End of an era for champions Algeria as they suffer sad exit from Africa Cup of Nations

End of an era for champions Algeria as they suffer sad exit from Africa Cup of Nations
That global jinx has come to the African Cup of Nations with the champions crashing and burning in the first round. (AFP)
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Updated 21 January 2022

End of an era for champions Algeria as they suffer sad exit from Africa Cup of Nations

End of an era for champions Algeria as they suffer sad exit from Africa Cup of Nations
  • Only a few weeks ago the newly crowned FIFA Arab Cup champions were chasing Italy’s world record of 37 unbeaten matches, but a disastrous campaign in Cameroon sees them head home after the group stages

Riyad Mahrez’s penalty against Ivory Coast in the final group game of the 2021 African Nations Cup on Thursday summed up Algeria’s campaign.

With his team 3-0 down in a game the 2019 victors needed to win, Algeria were handed an undeserved spot kick. The Manchester City star, who had been anonymous for much of the group stage, hit the post. And that was the end of one of the worst tournament defenses you will see for a long time — right up there with France’s shambolic effort at the 2002 World Cup.

That global jinx has come to the African Cup of Nations with the champions crashing and burning in the first round. It is barely believable that Algeria are out and even less so that the early exit was completely deserved. All of the continent kept waiting for the team to get going but it never happened. The likes of Manchester City, Milan, Napoli, West Ham United, Lyon and Villarreal will be surprised and delighted at getting their players back almost three weeks earlier than expected while everyone else is just surprised that the likes of Mahrez, Ismael Bennacer and Aissa Mandi, who play at the  top of the European club game, could not even inspire their team to finish third in a group containing Sierra Leone, Equatorial Guinea and Ivory Coast. 

Where to start? Well, in the beginning there was a team that arrived in Cameroon with a 34-game unbeaten run — just three short of Italy’s world record — and genuine ambitions of a second successive title. The second string had won the Arab Cup in December and coach Djamel Belmadi, who had been in place since August 2018, led the team to continental glory in 2019 and is hugely popular. 

The opening 0-0 draw against Sierra Leone, a team ranked 118 in the world, 78 places below Algeria, was a surprise but such things can happen in the first game. The Leone Stars defended as if their lives depended on it and the North Africans were guilty of missing chances with 18 attempts and two-thirds possession. Not to worry, there were two games to go and time to locate shooting boots. And not just that with four of the six best-performing third-placed teams in the group stage going through; there was surely little danger.

Then came a 1-0 loss to Equatorial Guinea ranked at 114 and making just a third appearance at the tournament. This was awful, without urgency or creativity, and there is a suspicion that star-studded Algeria seriously underestimated a national team representing a country of only 1.4 million. The champs could barely string a pass together and Mahrez, this season’s top scorer at Manchester City — a team thought by many to be the best in the world — was ineffective to the point of invisibility.

There was still another chance in the final game. Victory over Ivory Coast could even see Algeria finish top of the group. There was no danger of that as the champions were second best for most of the game. A lack of discipline, concentration and basic marking at the back allowed Ivory Coast to collect what was ultimately a comfortable win. At times, Algeria looked like they could get back in the game but never really had the conviction that they could do it. From the get-go, the body language was a concern and heads seemed to drop as soon as the first goal went in. Algeria were outworked and outfought.

Mahrez was the symbol and his performances, or lack of, came in for questions in the post-match inquest. Belmadi can be as combative as a coach as he was as a player for Marseille and Manchester City and hit back at journalists.

“Don’t go and point the finger at players who have given you so much happiness,” Belmadi said. “When things are not going well you start to point the finger at him or me. Did you want me to drop him to the bench? I didn’t change things. I left him in the team.”

For Belmadi, it is an unwelcome reminder of the 2015 Asian Cup. In Australia, he was in charge of Qatar and they arrived in good form and with high hopes. Then they lost all three games Down Under but this was worse as Algeria were the title-holders. In 2015, he didn’t last long as Qatar boss, but has enough credit in the bank to survive this time — however now it all comes down to the final World Cup qualification play-off in March.

“We will have to pick ourselves up, digest this, analyze it and lift our heads up. The World Cup awaits and we will need to do better,” Belmadi said.

The 2021 African Cup of Nations will forever be a painful memory for Algeria. It remains to be seen if it marks the start of a dark period or serves as a wake-up call and inspires the team to qualify for Qatar and then go on to show the world what they are made of. 

For now though, Algeria, who basked in the glory of their 2019 success, will have to deal with a very different feeling.

“This is something we have to swallow,” said Belmadi. “It is hard for us because we are not used to losing. It is a bitter taste. It is horrible.”


Celtics eliminate NBA defending champion Bucks in Game 7

Celtics eliminate NBA defending champion Bucks in Game 7
Updated 28 sec ago

Celtics eliminate NBA defending champion Bucks in Game 7

Celtics eliminate NBA defending champion Bucks in Game 7
  • Boston face top seeds Miami in game one of the Eastern Conference finals on Tuesday, in a rematch of their 2020 series

BOSTON: Grant Williams scored 27 points as the Boston Celtics eliminated the reigning champion Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday with a 109-81 game seven victory in their NBA Eastern Conference series.
Celtics forward Williams produced a deadly display of scoring from three-point range at the TD Garden as Boston advanced to a conference finals showdown with the Miami Heat with a 4-3 series win.
Williams’s red-hot shooting from beyond the arc was emblematic of Boston’s superiority from the field as the Bucks missed a slew of wide open looks.
Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo finished with 25 points 20 rebounds and nine assists for Milwaukee.
But the Celtics’ three-point shooting accuracy proved the difference between the two teams as Boston completed a comeback from 3-2 down in the best-of-seven series.
Boston dropped 22 of 55 from downtown, in stark contrast to Milwaukee, who converted just four of 33 attempts from beyond the arc.
Williams led the three-point blitzkrieg with seven threes in his 27-point haul. Jayson Tatum made five-of-nine threes to finish with 23 points.
Payton Pritchard also got in on the act, with four three-pointers from the bench in a tally of 14 points.
Only one Milwaukee player — Bobby Portis — made multiple three-pointers. Portis finished with two in his 10-point haul.
Celtics coach Ime Udoka revealed he had encouraged Williams to shoot more aggressively, suggesting the Bucks had “disrespected” the forward by allowing him so much room to operate.
“I told him let it fly. I said ‘They’re disrespecting you more tonight than earlier in the series,’” Udoka said.
“He missed a few and got hesitant and I basically said ‘shoot the ball, what else can you do?’“
Williams said he was only too happy to accept the challenge from Udoka and the rest of his Celtics team-mates.
“Everyone kept saying ‘Let it fly, keep shooting’. So I thought ‘All right, they’re encouraging it, might as well take advantage.’ As time went on each one got more comfortable. It was fun. It was just great that we got a win,” Williams said.
“I’ve worked on my shot enough to be confident enough to knock those down.
“My team-mates know that if I get 18 looks I’ll make 40 percent of them at least. It was just a matter of continuing to do what we wanted to do and keep getting those open looks.
“We hadn’t put a full game together this entire series. So we said, why not now? We just did what we were supposed to do.”
Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer made no excuses for the defeat, saying Boston had been the better team over the series.
“I couldn’t be prouder of our team,” Budenholzer said. “We’ve had a lot of success together, and tonight we hit a wall and met our end.”
Boston face top seeds Miami in game one of the Eastern Conference finals on Tuesday in a rematch of their 2020 series.
Miami won that series 4-2 to advance to the NBA Finals.


Mortara and Di Grassi keep up good momentum for ROKiT Venturi in second Berlin E-Prix

ROKiT Venturi soared to back-to-back podiums at the 2022 Berlin E-Prix on Sunday, with Edoardo Mortara taking second place in Ra
ROKiT Venturi soared to back-to-back podiums at the 2022 Berlin E-Prix on Sunday, with Edoardo Mortara taking second place in Ra
Updated 15 May 2022

Mortara and Di Grassi keep up good momentum for ROKiT Venturi in second Berlin E-Prix

ROKiT Venturi soared to back-to-back podiums at the 2022 Berlin E-Prix on Sunday, with Edoardo Mortara taking second place in Ra
  • The second-placed finish on Sunday, following his race win on Saturday, puts Mortara into second in the World Drivers’ Championship

LONDON: ROKiT Venturi soared to back-to-back podiums at the 2022 Berlin E-Prix on Sunday, with Edoardo Mortara taking second place in Race Two after starting from pole position.

After his victory in the first race of the weekend double-header, the Monegasque team continued to show promise on Sunday morning by topping both practice sessions in the German capital.

Mortara and teammate Lucas di Grassi carried this momentum forward into qualifying and both drivers advanced from their respective groups to contest the duel stages.

In the Quarter-Finals, Di Grassi lost out to Nyck de Vries by only 0.270 seconds to qualify sixth while, by beating Nick Cassidy, Mortara faced the Dutchman in the second Semi-Final.

By defeating the Mercedes-EQ driver, then cemented his place in the Final and vanquished another Dutchman Robin Frijns by 0.498 seconds to secure a second consecutive pole position and three points.

At the start of the race, Mortara successfully defended from fellow front row starter Frijns but slipped to second following a diving move from De Vries into Turn One.

Di Grassi, meanwhile, made steady progress from the third row by immediately moving into the top five, overtaking Antonio Felix da Costa.

As the race progressed and strategy evolved, ROKiT's Swiss-Italian driver regained the lead and Di Grassi moved into third when De Vries and André Lotterer and Frijns activated Attack Mode with 34 minutes remaining.

In favor of the overcut strategy, however, the duo fell to fifth and sixth upon activating their sole Attack Mode of the E-Prix in the 16th minute.

With a power advantage over all other drivers ahead, the ROKiT drivers carved through the field, clearing Lotterer, Stoffel Vandoorne and da Costa to hold second and third on the road.

Despite posting the fastest lap of the race, Mortara was unable to close in on and pass De Vries but secured second place when the chequered flag waved in the German capital.

In the closing moments, Brazilian Di Grassi lost track position to Vandoorne and finished fourth overall to score 12 points.

The second-placed finish on Sunday, following his race win on Saturday, puts Mortara into second in the World Drivers’ Championship while, by scoring a total of 62 points in one weekend, ROKiT Venturi Racing moved to second in the Teams’ Standings, now holding 148 points from eight races.

“This weekend has been phenomenal and I’m extremely proud of the entire team for what we have been able to achieve, team principal Jerome D'Ambrosio said.

“One win, two podiums, two pole positions, two fastest laps and 62 points from two races is an incredible achievement and in a championship as close and competitive as Formula E, is one that doesn’t happen very often at all,” he added.

“Today’s race was more difficult in comparison to yesterday’s, Mortara said. “Both the ambient and track temperatures were much higher and this meant that there was more management to do, both for the energy and the tyresm and Nyck’s pace was very strong today and realistically, I think he was just out of reach for us.”

And Di Grassi was disspointed to miss out on a podium finish so late in the race.

“It was frustrating to miss out on the podium today, especially so close to the finish, but overall, I’m happy with this result. After yesterday it was clear that we had the pace to be at the front and we made the most in qualifying to start inside the top eight,” he said.

Formula E’s Season 8 campaign will resume on June 4 for the inaugural Jakarta E-Prix in Indonesia.


Penalty save denies City victory, keeps Premier League title race alive

Penalty save denies City victory, keeps Premier League title race alive
Updated 15 May 2022

Penalty save denies City victory, keeps Premier League title race alive

Penalty save denies City victory, keeps Premier League title race alive
  • City are now four points clear of Liverpool, who head to Southampton on Tuesday needing at least a point to take the title race to the final day
  • Leeds scored in the second minute of stoppage time to salvage a 1-1 draw against Brighton and move out of the relegation zone

LONDON: A dramatic penalty save might have kept the Premier League title race alive.
When Riyad Mahrez stepped up to take an 86th-minute spot kick for Manchester City, he knew that converting it would virtually secure another league championship for his team.
It was saved, though, by West Ham goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski and City had to settle for a 2-2 draw at the Olympic Stadium on Sunday — albeit from 2-0 down at halftime — to leave Liverpool still with hope.
City are now four points clear of Liverpool, who head to Southampton on Tuesday needing at least a point to take the title race to the final round next Sunday.
A win is probably required at Southampton, though, given City have a superior goal difference of 7 compared to Liverpool.
City finish at home to Aston Villa, managed by Liverpool great Steven Gerrard, who was never able to win the league for Liverpool. He still could — but as a coach.
Liverpool host Wolverhampton in their last game.
City manager Pep Guardiola hardly flinched when Fabianski dived to his left and clawed away Mahrez’s penalty. After a few seconds, Guardiola scratched the side of his head and rubbed his face, and didn’t appear too disheartened at the final whistle as he shared an embrace with Mark Noble — West Ham’s long-serving midfielder who is retiring at the end of the season and was making his final home appearance for the club.
Mahrez had converted his previous seven penalties this season. His most high-profile miss from the spot was in the 2018-19 season — another City vs. Liverpool title race — when he skied a penalty late in the game in a 0-0 draw at Anfield.
It’s just as tense at the other end of the standings.
Leeds scored in the second minute of stoppage time to salvage a 1-1 draw against Brighton and move out of the relegation zone at Burnley’s expense.
Pascal Struijk headed in the goal for Jesse Marsch’s Leeds, though it owed so much to a brilliant piece of skill on the byline by Joe Gelhardt before he crossed the ball over to Struijk to score at the back post.
Burnley lost 1-0 at Tottenham a few hours earlier — Harry Kane scored the winner from the penalty spot — and lie in third-to-last place, one point behind Leeds.
Burnley do have two games remaining while Leeds have one.
Everton will be safe from relegation by beating Brentford later Sunday.
Watford’s season is coming to a messy end under departing manager Roy Hodgson, a 5-1 home loss to Leicester leaving his team a point above last-place Norwich, who drew 1-1 at Wolves.
Norwich and Watford have already been relegated.
Aston Villa and Crystal Palace drew 1-1.
The race for Champions League qualification is also heading for the final day, too, with Tottenham climbing into fourth place — two points ahead of north London rivals Arsenal.
Arsenal have two games remaining compared to Tottenham’s one, the first coming at Newcastle on Monday.


Callum Wilson and Kieran Trippier desperate for Newcastle starts against Arsenal: Eddie Howe

Callum Wilson and Kieran Trippier desperate for Newcastle starts against Arsenal: Eddie Howe
Updated 15 May 2022

Callum Wilson and Kieran Trippier desperate for Newcastle starts against Arsenal: Eddie Howe

Callum Wilson and Kieran Trippier desperate for Newcastle starts against Arsenal: Eddie Howe
  • The two players have had no ill effects after their returns from long-term injuries, and the Magpies could also have Ryan Fraser back in contention

NEWCASTLE: Eddie Howe has revealed Callum Wilson and Kieran Trippier are desperate to be handed Newcastle United starts against Arsenal on Monday night.

However, the Magpies’ head coach is giving no clues away about his starting XI selections.

Wilson and Trippier both returned to the fold last time out against Manchester City, getting 20-minute cameos under their belts after four and two-and-a-half months out respectively.

Having suffered no ill effects from their Etihad exertions, both are said to be champing at the bit to be let loose against the Champions League-chasing Gunners.

“I think both players would say they are very keen to start,” said Howe. “My job is to make sure I’m doing the best, not just for the individual, but also for the team as well.

“We have to make sure that they’re fit enough to last a long period in the game because obviously I don’t want to be making too many changes too early in the match, which would unbalance the team.

“They’re also slightly different; you can’t group them together and say they’re at the same stage. Wilson has done more training work than Trippier, although of course he sustained a more serious injury.

“We’ll make a decision based on their training week as to whether they’re ready to start the game on Monday.”

While the narrative at Newcastle United at present is very much about new beginnings, this summer will also bring to an end some long associations with the football club as incomings and outgoings sweep through the ranks in the off season.

The likes of Matt Ritchie, Ciaran Clark, Dwight Gayle and Isaac Hayden, all signed in the summer of 2016 when United were aiming for promotion from the Championship, are likely to be heading out the door.

The same can probably be said of Federico Fernandez, Jamal Lewis, Karl Darlow and others.

So will Monday be looked upon as a farewell for many?

“It’s difficult to speak about individuals, but I’m sure for some of my players, it may well be an emotional experience,” Howe said. “I’m very much in the mindset that we have to be very appreciative of everybody’s efforts to our success this season in terms of the position we were in to where we are now. Everyone has played their part in that, whether they have participated on the pitch or not.

“I look at Clark, Hayden and Lewis, who were not in the 25-man squad, but their attitude to that disappointment has been incredible,” said Howe. “They’re still training with the group, and they’ve not been negative or disappointed for a moment. It’s important that I highlight that because we haven’t achieved anything as individuals. It’s been the collective group that’s done it and full credit to everyone.”

Meanwhile, Howe has revealed an injury boost ahead of tomorrow night’s encounter with the news that Ryan Fraser will likely be available for selection.

“Fraser returned to training, which is great to see. He trained very well, so fingers crossed he’s fine,” said Howe.

While the Scotland international’s fitness is on an upward trajectory, that’s not the case for everyone in the squad.

“Jonjo [Shelvey] has quite a serious calf injury, similar to the one he sustained at the start of the season,” said Howe.

“He’ll be out for a period of time, but we expect him back before pre-season with no problems. It’ll be the same for Joe Willock; he’s had an issue with a tendon in his knee for a while. We thought we sorted the problem, but it’s come back so he needs a period of rest. He’s had a couple of injections in his knee, and we anticipate he’ll be fine for pre-season.

“Fernandez has had a slight Achilles problem.”

Mikel Arteta is expected to welcome back central defenders Ben White and Gabriel Magalhaes at St. James’ Park but will continue to be without Thomas Partey through injury and the suspended Rob Holding.


5 things we learned as Al-Ahly and Wydad confirm all-Arab CAF Champions League final

5 things we learned as Al-Ahly and Wydad confirm all-Arab CAF Champions League final
Updated 15 May 2022

5 things we learned as Al-Ahly and Wydad confirm all-Arab CAF Champions League final

5 things we learned as Al-Ahly and Wydad confirm all-Arab CAF Champions League final
  • The Egyptian and Moroccan giants recorded comprehensive aggregate wins over ES Setif and Petro de Luanda to progress to May’s one-off final

The final of the 2021-22 CAF Champions League at the end of May will be an all-Arab affair. In the semi-finals Wydad AC of Morocco defeated Angola’s Petro de Luanda 4-2 on aggregate while Egypt’s Al-Ahly emerged as 6-2 victors over ES Setif of Algeria. Here are five things we learned from the latest matches.

Setif had too much to do after first leg disaster

The tie was as good as over after 35 minutes of the first leg in Cairo. Percy Tau opened the scoring after half an hour. When Setif had Amir Karaoui sent off five minutes later it was always a case of damage limitation. The first leg ended 4-0 and there was no way that the Algerians were coming back from that against the defending champions.

It took the pressure off the Egyptian giants for what could have been a tough trip to face 60,000 fans in Algiers. Whatever nerves there were must have been dispelled when Abdel Kaber scored after just two minutes to silence the home fans. Setif, to their credit, kept going until the end and drew 2-2 but they just had too much to do after the first game. Al-Ahly have won the tournament ten times in the past and have rarely had such a straightforward semi-final experience.

Wydad have a tougher time

Wydad AC also did the hard work in the first leg against Petro de Luanda, winning 3-1 in Angola. A team with the continental experience that the Moroccans have — having lifted the trophy twice and reached the final on two other occasions — was not going to let such an advantage slip. They drew 1-1 in front of 45,000 fans in Casablanca.

It was not as easy as it sounds, however. Petro went for it and attacked the hosts with aggression and ambition and when Gleison opened the scoring after 21 minutes to reduce the arrears, there were plenty of nerves at the Stade Mohammed V Stadium. Wydad soon equalized on the night and the situation started to settle. The Angolans continued to attack and enjoyed 58 percent of possession and had 15 goal attempts compared to the eight from Wydad. It was a tough game that should set the Moroccans up for the final nicely.

More redemption for Pitso Misomane

Al-Ahly’s coach has come in for plenty of criticism from former Al-Ahly legends, much of it unfair, but he is one of just five coaches in the history of the competition to win the trophy two years running. Pitso Mosimane won in 2021 to add to his 2020 triumph. Now he could become the first coach to win three in a row. If the South African, who also led Mamelodi Sundowns to the 2016 title, does so he will also equal the four titles won by Al-Ahly’s legendary Manuel Jose. That would make Mosimane one of the most successful coaches in world football. If the man known as “Jingles” can achieve that, then even the demanding Al-Ahly legends will have to keep quiet, for a while at least.

The row over the final is likely to continue

It wouldn’t be African football if there was not some sort of controversy. This time, it started even before the semi-finals were over as the CAF decided last week, between the first and second legs, that the final would take place in Wydad’s home stadium in Casablanca. Al-Ahly were furious at the move and immediately launched a protest.

The anger is understandable, with one Egyptian FA board member pointing out that either the decision needs to be made earlier and not just after two teams have had convincing first leg wins in the semi final or the game should take place at a neutral venue. CAF stood by their call, explaining that Morocco was the only country that had stepped forward to offer to host the big game and that Al-Ahly would just have to accept the decision.

The Red Giants obviously have no choice but are likely to keep talking about the venue all the way up until the final starts. Misomane is an experienced campaigner who will not be averse to using the issue to fire up his players. Al-Ahly will need all the help they can get in a one-off game against Wydad in front of their own fans.

Another Morocco vs Egypt clash

As two successful and experienced teams in African football, it is no surprise that Al-Ahly and Wydad have history. They met in the 2017 final with the first leg in Egypt ending 1-1 and Wydad taking the title with a 1-0 win in the return match. It was a tense and tough battle with the main memory being the amazing atmosphere that was created by both sets of fans. In Casablanca, it was a vibrant experience as the supporters roared their heroes on towards victory. In all, there have been 10 meetings between the two giants in the Champions League, with each winning five. Either Al-Ahly will be celebrating an 11th title or Wydad will make it three. The national teams also met in the quarter-final of the African Cup of Nations in January with Egypt eliminating the Atlas Lions and going on to the last four.