zabarnyi to Alaba’s corner and poked beyond Georgiy Bushchan.
Ukraine came close to an equalizer when Mykola Shaparenko drew a good low save from Daniel Bachmann, the rebound just eluding a lunging Andriy Yarmolenko, who had scored in the first two group games.
Baumgartner’s evening ended prematurely due to injury and his replacement Alessandro Schopf soon set up Arnautovic, the former Stoke man dribbling wide moments after Konrad Laimer’s curling effort was punched away by Bushchan.
Austria nearly handed Ukraine a way back into the match when Stefan Lainer headed Viktor Tsygankov’s free-kick toward his own goal, but Bachmann reacted well to preserve the victory and a spot in the knockout phase.