Bayern to ring changes for Barca match behind closed doors

Bayern to ring changes for Barca match behind closed doors
Bayern's head coach Julian Nagelsmann gestures as he arrives for a training session prior to the Champions League group E soccer match between Bayern Munich and FC Barcelona in Munich, Germany, Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021. (AP)
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Updated 07 December 2021

Bayern to ring changes for Barca match behind closed doors

Bayern to ring changes for Barca match behind closed doors
  • Barcelona are second in Group E, but need a win at the Allianz Arena, which will be void of supporters due to high numbers of Covid-19 cases in Bavaria, to guarantee a last 16 spot

MUNICH: Injuries will force Bayern Munich coach Julian Nagelsmann to make changes for Wednesday’s Champions League match at home to Barcelona behind closed doors.

Bayern are already into the last 16 as group winners, but want a sixth win from six games in the group stages when they host Barcelona, who they trounced 3-0 at the Camp Nou in September.

Barcelona are second in Group E, but need a win at the Allianz Arena, which will be void of supporters due to high numbers of Covid-19 cases in Bavaria, to guarantee a last 16 spot.

Nagelsmann still plans to field “the best available” Bayern team, but at least two of his stars are carrying knocks.

“Leon (Goretzka) broke off training again, he probably won’t play, Serge Gnabry as well,” Nagelsmann said Tuesday.

The plum European tie also comes too early for both Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting and Joshua Kimmich, who are on the verge of leaving quarantine after testing positive for Covid-19.

Nagelsmann revealed that in Choupo-Moting’s case, “the after-effects of the infection are still such that we will wait until next week, even if he’s negative.”

Kimmich is set to end house isolation on the day of the game, but “after a four-week break, it makes no sense” for him to play, added Nagelsmann.

The Bayern boss said it “feels weird” to face Barcelona in front of empty terraces at the Allianz Arena.

The Bayern boss and his squad wants a perfect set of six wins to round off the group stages as reaching the last 16 “was important and a sixth win would be nice.”

The only time Bayern previously six wins from six was in 2019/20 on the way to winning the Champions League as part of the treble alongside the Bundesliga and German Cup titles.

Nagelsmann has already seen the impact of Xavi Hernandez, who took charge of the struggling Barcelona side four weeks after, but suffered his first defeat as head coach last weekend.

“They defend a little higher under him (Hernandez),” said Nagelsmann.

“The counter-pressing is more like in the days of Pep (Guardiola). That frees up space, but you have to first escape the pressure.”


Ivory Coast send reigning champions Algeria crashing out of Cup of Nations

Ivory Coast send reigning champions Algeria crashing out of Cup of Nations
Updated 20 January 2022

Ivory Coast send reigning champions Algeria crashing out of Cup of Nations

Ivory Coast send reigning champions Algeria crashing out of Cup of Nations
  • Franck Kessie and Ibrahim Sangare scored in the first half for the Elephants in Douala
  • Riyad Mahrez hit the post with a second-half penalty before Sofiane Bendebka pulled one back for Algeria

DOUALA: The Ivory Coast crushed an abject Algeria 4-1 on Thursday with Nicolas Pepe among the scorers as the reigning champions crashed out of the Africa Cup of Nations in the group stage.
Franck Kessie and Ibrahim Sangare scored in the first half for the Elephants in Douala, while Pepe and Sebastien Haller added further goals after the break as the Ivory Coast secured top spot in Group E.
Riyad Mahrez hit the post with a second-half penalty before Sofiane Bendebka pulled one back for Algeria with their first goal since arriving in Cameroon, but by then it was too late.
It is the fifth time in the last six Cups of Nations that the reigning champions have failed to make the AFCON knockout phase, but there has arguably never been a worse title defense.
Djamel Belmadi’s side came to Cameroon on an unbeaten run stretching back over three years but they were held by Sierra Leone in their opening match and then lost to Equatorial Guinea to suffer a first defeat in 36 matches.
Algeria would have qualified for the last 16 with a win against an Ivory Coast side already guaranteed their place in the knockout rounds, but that never looked like a possibility.
Their demise was lapped up by the fans at the Japoma Stadium in Cameroon’s economic capital, with the 50,000-capacity ground filling up as the game went on.
By the time the match was over it looked like fans had taken up more seats than the 60 percent capacity limit imposed as part of coronavirus restrictions, and many invaded the pitch in chaotic scenes of celebration.
The Ivory Coast clearly had the backing of the crowd and they will stay in Douala for a heavyweight last-16 tie next week against Mohamed Salah’s Egypt in a repeat of the 2006 final won by the Pharaohs.
Equatorial Guinea go through in second place in Group E after defeating Sierra Leone 1-0 in Limbe thanks to a superb first-half strike from Pablo Ganet.
Kei Kamara missed a penalty for Sierra Leone as they go out while Equatorial Guinea will stay in Limbe for a last-16 tie against whoever wins Group F between Gambia, Tunisia and Mali.
The Ivorians had conceded a stoppage-time equalizer in their last game to draw 2-2 with Sierra Leone following a comical mistake by goalkeeper Badra Ali Sangare.
He then learned of the death of his father later that night, but he kept his place in an Elephants team missing Premier League pair Eric Bailly and Wilfried Zaha due to fitness problems.
They went ahead midway through the first half at the end of a great move as Pepe cut the ball back for Kessie to finish low into the corner.
It was 2-0 six minutes before the interval as the unmarked Sangare headed in a Serge Aurier free-kick.
Algeria did not come out fighting after the restart and they might have fallen further behind before Pepe finished superbly in the 54th minute to make it 3-0.
Mahrez then hit the upright on the hour mark from a spot-kick awarded for a soft foul on Youcef Belaili.
They did get a first goal in over four hours of football when Aissa Mandi turned the ball back across goal for substitute Bendebka to score in the 73rd minute, before Haller headed home at the death to compound their misery.


Jamieson shoots 63 at Yas to lead Hovland by one in Abu Dhabi

Jamieson shoots 63 at Yas to lead Hovland by one in Abu Dhabi
Updated 6 min 16 sec ago

Jamieson shoots 63 at Yas to lead Hovland by one in Abu Dhabi

Jamieson shoots 63 at Yas to lead Hovland by one in Abu Dhabi
  • Jamieson, a Scot ranked No. 336, hadn’t played competitively in eight weeks but quickly settled into the 2022 season with a bogey-free 63
  • Hovland was in the marquee group with Collin Morikawa, and outplayed his playing partner by rolling in nine birdies on the undulating greens at Yas Links

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates: Seeking a third win in his last four events, Viktor Hovland started the Abu Dhabi Championship by shooting 8-under 64 and was one stroke off the first-round lead held by Scott Jamieson on Thursday.
Hovland was in the marquee group with Collin Morikawa, and outplayed his playing partner by rolling in nine birdies on the undulating greens at Yas Links, a first-time host of the Rolex Series event on the European tour.
The Norwegian might be the world’s form player, having won back-to-back tournaments in Mexico and the Bahamas at the end of last year to climb to No.7.
Jamieson, a Scot ranked No. 336, hadn’t played competitively in eight weeks but quickly settled into the 2022 season with a bogey-free 63. He also had nine birdies — four of them coming in a five-hole span at the start of his back nine and the final one coming from 12 feet at the par-5 18th.
Thomas Pieters was alone in third place after a 65, while defending champion Tyrrell Hatton was in a tie for fourth place after 66. The English player won the prestigious event last year when it was held at nearby Abu Dhabi Golf Club.
Morikawa, the British Open champion who won the Race to Dubai title last year, almost holed an approach from the fairway at his first hole before making birdie but that was one of the few highlights in his round of 1-over 73.
Rory McIlroy also got off to a poor start to his first event of 2022, bogeying his final two holes for a 72.


Testing times for Australian Open amid COVID-19 pandemic

Testing times for Australian Open amid COVID-19 pandemic
Updated 20 January 2022

Testing times for Australian Open amid COVID-19 pandemic

Testing times for Australian Open amid COVID-19 pandemic
  • Olympic champion Alexander Zverev attracted wide attention after his second-round match when he said “we are not getting tested”
  • Australian Open organizers clarified the process on Day 4 of the tournament, saying daily rapid antigen tests were being provided

MELBOURNE, Australia: The safety protocols for COVID-19 have been a touchy subject at the Australian Open, particularly after nine-time champion Novak Djokovic was deported for failing to meet the country’s strict vaccination requirements.
So Olympic champion Alexander Zverev attracted wide attention after his second-round match when he said “we are not getting tested” and, therefore, there’re more COVID-19 cases around than there was in the more locked-down environment of last year.
Australian Open organizers clarified the process on Day 4 of the tournament, saying daily rapid antigen tests were being provided, testing clinics were open both onsite and at the player hotel, and there was mandatory symptomatic testing.
Masks also must be worn at all times at Melbourne Park except when playing, exercising or eating and drinking. Tournament organizers said everyone who traveled into Australia for the year's first major had to undergo a mandatory PCR test on arrival and another between Days 5 and 7.
Because of a surge in the omicron variant and more pressure on the public health system, PCR testing has become more difficult to access in Melbourne and rapid antigen tests have also been in short supply.
Except at the Australian Open. Players, their entourages, officials and media are required to show evidence of regular negative tests to access Melbourne Park.
“They are very strict,” fourth-ranked Stefanos Tsitsipas said. "Well, it’s the responsibility of each and every athlete to test themselves regularly to see whether or not they are positive, which has been the case for me.
“I have been trying to get a few antigen tests and rapid tests to see whether or not I’m positive, which is a responsibility that I have, it’s something that I have to do in order to see if I’m 100%.”
Former major champions including Garbiñe Muguruza and Andy Murray are among those who said they were testing themselves regularly, and treating it like an honesty system.
Australian player Maddison Inglis said she was doing precautionary testing because “I want to keep myself and my team safe and everyone around me.”
MURRAY IN MELBOURNE
Andy Murray has reached the Australian Open final five times in 14 trips to Melbourne Park but never won the title.
Two days after posting his first win in five years at the season-opening tennis Grand Slam tournament, the former No. 1 exited after losing to 120th-ranked Taro Daniel 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 in the second round.
His win over 21st-seeded Nikoloz Basilashvili in the first round was his first at the Australian Open since 2017.
Injuries and illness kept him out in 2018 (hip), 2020 (pelvis) and 2021 (COVID-19), and he lost a five-setter in the first round in 2019, which many thought might have been his last in Australia.
So, was the loss to Daniel his last, or will the three-time major champion be back in 2023?
The 34-year-old Scot said “yeah” when asked if he would return, but only with certain provisos.
“Not if I do what I did tonight too often this season,” he said. "This is a really important year for me for a number of reasons, and I want to perform well in the big events. For me, tonight is not good enough in that respect.
“Making second round of Slams is not something I find particularly motivating. I want to be doing better than that."
Murray engaged in a Twitter admiration exchange with Australian Open women's champion Naomi Osaka this week.
Murray started with a post that asked: “Anyone hit the ball cleaner from the baseline than (at) Naomi Osaka?"
Osaka, another former No. 1, responded: “Anyone put their heart on their sleeve and fight harder than (at)Andy Murray?"
Osaka recalled after her second-round win how delighted she was to read Murray’s praise and how the pair had a practice session in Brisbane, Australia, three years ago.
“Yeah, definitely means a lot," she said. "For me it was a really cool moment.”
SO LONG, SAM
Sam Stosur warned everyone before her 20th Australian Open campaign that there would be tears when her singles career came to an end.
Tears welled in her eyes as the 2011 U.S. Open champion sat in the court-side chair, soaking in the crowd support after her 6-2, 6-2 loss to 10th-seeded Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the second round.
“I just wanted to run for everything as hard as I could. I’ve done more than I ever thought possible," Stosur said in an on-court ceremony after the match. “I dreamed of winning a Grand Slam and I couldn’t have asked for anything more.”
A video tribute played as an emotional Stosur stood mid-court, holding a bouquet of flowers.
“It was emotional for me," Pavlyuchenkova told the crowd. "She is such a wonderful human being and an amazing tennis player.”
While her singles career is over — she also made a run to the French Open final in 2010 and three other semifinals at Roland Garros — the 37-year-old Stosur will continue playing doubles for the remainder of 2022.


A tale of two captains after South Africa shock favorites India with series win

A tale of two captains after South Africa shock favorites India with series win
Updated 20 January 2022

A tale of two captains after South Africa shock favorites India with series win

A tale of two captains after South Africa shock favorites India with series win
  • Dean Elgar acknowledged the challenge to get all players to buy into his vision, something his defeated counterpart Virat Kohli had managed for years

During recent days, when Australia’s mauling of England in the Ashes entered its final throes, another series concluded in exciting and unexpected fashion. South Africa, with a new captain, beat India, with an established one, 2-1 in a three-match series at home.

In historical and statistical terms, this should not be a surprise. India have never won a Test series in South Africa. Out of seven series contested since 1992-93, India had lost six and drawn one. These series yielded twenty Test matches, out of which India had won only three, with three draws and ten losses.

However, going into the series, India were in superior form, having beaten Australia away in 2020-21 and leading England 2-1 away in the summer of 2021, before failing to engage with the final and deciding match on Sept. 10 on the grounds of mental health issues. There was a sense at that time of all not being harmonious between the Indian camp and its authority, the Board of Control for Cricket in India.

South Africa, on the other hand, have been through tough times, losing five of their previous eight Test series. They have had to cope with the retirement of fourteen match-winning world-class players in the last ten years, plus off-field distractions involving the suspension and dismissal of administrators for alleged misconduct and malpractice. More recently, a call by one player for Cricket South Africa to stand in support of the Black Lives Matter movement received mixed responses.

The loss of a key bowler to injury before the first Test on Dec. 26 was a further setback, and South Africa were beaten. However, in a remarkable turnaround, they won the second and third hard-fought matches to win the series.

Captain Dean Elgar said that he had challenged the players within the group, knowing that immense character was needed to stand up to tough situations. His bowling unit responded by capturing all of India’s wickets in the Tests and a star batting performance from a player in only his fifth Test proved to be crucial. Elgar acknowledged that it is one of the biggest challenges to get all players on the captain’s side and buy into his vision.

This is something easier said than done, an achievement that the defeated Indian captain, Virat Kohli, has managed in his seven years in charge. Prior to the series, he had become his country’s most successful captain in Test cricket and, as captain of T20 internationals and one-day internationals, fourth overall. In his sixty-eight Tests, forty were won, eleven drawn and seventeen lost, a win ratio of 58.8 percent.

His belligerent, aggressive, intimidating, self-confident, win-orientated style of leadership, with great emphasis on fitness, earned him a few critics along the way, possibly within the BCCI. It was hoped that the appointment of a new president, a former Indian captain, in October 2019, would lead to improved communications between the board and the players. This does not appear to have happened.

In September, Kohli announced that he would stand down as T20 captain after the T20 World Cup in the UAE in November, but continue as ODI and Test captain. On Nov. 7, it was clear that India would fail to make the semi-finals. Combined with failure to win the World Test Championship in June 2021 and the 2019 ODI World Cup, criticism mounted. On Dec. 8, ninety minutes before Kohli was due to join a call with the selectors to discuss the squad to tour South Africa, he claims that he was told that there would be a change of leadership for the 50-over format as the selectors preferred to have one person to captain both of two short formats.

Subsequently, there was claim and counter claim about what was said and by whom. Prior to this, there had been signs of tetchiness in Kohli’s on-field behaviour and, in the third test in South Africa, he was especially incensed that an umpire’s decision was overturned on appeal to the off-field decision review technology, for which he may yet be censured.

On Jan. 15, one day after the defeat and series loss, Kohli announced that he was standing down as Test captain. Thus, in a little over two months, he has gone from being leader across all three formats to leader in none. The question on many lips is did he jump before being pushed? The coach with whom he enjoyed so much success, especially in maintaining a position at the top of ICC Test rankings for forty-two months, finished his stint in Nov. 2021. Together, they changed the culture of the team to fit their own philosophy, style and vision.

The new coach, another legend of Indian cricket, has a different personality and approach. Now, a new captain has to be appointed. This is the task of the selectors. Neither captain or coach has voting rights in the selection process but, normally, are asked for input. India’s men’s national cricket seems set for transition, along with amendments to its approach. Such change must have the support of the BCCI. It may even be the place where the change was initiated.

During the years in which Kohli was in charge, South Africa’s Test team has had five captains, one of whom captained 36 Tests. it was a surprise that it was Elgar who took the reins in March 2021. His no-nonsense, steely approach may be just what is required to mould a team that is short of proven world-class players but looks to be genuinely inclusive and representative, working towards a common goal of success based on teamwork.

The series with India proved to be a catalyst for change in the leadership of both teams. Captaincy is such a vital role, both on and off the field. Harmony, not just with players, but coach and governing Board, are key factors. When harmony breaks, it is usually the captain who is first to go.


5 talking points from group stage finales at Africa Cup of Nations

5 talking points from group stage finales at Africa Cup of Nations
Updated 20 January 2022

5 talking points from group stage finales at Africa Cup of Nations

5 talking points from group stage finales at Africa Cup of Nations
  • Egypt and Morocco progress to round of 16, while an anxious final day awaits Comoros and Algeria

With the Africa Cup of Nations’ group stage almost complete, we ponder five things about the Arab teams’ latest efforts.

1. Egypt get the job done, but need to be more clinical

Egypt needed just a point against Sudan, but ran out as 1-0 winners, which was enough to seal second place in Group C and a spot in the last 16. It remains to be seen if finishing below Nigeria will work out well in terms of opposition faced in the next round.

It was a deserved win against a team that sat back for much of the game and did not offer much going forward. Egypt will be happy at recovering from the opening game defeat against Nigeria to take six points but there will be some concern that only two goals have been scored in 270 minutes of football.

Against Sudan, Egypt had over 70 percent possession and while chances were made, none were put away apart from the first-half header from Mohamed Abdelmonem. Mohamed Salah looked lively in flashes but was well-handled by the Sudan defense. 

Despite a lack of creativity in midfield, Egypt have done what they needed to do and have got out of the group stage. Coach Carlos Queiroz said: “The real tournament starts now.” He has a point, but Egypt will have to take more of their chances in the knockout stages or they will not be around too much longer.

2. Textbook group stage performance from confident Morocco

It has been a stress-free group stage for Morocco. Wins from the opening two games ensured a place in the knockout stage even before the final group showdown against Gabon. It meant that coach Vahid Halilhodzic could make six changes, rest some players and give others a chance to get a taste of the tournament.

Solid in defense and creating chances, Morocco fought hard when they had to against Ghana to win the big opener 1-0 and would have defeated Comoros by more than 2-0 had they not come up against an inspired goalkeeper. 

If the Atlas Lions keep going then the boss may not have to answer questions about leaving out Chelsea star Hakim Ziyech, but is sure to still focus on what is developing into a solid team spirit.

“Now we play faster and there is more movement off the ball,” said Halilhodzic. “The goals were scored by defenders, midfielders and forward, because our strength is the collective and that’s very important.”

It is all going smoothly. With Algeria missing the chance to equal Italy’s world record of 37 unbeaten games, Morocco may be the next in line as they now have gone 24 games without defeat. 

3. Sudan tough opponents, but will leave with some regrets

Sudan lost the Nile Valley Derby 1-0 to Egypt to be eliminated, but it is worth remembering that when these two teams met just last month at the 2021 FIFA Arab Cup in Qatar, Egypt — without Mo Salah and their Eurostars — ran out 5-0 winners. That result played a part in coach Herbert Velud getting his marching orders and Burhan Tia being handed the reins temporarily. This was a very different line-up and a different result.

Sudan had been vulnerable to set pieces throughout the tournament and there was always a feeling that Egypt would benefit from having plenty of firepower in that regard, and so it proved.

The Sudanese team performed creditably in the tournament overall, but they may have some regrets about the final game. They just did not ask enough questions of Egypt, and when they did find themselves in interesting positions in the Pharaohs’ half, were too happy to unleash a wild shot from long range. Egyptian goalkeeper Mohamed El-Shenawy had little to do and it was all too comfortable. 

It is no disgrace to exit the competition at this stage, but Sudan will surely regret not laying a glove on Egypt. Only in the last 10 minutes or so did they start to push forward, but it was too little, too late.

4. Do-or-die for Algeria  

Thursday evening should be interesting, indeed. Who would have thought that Algeria, the defending champions and unbeaten for 34 games heading into the tournament, would be bottom with no goals and one point from two games? They simply have to beat Ivory Coast to go through. If they do, they could progress as group winners. 

At the moment, Algeria will be happy just to progress as they have been awful so far. They seemed complacent against Equatorial Guinea in the second game and crashed to a 1-0 defeat. They have one last chance but cannot afford to mess up again. As coach Djamel Belmadi said: “We are in a difficult situation, a big difficult situation that we have not experienced for a long time.”

Now we will see what Algeria are made of. 

Tunisia are already through, but will not want to finish in their current third position as that would mean a meeting with Nigeria, perhaps the best team of the tournament so far. A win against Gambia will guarantee at least second. 

5. Nigeria and Egypt did Comoros a favor, and so can Ivory Coast and Equatorial Guinea

Anyone with even the slightest interest in African and Arab football will be aware that tournament debutants Comoros defeated four-time champions Ghana 3-2 on Tuesday.

Those three points, the first the islanders had managed at the tournament, eliminated the Black Stars and put Comoros in the running to progress to the second round. The margins were tight, as if either Guinea-Bissau defeated Nigeria or Sudan defeated Egypt then it was all over. Both lost, however.

There is still one more danger on the final matchday of the opening round. At the moment, Sierra Leone will move above Comoros on goal difference if they draw against Equatorial Guinea. But if Algeria, currently bottom of Group E, defeat Ivory Coast then it will also be over for Comoros.