Lionel Messi eyes Champions League trophy with PSG

Lionel Messi eyes Champions League trophy with PSG
Argentinian football player Lionel Messi poses as he holds-up his number 30 shirt during a press conference at the French football club Paris Saint-Germain’s (PSG) Parc des Princes stadium in Paris on August 11, 2021. (File/AFP)
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Updated 11 August 2021

Lionel Messi eyes Champions League trophy with PSG

Lionel Messi eyes Champions League trophy with PSG
  • Lionel Messi helped Barcelona win four Champions League trophies
  • Qatari-backed PSG has been desperate to win the Champions League, falling just short when it lost the 2020 final to Bayern Munich

PARIS: Lionel Messi said he’s “in the right place” to win another Champions League trophy and cited a reunion with Neymar as a key factor in his decision to sign with Paris Saint-Germain.

The 34-year-old Argentina star spoke at his introductory news conference at Parc des Princes stadium on Wednesday, the morning after signing a two-year deal with the option for a third season after leaving Barcelona.

“My goal and dream is to raise another Champion’s (League Trophy) and I believe that I am in the right place to have the best chances to achieve that,” Messi said.

“When you see this squad, you really want to play with them because there are so many possibilities,” he added. “We have the same goal. And Neymar of course did a lot and was important for my choice.”

Qatari-backed PSG has been desperate to win the Champions League, falling just short when it lost the 2020 final to Bayern Munich. Messi helped Barcelona win four Champions League trophies.

Messi’s arrival gives PSG formidable attacking options as he links up with not only Neymar — his former teammate at Barcelona — but also France World Cup winner Kylian Mbappe.

“I’m going to play with best players, it’s very nice, it’s incredible to be able to experience this,” said Messi, who also cited Argentina teammates and PSG players Ángel di Maria and Leandro Paredes.

“Obviously, one of the reasons (I came) was the locker room: Neymar, Dí María, Paredes, whom I know.”

Messi said he is “ready” to start playing with PSG, which hosts Strasbourg on Saturday night.

“When I feel it, when the staff thinks I’m ok, I’ll be ready. I’m willing to play,” he said.

Messi became the most high-profile free agent in soccer history after his attempts to stay at Barcelona were rejected last week by the Spanish league because the salary would not comply with financial regulations, with the Catalan club burdened by debts of more than 1.2 billion euros ($1.4 billion).

PSG moved quickly to sign the Argentina star. The team, Messi said, “positioned themselves and everything went really fast and it was easy. It happened in little time. It was a difficult situation and they were efficient.”

PSG coach Mauricio Pochettino quickly made contact with his fellow Argentine after Barcelona announced last Thursday that Messi would be leaving the club he joined as a 13-year-old boy.

Messi won every major honor with Barcelona and was granted a tearful exit news conference on Sunday to signal the end of an era. Only Cristiano Ronaldo in the current era challenges Messi’s status as an all-time great.

While PSG had to pay 222 million euros (then $261 million) to sign Neymar from Barcelona in 2017, there was no transfer fee for Messi.

No salary details were given, but a person with knowledge of the negotiations earlier told The Associated Press that Messi is set to earn around 35 million euros ($41 million) net annually. The person said on condition of anonymity before the contract was signed.

PSG will be hoping not only that Messi helps the team regain the French title it lost to Lille last season but finally win the Champions League.

Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser Al-Khelaifi praised “a historic day for the club, football world and it is a fantastic moment for us.”

“Everybody knows Leo... He makes the football magic, beautiful and he’s a winner. It will be very exciting for our supporters and the fans worldwide,” he added. ”We have big ambition.”

Messi said it was “very hard” to leave Barcelona after so many years but added “the moment I arrived here I felt very happy.”

PSG supporters have seen their club transformed over the last decade since the influx of Qatari sovereign wealth investment linked to the emir. Once Messi’s Barcelona contract expired — and the Catalan club was unable to afford to keep him — PSG was one of the few clubs that could finance a deal to sign the six-time world player of the year.

Messi will wear the No. 30 jersey — the same number he wore in his first two seasons with Barcelona before switching to No. 19 and then the prized No. 10, which Neymar gets to keep at PSG.


Saudi Arabia maintain perfect start to Asian Handball Championship and eye top spot against Iran

Saudi Arabia maintain perfect start to Asian Handball Championship and eye top spot against Iran
Updated 13 sec ago

Saudi Arabia maintain perfect start to Asian Handball Championship and eye top spot against Iran

Saudi Arabia maintain perfect start to Asian Handball Championship and eye top spot against Iran
  • Comfortable 30-13 victory over Australia in Dammam leaves hosts in good position to win group B

Saudi Arabia continued their perfect start to the 20th Asian Handball Championship with a 30-13 win over Australia at the Ministry of Sports Hall in Dammam.

The top five teams in the tournament will qualify for the 2023 World Handball Championships to be held in Poland and Sweden.

The Saudi team will face Iran — who also have maximum points after beating India 42-29 — on Thursday, knowing a win will ensure top spot in group B.

This will be a new feat for a Saudi team that has never topped its group before, having previously finished runners-up seven times, along with two third and four fourth-place finishes.

India will take on Australia in the other group match.


Eclipse nominee Jessica Pyfer set for Saudi Cup weekend appearance

Eclipse nominee Jessica Pyfer set for Saudi Cup weekend appearance
Updated 32 min 49 sec ago

Eclipse nominee Jessica Pyfer set for Saudi Cup weekend appearance

Eclipse nominee Jessica Pyfer set for Saudi Cup weekend appearance
  • Pyfer and Argentina’s Andrea Marinhas latest female riders confirmed for stc International Jockeys Challenge a day before $20m showpiece event

RIYADH: Jessica Pyfer, a rising star of the weighing room in the US, has been confirmed to ride in the stc International Jockeys Challenge next month.

The event will be held the day before the $20 million Saudi Cup at King Abdul Aziz Racetrack on Feb. 25, and is sponsored for a third year by platinum partner, stc, the digital enabler in the telecommunication industry in the Kingdom.

Pyfer, 23, who only began riding in September 2020, notched an impressive 59 winners from 557 rides in her second full season as a jockey in 2021, amassing prize money of $2.8 million.

Her achievements in such a short time have seen her nominated for an Eclipse Award, which recognizes the achievements of both horses and participants across the US thoroughbred industry.

After being confirmed for the IJC, Pyfer said: “I am super excited. It feels like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I’ve only been race-riding for about a year-and-a-half and have never competed outside the US, so for an opportunity like this to come along is pretty cool.”

She added: “I’ve spoken to Mike Smith, who has ridden in Saudi a lot, and he told me that I’ll have the time of my life, so I couldn’t be more excited,” she said.

“My season has been amazing so far and I couldn’t have ever imagined that I’d be where I am now, with both an invite to the International Jockeys Challenge at the Saudi Cup and a nomination for an Eclipse Award.”

Pyfer said: “It will be amazing to line up against so many great jockeys, and a pleasure to ride alongside some of the world’s best female jockeys.”

Joining the up-and-coming US star is Argentine rider Andrea Marinhas, who began her career in the US, and is now based there and in her native Argentina.

Marinhas, 40, has 94 career wins to her name, with 15 of those coming this season, 11 in Argentina and four in the US.

“I’m so pleased to have been invited. The first thing that came to my mind was I could be riding with many of my favorite jockeys. It will be a beautiful experience,” Marinhas said.

“My season has been great,” she said. “I lead the national and La Plata racecourse female jockeys’ statistics with 18 winners and an 18 percent strike rate, so it’s great to get some international recognition. The opportunity to compete against some of the world’s best in Saudi is massive for me.”

Pyfer and Marinhas are the second and third female jockeys confirmed to ride in the IJC, after the UK’s Hayley Turner, and will be joined by a further four female riders.

Seven male jockeys — five international and two home-based riders — will make up the 14 strong IJC field, with last year’s winner, Shane Foley, and Australia’s Glen Boss already confirmed.

The stc International Jockeys Challenge features four $400,000 handicaps, with a further $100,000 for the challenge itself and riders receiving 15 percent of prize money won.


Saudi Dania Akeel on fast track to glory after courageous eighth-place finish in Dakar Rally

Saudi Dania Akeel on fast track to glory after courageous eighth-place finish in Dakar Rally
Updated 20 January 2022

Saudi Dania Akeel on fast track to glory after courageous eighth-place finish in Dakar Rally

Saudi Dania Akeel on fast track to glory after courageous eighth-place finish in Dakar Rally
  • ‘Motorsports athlete’ is first Arab driver to claim top 10 place in punishing desert event

RIYADH: Dania Akeel is a woman in a hurry.

The Saudi racer and self-described “motorsports athlete” last year became the first Arab woman to win the World Cup for the T3 Desert Baja Rally in Italy, and added another first to her achievements by becoming the first Saudi and Arab to claim a top 10 finish in the international Dakar Rally, which finished in Jeddah on Jan. 14.

The two-week, multi-stage Dakar Rally is widely regarded as one of the toughest and most challenging motorsports events in the world.

The 2022 event held in Saudi Arabia lived up to its reputation, with most competitors happy just to have completed the demanding desert course.

For Akeel, however, there was a lot more at stake.

“At last I have achieved my goal,” she said after crossing the finish line in Jeddah in eighth place — in a historic first for herself and her Saudi homeland.

“My biggest ambition was to finish the rally, but I discovered that I had the opportunity to achieve a better result,” she said.

Akeel survived the demanding rally stages thanks to a strategy developed with the help of her experienced copilot, Uruguayan Sergio Lafontier.

“The strategic plan helped us a lot. The most important aim was to avoid mistakes and delays in order to be among the top 10in the T3 category,” she said.

“After reaching the finish line, I thanked all those who supported me in making this achievement, and especially the companies that provided all the necessary support.”

Akeel achieved her goal by meticulously executing her strategy in the second half of the rally.

After 14 days of unrelenting competition in the demanding event, she is now looking forward to further success in the 2022 season.

She expressed joy for her historic achievement and appreciation to her growing numbers of fans around the world.


Australia court rules minister acted rationally in canceling Novak Djokovic’s visa

Australia court rules minister acted rationally in canceling Novak Djokovic’s visa
Updated 20 January 2022

Australia court rules minister acted rationally in canceling Novak Djokovic’s visa

Australia court rules minister acted rationally in canceling Novak Djokovic’s visa
  • ‘An iconic world tennis star may influence people of all ages, young or old, but perhaps especially the young and the impressionable, to emulate him’

MELBOURNE: An Australian court said on Thursday it dismissed tennis superstar Novak Djokovic’s challenge to his visa cancelation as the minister who revoked it reasonably believed Djokovic, who is not vaccinated against COVID-19, may be a risk to the community.
The Federal Court also rejected the argument there was no evidence that Djokovic had ever urged anyone not to get vaccinated, saying it was open to infer that the public would perceive that he was opposed to vaccinations, since he said he had not been vaccinated.
“An iconic world tennis star may influence people of all ages, young or old, but perhaps especially the young and the impressionable, to emulate him. This is not fanciful; it does not need evidence,” the judges said.
Djokovic’s saga has fueled global debate over the rights of people who opt not to get vaccinated as governments look to protect the community from the coronavirus pandemic.
Djokovic was deported from Australia on Sunday night, just hours after the court dismissed his effort to stay in the country to play at the Australian Open, where he hoped to win a record 21st major title.
That followed an 11-day rollercoaster involving two visa cancelations, two court challenges and five nights in two stints at an immigration detention hotel where asylum seekers are held.
His lawyers had argued the cancelation should be quashed on the grounds that Immigration Minister Alex Hawke’s decision was irrational, he lacked evidence that Djokovic’s presence in Australia may stoke anti-vaccination sentiment, and had failed to consider that deporting Djokovic might inflame anti-vax sentiment.
The Federal Court said while another minister might have decided not to cancel the visa, Immigration Minister Alex Hawke had followed the right steps under the law which allows him to cancel a visa as long as he is satisfied the visa holder “may be a risk to the health or good order of the Australian community.”
“The minister reached that state of satisfaction on grounds that cannot be said to be irrational or illogical or not based on relevant material,” Chief Justice James Allsop and judges Anthony Besanko and David O’Callaghan said in their reasons handed down on Thursday.
The Serbian now risks missing the next tennis Grand Slam event — the French Open — as the country’s Sports Ministry has said there would be no exemption from a new vaccine pass law approved on Sunday.


Malaysia’s top badminton player Lee Zii Jia quits national team

Malaysia’s top badminton player Lee Zii Jia quits national team
Updated 20 January 2022

Malaysia’s top badminton player Lee Zii Jia quits national team

Malaysia’s top badminton player Lee Zii Jia quits national team
  • Lee Zii Jia being held up as the heir to Malaysian legend Lee Chong Wei

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian badminton ace Lee Zii Jia, ranked seventh in the world, has quit his country’s national team to play as an independent, reports said Thursday.
Lee has been held up as the heir to Malaysian legend Lee Chong Wei, rising rapidly up the rankings and scoring a breakthrough victory at the prestigious All England Open last year.
But the 23-year-old has performed poorly in recent months. He lost to China’s Chen Long at the Olympics and retired with an injury in the world championship quarter-finals.
After weeks of speculation, Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM) president Norza Zakaria confirmed that Malaysia’s top player had quit the body earlier this month.
“We see Zii Jia as an asset and we tried to persuade him (to stay) because we have groomed him since he was 13,” he was cited as saying by The Star newspaper.
“Now that he has reached this stage, winning the All England, we certainly didn’t want to lose him because he has a bright future.”
“However, he told us that he’s no Lee Chong Wei and he cannot cope with the pressure,” added Norza.
BAM did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
It was not clear why Lee cut ties with the body, and there was no immediate comment from the player, but he could face sanctions.
Previously, BAM banned Tan Chun Seang from playing in Asian countries for two years after he quit the national team.
However world number one Viktor Axelsen of Denmark voiced support for Lee’s decision.
“If a player ... feels it’s best for him to follow another path where he is more independent as a player, then that is what he should do,” tweeted the Olympic gold medalist.
“It’s his career and his life after all.”
Badminton is one of the few sports in which Malaysia performs well internationally.
Three-time Olympic silver medalist Lee Chong Wei, who retired in 2019, was one of the greatest players of his generation.