Global talent powers LeBron v. Durant at NBA All-Star Game

Global talent powers LeBron v. Durant at NBA All-Star Game
NBA Legends Dave Bing, Oscar Robertson and Lenny Wilkens during the NBA All-Star game in 1997. Some iconic players will attend when the league celebrates its 75th Anniversary Team during Sunday’s All-Star Game. (AP/File)
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Updated 18 February 2022

Global talent powers LeBron v. Durant at NBA All-Star Game

Global talent powers LeBron v. Durant at NBA All-Star Game
  • Greek star Antetokounmpo will spark Team LeBron James in the elite talent showdown at James's home area of Cleveland
  • Embiid will ignite Team Kevin Durant, whose namesake captain is injured and will not play

WASHINGTON: Two-time NBA Most Valuable Player Giannis Antetokounmpo and NBA scoring leader Joel Embiid lead a record-tying four international starters in Sunday’s 71st NBA All-Star Game.
Greek star Antetokounmpo, last year’s NBA Finals MVP after leading the Milwaukee Bucks to their first title in 50 years, will spark Team LeBron James in the elite talent showdown at James’s home area of Cleveland, Ohio.
Antetokoumpo averages 29.4 points a game, second in the NBA, just ahead of Los Angeles Lakers superstar James at 29.1 per contest.
James called Antetokounmpo “the hardest playing player in All-Star history” upon taking him in a player draft and the “Greek Freak” has the Bucks contending for another crown.
“I just try to play as hard as I can, play for the team and always play to win,” Antetokounmpo said.
“We’re happy we won the championship last year, but we’re not satisfied. We’re trying to put ourselves in a position that we can be one of those teams that play down the stretch in June.”
Embiid, the Cameroonian forward who leads the NBA with 29.6 points a game for Philadelphia, will ignite Team Kevin Durant, whose namesake captain is injured and will not play.
The Sixers star could be the first center to win the scoring title since Shaquille O’Neal in 2000.
“You have to do whatever it takes to win,” Embiid said. “I know my role and it’s to go out there and dominate. I’m going to get the ball a lot and I’m going to make things happen.
“It’s all about making the right plays, finding my teammates, looking to score and just being aggressive.”
Serbian center Nikola Jokic, the 2021 NBA MVP, will also start for Team LeBron while Canadian forward Andrew Wiggins of the Golden State Warriors is also in the opening lineup for Durant’s squad in his first All-Star appearance.
Memphis standout guard Ja Morant, averaging 26.4 points a game, makes his first All-Star Game appearance as a starter for Team Durant, which also features Boston swingman Jayson Tatum in Durant’s place and Atlanta guard Trae Young, who ranks fifth in the NBA with 27.8 points a game and fourth in the league with 9.3 assists a contest.
LeBron’s other fellow starters include eight-time NBA All-Star Stephen Curry of Golden State and five-time All-Star DeMar DeRozan of the Chicago Bulls.
Each team has a global big man among the reserves with Utah’s Rudy Gobert, a Frenchman who leads the NBA with 14.8 rebounds a game, on the bench for Team Durant and Slovenian playmaker Luka Doncic of Dallas among Team LeBron substitutes.
This becomes the fifth consecutive year that James has served as captain of an All-Star team since the format changed from an East versus West matchup and he is trying to stay unbeaten.
Team LeBron beat a Curry-captained squad in 2018, another guided by Antetokounmpo in 2019 and 2020 and defeated Team Durant 170-150 last year with Antetokounmpo taking All-Star MVP honors.
Philadelphia guard James Harden is injured and will not play for Team LeBron while Team Durant lacks injured Golden State forward Draymond Green.
Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra will coach Team Durant while Phoenix’s Monty Williams coaches Team LeBron.
Among veteran All-Star reserves are 12-time All-Star Chris Paul of Phoenix and six-time All-Star Jimmy Butler of Miami for Team LeBron and Team Durant’s three-time All-Star Devin Booker of Phoenix and two-time All-Star Zach LaVine of Chicago.
First-time All-Stars include Charlotte guard LaMelo Ball for Team Durant and Cleveland guard Darius Garland and Cleveland center Jarrett Allen for Team LeBron.


Belgium drop Eden Hazard for Croatia World Cup clash

Belgium drop Eden Hazard for Croatia World Cup clash
Belgium's forward Eden Hazard attends a press conference at Salwa Beach, southwest of Doha. AFP
Updated 14 sec ago

Belgium drop Eden Hazard for Croatia World Cup clash

Belgium drop Eden Hazard for Croatia World Cup clash
  • The Real Madrid forward was left out of the XI as one of four changes from the team which started the surprise 2-0 defeat by Morocco last weekend

DOHA: Belgium coach Roberto Martinez dropped captain Eden Hazard to the bench for his side’s crucial World Cup game against Croatia on Thursday.
The Real Madrid forward was left out of the XI as one of four changes from the team which started the surprise 2-0 defeat by Morocco last weekend.
The Belgians played down media reports of an altercation between senior players, including Hazard, earlier this week, with Martinez calling the rumors “fake news.”
Belgium have to beat 2018 runners-up Croatia in their final Group F match at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium to be sure of qualification to the last 16.
Martinez also gave in-form Brighton attacker Leandro Trossard and veteran winger Dries Mertens their first starts of the tournament.
Leander Dendoncker replaced the suspended Amadou Onana in midfield.
Striker Romelu Lukaku was again only fit enough for a place on the bench after making a brief substitute appearance against Morocco.
Croatia boss Zlatko Dalic named an unchanged starting line-up after the impressive 4-1 victory over Canada left them only needing to avoid defeat against Belgium to go through.
Morocco take on already-eliminated Canada simultaneously in the other last Group F game, knowing a point would secure a place in the knockout phase for the first time since 1986.
Starting line-ups:
Croatia (4-3-3)
Dominik Livakovic; Josip Juranovic, Dejan Lovren, Josko Gvardiol, Borna Sosa; Mateo Kovacic, Luka Modric, Marcelo Brozovic; Ivan Perisic, Andrej Kramaric, Marko Livaja
Coach: Zlatko Dalic (CRO)
Belgium (4-3-3)
Thibaut Courtois; Thomas Meunier, Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen, Timothy Castagne; Axel Witsel, Leander Dendoncker, Kevin De Bruyne (capt); Yannick Carrasco, Leandro Trossard, Dries Mertens
Coach: Roberto Martinez (ESP)
Referee: Anthony Taylor (ENG)


Saudi Arabia exits World Cup with newfound confidence

Saudi Arabia exits World Cup with newfound confidence
Updated 13 min 51 sec ago

Saudi Arabia exits World Cup with newfound confidence

Saudi Arabia exits World Cup with newfound confidence
  • With Herve Renard motivating the team in his emblematic white shirt on the sidelines, Saudi Arabia proved tough to beat
  • Performance could also help promote a possible joint bid by Saudi Arabia with Egypt and Greece to host the 2030 World Cup

LUSAIL, Qatar: From a generational-defining win over Lionel Messi and Argentina to the recent reports that Cristiano Ronaldo could soon be on his way to play soccer in the kingdom, Saudi Arabia has caused a sensation at the World Cup.
The Green Falcons have nothing to be ashamed about after being eliminated following a 2-1 loss to Mexico on Wednesday.
The second-lowest ranked team in the tournament at No. 51 — one spot behind host Qatar — and ahead of only 61st-ranked Ghana, Saudi Arabia was competitive from start to finish at the first World Cup in the Middle East.
“We did our best. Today it was more difficult for us,” said Hervé Renard, Saudi Arabia’s French coach. “But we don’t have to forget what we did together.”
The Saudis opened with a surprising 2-1 victory over Argentina and also played solidly in a 2-0 loss to Poland before conceding two second-half goals to Mexico to finish last in Group C.
Salem Al-Dawsari, the team’s star No. 10, pulled a goal back in added time, before the Saudi players bent over on the field at the final whistle in prayer and then stood up to applaud their fans.
Strong goalkeeping from Mohammed Al-Owais prevented Mexico from scoring another goal — which could have sent the South Americans through to the round of 16. Instead, it was Argentina and Poland who advanced in the most wide-open group of the tournament.
With Renard motivating the team in his emblematic white shirt on the sidelines, Saudi Arabia proved tough to beat with a team featuring all 26 players based at home.
The fact that none of the Saudis play abroad may have been a surprise factor but the reality is that the country’s best players don’t need to go to Europe for rich contracts when they are paid handsomely in the lucrative Saudi league.
A high-paying contract is exactly what could lure Ronaldo to join six members of the Saudi national team at Al Nassr, one of the country’s leading clubs.
The reports linking Ronaldo with Al Nassr come after the five-time Ballon d’Or winner had his contract terminated by Manchester United.
Saudi-owned Newcastle United is also reportedly in the market for Ronaldo.
But whether Ronaldo goes to a Saudi or Saudi-owned club or not, the country’s national team leaves Qatar with plenty of newfound confidence.
The performance could also help promote a possible joint bid by Saudi Arabia with Egypt and Greece to host the 2030 World Cup.


Indictments requested for Agnelli and others in Juve scandal

Indictments requested for Agnelli and others in Juve scandal
Updated 20 min 55 sec ago

Indictments requested for Agnelli and others in Juve scandal

Indictments requested for Agnelli and others in Juve scandal
  • Former vice-president Pavel Nedved and CEO Maurizio Arrivabene are also named
  • A date for the preliminary hearing to decide whether to indict and proceed to trial is expected to be announced in the next week

TURIN, Italy: The Turin prosecutor’s office has requested indictments of former Juventus president Andrea Agnelli, 10 other former board members, and the club following an investigation into alleged false accounting.
Former vice president Pavel Nedved and CEO Maurizio Arrivabene — who left the club on Monday when Agnelli and the entire board of directors resigned — are also named, as is former Juventus director of sport Fabio Paratici, who has moved to Tottenham.
A date for the preliminary hearing to decide whether to indict and proceed to trial is expected to be announced in the next week.
Juventus maintains “the accounting treatment adopted in the contested financial statements falls within those allowed by applicable accounting principles,” and it has drawn that conclusion “on the basis of a solid set of opinions by leading legal and accounting professionals.”
In a lengthy statement issued by the club, it added: “Juventus remain convinced that they have always acted correctly and intend to assert their reasons and defend their corporate, economic and sporting interests in all forums.”
Prosecutors have been investigating since last year whether Juventus cashed in on illegal commissions from transfers and loans of players. The case is also exploring if investors were misled with invoices being issued for non-existent transactions to demonstrate income that in turn could be deemed false accounting.
The case involves player contracts, transfers and agent dealings from 2018-20.
At the start of the pandemic, Juventus said 23 players agreed to reduce their salary for four months to help the club through the crisis. But prosecutors claim the players gave up only one month’s salary.
Turin prosecutors have also apparently discovered more secret payments to former player Cristiano Ronaldo that were not reported by the club.
Juventus are listed on the Milan stock exchange, which also opens it to regulatory scrutiny by the CONSOB watchdog. The club CFO, Stefano Cerrato, was caught on phone taps saying that if CONSOB questioned their moves, they would “razzle-dazzle” the regulators with fancy words, according to leaks to Italian media.
Trading in Juventus shares was flat on Thursday, after a negative 1.16 percent close on Wednesday at 0.2738 euros.


Record-breaking England put Pakistan to the sword in first Test

Record-breaking England put Pakistan to the sword in first Test
Updated 38 min 7 sec ago

Record-breaking England put Pakistan to the sword in first Test

Record-breaking England put Pakistan to the sword in first Test
  • Openers Zak Crawley (122) and Ben Duckett (107) set the tone with quick-fire tons against a hapless Pakistan bowling attack
  • It was also the first time four batters scored hundreds on day one of a Test

RAWALPINDI, Pakistan: Four England batsmen scored hundreds Thursday as the visitors piled up a record 506-4 on the opening day of the first Test against Pakistan in Rawalpindi.
Openers Zak Crawley (122) and Ben Duckett (107) set the tone with quick-fire tons against a hapless Pakistan bowling attack before Ollie Pope (108) and Harry Brook (101 not out) compounded the hosts’ misery.
Ben Stokes was also not out, on 34, when bad light stopped play, having helped England break a 112-year-old record for the most runs on the first day of a Test — beating Australia’s 494-6 against South Africa at Sydney.
It was also the first time four batters scored hundreds on day one of a Test.
After winning the toss England went straight into “Bazball” mode, the brand of freewheeling, aggressive play taken from the nickname of head coach Brendon McCullum.
England’s fiery batting — with 73 boundaries and three sixes — lifted the gloom over the start, which hung in the balance Wednesday after several of the tourists came down with a mystery virus.
As if the punishment from the top three wasn’t enough, Brook — playing only his second Test — cracked six consecutive boundaries off one over from debutant spinner Saud Shakeel.
He is only the fourth batsman to score six consecutive boundaries in a Test, following West Indians Chris Gayle and Ramnaresh Sarwan, and Sri Lanka’s Sanath Jayasuriya.
Brook reached his maiden century off just 80 balls, capping a highly entertaining day for a crowd of 6,000 that included around 150 “Barmy Army” fans.
He added 176 for the fourth wicket with Pope, who fell to pacer Mohammad Ali.
Pakistan fought back briefly in the second session when they dismissed Duckett, Crawley and Joe Root (23) in the space of 53 runs, but that was shortlived.
England have set their sights on even more runs.
“It was obviously a very good wicket to bat on,” said Crawley.
“Hopefully, we can go on tomorrow and get more runs.”
Debutant leg-spinner Zahid Mahmood was the most successful Pakistan bowler with 2-160 on an unresponsive wicket.
“The pitch was similar to the one we had against Australia, but it should have been a bit more supportive,” said Pakistan head coach Saqlain Mushtaq, referring to the Test played earlier this year that yielded 1,187 runs for the loss of just 14 wickets over five days.
Duckett, who hit his maiden hundred after being recalled to the Test side following an absence of six years, was the first to go when he missed a reverse sweep off Mahmood and was trapped leg-before.
West Indian umpire Joel Wilson initially ruled it not out, only to change his decision on Pakistan’s review.
Duckett, who hit 15 boundaries, put on 233 for the first wicket with Crawley — an England record for the first wicket against Pakistan.
It beat the 1962 stand of 198 between openers Geoff Pullar and Bob Barber in Dhaka, then East Pakistan.
Crawley was bowled off a sharp delivery by Haris Rauf in the next over, the Test debutant’s first wicket.
The lanky Crawley hit 21 boundaries in his quickfire 111-ball innings, his third Test hundred.
Former skipper Root also fell leg-before to Mahmood, unsuccessfully challenging the decision.
Crawley showed his intent right from the start, hitting three boundaries off Pakistan fast bowler Naseem Shah’s first over of the match, and bringing up his half-century off just 38 balls.
He could have become the first England batter to score a century before lunch on day one of a Test but was left nine short.
England are on their first Test tour to Pakistan in 17 years.

Related


Chameleon Rodrygo eyeing Neymar’s No.10 spot for Brazil

Chameleon Rodrygo eyeing Neymar’s No.10 spot for Brazil
Brazil's forward Rodrygo reacts during the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group G football match against Switzerland. AFP
Updated 50 min 32 sec ago

Chameleon Rodrygo eyeing Neymar’s No.10 spot for Brazil

Chameleon Rodrygo eyeing Neymar’s No.10 spot for Brazil
  • Substitute Rodrygo set up Casemiro’s late goal in their 1-0 win against the Swiss, which followed a 2-0 victory against Serbia in their World Cup opener
  • Casemiro believes Rodrygo, who plays for Real Madrid, has the talent to be Brazil’s next big star

DOHA: Rodrygo is the complete striker: the 21-year-old Brazilian can play on the left, the right, as a No.10 or as a false nine.
And after his decisive second-half performance against Switzerland on Monday he looks well-placed to finally earn his first start for the Selecao, maybe even in Neymar’s playmaker role.
Substitute Rodrygo set up Casemiro’s late goal in their 1-0 win against the Swiss, which followed a 2-0 victory against Serbia in their World Cup opener.
Brazil have already qualified for the last 16 ahead of Friday’s final Group G clash against Cameroon and coach Tite is likely to make changes, with Neymar still nursing an ankle injury sustained in their opening match.
Casemiro believes Rodrygo, who plays for Real Madrid, has the talent to be Brazil’s next big star.
“God gave him the gift of playing football. It’s beautiful watching him play,” the Manchester United midfielder, who used to play alongside Rodrygo at Madrid, said last week.
The five-time World Cup winners have an embarrassment of riches in the attacking department, even with Neymar injured and Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho left out of the squad.
Raphinha, Antony, Vinicius Junior, Gabriel Jesus, Gabriel Martinelli, Pedro and Richarlison are all providing competition for Rodrygo.
But the youngest player in Tite’s World Cup squad has one major advantage over the others.
“We’ve seen him playing as a false nine, a 10, the ‘Neymar” of Real Madrid, with the ability to play on the left and right,” Matheus Bachi, an assistant coach with Brazil, who is also Tite’s son, said recently.
“He’s a chameleon, but a chameleon who does all these functions very well.”
That versatility was evident when Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti started deploying Rodrygo in the center of the attack this season alongside striker Karim Benzema, rather than using his pace on the flanks.
“He’s a special forward, he can play in every position. He’s quick, intelligent off the ball and effective one on one,” said Ancelotti.
Rodrygo has seven goals and five assists in 19 club matches this season.
His two late goals off the bench for Real in the Champions League semifinal against Manchester City last season turned the tie on its head and the Merengue went on to lift the trophy.

- ‘Very smart’ -

Rodrygo’s versatility was well known at his first club, Santos — the same team that produced Pele and Neymar. 
He played as a No.10 in the academy but made his first team debut in 2017 on the left wing.
Neymar used to play on the left before he was moved into a more central position and back in 2017 Jair Ventura, who gave Rodrygo his Santos debut, decided to develop his abilities “on the right, in the center and as a false nine,” he told ESPN in 2019.
That ability to play across the forward line has served Rodrygo well.
His performances soon alerted Real Madrid and he moved to Spain in 2019.
“He’s extremely professional and educated. He’s very smart, you explain something to him once and he understands it immediately,” said Ventura, the son of ex-player Jairzinho, a World Cup winner in 1970 alongside Pele.
Since his Brazil debut three years ago, Rodrygo has made nine appearances, but all as a substitute.
He scored one goal in a 4-0 World Cup qualifying win over Paraguay and now has one assist to his name too.
And he has no doubt that he could fill the void left by Neymar.
“I feel comfortable playing in every position up front. I’ve already played with the No.10 jersey in the junior categories but it’s only recently that (senior) coaches have started putting me there,” Rodrygo said recently.
“We already have our No.10 here, Neymar, but who knows for the future.”
The future may be now.