De Bruyne and Hazard 50-50 to face Italy at Euro 2020

De Bruyne and Hazard 50-50 to face Italy at Euro 2020
Supporters hold a banner showing Belgium’s Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku and Kevin De Bruyne before Euro 2020 match against Portugal. Coach Roberto Martinez said there’s 50/50 chance De Bruyne and Hazard play Friday’s match against Italy. (AP)
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Updated 28 June 2021

De Bruyne and Hazard 50-50 to face Italy at Euro 2020

De Bruyne and Hazard 50-50 to face Italy at Euro 2020
  • There had been concerns about the extent of the injuries after Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard had to be replaced against Portugal
  • “Eden and Kevin will remain with the squad,” said Belgium coach Roberto Martinez

SEVILLE: Medical tests for Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard ruled out any serious injuries on Monday, and Belgium coach Roberto Martinez said there is a 50/50 chance they will play in Friday’s European Championship quarterfinal match against Italy.
There had been concern about the extent of the injuries after both players had to be replaced in the second half of Belgium’s 1-0 victory over Portugal on Sunday in the round of 16.
“I can communicate that the initial information that we have from the medical department is quite positive for both,” Martinez said. “Eden and Kevin will remain with the squad.”
He said neither player sustained “structural damage” but cautioned there may not be enough time for them to recover in time to face Italy in Munich. He initially said it would be “very difficult to see them fully fit,” though their progress would be evaluated daily.
“We hope that over the next few days we will recover them pretty quickly,” Martinez said. “Now, the game is on Friday, so that could be probably too close.”
De Bruyne, who turned 30 on Monday, is nursing a bruised left ankle after being tackled from behind by Portugal midfielder João Palhinha early in the second half at La Cartuja Stadium in Seville.
Martinez said De Bruyne is “very strong mentally” and was in a “very good mind frame.”
“Obviously we were all a bit anxious before we got the news from this morning’s scan,” Martinez said. “Now he is relieved, he is very happy that he can be in the camp. We are all delighted that we can work with him.”
The Manchester City playmaker had to leave the Championship League final after a facial injury sustained in a collision with an opponent. He had missed Belgium’s first match at Euro 2020.
“I just hope he can be fully fit for the next game, because when Kevin De Bruyne is on the pitch, we are a stronger team,” Martinez said.
Hazard, who was marred by injuries with Real Madrid this season, was replaced late in the game against Portugal with a hamstring issue.
“After the images today we’ve seen that there was no structural damage,” Martinez said.
The coach said reserve goalkeeper Simon Mignolet will have to leave the squad because of a knee injury sustained during the warm-up before Sunday’s match. He will be replaced by Blackburn goalkeeper Thomas Kaminski.
Belgium is trying to win a major tournament for the first time. The team finished in third place at the 2018 World Cup.


Man City end Chelsea hex as Man Utd pay penalty

Man City end Chelsea hex as Man Utd pay penalty
Updated 25 September 2021

Man City end Chelsea hex as Man Utd pay penalty

Man City end Chelsea hex as Man Utd pay penalty
  • Gabriel Jesus' second-half strike proved decisive for Pep Guardiola's men
  • Bruno Fernandes sent his spot-kick high over the bar, just the 2nd time he has failed to score from a penalty in 23 attempts for United

LONDON: Manchester City ended their Chelsea hoodoo on Saturday, beating the European champions 1-0 while Bruno Fernandes missed a last-gasp penalty in Manchester United’s shock 1-0 defeat by Aston Villa.
Gabriel Jesus’ second-half strike proved decisive for Pep Guardiola’s men, who gained a measure of revenge for three consecutive defeats by Chelsea, including a painful loss in the Champions League final in Porto.
The win lifted the defending champions to 13 points alongside Liverpool, Chelsea and United, who conceded a late goal to Villa defender Kortney Hause before suffering the agony of the missed spot-kick.
Elsewhere, Jamie Vardy netted twice at the right end against Burnley after scoring an early own goal in a 2-2 draw for stuttering Leicester while Norwich slumped to their sixth consecutive league defeat.
Guardiola said this week that his side lacked a “weapon” to match Chelsea’s record signing Romelu Lukaku or United’s Cristiano Ronaldo to decide games inside the box.
But Jesus ultimately made the difference for City, who could have won more convincingly but for a combination of wasteful finishing and some impressive last-ditch defending.
The Brazilian forward got the break City deserved in the 53rd minute as his effort deflected off Jorginho to leave goalkeeper Edouard Mendy flat-footed.
The visitors had chances to double their lead, with Jack Grealish drawing a sharp save before Jesus was denied a second by Thiago Silva’s goal-line clearance while Thomas Tuchel’s team failed to muster a single shot on target.
“Sometimes we believe we need a proper striker to finish, but the important thing is the way we play,” Guardiola told the BBC.
“The most important thing is doing it as a team and as a unit. It’s like last season. Sergio (Aguero, who has left the club) was injured all year and we won the Premier League.”
Villa arrived at Old Trafford with a woeful record of one win in their previous 45 Premier League games against Manchester United, including 33 defeats.
The home side, boasting a star-studded attack including Cristiano Ronaldo, Fernandes, Paul Pogba and Mason Greenwood had 28 shots in all but Villa missed some gilt-edged chances of their own.
Just when it appeared the game was drifting toward a draw, Villa’s Hause flicked a near-post header beyond David de Gea from a Douglas Luiz corner in the 88th minute.
Minutes later he went from hero to villain when he handled Fernandes’ cross but the United playmaker sent his spot-kick high over the bar — just the second time he has failed to score from a penalty in 23 attempts for the club.
It was a second home defeat of the week for United and a first in the Premier League this season, while they also lost Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw to injuries in front of watching England boss Gareth Southgate
United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, whose side have lost three of their past four matches in all competitions criticized the way Fernandes was surrounded before his penalty.
“First of all the way they get round the penalty spot, get round Bruno and that, that’s not to my liking,” he said. “Bruno is usually very good in those positions and unfortunately he missed this one.
“It doesn’t get in Bruno’s head. He’s strong mentally and he’ll step forward again. The decision (on who takes penalties) is made before the game.”
Everton beat Norwich 2-0 while West Ham overcame struggling Leeds 2-1 with a late Michail Antonio goal. Watford had to settle for a 1-1 draw against Newcastle after having a late goal ruled out for offside.
Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool are in action at Brentford in the late kick-off on Saturday, with a chance to go three points clear at the top of the table.


A 3rd generation of Maldini family scores in Serie A

A 3rd generation of Maldini family scores in Serie A
Updated 25 September 2021

A 3rd generation of Maldini family scores in Serie A

A 3rd generation of Maldini family scores in Serie A
  • There was a third generation of the Maldini family to score in Serie A on Saturday
  • Daniel Maldini scored his first Serie A goal 13 years, 179 days after the last league goal netted by his father Paolo

MILAN: Like grandfather, like father, like son.
There was a third generation of the Maldini family to score in Serie A on Saturday as Daniel Maldini helped AC Milan to a 2-1 win at Spezia.
Daniel Maldini scored his first Serie A goal 13 years, 179 days after the last league goal netted by his father Paolo — against Atalanta in 2008 — and 60 years, 22 days after his grandfather Cesare scored against Catania in 1961.
Paolo Maldini, who is now a technical director at the club where he made more than 900 appearances as a player, jumped out of his seat in celebration at the goal shortly after the restart.
Daniele Verde leveled for Spezia 10 minutes from time but substitute Brahim Díaz restored Milan’s lead six minutes later.
Milan moved top of the league, a point ahead of Napoli, which plays Cagliari on Sunday.
Defending champion Inter Milan is three points behind its city rival and plays Atalanta later Saturday in an eagerly awaited match.
Also later, Genoa hosts Hellas Verona in its first game since being sold to new American owners.
It was Daniel Maldini’s first start for Milan and the 19-year-old broke the deadlock three minutes into the second half as he headed in a cross from Pierre Kalulu and it was too powerful for Spezia goalkeeper Jeroen Zoet to keep out.
Milan almost doubled its lead shortly afterward but Rafael Leão’s curled effort came off the post.
It appeared as if Spezia had snatched a point when Milan midfielder Sandro Tonali deflected in Verde’s effort but once again Rossoneri coach Stefano Pioli’s substitutions paid off as Díaz — who had only been on the field for five minutes — steered in the winner after a great move by Alexis Saelemaekers.


UAE’s top female jiu-jitsu athletes shine in final round of the Mother of the Nation League

UAE’s top female jiu-jitsu athletes shine in final round of the Mother of the Nation League
Updated 25 September 2021

UAE’s top female jiu-jitsu athletes shine in final round of the Mother of the Nation League

UAE’s top female jiu-jitsu athletes shine in final round of the Mother of the Nation League
  • Al-Wahda, Al-Ain and Palm Sports 777 dominate in run-up to major international competitions

Abu Dhabi: Three of the UAE’s top martial arts clubs have dominated the fifth and final round of the Mother of the Nation Jiu-Jitsu League ahead of upcoming major international championships against some of the world’s most elite fighters.

The competition took place at the Jiu-Jitsu Arena in Abu Dhabi and included adult, U-18 and U16 categories.

Al-Wahda Club secured top spot on Friday to take the league title in the adult category, with Al-Ain in second and Palm Sports 777 in third. In the U-18 category, Al-Ain finished top, ahead of Al-Wahda and Sharjah Self Defence Club. The U-16 title went to Palm Sports Team 777, with Al-Wahda second, and Al-Jazira in third place.

“The Mother of the Nation League has developed into an international-calibre championship, attracting athletes who have succeeded in capturing medals in several global championships including the Asian and World Championships and Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championship,” said Mohammed Salem Al-Dhaheri, Vice Chairman of the UAE Jiu-Jitsu Federation.

“One of the most important aspects of the Mother of the Nation League is to provide a platform for the next generation of champions in the U-18 and U-16 categories, to gain top-level experiences and prepare for upcoming events.”

“We are extremely pleased with the strong participation in this championship, and it shows the efforts of the federation, with the continuous support of the UAE’s visionary leadership, to grow the sport among women in the country are paying dividends,” he said.

Maryam Al-Ali from Palm Sports Team 777, who captured the gold medal in U16 category, 44kg, said: “I came across strong competition today and managed to secure the win thanks to persistence and following the instructions of the technical staff. I would like to congratulate my fellow women athletes as we move towards our next goal in honoring the UAE in the World Championship and Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu-jitsu Championship in November.”

Al-Ain Club star Shamma Rashed, who won the gold in the U18 40kg category, praised the work put in by the team’s technical staff.

“The athletes have conducted several training camps and participated in international championships, leading up to today’s final round, which helped in raising the bar of competition thanks to improved fitness and technical levels,” she said. “Our coaching staff played a role in my victory as they helped in enhancing my psychological and technical skills, to be able to control the bouts.”

The fifth and final round of the Vice President's Jiu-Jitsu League will conclude on Saturday, Sept. 25, with the men’s competition as Al-Ain, Al-Wahda, Al-Jazira, Baniyas and Sharjah Self Defence Club go head to head in the adult, U-18 and U-16 categories.


Yanks’ opening 6-2 lead at Ryder Cup could’ve been bigger

Yanks’ opening 6-2 lead at Ryder Cup could’ve been bigger
Updated 25 September 2021

Yanks’ opening 6-2 lead at Ryder Cup could’ve been bigger

Yanks’ opening 6-2 lead at Ryder Cup could’ve been bigger
  • Tony Finau, who was paired with Harris English, made six birdies on his own ball in his fourball match

SHEBOYGAN, Wisconsin: Americans hit three unforgettable shots on the opening day of the Ryder Cup and two went for naught. Turns out they didn’t need them.
Captain Steve Stricker’s young squad patiently built the biggest US opening-day lead since 1975, pummeling defending champion Europe in both the foursomes and fourball matches Friday for a 6-2 cushion. While the fast start wasn’t new — the US team has gone seven straight Ryder Cups without losing the opening session — the solid finish was.
“My message to the guys before I left,” Stricker said, “is, ‘tomorrow is a new day. Let’s just go out tomorrow and try to win that first session again ... Pretend today never happened.”
That would have been a lot harder for his team had things not worked out as well as they did.
The one swing from that trio of spectacular shots that actually paid a dividend was a towering 417-yard drive by Bryson DeChambeau at the par-5 5th. Rather than play the 581-yard hole as a dogleg right, the way it was designed, the game’s longest hitter chose the straightest route. In three previous PGA Championships at Whistling Straits, no one had dared to try and cross the large pond and the grassy ridge pockmarked with pot bunkers that guard the right side.
DeChambeau was counting on a 20-plus-mph wind to help boost his tee shot past all that trouble, and his calculations were spot on.
“I knew if it was a little downwind, I could take a unique line ... and I said to myself, ‘all right, I have to aim at the green,” DeChambeau said. “So I did.”
With just 72 yards to the flag, he dialed down the power and turned up the finesse, lobbing a wedge to 4 feet and making the eagle putt in an afternoon fourball match that he and partner Scottie Scheffler halved with the European pair of Jon Rahm and Tyrell Hatton.
The less said about DeChambeau’s second moonshot the better. He tried driving the green at the 394-yard, par-4 13th and landed just five yards from the flag, but in a bunker on the left. A flubbed sand shot later, he settled for par and a tie on the hole.
More maddening still was playing partner Justin Thomas wasting this beauty from Jordan Spieth. Two down with two holes to play in the morning foursomes, Thomas’ tee shot at the par-3 17th skidded across the green and down a nearly vertical slope toward Lake Michigan. It wound up lodged in deep rough.
Spieth studied the shot for a long time, pulled out a wedge and swung wildly, his momentum carrying him down the hill and almost to the shoreline trying to find a foothold. The ball, meanwhile, somehow settled just six feet from the flag. But Thomas missed the putt in a match the Spanish duo Jon Rahm and Sergio Garcia won 3-and-1.
“It was kind of one of those shots you practice as a kid for fun,” Spieth said, adding. “You could roll a thousand balls off the green and you’re not going to end up there.”
Rahm turned out to be Europe’s brightest light, going unbeaten in both of his matches. His partnership with Garcia enabled his countryman to notch a 23rd win, tying Nick Faldo for the Ryder Cup record. But the world’s top-ranked player had a much harder slog pairing with Hatton to wrest the half-point from DeChambeau and Scheffler.
The Americans were poised for a 1-up victory until Hatton stepped up and hit 5-iron into a hard left-to-right wind that settled 7 feet away. The Englishman coolly dropped the birdie putt, salvaging something from an otherwise tough day for Europe.
“Things like this can turn the tide,” Rahm said.
It was one of the few moments when a wildly pro-American crowd didn’t get its way. Travel restrictions imposed by the pandemic kept nearly all of Europe’s fans from entering the United States, and chants of “USA! USA!” echoed across the bumpy terrain every time an American drained a big putt.
Tony Finau, who was paired with Harris English, made six birdies on his own ball in his fourball match, and described the experience like riding a wave he didn’t want to end.
“It’s funny how momentum works. You know it can change at any given moment, and we knew we had to keep the pedal to the metal. These things start to stretch out when you have the momentum,” he said, “and it’s easy to lose.”
As if the great play and solid backing from the gallery wasn’t fuel enough, Michael Jordan and Steph Curry turned up to cheer the Americans on. Tiger Woods even sent a group text through Stricker to the American players saying, “I’m right there with you and go fight and make us proud.”
“We were able to do that,” Finau said finally, “and if TW’s watching, thanks for that text, brother, I think it helps us a lot.”


Thriving Bahraini clubs welcome Saudi neighbours for women’s football festival

Thriving Bahraini clubs welcome Saudi neighbours for women’s football festival
Updated 25 September 2021

Thriving Bahraini clubs welcome Saudi neighbours for women’s football festival

Thriving Bahraini clubs welcome Saudi neighbours for women’s football festival
  • Tournament in Juffair celebrates the Kingdom’s 91st National Day, and  will highlight the progress being made on and off the pitch in Bahrain

MANAMA: It’s Wednesday evening, and Ravens - a Bahraini women’s football team known as the Teal Army - are in training for a pre-season tournament being held on Saturday at Al-Najma Stadium, close to Bahrain’s lively Juffair district.

Kicking off in the early evening and hosted by Super Soccer Academy, who will also field a team, the event sees two Saudi Arabian women’s squads - Qatif and Eagles - crossing the border in what could be the beginning of an ongoing partnership with the nascent Saudi Women’s League.

Leading the way is Ravens captain Rama Salem, who along with her team mates and other teams in Bahrain, not to mention the visitors from the Kingdom, are part of a generation that is changing the way women’s football is being perceived in the Gulf and the Middle East.

Raven's team captain Rama Salem. (Abdullah Aboody)

The recent establishment of the women’s game in Saudi Arabia has seen a predictably huge upsurge in participation, even for an already football crazy country.

And with their championship entering its second season after its Covid-delayed 2020 beginnings, Saudi women’s teams may look to emulate the achievements of their Bahraini neighbours, especially in nurturing young talent for the future.

In Bahrain, youth football standards have been boosted by the arrival of academies linked to top-tier clubs, such as Juventus, allowing local women’s teams access to elite-level coaching. In tandem with a growing league, this guidance has led to rapid development for teams like Ravens.

The success of Ravens hasn’t been about winning titles. Instead it’s their pedigree in developing players, many of whom go on to bigger things abroad, that catches the eye.

The team will be without two of their best players this season, not because of injury or suspension, but because both have recently jetted off on football scholarships in two of the powerhouse nations of women’s football: America and Germany.

Salem attributes this developmental success to Ravens’ club mentality.

“We’re a team of inclusivity. Everyone gets a chance to play, no matter what their ability is, where they come from, their age,” she said.
“We want to give these girls a platform and a stage that was never really made available to me at their age.”

Charlotte Pilgrim, an 18-year-old from Middlesbrough in the UK, is one of Raven’s success stories. After playing for the club for nearly four years, she is now on a full football scholarship at Rio Grande College in the US.

Charlotte Pilgrim taking part in a Ravens raining session. (Sameer Alsaeed)

Charlotte’s family moved to Bahrain from England when she was four, but initially finding a football team was difficult.

“I always played with boys,” says Charlotte.

“I was in what was supposed to be a mixed team, but I was the only girl. I held a lot back because of that, stayed quiet. When I started playing in women’s teams I became a lot more confident and vocal.”

Charlotte played for some of the other local women’s teams, but never quite found what she was looking for until trying out for Ravens.

“Straight away I could see the atmosphere was so happy and supportive, like a family,” explains Charlotte.

“The older players and coach were always encouraging us. In fact, it was because of Rama that I ended up going to a trial and getting noticed.”

Charlotte’s successful trial in Bahrain led to her being selected for a training camp at the England national team’s training facility, St. George’s Park.

She was the only player not based in the UK to be invited.

Videos of her playing at England’s training ground were seen by her American college and she was offered a place starting this year.

Charlotte feels her experience in the Middle East has enabled her to quickly settle in her new team.

“I think the Bahraini style of play has helped me,” she says. “It’s more about possession rather than speed and power, and I tend to keep the ball better.”

Charlotte isn’t the only recent success for the Teal Army. The 13-year-old Jordanian-Bulgarian prodigy Yasmeen Al-Zurikat has recently headed off to Germany, where she will play at VfR Warbeyen's influential Kämpferherzen academy.

A great future is expected for 13-year-old prodigy Yasmeen Al-Zurikat. (Abdullah Aboody)

Raven’s captain believes she has a bright future ahead of her. “She’s a phenomenal player,” she says. “Even at 13, she’s the most composed player on the pitch.”

Salem is relishing the opportunity to play against teams from Saudi Arabia tonight, but it also excited about the wider implications of events like this.

“It’s great for the country and the region, and especially great to see a lot of Arab woman getting involved with the sport and breaking old stigmas.”

The event starts at 5pm and entry (to vaccinated individuals only) is free.

Organizers predict a carnival atmosphere as the tournament has been planned to coincide with the Saudi National Day celebration.

A 4-team round robin tournament with 30 minute matches will be the highlight, but there’ll also be tennis football, mini-matches and penalty competitions, in addition to food stalls on the beach nearby.