Lloris hoping for Nations League joy for Griezmann on his 100th cap

Lloris hoping for Nations League joy for Griezmann on his 100th cap
France’s Antoine Griezmann and Adrien Rabiot react as they arrive to attend a training session at the Olympic stadium in Turin two days prior to UEFA Nations League’s final between Spain and France. (AFP)
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Updated 09 October 2021

Lloris hoping for Nations League joy for Griezmann on his 100th cap

Lloris hoping for Nations League joy for Griezmann on his 100th cap

MILAN: Hugo Lloris said Saturday that he hopes France can give Antoine Griezmann a fitting way to celebrate his 100th international appearance by winning the Nations League.
Les Bleus head into Sunday’s final at the San Siro with Spain after a thrilling semifinal win over the world’s top-ranked team Belgium, and Lloris was full of praise for Griezmann, one of an all-star attacking trident which also includes Kylian Mbappe and Karim Benzema.
“It’s impressive, it shows how important he is for our team, and how much trust the coach and his teammates put on him,” said captain Lloris.
“I really hope we’re all happy after the final to celebrate his 100th game.”
France are in good spirits thanks to their last-gasp 3-2 win on Thursday at Juventus’ Allianz Stadium, but have had to deal with Lucas Digne’s muscle injury and Adrien Rabiot testing positive for Covid-19.
Juve midfielder Rabiot was left in Turin after his result came through on Saturday morning, and Lloris said that players did feel some anxiety about the virus despite the worst of the pandemic appearing to be over.
“We are sad for Adrien, it’s always disappointing to see a teammate leaving, especially for a final,” said Lloris.
“There is always this cloud above us before games, we always have to get tested as Covid is still there. Unfortunately we need to keep protecting ourselves in order to work as best we can.”
Coach Didier Deschamps said that fear of the virus “is still there” after learning of Rabiot’s test result just before they departed for Milan.
“We did a quick test when we got to Milan and everybody is negative. We only have 21 players but they should all be fit and available tomorrow,” he told reporters.
Spain coach Luis Enrique said that France were “the best team in the world, looking at individuals” but seemed confident after watching his team beat European champions Italy on their own patch on Wednesday.
“Football is a great sport in which the team that plays best wins, and I hope that’s the case for us tomorrow,” he told reporters.
The former Barcelona coach is expected to pick a similar team to the one which impressed in their 2-1 win over the Azzurri at the San Siro, with teen sensation Gavi set to start his second match for La Roja after becoming his country’s youngest ever senior international earlier this week.
However Luis Enrique could be without Ferran Torres, whose double sank Italy, as he is still recovering from a foot injury picked up in that semifinal victory.


Female referee at men’s World Cup wants the game to shine

Female referee at men’s World Cup wants the game to shine
Updated 28 June 2022

Female referee at men’s World Cup wants the game to shine

Female referee at men’s World Cup wants the game to shine
  • Yamashita is one of three women picked by FIFA to be referees at the men’s World Cup in Qatar, which opens on Nov. 21

TOKYO: Japanese referee Yoshimi Yamashita agrees with Pelé or whoever it was decades ago that first described soccer as the “beautiful game.”
Yamashita is one of three women picked by FIFA to be referees at the men’s World Cup in Qatar, which opens on Nov. 21. It’s the first time a woman will be in charge on soccer’s largest stage.
She sees her job this way: Let the game shine, as it should.
“One of the big goals as a referee is to bring out the the attractiveness of soccer,” she said Monday in Tokyo in an interview with the Associated Press. “I do my best for that, and I will do what I should at that time toward that end. So if I need to communicate with the players, I will do that. If I need to show a card, I will show a card. Rather than control, I’m thinking about what to do toward the big goal of bringing out the appeal of soccer.”
Stéphanie Frappart of France and Salima Mukansanga of Rwanda are the other women who were selected. There are 36 referees in total. FIFA has also named three female assistant referees in a pool of 69: Neuza Back of Brazil, Karen Diaz Medina of Mexico, and Kathryn Nesbitt of the United States.
Though it’s likely all three will be in charge of games, it’s not a given. They would also be used as so-called “fourth referees” on the sidelines. However, they cannot be used as assistants.
“Each match official will be carefully monitored in the next months with a final assessment on technical, physical and medical aspects to be made shortly before the World Cup,” Massimo Busacca, FIFA’s director of refereeing, said in a statement.
Yamashita’s selection puts the focus on Japan’s low ranking on most measures of equal pay for women, and in global studies of gender equality.
Only 14.3 percent of the seats in Japan’s national legislature are held by women — 152nd of 190 countries in a study published several months ago by the US Congressional Research Service. Another study on the gender pay gap placed Japan 120th of 156 countries.
“I would be very happy if women could play an active role in sports in this way, and if sports and especially soccer could lead this,” Yamashita said. “In Japan, there is still a long way to go in the world of soccer (regarding participation of women), so it would be great if this could connect to promotion of female participation in different ways, not only in soccer or in sports.”
Women’s soccer has led the way in Japan. Japanese women won the 2011 women’s World Cup, were runners-up in 2015, and have been been consistently among the game’s elite teams.
Yamashita went through a workout on Monday just outside Tokyo, sweltering in temperatures that reached 35 C (95 F). She laughed when she was reminded that games in Qatar — located on a tip of the Arabian Peninsula — will be much cooler, being played in the Northern Hemisphere winter and in air-conditioned stadiums.
Yamashita seemed relaxed during the interview, removed from the obvious pressure. She has been a referee in Japan’s men’s J League, and has also been in charge of the Asian equivalent of the men’s Champions League. She also handled matches during last year’s Tokyo Olympics.
“Of course, I think the pressure is huge,” she said, “and I think I have a lot of responsibility. But I am really happy to take this duty and pressure, so I try to take it positively and I try to be happy.”
She described the excitement of leaving the waiting room just before a match.
“I guess it cheers me up in that moment. I feel like that’s when I switch gears the most,” she said.
She said the difference in the men’s and women’s game was, of course, speed. But not simply that some men might run faster.
“It’s the speed, but not just the players’ speed,” she said. “Not the ball speed. It’s just the game speed. It means for me I have to make quicker decisions — more speed.”
Yamashita conducted most of the interview in Japanese, but said she would use English and “facial gestures, body gestures” when communicating with players in Qatar.
“Usually when I give a card, I say nothing,” she said, shifting to English. “But when I give a warning, I just tell them I’m not happy. They understand.”


Glory for Al-Hilal as win over Al-Faisaly secures third Saudi Pro League title in row

Glory for Al-Hilal as win over Al-Faisaly secures third Saudi Pro League title in row
Updated 1 min 43 sec ago

Glory for Al-Hilal as win over Al-Faisaly secures third Saudi Pro League title in row

Glory for Al-Hilal as win over Al-Faisaly secures third Saudi Pro League title in row
  • The 2-1 win meant Ramon Diaz’s team could not be caught by Al-Ittihad, who ended the season in disappointing fashion with 0-0 draw again Al-Batin

RIYADH: Al-Hilal defeated Al-Faisaly 2-1 in Riyadh on Monday night to be crowned champions of Saudi Arabia for a record-extending 18th time. They finished two points clear of rivals Al-Ittihad, who were held to a goalless draw by Al-Batin. Meanwhile, the defeat doomed Al-Faisaly to relegation.

Two goals from the league’s leading scorer, Odion Ighalo, gave coach Ramon Diaz’s team an 11th win in their last 12 games as they secured the top spot for a third successive season in a campaign that was the longest in league history, after kicking off in August last year.

It is a fantastic achievement for the Asian champions, who trailed Al-Ittihad by 16 points in February when coach Ramon Diaz took over.

Ighalo’s 22nd goal of the season, after just seven minutes, eased any early Al-Hilal nerves at the King Fahd International Stadium. The former Manchester United striker turned and fired home from close range after a smart pull-back from Brazil’s Michael.

The second strike, four minutes after the hour, came from a similar move: This time Michael beat two defenders on the right and squared the ball to Ighalo, who swept home.

The game, and the title race, seemed to be all over but then, with 20 minutes remaining, the visitors silenced the already celebrating home crowd when substitute Clayson arrived late to meet a perfect Khalid Al-Kabi cross from the right and send a powerful header past Abdullah Al-Mayouf.

Suddenly there were signs of tension among the home fans as Al-Faisaly, who needed a result to guarantee top-tier football next season, pushed forward in search of an equalizer and a potentially decisive point.

The closest the men from Dammam came was deep into injury time, when a shot from Julio Tavares was cleared off the line — with the visitors claiming a hand had been used. This has been a season with plenty of last-minute drama and hearts were in mouths as Greek referee Anastasios Sidiropoulos studied the pitchside monitor. He waved away the desperate Al-Faisaly appeals and, after no less than 10 minutes of added time, it was all over.

It was a frantic end to a frantic season and the celebrations reflected the champion’s relief and delight at one of their more unlikely title triumphs.

The victory meant that that there was nothing Al-Ittihad could do in Jeddah, because Al-Hilal had the better head-to-head record. Nevertheless, the former’s goalless draw with Al-Batin was a disappointing end to a campaign that promised so much.

The Tigers dropped 13 points in their final eight games, a run that cost them what would have been their first title since 2009. They huffed and puffed against Al-Batin, who narrowly avoided relegation, but were unable to break the deadlock.

It was a terrible night all round for Jeddah clubs as 2016 champions Al-Ahli were relegated to the second tier for the first time in club history. A goalless draw against fourth-place Al-Shabab condemned the 2012 Asian Champions League finalists to the drop.

It was a tense 90 minutes at the bottom half of the table on Monday, with seven teams facing the possibility of the drop going into the final game. But when the dust had settled, it was Al-Faisaly, Al-Ahli and Al-Hazm who were relegated.

Al-Taawoun ensured their survival with a 1-1 draw at Damac, who finished in fifth position, while Al-Tai guaranteed their safety with a 3-0 win over Al-Hazm, their third victory in four games. Al-Raed defeated Abha 1-0, a result that ensured the top flight survival of both teams, while Ettifaq scrambled to safety thanks to a 1-0 win at Al-Feiha.

Al-Nassr ended their season in third place after a 2-1 win over Al-Fateh but it was elsewhere in Riyadh where the real celebrations, and the strains of “We Are The Champions,” could be heard.


World number two Jabeur into Wimbledon second round

World number two Jabeur into Wimbledon second round
Updated 27 June 2022

World number two Jabeur into Wimbledon second round

World number two Jabeur into Wimbledon second round
  • She will face either Rebecca Marino of Canada or Poland’s Katarzyna Kawa for a place in the last 32

LONDON: World number two Ons Jabeur eased into the Wimbledon second round on Monday with a 6-1, 6-3 win over Swedish qualifier Mirjam Bjorklund.
Jabeur, a quarter-finalist in 2021 and fresh from the grass-court title in Berlin, will face either Rebecca Marino of Canada or Poland’s Katarzyna Kawa for a place in the last 32.


2022 AFC U-23 Asian Cup, women’s team triumphs highlight Saudi football progress

2022 AFC U-23 Asian Cup, women’s team triumphs highlight Saudi football progress
Saudi Arabia recently won the 2022 AFC U-23 Asian Cup in Uzbekistan. (SAFF)
Updated 27 June 2022

2022 AFC U-23 Asian Cup, women’s team triumphs highlight Saudi football progress

2022 AFC U-23 Asian Cup, women’s team triumphs highlight Saudi football progress
  • The Young Falcons won the Kingdom’s debut U-23 Asian Cup title
  • Saudi women’s team took second pace in the WAFF Futsal Championship

RIYADH: The triumph of the Young Falcons at the 2022 AFC U-23 Asian Cup and the recent successes of the women’s national team has marked yet more milestones for Saudi Arabian football this year, after the senior team qualified for the World Cup in Qatar and the Kingdom’s clubs rack up great results in continental competitions.

Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF) President Yasser Al-Misehal said: “The success of the Saudi national teams demonstrates that our strategy is yielding positive results. Bringing back to the Kingdom the AFC U-23 Asian Cup for the first time ever with our very own Saudi national coach, Saad Al-Shehri, is a source of great pride and satisfaction.

“The players who achieved this great feat will be part of the main drivers of the success of our National Team going forward.”

He added: “This gives us greater confidence and trust in our younger generation, beside the achievements we had this year for both men’s and women’s football. We are working on developing a pathway tailored for every up-and-coming Saudi footballer on the grassroots level.

“We are working on extending a very large pool of Saudi talent with the support needed for the upcoming generations of Saudi football to match the highest professional levels of the game, be it in the technical and tactical aspects of the game, as well as the dietary, psychological, physical and athletic aspects.”

The U-23 victory comes soon after the senior Green Falcons team qualified for their sixth World Cup participation ahead of this year’s tournament in Qatar. Herve Renard’s team topped their qualification group, which featured continental giants such as Japan and Australia.

The Saudi Pro League continues to grow in quality and importance at the Asian level, with Al-Hilal currently the holders of the AFC Champions League title. This year, three Saudi teams are set to feature in the competition’s round of 16, with Al-Hilal, Al-Shabab and Al-Faisaly having topped their respective groups in the first round.

Earlier this month, the Saudi Futsal National Team also grabbed the silver medal in the West Asian Football Federation’s Futsal Championship. The Green Falcons demonstrated incredible quality throughout the tournament, before narrowly losing 5-3 to hosts Kuwait in the final. The team continued their fine run of form on the road reaching the quarterfinals in the Futsal Arab Cup taking place in Dammam following a thrilling 3-2 encounter against Iraq that ended their campaign.

Saudi women have also enjoyed their fair share of success in football this year. In February, the newly launched Saudi Women’s National Team played its first ever official games against the Seychelles and the Maldives, winning both games with the same 2-0 result. 

The Kingdom concluded their successful hosting of the 2022 West Asian Football Federation’s Women’s Futsal Championship in Jeddah, where the Saudi Women’s Futsal National Team made its debut in the competition and claimed a silver medal following a 4-2 defeat in the final against Iraq.


WWE RAW to mark 20th anniversary of John Cena’s debut

WWE RAW to mark 20th anniversary of John Cena’s debut
Updated 27 June 2022

WWE RAW to mark 20th anniversary of John Cena’s debut

WWE RAW to mark 20th anniversary of John Cena’s debut
  • June 2022 had been dedicated to the legendary wrestler’s arrival on SmackDown two decades ago

RIYADH: Twenty years on from John Cena’s arrival on SmackDown, the legendary wrestler makes an appearance on RAW tonight, the highlight of the WWE’s month-long celebration of his career.

Cena has since those early days become a household name in the WWE, and is widely regarded as one of the greatest professional wrestlers of all time. The WWE had dedicated the month of June 2022 to the performer.

While his return opponent is yet to be announced, the WWE Universe is in for an action-packed edition of the red brand as Cena steps into the ring for a landmark match tonight.

A joint-record 16-time world champion, Cena has won the WWE Championship 13 times which is also a record. He is also a five-time US Champion, a four-time world tag team champion, a two-time Royal Rumble match winner, a one-time Money in the Bank victor, and has headlined many major WWE events, including WrestleMania five times.

His first US title win was in New York’s Madison Square Garden, opening the 20th edition of WrestleMania in 2004, and delivering two “Attitude Adjustments” to the “Big Show” Paul White. That moment solidified his status as a rising attraction for the promotion.

A year later at WrestleMania 21 Cena would challenge John Bradshaw Layfield (JBL) for the main event which marked the first world championship win for “The Champ.” His “I Quit” match against the former champion at Judgement Day in 2005 is still considered a classic.

The main event of WrestleMania 22 in 2006 saw John Cena beat “The Game” Triple H clean in the middle of the ring to retain his title. One year later WrestleMania 23 featured the now dominant WWE champion rise against D-Generation X counterpart and one of the greatest wrestlers of all time — “Mr. WrestleMania” Shawn Michaels.

The Royal Rumble is one of the biggest events on the WWE calendar, and Cena has been involved in many epic showdowns in that event, prevailing in 2008 and 2013 as the winner.

Many fans consider Edge to be Cena’s fiercest rival and their feud certainly elevated both men to new heights. Edge memorably cashed in his Money in the Bank briefcase on a wounded Cena at New Year’s Revolution 2006 for his first WWE Championship win. Edge and Cena’s rivalry saw the two battle over the WWE Championship for the majority of 2006, and over the World Heavyweight Title in 2009. Their matches captivated WWE audiences, and both superstars have an outstanding 27 World Titles between them.

Cena has also crossed paths with Randy Orton numerous times in his career. During the 2000s the two were believed to be the top stars in the WWE. Between their first match in November 2005 and their last match in February of 2017, Cena and Orton faced each other 22 times in televised matches. The record between the two men is 13-7 in favor of Cena.

Cena faced the Rock for the first time at WrestleMania 28 in what was billed as a “Once In A Lifetime” match. The Rock defeated Cena in a 30-minute classic, but a year later Cena shocked the world at WrestleMania 29 by defeating the Rock for the WWE Championship.

Cena is also a winner of the Sports Illustrated Muhammad Ali Legacy Award for 2018.