Pakistan and India renew cricket rivalry in T20 World Cup blockbuster

Pakistan and India renew cricket rivalry in T20 World Cup blockbuster
Indian cricket fans in New Delhi perform prayers wishing the victory of their team ahead of their ICC T20 World Cup 2021 match against Pakistan in Dubai on Oct. 24, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 02 November 2021

Pakistan and India renew cricket rivalry in T20 World Cup blockbuster

Pakistan and India renew cricket rivalry in T20 World Cup blockbuster
  • Virat Kohli’s India have beaten Pakistan in all of their 12 matches at the T20 and 50-over World Cups

DUBAI: India and Pakistan renew their high-profile but one-sided cricket rivalry on Sunday in a T20 World Cup blockbuster watched by hundreds of millions of fans across the globe.
Virat Kohli’s India have beaten Pakistan in all of their 12 matches at the T20 and 50-over World Cups.
Pakistan, however, go into the contest with 10 wins in a row in the United Arab Emirates, their home away from home for most of the last decade.
It will be the first time the two nations have clashed since the 50-over World Cup in 2019.
Of the 12 World Cup losses for Pakistan, five have been at the T20 tournament.
Two were at the inaugural event in 2007 — a tied group game decided by a ‘bowl-out’ and a five-run loss in the final.
“To be honest, what has passed is beyond us,” said Pakistan captain Babar Azam on Saturday. “Records are meant to be broken.”
The tickets for the match in Dubai were sold out within hours after the UAE government allowed a 70 percent crowd for World Cup matches in a relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions.
The South Asian nuclear rivals have only played in multi-national events like World Cups and the Champions Trophy as strained relations have stalled bilateral cricket since 2007.
Pakistan did tour India in 2012 for five limited-over matches but ties were not fully resumed as the two nations continued to be at loggerheads over multiple issues, with the disputed region of Kashmir and terrorism heading the list.
“The matches between Pakistan and India are always full of intensity so we need to perform well in all three departments of the game,” said Babar, who has two T20 International centuries to his name in 2021.
Kohli, who steps down as India T20 skipper at the end of the World Cup, described Pakistan as being “very strong.”
He also shrugged off the significance of his side’s dominance.
“These things create distractions. What matters is how we prepare and execute on any particular day, regardless of the opposition,” he said.
“You have to play your best cricket against them, because they have lots of talent and players who can change the game.”
Expatriate fans of both Pakistan and India gathered at the Dubai International Stadium desperate to witness what has become a rare sporting clash.
“We should play each other more often. It is such a treat to see these two teams on the cricket field,” Mohammad Ashraf, a Pakistan national working in the United Arab Emirates, told AFP.
Pankhuri Raj Mehta, an Indian who has worked in Abu Dhabi since 2017, added: “I brought a ticket for the game as soon as it went online. I mean you look forward to these contests, especially when you are far away from home.”
Babar, Mohammad Rizwan and Fakhar Zaman will be key to Pakistan’s batting hopes while quicks Shaheen Shah Afridi and Hasan Ali lead a potent bowling attack.
India, who bowed out of the semifinals in the previous edition in 2016, outplayed England and Australia in their two warm-up matches in Dubai with top batsmen KL Rahul and Rohit Sharma scoring half-centuries.
The pace attack led by Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah is a danger to all sides.
Premier spinner Ravichandran Ashwin dismissed Australia’s David Warner and Mitchell Marsh off successive deliveries in their last warm-up game.
Kohli backed his team’s match winners including Hardik Pandya to come good in the tournament despite the all-rounder struggling with his bowling.
“He is getting better in terms of getting prepared to bowl two overs for us,” said Kohli.
India and 2009 champions Pakistan are placed in Group 2 of the Super 12 stage of the tournament along with New Zealand, Afghanistan, Scotland and Namibia.
The top two in each of the two pools progress to the semifinals.
Despite the anticipation ahead of the game, the political soundtrack is also playing in the background.
During the week, there were protests in India with calls to boycott the match in the wake of recent killings of 11 migrant workers and minority Hindus and Sikhs in Indian-administered Kashmir.
Before India took on Pakistan, the World Cup schedule on Sunday got underway with another all-South Asian clash with 2014 champions Sri Lanka facing Bangladesh.

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Outrageous 5-5 draw between Damac and Al-Fateh shows star quality extends beyond Saudi Pro League’s elite

Outrageous 5-5 draw between Damac and Al-Fateh shows star quality extends beyond Saudi Pro League’s elite
Updated 27 November 2021

Outrageous 5-5 draw between Damac and Al-Fateh shows star quality extends beyond Saudi Pro League’s elite

Outrageous 5-5 draw between Damac and Al-Fateh shows star quality extends beyond Saudi Pro League’s elite
  • Two days after Al-Hilal’s AFC Champions League triumph, the highest scoring match in SPL history played out between two of its less successful teams

Al-Hilal defeated Pohang Steelers 2-0 on Tuesday to win the AFC Champions League. It was a record fourth title for the Riyadh club and a feather in the cap of Saudi Arabian football, which is going through something of a purple patch at the moment in both club and international football. It was a comfortable win without the drama of some past continental finals.

Only a day later, however, two Saudi teams played to a match that left those who saw it rubbing their eyes in disbelief?

Alex Ferguson was famously exasperated after Manchester United scored twice in the dying moments of the 1999 UEFA Champions League final to come from behind to defeat Barcelona 2-1. He stunned the reporters with his direct quip.

But what would the Scot have said if he’d seen the breathtaking 5-5 draw between Damac and Al-Fateh on Thursday? Not only was it the highest scoring match in the history of the Saudi Professional League, but it arguably must be ranked among one of the best too. What is for certain is that it is the most exciting match of the season so far.

OK, some of the defending may not be studied in the upper echelons of world football anytime soon, even if the backlines were better than you may expect from looking at the scoreline, but it was a game that showed the strength in depth in the top tier of Saudi Arabian football. It also revealed the range of entertainment on offer in the league. Some of the attacking play was thrilling, plenty of the goals were out of the top drawer.

As a spectacle, it was astonishing. Al-Fateh were a team that had lost the previous three games and were sitting firmly in the bottom half of the table and concerned with not getting sucked into a relegation battle. They came up against a team in second but one that was only in their third ever season in the top tier with the first two being battles against relegation.

But first, let’s look at the game, though this may take some time with all the goals. In just the third minute, Carlos Cueva was given the freedom of the Damac area after a fantastic run and pass from right-back Nawaf Boushal and the Peruvian forward stabbed home the opener for Al-Fateh. Just 13 minutes later, the visitors were ahead thanks to two goals from Hillel Soudani. The Algerian cut in from the right, twisted and turned defenders on the edge of the area and then fired a precise left-footed shot into the corner. Soon after, he shot home a rebound with more power and Damac were ahead.

Within moments however, the hosts had equalised thanks to Ali Al-Zaqan. The initial goal had been ruled offside but VAR rightly overturned the decision. On the stroke of half-time, Damac struck again to go in at the break with a 3-2 advantage. It was another impressive strike. The ball fell to Felipe Augusto about 30 meters away from goal and the Brazilian’s low shot was fired into the bottom corner. Both teams continued to have excellent chances but when Mijo Caktas extended Damac’s lead just after the hour, it looked as if that was that. The Croatian skipped past a challenge outside the area and scored with another long-range shot that perhaps the goalkeeper, who was partially unsighted, should have kept out.

Al-Fateh had always looked dangerous however and pulled a goal back after 69 minutes after another Croatian made the scoresheet. Ivan Santini knew little about his strike as the goalkeeper’s save bounced off his chest and in. With 15 minutes remaining it was 4-4. A Damac hand in the box gave Al-Fateh a penalty and Cueva got his second.

Within seconds, amazingly, Al-Fateh were ahead thanks to Firas Al-Buraikan. The Saudi Arabian international could not miss from close range after a perfect cross from Murad Batna and so the hosts had come back from 4-2 down to be 5-4 ahead. This was surely one of the greatest comebacks and games in the league’s history.

But Damac were not finished. With 11 minutes still on the clock it was 5-5 as Emilio Zelaya scored another goal from outside the area.

“It was a very strange game,” said Al-Fateh president Saad Al-Afaliq. “We even could have won it late on had Firas Al-Buraikan had scored late in the game. We have had a few injuries but are now getting up to the right levels of fitness and condition.”

The point initially put Damac on top of the league but just two hours later, Al-Shabab defeated Al-Raed 3-0 to go into pole position. A first half goal from Moteb Al-Harbi was added to in the second half by Ever Banega and Carlos Carvalho. It is quite a turnaround for a club that won just one of their first six games of the season and were rumored to be thinking about firing coach Pericles Chamusca.

Now they are top and the title race is going to be something special. Al-Ittihad can return to the summit on Sunday and then Al-Hilal have several games in hand but are in fourth place. The season is shaping up to be an exciting one, but whatever happens, there won’t be a more exciting game than the 10-goal thriller witnessed on Thursday.


Djokovic helps Serbia past Austria at Davis Cup Finals

Djokovic helps Serbia past Austria at Davis Cup Finals
Updated 26 November 2021

Djokovic helps Serbia past Austria at Davis Cup Finals

Djokovic helps Serbia past Austria at Davis Cup Finals
  • Djokovic beat Dennis Novak 6-3, 6-2 to give Serbia a 2-0 lead over host Austria
  • The victory extended Djokovic's winning streak in Davis Cup singles matches to 15

DUBAI: Top-ranked Novak Djokovic secured a victory for Serbia, 40-year-old Feliciano Lopez got defending champion Spain off to a solid start.
And a young Italian team rolled past the 32-time champion United States in the Davis Cup Finals on Friday.
Djokovic beat Dennis Novak 6-3, 6-2 to give Serbia a 2-0 lead over host Austria in Innsbruck after Dusan Lajovic had defeated Gerald Melzer in three sets to open the best-of-three series in Group F.
The victory extended Djokovic's winning streak in Davis Cup singles matches to 15.
“It feels great to play for Serbia again," said Djokovic, who helped his country win the Davis Cup in 2010 but more recently failed to win a medal in either singles or mixed doubles at the Tokyo Olympics. “It’s been a long year but you always find motivation playing for your country."
Djokovic won seven consecutive games from 3-3 in the first set to take control.
“I’m really pleased with the way I ended the match today,” he said.
Djokovic had also been scheduled to play in a potentially decisive doubles match but then was replaced by Nikola Cacic after winning his singles match.
Lopez gave Spain an early lead over Ecuador in Group A with a 6-3, 6-3 win over Roberto Quiroz at home in Madrid. Then Pablo Carreno Busta edged Emilio Gomez 5-7, 6-3, 7-6 (5).
Lopez was thrust into singles action when Carlos Alcaraz had to be dropped from the team after testing positive for the coronavirus on Thursday, as Spain was already without injured Rafael Nadal and Roberto Bautista Agut.
The United States, meanwhile, got off to a rough start against host Italy in Turin. Lorenzo Sonego beat Reilly Opelka 6-3, 7-6 (4) in his home city in Group E and then Jannik Sinner dominated against John Isner 6-2, 6-0.
Each matchup on indoor hard courts is a best-of-three series featuring two singles and one doubles match. The six group winners plus the two second-place teams with the best records based on sets and games will advance to the quarterfinals.
The semifinals and final will be played in Madrid.
Lopez, who was once ranked as high as No. 12, has fallen outside the top 100 in both singles and doubles. His career has gone on for so long that he has already started his post-playing career, having been named the Madrid Open tournament director.
“I still have the passion for the game. This is obvious,” Lopez said. “I’ve been waiting for an opportunity like this. I didn’t expect to be playing but many things happened this week. … I ended up playing a great match.”
The big-serving Opelka double-faulted to hand Sonego the only break of their match and then made a few more errors in the tiebreaker as the Italian closed it out with a volley winner on his first match point.
Isner held serve only twice against the 20-year-old Sinner, a new top-10 entrant.


FIFA says opponents of 2-year World Cup fear losing top spot

FIFA says opponents of 2-year World Cup fear losing top spot
Updated 26 November 2021

FIFA says opponents of 2-year World Cup fear losing top spot

FIFA says opponents of 2-year World Cup fear losing top spot
  • “Those who are against are those who are at the top,” Infantino told officials

GENEVA: Opponents of FIFA’s push for World Cups every two years seem scared of being toppled from the top of world soccer, its president Gianni Infantino said on Friday.
Infantino’s speech to African soccer leaders was a clear criticism of Europe and South America which have dominated every World Cup and are threatening a boycott of biennial men’s tournaments.
“Those who are against are those who are at the top,” Infantino told officials from the 54-nation Confederation of African Football meeting in Cairo.
“It happens in every sector of life, when there are reforms and changes, those who are at the top don’t want anything to change,” said Infantino, who was a long-time senior official at UEFA until being elected FIFA president in 2016. “They are afraid, maybe, that if something changes their leadership position is at risk.”
Europe and South America have provided every team to play in all 21 World Cup finals since the first in 1930, and their historical strength has earned them at least 18 of the 32 entries at the 2022 edition in Qatar.
“We understand that and we compliment and applaud them for having been so successful in reaching the top,” Infantino said. “This is fantastic and they are an example for everyone. But at the same time we cannot close the door (to others).”
No African team has reached a men’s World Cup semifinal and the continent has just five of the 32 entries. That rises to at least nine when the 48-team tournament debuts in 2026.
Infantino has pushed for biennial World Cups to help other regions develop and close the gap — by giving nations more chances to qualify and players more chances to perform on the biggest stage.
An extra men’s World Cup in a four-year cycle would likely add around $3 billion at current levels to FIFA income and increase funding to its 211 member federations and six continental bodies.
“It is our responsibility to keep the dream open to give opportunities to everyone,” the FIFA leader said.
Still, the backlash from all levels of European soccer since FIFA formally detailed its biennial plan in September led Infantino to say last month that any changes must be reached by consensus without doing harm to the game.
European and South American soccer officials see threats to the status of their own continental and domestic competitions, and an increased workload for players.
Infantino hinted again on Friday that a modified tournament could be a solution to getting wider support.
“Will it be with the World Cup or will it be in another way?” he told members of CAF, which is currently the continental body most closely aligned with FIFA. “We have to study, of course, all this.”
Annual 48-team youth tournaments, instead of the two-yearly World Cups for men and women at under-20 and under-17 level, are also part of FIFA’s plan to develop soccer.
It was detailed in Cairo by Arsène Wenger, the former Arsenal coach who is FIFA director of global development.
Infantino warned of losing a generation of youth players whose birth year falls at the wrong time in the current cycle of tournaments.
FIFA has organized an online summit of its 211 members on Dec. 20 to discuss a strategy for future tournaments.
No vote on biennial World Cups is expected then amid the current opposition, which includes a show of unity by UEFA and South American soccer body CONMEBOL. They have created a shared office in London that opens next month.


Covid cases force Nagelsmann into a reshuffle at Bayern Munich

Covid cases force Nagelsmann into a reshuffle at Bayern Munich
Updated 26 November 2021

Covid cases force Nagelsmann into a reshuffle at Bayern Munich

Covid cases force Nagelsmann into a reshuffle at Bayern Munich
  • Bayern head coach Julian Nageslmann still has plenty of talent available against second-from-bottom Bielefeld
  • Midfielders Michael Cuisance, Serge Gabry and Jamal Musiala are quarantining as contact cases but defenders Niklas Suele and Josip Stanisic returned to training

BERLIN: Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich must reshuffle their starting side — with five players in quarantine — before hosting struggling Arminia Bielefeld on Saturday in a final tune-up ahead of their top-of-the-table clash at Dortmund.
Bielefeld earned a 3-3 draw when the clubs met in Munich last February and have picked up four points from their last two league games.
Yet even with a host of stars sidelined, Bayern head coach Julian Nageslmann still has plenty of talent available against second-from-bottom Bielefeld.
“We are concentrating on the players who are there — the four World Cup winners and nine Champions League winners,” Bielefeld coach Frank Kramer quipped drily.
Bayern are missing midfielder Joshua Kimmich and back-up striker Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, who also miss next weekend’s clash at second-placed Dortmund after both tested positive for Covid-19.
Midfielders Michael Cuisance, Serge Gabry and Jamal Musiala are also quarantining at home as contact cases, but defenders Niklas Suele and Josip Stanisic returned to training on Wednesday after previously testing positive.
A shock defeat at Augsburg trimmed Bayern’s lead in the table to just a single point ahead of Dortmund.
Record numbers of coronavirus cases in Germany this week means a tightening of hygiene rules at Bundesliga stadiums.
Bayern’s Allianz Arena will be at 25 percent capacity — up to 18,745 — on Saturday.
There will be reduced capacity at all grounds, apart from RB Leipzig, who must play behind closed doors against Leverkusen on Sunday due to restrictions in Saxony.
A crowd of 13,000 is expected at Wolfsburg, who host a Dortmund side licking their wounds after their mid-week Champions League exit.
A 3-1 loss at Sporting Lisbon was Dortmund’s third straight European defeat, blocking their route to the knock-out stages and consigning them to the Europa League.
Failing to reach the Champions League’s last 16 will cost Dortmund around 9.5 million euros ($11 million).
“It’s not only a setback financially, but it also hurts from a sporting perspective and image,” said sports director Michael Zorc.
Dortmund still have star forward Erling Braut Haaland sidelined by a hip injury, but hope Youssoufa Moukoko, 17, can return after missing nine of their last ten games with knocks.
Belgium winger Thorgan Hazard is out after testing positive for Covid last Monday.
Fresh from thrashing Brugge 5-0 in the Champions League, RB Leipzig can break into the top six with a home win Sunday against fourth-placed Leverkusen.
Leipzig are missing Spanish playmaker Dani Olmo, 23, who tore a thigh muscle last weekend, a latest injury setback for the Spain midfielder who has been blighted by knocks since playing in both this summer’s Euro 2020 finals and Tokyo Olympics.
Leizpig’s erratic form this season has not affected the 24-year-old whose 13 goals and 11 assists means he must soon be knocking on the door of selection for France.
Usually a winger, Nkunku, 24, shone with two goals and an assist in the thrashing of Brugge after moving across to attacking midfield.


Italy and Portugal drawn in same World Cup playoffs bracket

Italy and Portugal drawn in same World Cup playoffs bracket
Updated 26 November 2021

Italy and Portugal drawn in same World Cup playoffs bracket

Italy and Portugal drawn in same World Cup playoffs bracket
  • Italy will face North Macedonia at home in a playoff semifinal next March
  • The winner will play away at either Portugal or Turkey for a spot in the World Cup

ZURICH: European champion Italy and Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal were drawn in the same World Cup qualifying playoffs bracket Friday, meaning at least one of them will miss next year’s tournament in Qatar.
Italy will face North Macedonia at home in a playoff semifinal next March, and the winner will play away at either Portugal or Turkey for a spot in the World Cup.
Italy failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup — losing in the playoffs to Sweden — and now will likely have to beat Ronaldo and Portugal to avoid missing the tournament for a second straight time. Portugal has always qualified during Ronaldo’s career. He first played at the 2006 World Cup.
Also in the 12-team draw, Scotland will face Ukraine at home, and the winner will play at Wales or Austria in the final of their bracket.
Russia will host Poland for the right to face Sweden or the Czech Republic in their bracket final. Russia or Poland will host the final.
The six playoff semifinals will be played as single-leg elimination games March 24. The three finals are played five days later.
The three winners will complete Europe’s entry of 13 nations in the 32-team lineup in Qatar.
FIFA will make the tournament draw on April 1 in Doha.
The playoffs feature the 10 teams who finished second in their qualifying groups along with two teams — Austria and the Czechs — who won Nations League groups last year.