Benzema brace as Madrid beats Bilbao 2-1 in virus-hit game

Benzema brace as Madrid beats Bilbao 2-1 in virus-hit game
Real Madrid's Karim Benzema in action with Athletic Bilbao's Unai Nunez during their match on December 22, 2021. (Reuters)
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Updated 23 December 2021

Benzema brace as Madrid beats Bilbao 2-1 in virus-hit game

Benzema brace as Madrid beats Bilbao 2-1 in virus-hit game
  • A total of 12 players between Madrid and Bilbao missed the game after testing positive for COVID-19

BARCELONA: Karim Benzema struck two quick goals to lead Real Madrid to a 2-1 win at Athletic Bilbao on Wednesday in a Spanish league game missing several players because of coronavirus infections.
Defending champion Atlético Madrid slumped to a fourth consecutive league defeat after losing 2-1 at Granada, extending its worst run in the competition since Diego Simeone took charge a decade ago.
A total of 12 players between Madrid and Bilbao missed the game after testing positive for COVID-19. That included Madrid midfielder Luka Modric and Bilbao’s Unai Simón, the goalkeeper for Spain’s national side.
Benzema started the scoring for the league leaders with a superb strike four minutes into the match at San Mamés. He struck again in the seventh for his league-leading 15th goal of the season.
Oihan Sancet hit right back for the hosts to close out a wild first 10 minutes of the game.
Iñaki Williams went close to grabbing an equalizer with a half-hour to play, but a defense anchored by Éder Militão held on to increase Madrid's lead to eight points over second-place Sevilla.
The outbreak on Madrid's squad gave Eden Hazard, Eduardo Camavinga, and Nacho Fernández the opportunity to earn rare starts.
“I want to highlight the players who hadn't played much were ready to go, that is the strength of a team that wants to compete,” said coach Carlo Ancelotti, whose side enters the winter break on a 15-game unbeaten streak in all competitions.
“Now to rest and get back those players who weren’t with us today... I think that we can have them all back after the holidays.”
The game came hours after the Spanish league strengthened its testing protocols to try to prevent teams being hit by outbreaks. In addition to Modric, Madrid was without David Alaba, Isco Alarcón, Marco Asensio, Rodrygo, Gareth Bale, Marcelo and backup goalkeeper Andriy Lunin. Besides Simón, Bilbao was without Iñigo Martínez, Jokin Ezkieta and Alex Berenguer.
Benzema dazzled with his opening goal from the side of the area. The France striker stunned Bilbao when he used one touch to send a pass from Toni Kroos curling into the far corner of the net.
“What a striker, what a captain, what a player,” Ancelotti said.
Benzema's second came after a poor touch by Bilbao defender Unai Nuñez gifted him the ball with only Simón's replacement, Julen Agirrezabala, to beat.
“I like this type of soccer in a great stadium like this, it makes me happy, but it makes me even happier to beat this good team,” said Benzema, who was applauded by the Bilbao crowd when substituted late.
Sancet struck from the edge of the area to send the ball in off the post.
“We had our chance to tie the match," Bilbao coach Marcelino García said. "I am proud of how we played against a great league leader.”
Atlético had not lost more than two league games in a row since Simeone became its coach in December 2011. This month it has lost to Mallorca, Real Madrid and Sevilla before its defeat in Granada.
Atlético started well with a goal from João Félix only three minutes after kickoff.
Darwin Machís then leveled in the 18th and Jorge Molina scored from a cross by Granada striker Luis Suárez to complete the comeback in the 61st.
Atlético was left in fifth place, some 17 points off Madrid's pace.
“We are not getting the wins like we used to,” Simeone said. “Many times we won games we did not deserve to win, now we are losing games we deserved to win… Lapses in concentration in the little details is costing us games.”
Molina was coming off a record-setting match on Sunday when he became the oldest player in Europe’s top five leagues to score a hat trick at 39 years and 241 days in a 4-1 win over Mallorca.

Pure Hollywood ending to Premier League race as Manchester City are pushed to the limits by Liverpool

Pure Hollywood ending to Premier League race as Manchester City are pushed to the limits by Liverpool
Updated 23 May 2022

Pure Hollywood ending to Premier League race as Manchester City are pushed to the limits by Liverpool

Pure Hollywood ending to Premier League race as Manchester City are pushed to the limits by Liverpool
  • Pep Guardiola’s team called on all their reserves of brilliance and resilience against Aston Villa to score three goals in five minutes and claim a fourth league title in five years

When Manchester City won the Premier League title a decade ago in iconic fashion through Sergio Aguero’s injury-time winning goal against Queens Park Rangers, the saying “We’re Man City, we’ll fight ’til the end” was born — and subsequently became the club’s mantra.

Never was it more evident again than on Sunday as the Etihad Stadium witnessed yet another emotional, unbelievable, unscripted finale that was pure Hollywood with all the sub-plots and twists.

While not quite as definitive and dramatic as Aguero’s magical moment that sealed a 3-2 comeback victory on a similarly unforgettable final day of the 2011-12 campaign, the crucial contributions of Ilkay Gundogan to this season’s triumph will be enshrined too in footballing folklore.

Needing victory to confirm a fourth league title in five seasons, Pep Guardiola’s City overturned a 2-0 deficit to an Aston Villa side managed by Liverpool hero Steven Gerrard with three goals in the last 14 minutes — and in the space of just five minutes and 36 seconds.

With Liverpool beating Wolves 3-1, Gundogan’s close-range finish in the 81st minute proved decisive to deny Jurgen Klopp’s Reds by a point. It was his second goal after heading in the first, while Rodri leveled with a precise low drive.

“It’s definitely got to be up there with Sergio’s moment,” said Phil Foden. “It just shows the incredible character of us as a team, how much we want it and how much we fight for each other — and for everything involved at this club.

“The team that Pep has built, we always keep believing until the end. Not many teams could do that.”

Foden is right and, arguably, only Liverpool and Real Madrid come close currently.

With such belief, City can exude brilliance even when behind or below par. With spirit allied to style, they have the attributes for success.

Guardiola used words such as “legends” and “special” to describe his side — and there should be no doubt or debate about that.

City are serial winners, dominating the Premier League in the manner of Manchester United under Sir Alex Ferguson. Relentless and ruthless, racking up 93 points and 99 goals this season, their greatness needs to be recognized and respected, especially in how they once more staved off Liverpool’s ferocious challenge under pressure to claim a sixth title since 2012.

City’s Algerian winger Riyad Mahrez, whose fourth title put him level with Didier Drogba for the most by an African player, said: “Liverpool are a superb team. I know they hate us. They’re sick of us because if we weren’t here, they would’ve won everything every year.

“But we’re here and we’re never letting go — and we’ll be here next year too.”

“Never in my life have I found a team like Liverpool,” added Guardiola, who shed tears after his 10th career domestic title triumph with Barcelona, Bayern Munich and City.

“They make us a better team, make us think more, work harder and handle the quality they have.”

Midfielder Gundogan, whose memorable week also saw him get married, played under Klopp at Borussia Dortmund.

And he said: “If Liverpool didn’t play the incredible football they’ve been playing, I don’t think this league would have been that attractive. We pushed each other to the limits. We need to appreciate what they have done.”

In congratulating the Abu Dhabi-owned team, owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al-Nahyan described them as “distinguished,” and Guardiola said, “We will defend our crown again and again.”

It is that mindset, ambition and willingness to further improve that makes City an exceptional team in the current era.

While some critics may never accept this due to their spending or be appeased until they win a Champions League, their domestic achievements — 14 major trophies since Sheikh Mansour bought them in 2008 — should not be belittled by the struggles in Europe.

The same applies to Liverpool and their extraordinary efforts in this campaign, despite failing to secure a 20th top-flight title.

Klopp said they played an “insane season,” and it seems difficult to envisage a team getting this close to a historic quadruple of trophies again.

Chelsea, Manchester United, Tottenham, Arsenal and Saudi Arabia-backed Newcastle will no doubt have a greater say in the future.

There may be disappointment for Liverpool in finishing second after their FA Cup and League Cup successes, but no shame after a titanic battle for top spot.

When they lost the title to City by a single point three years ago on the final day, they went on to lift a sixth European Cup by beating Tottenham.

“Of course, losing the league increased the desire to put it right next week,” said Klopp, whose side face Real Madrid in the Champions League final on Saturday.

If history is repeated — and a treble completed — in Paris, it would be equally deserved.

It would also again highlight how Liverpool and City have raised the bar in European club football over the past five years through their rivalry and desire for honors.

Others should strive to match that quality, not condemn it.

“What I learned about life is if you stay on track, if you keep going, you get the reward,” added Klopp.

“The only thing you can do in this league is you have to constantly develop. We have to carry on and will be an even more difficult team to play against. Playing in a league with Man City that’s crazy, difficult, but that will not stop us trying next season again.”

The contest promises to be just as enthralling and intriguing, especially with Guardiola — like Liverpool forwards Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane — not yet committed to extending his contract beyond next season.

And there is also the arrival of goalscoring phenomenon Erling Haaland to the Etihad and the Premier League.

Excited already?

Newcastle United ends season on winning note

Newcastle United ends season on winning note
Updated 23 May 2022

Newcastle United ends season on winning note

Newcastle United ends season on winning note
  • Return of Callum Wilson, who scored two goals for the team, ‘an incredible achievement,’ says Eddie Howe
  • Head coach talks Joelinton’s injury, Burnley’s Premier League relegation

NEWCASTLE: Eddie Howe has hailed the impact of Callum Wilson after the striker’s two goals ensured Newcastle United ended their season on a winning note.

The frontman’s Turf Moor double, either side of halftime, saw the Magpies cruise to a 2-1 win and end the Clarets’ stay in the Premier League. It also meant Howe’s United ended their season in 11th place, on 49 points, a stark contrast to the landscape that presented itself upon his appointment, with Newcastle on just five points from their opening 11 games.  

Wilson has been missing for much of United’s mid-season revival, having only started two games since December. But despite that, the England frontman still ended the season as the club’s top scorer on eight goals.

And Howe, despite earmarking a striker in the summer, knows how key a fit and firing Wilson will be for the Magpies next season.

“Wilson is an outstanding striker, an outstanding goalscorer at this level,” said Howe.
“We have missed him this season. That can’t be underestimated. What a big void that has been for us to fill, but I think Chris Wood has done a magnificent job for us.

“Wilson’s return — for him to come back and play two 90 minutes for us — is an incredible achievement, and his two goals today will make his summer better.

“He has returned looking better than ever.”

While Wilson finished his second 90 minutes in less than a week, it was a much shorter afternoon for Brazilian midfielder Joelinton.

A challenge midway through the opening period saw the player felled and a stretcher brought on.

Howe has explained that while the injury is not muscular or a break, and therefore not as serious as it could have been, it was a cut damaging enough to see the player sidelined.

“It didn’t look good. I could see by the way he went down, I thought ‘this could be serious’,” said the head coach.

“Apparently, it’s a deep laceration. I think the doctor, initially when he saw him, could see part of his bone, so I think it was quite deep.

“We knew immediately we had to withdraw him, but he’s in good spirits in the dressing room.

“He had a boot on and said he was OK, so that’s great news.”

Reacting to the game itself, which saw his former club Burnley fail to beat the drop, Howe said: “It was a tough game, a really difficult match for lots of different reasons. I don’t think it was necessarily one for the purest.

“Technically, I don’t think we were at our very best levels. But I think mentally we were and we had to be today because that was a very difficult finish to the game after Burnley scored, so full credit to my players for how they attacked the match and how we dealt with all the things surrounding the game.

“Today was a very, very difficult day for me as I do have emotional ties to Burnley through the supporters, players, club directors.

It is a very proud club. It hurts to see a club relegated; I have been in that position before.

“Big respect to them, I hope they bounce back quickly.”

Meanwhile, after a shortened summer break, Arab News understands United will return to pre-season training for the 2022/23 Premier League season on July 1.

Curry, Warriors take 3-0 lead on Mavericks with 109-100 victory

Curry, Warriors take 3-0 lead on Mavericks with 109-100 victory
Updated 23 May 2022

Curry, Warriors take 3-0 lead on Mavericks with 109-100 victory

Curry, Warriors take 3-0 lead on Mavericks with 109-100 victory
  • No team has rallied from 3-0 down to win an NBA playoff series

DALLAS: Stephen Curry scored 31 points, Andrew Wiggins added 27 while posterizing Luka Doncic on a dunk and the Golden State Warriors beat the Dallas Mavericks 109-100 Sunday night for a 3-0 lead in the Western Conference finals.

Klay Thompson scored 19 with a pair of big fourth-quarter 3-pointers as the Warriors moved within a victory of a return to the NBA Finals, three years after the end of a run of five consecutive trips that yielded three championships.

Golden State, which swept Portland in its most recent West finals in 2019 before Toronto won the title, goes for the sweep in Game 4 on Tuesday in Dallas. No team has rallied from 3-0 down to win an NBA playoff series.

Doncic scored 40 and beat the first-quarter buzzer with a 32-footer that got the crowd going with the Mavericks again at home trailing 2-0, as they did against top-seeded Phoenix before winning the West semifinal series in seven games.

But that shimmy-inducing bucket was a blip on an otherwise rough night from 3-point range for the Mavericks, who missed their first seven and finished 13 of 45.

Reggie Bullock and Maxi Kleber, two long-range specialists for Dallas, missed all 12 of their 3s combined and were 0-15 overall. Both went scoreless, offsetting Spencer Dinwiddie’s 26 points off the bench. Jalen Brunson scored 20.

Wiggins’ dunk over Doncic was originally ruled an offensive foul midway through the fourth quarter. The Warriors challenged, and the ruling was Wiggins’ elbow to Doncic was incidental contact, giving Golden State a 93-83 lead.

About a minute later, Wiggins, who had 11 rebounds, moved quickly down the right baseline for a follow dunk on a miss by Curry as the Warriors extended their NBA record with a 26th consecutive series in which they won at least one road game.

One of Dinwiddie’s 3-pointers got Dallas within five points with 1:15 remaining, but Jordan Poole answered with one from the left wing just inside the final minute.

The most tense moment of the series came late in the first half after a corner 3 from Curry capped an 8-0 run that put the Warriors in front by a point and helped them to a 48-47 halftime lead. And it left Curry confused.

Curry ran the length of the court with his tongue hanging out after Dallas called timeout. As he circled back toward his bench, Curry walked by Doncic with teammate Juan Toscano-Anderson nearby.

Doncic appeared to take issue with something Toscano-Anderson said and started toward the Golden State bench before officials along with coaches and players from both teams intervened. Meantime, Draymond Green and injured Dallas guard Tim Hardaway Jr. exchanged unpleasantries about 45 feet apart.

After the timeout, Curry could been seen saying, “What happened?” and approached Doncic to talk about it. The exchange ended with Green as the peacemaker with Doncic.


Warriors: Green got a technical foul, his second of the series, after an extended conversation with official Marc Davis when he was called for a backcourt violation when he hurriedly tried to step back over the midcourt line to catch a long, unexpected pass from Curry. The crowd was howling for a technical and finally got it. Seconds later, Green was called for his first foul and didn’t like the call. But he directed his complaint at his own bench instead of the officiating crew. ... Otto Porter Jr., who averaged 10.5 points on 82 percent shooting the first two games, limped to the locker room in the first half and was ruled out with left foot soreness.

Mavericks: Bullock won the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar social justice award. He has been active in the LGBTQ+ community. His sister, a transgender woman, was killed in 2014. Bullock worked with several organizations in the Dallas area after signing as a free agent in the offseason and has long been active in similar pursuits in his native North Carolina. ... Dorian Finney-Smith got a technical early in the second half for an elbow to the back of Green after a made Dallas free throw.

Justin Thomas wins 2nd PGA title in playoff after 7-shot rally

Justin Thomas wins 2nd PGA title in playoff after 7-shot rally
Updated 23 May 2022

Justin Thomas wins 2nd PGA title in playoff after 7-shot rally

Justin Thomas wins 2nd PGA title in playoff after 7-shot rally
  • Thomas now has a PGA Tour victory in each of his last eight years and moves to No. 5 in the world
  • In eight majors at Southern Hills, it was first time a player rallied from any margin to win, and it was only the second playoff

TULSA, Oklahoma: Justin Thomas is a major champion when he least expected it.

Thomas matched a PGA Championship record Sunday when he rallied from a seven-shot deficit at Southern Hills, and then saved his most exquisite shot-making for a three-hole playoff to defeat Will Zalatoris.

He closed with a 3-under 67, matching the low score of a final round made difficult more by nerves than the wind. He seized control in the playoff with a 3-wood to 35 feet on the 301-yard 17th hole for a two-putt birdie.

He tapped in for par and stood erect with a smile, a mixture of joy and disbelief.

“I was asked early in the week what lead is safe and I said, ‘No lead,’” Thomas said. “I can’t believe I found myself in a playoff.”

Thomas needed plenty of help, and Mito Pereira provided it in a tragic finish. The 27-year-old from Chile, playing in only his second major, took a one-shot lead to the final hole and drove into a creek to make double bogey.

It was the first time since Phil Mickelson at Winged Foot in the 2006 US Open that a player lost a one-shot lead in the final hole to lose a major.

Zalatoris looked like he had thrown away his chances for a first major — and first PGA Tour victory — when he three-putted from just outside 20 feet on the 16th hole. But he responded with a birdie from the bunker at the 17th and holed an 8-foot par putt on the 18th for a 71.

He joined Thomas at 5-under 275, and they played on when Pereira faltered.

Thomas, who had gone 14 months since his last victory at The Players Championship last year, now has a PGA Tour victory in each of his last eight years and moves to No. 5 in the world.

John Mahaffey in the 1978 PGA Championship at Oakmont was the other player to come from seven shots behind on the final day. He also won in a playoff over Tom Watson and Jerry Pate.

Thomas was still seven shots behind when he made his remarkable run, a mixture of key birdies and keeping mistakes off his card. It started with a 65-foot birdie putt from just short of the green to a back pin on the par-3 11th. He edged closer with an 18-foot birdie on the next hole.

He was lurking, while the leading pack behind him was leaking oil.

Zalatoris and Cameron Young each caught Pereira, ever so briefly. All of them found trouble in the rough and in the sand. Thomas nearly holed a long bunker shot on the 16th, made birdie from a left bunker on the reachable 17th and had a 10-foot birdie putt he thought he needed at the end.

He missed, and got a reprieve.

Pereira was on the cusp of becoming Chile’s first major champion, and giving South America the career Grand Slam.

Even after five bogeys, he never lost the lead and delivered clutch par saves from the bunker left of the ninth green and from well behind the 10th green. None was bigger than his 12-foot putt on the 16th to stay one shot ahead.

It all came undone with one swing.

His sawed-off swing with the driver, so effective on the previous hole, peeled to the right and into the creek down the right side of the 18th fairway. After a penalty drop, his approach up the hill started left and never cut back, landing in the rough. His chip rolled off the back edge of the green.

His double bogey gave him a 75, a hard-luck end to such a promising week.

“On Monday, I just wanted to make the cut. On Sunday, I wanted to win,” Pereira said. “I’ll take this to learn for the future.”

Young, whose father is a longtime PGA professional, also will look back at missed chances. Playing with Zalatoris, a former roommate at Wake Forest, Young was in the mix all day and was briefly tied for the lead. His hopes ended on he 16th went he found a bunker right of the green, blasted out weakly to 30 feet and three-putted for a double bogey. He closed with a 71.

Matt Fitzpatrick of England, who played in the final group with Pereira, also stayed in range, two shots behind until his sloppy bogey on the 17th. He shot 73 and tied for fifth with Tommy Fleetwood (67) and Chris Kirk (68).

Rory McIlroy made a brief run with four straight birdies on the front nine, putting him at 4-under par for the tournament. He was 2 over the rest of the way and finished eighth.

In eight majors at Southern Hills, it was first time a player rallied from any margin to win, and it was only the second playoff. Retief Goosen won the other in the 2001 US Open after he three-putted from 12 feet on the final hole. At least he got another chance, unlike Pereira.

Six of the seven previous major champions at Southern Hills are in the World Golf Hall of Fame. The 29-year-old Thomas, now with two majors among his 15 career PGA Tour victories, is surely headed there one day.

Dixon seizes 5th Indy 500 pole with second-fastest qualifying time ever

Dixon seizes 5th Indy 500 pole with second-fastest qualifying time ever
Updated 23 May 2022

Dixon seizes 5th Indy 500 pole with second-fastest qualifying time ever

Dixon seizes 5th Indy 500 pole with second-fastest qualifying time ever
  • Dixon’s pole position time was the second-fastest four-lap qualifying run ever behind the 236.986 posted by Arie Luyendyk back in 1996

WASHINGTON: New Zealand’s Scott Dixon earned his fifth Indianapolis 500 pole position in sensational style on Sunday, clocking the second-fastest four-lap qualifying run ever at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Dixon topped the final Fast Six section of qualifying with a four-lap run that averaged 234.046 (376.66 Km/h) — featuring two laps of the 2.5-mile oval at more than 234 mph.

Dixon put his Honda-powered Chip Ganassi team car on pole for the second straight year, but with just one victory, in 2008, to show for his prior four pole positions the Kiwi veteran was already looking ahead to next Sunday’s 106th running of the fabled race.

“Obviously, it doesn’t mean a thing next Sunday,” he said. “So we’re starting in the right spot. We havent’ had a good record keeping it in the right spot but we’ll definitely be trying come next Sunday.”

Despite that pragmatic stance, Dixon was clearly exhilarated by the day’s activities, which featured the fastest 12 finishers in Saturday’s opening qualifying competing in Top 12 qualifying and the top six from that coming back to set pole position and the first two rows of the grid.

With the final Fast Six run, Dixon pushed Ganassi teammate Alex Palou of Spain (233.499 mph) into second on the grid.

Ed Carpenter Racing’s Dutch driver Rinus Veekay claimed the third spot on the first row with a run at 233.385 mph.

Team chief and sometime driver Ed Carpenter (233.080 mph) claimed the fourth spot ahead of Swedish Ganassi driver Marcus Ericsson (232.764), and Ganassi’s Brazilian veteran Tony Kanaan (232.372).

“That’s what this place is about,” Dixon said. “So amazing — the ups and downs that you have just in one day — it’s crazy. Just so happy for everybody to get five of our cars into the fast 12 and then four into the Six. I hope Chip’s got a smile on his face.”

Dixon’s pole position time was the second-fastest four-lap qualifying run ever behind the 236.986 posted by Arie Luyendyk back in 1996.

It was actually the fastest ever run to claim pole, breaking Scott Brayton’s mark of 233.718 from 1996.

VeeKay had moved into second on the all-time qualifying chart behind Luyendyk on Saturday with a run at 233.655, but the 21-year-old settled for second-fastest behind Dixon in the Top-12 session before coming up third-quickest in the final shootout.

When the day’s action was complete, Mexico’s Pato O’Ward led the third row of the grid alongside Sweden’s Felix Rosenqvist and France’s Romain Grosjean.

Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato of Japan, former champion Will Power of Australia and NASCAR great Jimmie Johnson, an Indy 500 rookie, made up row four.

The remaining 13th-33rd spots on the grid had been set on Saturday.

Reigning Indy 500 champion Helio Castroneves — one of just four four-time winners — starts from the 27th spot on the ninth row.

Johnson enlivened Sunday’s qualifiers with a big wobble on his Top-12 run that ended his hopes of making the Fast Six.

“These guys are so good at what they do,” said Johnson, who moved into IndyCar racing last year but didn’t opt to tackle the oval tracks until this season. “I just need more experience.”

Grosjean, who moved to IndyCar last season after his Formula One career ended with a frightening fiery crash, is also a newcomer to the Indianapolis 500.

He admitted that he’d found oval racing more “complicated” than he anticipated. And at the speeds reached at Indianapolis, with the wind changing and track surface temperature fluctuating this weekend, Grosjean said Sunday “was scary.”

“Track conditions changed a lot from the morning,” he said. “We tried everything we had to get some speed ... I’m glad it’s behind me.”