Chelsea look to rise to the challenge of the FIFA Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi

Chelsea look to rise to the challenge of the FIFA Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi
Chelsea's players celebrate scoring against Al-Hilal in the semi-final of the Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi (Basheer Saleh)
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Updated 12 February 2022

Chelsea look to rise to the challenge of the FIFA Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi

Chelsea look to rise to the challenge of the FIFA Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi
  • The Blues will look to emulate Manchester United and Liverpool by becoming world champions at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium

ABU DHABI: It is hardly a surprise that the FIFA Club World Cup final is between the European and the South American champions, especially given the European domination of the competition in recent decades.

Chelsea are eyeing their first title against the Brazilian Palmeiras after failing to win the competition in their one previous final against another Brazilian team, Corinthians, in 2012 at Nissan Stadium in Japan.

English clubs have had a complicated history with this competition, and its previous incarnations, with many perhaps not giving it the importance that clubs from other continents — and other European teams — do.

Due to their participation in the Club World Cup, two Premier League matches have been postponed, something that many observers say could affect the club’s fading title challenge and other domestic and European challenges this season.

English clubs have started to take this competition more seriously, and Chelsea will want to become only the third English team to win it, after Manchester United and Liverpool.

Those two clubs banished traditional complaints against the competition by winning their matches on their return to the Premier League and going on to win the title.

In 2019, Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool clinched the Club World Cup in Qatar after beating Brazil’s Flamingo 1-0. At the time top of the Premier League table at the time, they returned home to stroll to title.

Manchester United were crowned world champions in 2008 after golden boy Wayne Rooney scored the only goal against the Ecuadorean League de Quito; though third in the table at the time, Alex Ferguson’s team retained their Premier League title that season. The Club World Cup did not prove the distraction that some feared.

Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel will be hoping the trend continues with his European champions. The German does not want to make any particular competition a priority, as Chelsea compete on five fronts.

On Feb 27, the Blues take on Liverpool in the Carabao Cup final; they are third in the English Premier League, ten points behind leaders Manchester City with 14 games remaining; in the FA Cup they are through to the fifth round; and they face the French club Lille in the round of 16 of the Champions League - at Stamford Bridge on Feb. 22, and away in the return leg on March 16.

One way or the other, Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi will witness the coronation of a new champion on Saturday night. Palmeiras will look to carry on Brazil’s fine tradition in the competition. Chelsea, the clear favorites, will hope their time has finally come to be crowned world champions.

The outcome of the semi-finals means that the final will not have an Arab presence. Al-Hilal lost 1-0 to Chelsea, despite a heroic performance, but will have shot at third place on Saturday when they take on Egypt’s Al-Ahly, who lost the other semi-final to Palmeiras.


Al-Ittihad name Nuno Espirito Santo as head coach

Al-Ittihad name Nuno Espirito Santo as head coach
Updated 6 sec ago

Al-Ittihad name Nuno Espirito Santo as head coach

Al-Ittihad name Nuno Espirito Santo as head coach
  • Portuguese tactician has reputation for producing teams that are hard to beat
  • Familiar faces from English Premier League likely heading to the Red Sea port

LONDON: Al-Ittihad appointed Nuno Espirito Santo as head coach on Monday, with the former Valencia, Porto and Tottenham Hotspur boss replacing Cosmin Contra at the eight-time champions of Saudi Arabia.

The Portuguese tactician, who spent four years in charge of Wolverhampton Wanderers before heading to North London in the summer of 2021, has been available since being dismissed by Spurs in November after just four months in charge. He has been handed a two-year contract by the Jeddah giants with his main task to deliver a first title since 2009.

After spells with Valencia and Porto, the former goalkeeper took over at Wolves in 2017. After securing promotion into the English Premier League, he then established the West Midlands club as a force in the top tier. That record took him to Tottenham but after three wins in the first three games of last season, it all started to go wrong at White Hart Lane with just nine goals scored in the first 10 league games. After damaging defeats at the hands of Arsenal and Manchester United, he received his marching orders.

Unlike at Tottenham, however, when Nuno arrived after a number of other coaches had turned the job down or were unavailable, he has been Al-Ittihad’s number one target after the decision was made not to offer Contra a new deal.

The club announced the departure of the Romanian, whose contract ended last week, earlier in the day and wasted no time in announcing their new man.

Contra had talked openly of his desire to stay at the club and of his plans for next season. After his appointment last August, the former Dinamo Bucharest coach took Al-Ittihad clear at the top of the table to the extent that, in February, they were 16 points clear of Al-Hilal. It all went wrong as the Tigers dropped 13 points from the final eight games of the season, a ruin that allowed Al-Hilal to take the title on the final day.

“I would like to apologize that we let you down at the last minute, and although we did our best, we did not live up to the aspirations of our fans,” Contra said on social media. He highlighted that great champions bounce back from big disappointments by learning from their mistakes. “Al-Ittihad will return next season stronger to achieve the title that we have been waiting for a long time,” he added.

They will do so without him. The way the team threw away the title has led management to believe that a firmer pair of hands was needed at the helm. There was particular disquiet at the hugely damaging twin defeats against Al-Hilal in the run-in and the way Ittihad threw away a 3-1 lead against Al-Feiha to draw 4-4 on May 6. That the latter result came just three days after Al-Hilal had surprisingly been defeated by Al-Fateh, giving Al-Ittihad an opportunity to take a huge step toward the title, was painful and a sign, so those in charge believe, of a problem with the team’s mentality especially in pressure situations.

Nuno’s reputation for producing pragmatic teams that are hard to beat has earned him plus points within the Jeddah hierarchy. His goal is clear: To deliver a first league title to this corner of Jeddah since 2009, a dry run that has gone on too long for all involved with the two-time Asian champions.

He has, according to those behind the scenes at the club, already made it clear as to which players he wants to bring in, and there should be some familiar faces from the English Premier League heading to the Red Sea port. There will already be talent waiting. The club are keen to keep Brazilian attacking duo Romarinho, who scored 20 goals last season, and Igor Coronado. Moroccan striker Abderrazak Hamdallah is also wanted though there is interest from elsewhere in the region as well as Europe. Egyptian center-back Ahmed Hegazi is also likely to stay.

With Nuno Santo’s arrival at Al-Ittihad coming just days after Rudi Garcia took charge of Al-Nassr, who finished third last season and Al-Hilal’s announcement that they have renewed the contract of head coach Ramon Diaz, next season is already shaping up to be exciting. Al-Ittihad have got their man and have their sights set upon going one better in 2023.

 


Rafael Nadal into Wimbledon quarters as Nick Kyrgios lurks

Rafael Nadal into Wimbledon quarters as Nick Kyrgios lurks
Updated 05 July 2022

Rafael Nadal into Wimbledon quarters as Nick Kyrgios lurks

Rafael Nadal into Wimbledon quarters as Nick Kyrgios lurks
  • Rafael Nadal shows no mercy to Dutch 21st seed Botic van de Zandschulp in their evening clash on Center Court

LONDON: Rafael Nadal swept into the Wimbledon quarterfinals on Monday, staying on course for a crunch meeting with Nick Kyrgios, who was on his best behavior in a battling five-set win.

In the women’s competition, 2019 champion Simona Halep demolished Spanish fourth seed Paula Badosa in just 60 minutes to set up a meeting with Amanda Anisimova.

Nadal, chasing a rare calendar Grand Slam, started his campaign at the All England Club slowly but is now in the groove as he hunts a third Wimbledon crown.

He showed no mercy to Dutch 21st seed Botic van de Zandschulp in their evening clash on Center Court, overcoming a late wobble to seal a 6-4, 6-2, 7-6 (8/6) win.

“I think I continued in a positive way until the end where I played a bad game,” said the Spanish second seed.

“In a personal way, for me to be able to be in quarterfinals after three years (away from Wimbledon) it’s amazing for me so very, very happy.”

Nadal broke his opponent five times in the match, capitalizing on his fourth match point to reach the Wimbledon quarters for the eighth time.

If the 22-time Grand Slam champion beats 11th seed Taylor Fritz and Kyrgios gets past Chile’s Cristian Garin, they will meet in a mouthwatering semifinal on Friday.

Kyrgios earlier shrugged off a shoulder injury to beat US player Brandon Nakashima 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (7/2), 3-6, 6-2.

The maverick Australian was a changed man just two days after his stormy third-round victory against Greek fourth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas.

Kyrgios looked to be in trouble when Nakashima broke for 4-3 in the fourth and took the set courtesy of a lazy Kyrgios service game.

But he rallied in the decider, passing the 100-ace mark for the tournament and breaking twice to secure the win.

Kyrgios, who needed regular physio treatment, hammered 79 winners, including 35 aces.

The last time the 40th-ranked player reached the last eight at a major was at the Australian Open in 2015, a year after he reached the same stage on his debut at the All England Club.

But he is seen as a major threat to Nadal, whom he beat on his way to the quarter-finals in 2014.

The Australian, 27, said he was trying to stay “in the moment.” 

“I’m not thinking about lifting a trophy or making semifinals or making the final,” he said.

“I’m just thinking about my habits every day, just trying to put in a good performance on the court, then put in a good practice session, try to stay positive, try to really separate.

“You know, once I’m off the court, enjoy time with my team, my girlfriend, and just really enjoy that, then get into the game mode.”

The unseeded Garin pulled off an astonishing comeback against Australia’s Alex de Minaur, whom he had not beaten before.

The Chilean recovered from two sets down and saved two match points in the fifth set to beat the 19th seed in a gruelling contest lasting four hours and 34 minutes.

America’s Fritz, who beat Nadal in the Indian Wells final earlier this year, cruised past Australian qualifier Jason Kubler for the loss of just eight games.

Former world No. 1 Halep is looking increasingly dangerous as she makes stately progress toward a second Wimbledon crown in a draw now short of big names.

The Romanian’s match against Badosa appeared tricky on paper but proved anything but, with the 16th seed coming through 6-1, 6-2.

Halep, yet to drop a set at Wimbledon this year, will face Anisimova of the US for a place in the semifinals.

Anisomova, seeded 20, ended the dream run of French player Harmony Tan, who shocked Serena Williams in her opening match, winning 6-2, 6-3.

Kazakhstan’s Elena Rybakina beat Petra Martic of Croatia in straight sets and will face Ajla Tomljanovic after the Australian ended the run of French veteran Alize Cornet.

Earlier, Wimbledon chief executive Sally Bolton said tournament bosses had lodged an appeal against fines handed down by the WTA women’s tour for bans on Russian and Belarusian players.

The All England Club imposed the sanctions in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and players were also prevented from playing in Wimbledon warm-up events.

Both the ATP men’s tour and the WTA reacted to the Wimbledon ban by stripping the Grand Slam of ranking points.


US, Jamaica women win in World Cup, Olympic qualifying event

US, Jamaica women win in World Cup, Olympic qualifying event
Updated 05 July 2022

US, Jamaica women win in World Cup, Olympic qualifying event

US, Jamaica women win in World Cup, Olympic qualifying event
  • The eight-team tournament at Monterrey serves as the North American qualifier for the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, and the 2024 Paris Olympics

MONTERREY, Mexico: Two-time defending champion US blanked Haiti 3-0 on Monday in the opening match of the CONCACAF W tournament, a regional qualifier for the 2023 Women’s World Cup and 2024 Olympics.

The two-time reigning Women’s World Cup champion US seized a 2-0 half-time lead through goals by Alex Morgan in the 16th and 23rd minutes. Midge Purce added the third in the 84th minute for the Americans.

In the day’s other match, Jamaican captain Khadija Shaw scored in the eighth minute to give her team a 1-0 victory over host Mexico.

The eight-team tournament at Monterrey serves as the North American qualifier for the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, and the 2024 Paris Olympics.

Group A features the USA, Jamaica, Mexico and Haiti while Group B comprises Canada, Costa Rica, Panama and Trinidad and Tobago.

The two top teams in each group will advance to the semifinals and next year’s Women’s World Cup with third-place group teams advancing to next February’s global playoff for three final Women’s World Cup spots.

The CONCACAF champion will advance to the Paris Olympics while the runner-up and third-place teams will meet in a playoff next year to determine another 2024 berth in France.


Poulter, 2 others win court stay to play in Scottish Open

Poulter, 2 others win court stay to play in Scottish Open
Updated 05 July 2022

Poulter, 2 others win court stay to play in Scottish Open

Poulter, 2 others win court stay to play in Scottish Open
  • The PGA Tour suspended its members who signed up for the Saudi-backed series run by Greg Norman

VIRGINIA WATER, England: Ian Poulter and two other players who signed up for the Saudi-backed LIV Golf series won a stay Monday from a British court that allows them to play in the Scottish Open.

Poulter, Adrian Otaegui of Spain and Justin Harding of South Africa challenged their suspension from the Scottish Open and two other tournaments, the penalty for playing a LIV Golf event outside London without a release from the European tour.

They will be added to the field this week at The Renaissance Club for the Scottish Open, the first European Tour event co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour.

The PGA Tour suspended its members who signed up for the Saudi-backed series run by Greg Norman. Poulter is also a PGA Tour member.

Poulter was among 16 players who hinted at legal action over European tour penalties, though the temporary stay after a hearing before Judge Phillip Sycamore, who was appointed by Sports Resolutions (UK), applied only to the three players.

“I will simply say we are disappointed by the outcome of today’s hearing, but will abide by the decision,” European Tour CEO Keith Pelley said in a statement. “It is important to remember, however, this is only a stay of the sanctions imposed, pending the hearing of the players’ appeal as to whether those sanctions were appropriate.”

Pelley was at the JP McManus Pro-Am in Ireland and said he would withhold a more detailed response until the charity event was over, out of respect to the hosts. McManus has attracted a world-class field that includes Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Scottie Scheffler and a host of other major champions.

Poulter also is playing the two-day event in Ireland.

Earlier in the day, he told BBC Sports he was fighting for his right to play golf.

“My commitment to the European Tour has been there since day one,” he said. “And it’s still there today. I’m proud of playing so often, when it was to the detriment of world ranking points and FedEx Cup points I could have earned playing more in America.”

Along with the suspension, players who competed in LIV Golf without permission were fined £100,000 ($121,000), roughly the amount of last-place money in the $20 million LIV events.


Five things to watch out for on the Tour de France

Five things to watch out for on the Tour de France
Updated 05 July 2022

Five things to watch out for on the Tour de France

Five things to watch out for on the Tour de France

DUNKIRK, FRANCE: The Tour de France gets back underway Tuesday after a successful three days in Denmark with a series of testing stages that will shape the destiny of the 2022 yellow jersey.

Here, AFP Sport takes a look at five things worth watching out for in the next seven days:

— With three hilly stages, two mountain days and the treacherous cobbles, attack-minded Mathieu van der Poel of Alpecin will be straining at the leash to once more claim the overall leader’s yellow jersey after a fine run in 2021. He can probably not do it in the mountains, but the one-day specialist sits just 20 seconds off Wout van Aert’s lead and may even go for the gun between Dunkirk and Calais on Tuesday.

— The Tour takes on 20km of the old mining roads that led the Paris-Roubaix to gain its nickname ‘the Hell of the North’. That stretch could provide a shake-up in the overall standings and may also reveal the true nature of the pecking order inside the teams with more than one leader.

If Tadej Pogacar’s hand injury is worse than he is showing, it will be put to a rude test. Ineos could protect Adam Yates, or opt to allow Geraint Thomas to plow on if he is in difficulty. Primoz Roglic would appear stronger for Jumbo, but they also have Jonas Vingegaard as a possible leader and will also consider how long to try and keep Wout van Aert in yellow.

— The last time the Tour took on this climb in the Vosges mountains to the storied summit finish, Thomas gained time on all his key rivals on the punishing upper reaches contested over gravel. The Tour winner will likely not be revealed here, with time differences between the overall contenders expected to remain within 30-40 seconds. But this is the Tour’s first summit finish, first mountain stage and will provide major form pointers ahead of the crucial Alpine stages ahead.

— The 10th stage in the Swiss Alps is potentially the most gruling test of the week, with over 40km of tough ascents. It will put Ineos’ promise to race aggressively to the test. They have two climbers in their ranks capable of a bid to put time into defending champion Pogacar, or at least wear him out on a Tour thin on traditional mountain challenges.

— Ineos were talking up a fight ahead of the Tour, suggesting they would race aggressively in their bid to end Pogacar’s reign. Their two leaders are climbers Daniel Martinez and Yates who will have to wait for the mountains to launch an attack. Jumbo-Visma, runners-up in the past two years, said they would be concentrating on just surviving the opening stages. The merits of those differing strategies will be put under the microscope this week.