Olympics chief ‘on side of peace’ in Russia’s sporting exile

Olympics chief ‘on side of peace’ in Russia’s sporting exile
Russian and Belarusian athletes at the Winter Paralympic Games in Beijing will compete as neutrals but will not be expelled because of their countries’ roles in the war against Ukraine, the International Paralympic Committee said Wednesday. (AP)
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Updated 02 March 2022

Olympics chief ‘on side of peace’ in Russia’s sporting exile

Olympics chief ‘on side of peace’ in Russia’s sporting exile
  • The IOC on Monday urged sports federations to exclude Russian and Belarusian athletes following the full-scale invasion of Ukraine
  • The move quickly led to Russia becoming an international sporting pariah

GENEVA: The head of the International Olympic Committee on Wednesday pinned full responsibility for Russia’s sporting exile on the Kremlin, insisting Russian athletes should not prosper while their Ukrainian counterparts suffer.
The IOC on Monday urged sports federations to exclude Russian and Belarusian athletes following the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, having already urged the cancelation or relocation of planned sports events.
The move quickly led to Russia becoming an international sporting pariah.
IOC president Thomas Bach said Moscow and Minsk were in clear breach of the Olympic truce, which started on February 4 and runs until seven days after the end of the Winter Paralympics in Beijing.
“This is the responsibility of the Russian government. We should not fall into this trap of the propaganda there, to say that this is a political act,” Bach told reporters.
“This is the consequence of the violation of the Olympic truce and the Olympic charter by their government.”
He added: “There can be no doubt where we are standing in this aggression, in this war: we are standing at the side of peace.”
Bach said fair competition simply could not go ahead if Russian athletes were freely taking part while their Ukrainian counterparts were under assault.
“We would have had to face a situation where Ukrainian athletes and officials are seeking shelter in the subway in Kiev for the bombing — and on the other hand, you would have had the Russian athletes competing in competitions they (Ukrainians) would have liked to compete in, or even taking their places,” he said.
Bach said it was unknown how many athletes had fled Ukraine among the 875,000 refugees who have so far sought shelter in neighboring countries.
“We do not know how many members of the Ukrainian Olympic community have left the country and are refugees right now and where they are, but we are working on this,” he said.
Bach praised Russian athletes who have spoken out in favor of peace, despite the risks to their liberty.
He also insisted that if others chose to stay silent, it did not mean they backed the invasion — and could well mean the opposite.
“Thousands of Russians who have spoken out for peace have been detained,” Bach said.
“It is a risk now, apparently, for every Russian to speak out in favor of peace, so you cannot interpret silence as agreement with the war. Maybe even the contrary is correct.”
Earlier Wednesday, Russian and Belarusian athletes were given the green light to compete at the Beijing Winter Games.
The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) said they will take part as neutrals and will compete under the Paralympic flag and not be included in the medal table.


Germany crash out of World Cup despite 4-2 defeat of Costa Rica

Germany crash out of World Cup despite 4-2 defeat of Costa Rica
Updated 42 min 36 sec ago

Germany crash out of World Cup despite 4-2 defeat of Costa Rica

Germany crash out of World Cup despite 4-2 defeat of Costa Rica
  • Germany took an early lead but briefly fell behind in the second half as coach Hansi Flick made a flurry of changes, reacting to the live score of the Japan v Spain game
  • Costa Rica led 2-1, but Germany hit back with a brace from Kai Havertz before Fuellkrug added another in the 89th minute to bring the score to 4-2

AL KHOR: Germany crashed out of the World Cup at the group stage for the second time in succession despite a 4-2 win against Costa Rica on Thursday.
The four-time World Cup winners came into the match needing a win but were also relying on the result of Japan’s game with Spain to progress.
But the Germans were eliminated due to goal difference as Japan followed up their defeat of Germany with another shock result by beating Spain 2-1.
Germany took an early lead but briefly fell behind in the second half as coach Hansi Flick made a flurry of changes, reacting to the live score of the Japan v Spain fixture.
The Germans started positively, with Flick’s all-Bayern Munich front line turning the screws early, battering the Costa Rica defense before Serge Gnabry got his head to a curling cross from Leipzig defender David Raum after 10 minutes to open the scoring.
Midfielder Leon Goretzka almost doubled Germany’s lead just five minutes later but his header was directly at Keylor Navas.
Complacency began to creep into Germany’s game. Keysher Fuller, Costa Rica’s goal-scoring hero in a 1-0 win against Japan, forced Manuel Neuer into a fingertip save after some half-hearted defending from Raum and Antonio Ruediger.
Flick moved Kimmich back to his familiar defensive midfield position at half-time, bringing on Lukas Klostermann at the expense of Goretzka, who like Kimmich started the match on a yellow.
Just seven minutes into the second half, word crept around the vast Lusail Stadium that Japan had scored two quick goals to take the lead against Spain, a result which would force Germany out of the tournament.
Flick reacted immediately, bringing on Niclas Fuellkrug and taking off another midfielder in Ilkay Gundogan.
Germany appeared disjointed as Costa Rica went on the counter on the 58-minute mark, the ball rebounding off Neuer and into the path of Yeltsin Tejeda, who slammed it home.
Flick continued to chase the game, making more changes but it was Costa Rica who scored next when Juan Pablo Vargas tapped a free kick past Neuer to put his side past Spain and into the Round of 16. The goal was later recorded as an own goal.
Germany hit back minutes later through Chelsea forward Kai Havertz to draw level.
Havertz scored again in the 86th minute and Fuellkrug added another in the 89th minute to bring the score to 4-2, but the side’s focus remained nervously fixed on the group’s parallel fixture.
The night ended with Germany losing out to second-placed Spain on goal difference.
It means Germany, who had not missed out on the knockout stages of a World Cup for 80 years until the 2018 tournament in Russia, have been bundled out in the group stage for the second World Cup in a row.


Japan in stunning 2-1 win over Spain as both teams reach last 16

Japan in stunning 2-1 win over Spain as both teams reach last 16
Updated 23 min 13 sec ago

Japan in stunning 2-1 win over Spain as both teams reach last 16

Japan in stunning 2-1 win over Spain as both teams reach last 16
  • Ritsu Doan and Ao Tanaka’s goals saw Japan mount a sensational comeback to win 2-1
  • Alvaro Morata had sent Spain ahead early on with a towering header

DOHA: Spain staggered through to the World Cup last 16 on Thursday despite a 2-1 defeat by Japan, who remarkably won Group E on a rollercoaster night which saw four-time champions Germany eliminated.
Japan secured another incredible triumph after beating Germany in their opening game, with their progression from the “group of death” one of the greatest achievements in the country’s footballing history.
For a few heart-stopping minutes Spain were poised to head out when Costa Rica were leading in the other game, but the 2010 champions squeezed through after Germany did them a favor by coming back to beat Los Ticos.
Spain and Germany ended on four points each, but La Roja progressed on goal difference.
Alvaro Morata sent Spain ahead early on with a towering header, but Japan dramatically struck back at the start of the second half.
Ritsu Doan and Ao Tanaka’s goals saw them mount a sensational comeback, just as they did against Germany.
Tanaka’s goal was highly controversial after the officials relied on VAR to decide Kaoru Mitoma had kept the ball in play by a hair’s breadth to set him up.
Spain struggled to create chances against a staunch Japanese defense in the final stages, with the Asian side aware that conceding another goal would see them eliminated.
Japanese players collapsed at full-time in celebration, exhausted and elated, while the substitutes raced on to celebrate.
Spain face Morocco in the last 16, while Japan play Croatia.
Both sides made five changes, with Luis Enrique bringing in Morata to lead the line, and handing Alejandro Balde and Nico Williams their full debuts.
Japan started with five at the back, hoping to keep Spain at bay, but pressed high in attack to try and capitalize on any mistakes.
Spain are sometimes guilty of glaring defensive errors and Pau Torres exemplified that with a sloppy touch which led to Japan’s first chance, fired into the side-netting by Junya Ito.
Morata sent La Roja ahead in the 12th minute with a towering header from Cesar Azpilicueta’s cross, rekindling the connection which occasionally worked at Chelsea after the striker’s arrival in 2017.
Japan coach Hajjime Moriyasu replaced the ineffective Takefuso Kubo and Yuto Nagatomo at the break with Mitoma and Doan, and it paid instant dividends.
Balde lost the ball under pressure and from the edge of the box winger Doan hammered past Unai Simon, who might have done more to keep it out.
Three minutes later and Japan had turned the game on its head, Tanaka bundling home from on the goalline after Mitoma had miraculously kept the ball in play as he crossed it — according to VAR.
Spain were shellshocked and struggled to react, with Luis Enrique making a raft of substitutions to try and regain control.
The coach, alone and perched on the edge of his technical area, was unaware that for a few moments his team faced elimination, when Costa Rica took the lead against Germany in the other game to go 2-1 ahead.
Spain survived, progressing thanks to their superior goal difference, on a night that was far more terrifying than they had anticipated — and Japan secured a hugely unlikely achievement.


Belgium crash out of World Cup after Croatia draw

Belgium crash out of World Cup after Croatia draw
Updated 01 December 2022

Belgium crash out of World Cup after Croatia draw

Belgium crash out of World Cup after Croatia draw
  • Croatia had a penalty award controversially cancelled by VAR early in a largely uneventful first half
  • Belgium saw their run of reaching at least the quarter-finals at four straight major tournaments come to an abrupt end

DOHA: Romelu Lukaku missed a string of late chances as Belgium crashed out of the World Cup in the group stage after a 0-0 draw with Croatia on Thursday which sent the 2018 runners-up into the knockout phase.
Croatia had a penalty award controversially canceled by VAR early in a largely uneventful first half.
The introduction of Lukaku at the interval changed the game, but he was guilty of three dreadful misses as Zlatko Dalic’s side rode their luck to hold on.
Croatia progressed as runners-up in Group F behind winners Morocco who beat Canada 2-1 to also qualify for the last 16.
Belgium, the world’s second-ranked side, saw their run of reaching at least the quarter-finals at four straight major tournaments come to an abrupt end.
Roberto Martinez’s men managed just one goal in the tournament in a fortunate opening 1-0 win over Canada.
Martinez dropped captain Eden Hazard to the bench as one of four changes which also saw Leandro Trossard and Dries Mertens start for the first time in Qatar.
The build-up to the match had been dominated by rumors of an altercation between senior Belgian players, involving Eden Hazard, which Martinez described as “fake news.”
Croatia almost took the lead inside the first 10 seconds, as the ball was played forward to Ivan Perisic after kick-off and the Tottenham man cut inside and drilled a shot just wide of the far post.
The likelihood of Belgium needing to win was increased when Morocco scored an early goal across Doha. Yannick Carrasco had a chance to open the scoring but his shot was blocked.
Mertens curled over after a trademark Kevin De Bruyne run and pass, before Croatia were awarded a penalty seconds later when Carrasco tripped Andrej Kramaric in the box.
But the decision was overturned following a lengthy VAR check which decided that a tiny fraction of Dejan Lovren’s shoulder was offside.
Desperate for a goal after a first half in which neither side mustered a shot on target, Martinez sent on Lukaku, Belgium’s record scorer, for Mertens at half-time.
They immediately carried more threat, with Lukaku, who struggled with injury in the build-up to the tournament, heading straight at Croatia goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic.
Thibaut Courtois was then called into action for the first time, stretching to tip over Mateo Kovacic’s curling effort as the game opened up.
That also suited the Croatian attackers though and Courtois had to twice get down to keep out low shots from Marcelo Brozovic and Luka Modric.
Belgium should have taken the lead on the hour mark.
Carrasco almost bundled the ball in but was denied by Livakovic, before Lukaku contrived to hit the post with the goal gaping on the rebound.
Lukaku was guilty of an even worse miss two minutes later, heading over an empty net from six yards out, although replays suggested the ball may have been out of play when De Bruyne crossed it in.
Martinez also threw on Thorgan Hazard, Youri Tielemans and Jeremy Doku as Belgium searched for that all important goal.
Lukaku saw another chance come and go in the 87th minute, deflecting the ball wide from Thomas Meunier’s volley.
The striker, on loan at Inter Milan from Chelsea, still had another golden opportunity to be the hero, but he opted to chest the ball toward the open net from three yards out and directed it into the arms of Livakovic.


Messi fans from Asia cheer on Argentina at World Cup

Messi fans from Asia cheer on Argentina at World Cup
Updated 01 December 2022

Messi fans from Asia cheer on Argentina at World Cup

Messi fans from Asia cheer on Argentina at World Cup
  • Bangladesh, India and Pakistan — where cricket is king — have never played a World Cup
  • Fans who had traveled from Argentina to support their team in Qatar were delighted with the support from non-Argentines

DOHA: On their way to Argentina’s decisive game against Poland, Mohit Daga and Aayush Verma approached the stadium carrying a massive painting of their heroes Lionel Messi and Diego Maradona with the World Cup trophy.
Daga had spent 17 days painting it. It weighed 5 kilograms. An offering. Anything for Messi.
“He is the epitome of everything. He is the source of inspiration and happiness,” said Daga, who is from Kolkata, India. “He brings happiness to our life.”
Argentina are finding a legion of passionate superfans from India, Bangladesh and other Asian countries at the World Cup in Qatar.
Thousands have traveled to the Gulf nation specifically to see Messi and his team with their own eyes, while many others are among migrant workers that make up about 90 percent of the emirate’s population of 3 million.
Other Argentina fans cheered from afar. In Indonesia, social media showed hundreds of people celebrating Argentina’s team’s 2-0 win over Poland after watching the game on large screens. They paraded on motorbikes waving flags after Argentina secured progress to the knockout stages. A newsreader wore an Argentina shirt during a broadcast.
Smitha Issac, originally from India, now living in Qatar, was attending the game with her family, including two sons who were “too excited” to see Messi.
Isaac said: “We are expecting that he will just make something like magic today.”
Outside Stadium 974 shortly before kickoff on Wednesday, Argentina fans were still scrambling for any spare tickets to see the game. Demand far outstripped supply for the 44,000-capacity stadium.
Mohammed Haque from Bangladesh, now living in Australia, was one of the lucky ticket holders. He waved a large Argentina flag as he walked toward the flood-lit stadium made of shipping containers, approaching it like a holy shrine.
“It’s unbelievable,” Haque said of seeing Messi for the first time. “I’ve actually been preparing for the last two or three weeks for this. I had a sleepless night last night.”
Argentina has had a big following in Bangladesh since the days of Maradona, one of the greatest to play the game, and an icon to fans around the world.
“Diego Maradona, he was exceptional. And from then I just loved this country and especially the soccer every time,” Haque said. “Then later, (Gabriel) Batistuta, (Hernan) Crespo, every Argentine player, and now Messi is the legend.”
Bangladesh, India and Pakistan — where cricket is king — have never played a World Cup. So when the tournament comes along, many soccer fans typically root for Argentina or Brazil, soccer powerhouses admired for their attacking style of play and a long line of international stars, including Messi, Maradona and Pele.
Fans who had traveled from Argentina to support their team in Qatar were delighted with the support from non-Argentines.
“We love to see other countries showing their love for Messi and Maradona,” said Mauricio Neraj from Mendoza, Argentina. He posed for pictures next to the Messi and Maradona painting by Daga outside the stadium.
Some of the South Asian fans in Qatar said they were deeply hurt by speculation on social media and in some Western media before the tournament that they were hired actors, paid by Qatar to fill the stadiums. The World Cup organizing committee rejected the reports as false.
“It is coming from the bottom of our hearts. It is not coming from any outside forcing or anything like that,” said Binoy John, and Indian worker in Qatar who has been an Argentina fan since childhood when he saw Maradona lead Argentina to win the 1986 World Cup. “All the fans are true fans. There is nothing like fake fans out here.”
Argentina have a following among Arab soccer fans, too. Messi-devotion brought Ahmed Qassim Nasher from Yemen to see his favorite player as Argentina advanced.
“Football is a festival, joy, celebrations. It connects people from different nationalities, different languages, and different ethnicities,” Nasher said. “You will find Arabs and non-Arabs coming to cheer for Messi. It’s common sense that he will have the best audience and fans, because he is the best player throughout history.”


Morocco make history and reach World Cup Round of 16 for second time

Morocco make history and reach World Cup Round of 16 for second time
Updated 01 December 2022

Morocco make history and reach World Cup Round of 16 for second time

Morocco make history and reach World Cup Round of 16 for second time
  • Atlas Lions reached the knockout stages in 1986 and are the only Arab team to do so at Qatar 2022

Morocco made history on Thursday, defeating Canada 2-1 to top Group F and become the sole Arab team to make the second round of the 2022 World Cup and also the first from the region to do so for a second time, 36 years after doing so back in 1986.

This time was more impressive. After that famous 2-0 win over Belgium on Sunday, the Atlas Lions needed just a point against the already-eliminated North Americans and raced into a 2-0 lead by the midway point of the first half.

They spent much of the second half on the backfoot but can now look forward to playing in the last 16 against Germany, Spain or Japan.

It was almost a perfect group stage with seven points collected. The opening game against the talented Croatians ended goalless, a solid result that provided the platform for the victory over Belgium, the team ranked second in the world. It meant that, barring slip-ups, Morocco could start to think about the last 16.

Going through was not just celebrated by the many thousands of fans at the Al-Thumama Stadium and millions back home, but it was vindication for the decision to dismiss Vahid Halilhodzic as head coach in August. In came Walid Regragui who has not only restored Hakim Ziyech to the team but tightened up the defense to an impressive degree.

The own goal that came off the boot of Nayef Aguerd just before the break that gave the Canadians a chance to get back in the game was the first that Morocco had conceded in seven games under Regragui. Paris Saint-Germain star Achraf Hakimi may get many headlines, but Romain Saiss has been a rock in the middle and Sofyan Amrabat adept at spotting opposition danger. The positioning and commitment of the backline and those sitting just in front have been excellent.

Welcoming Ziyech back into the fold may not exactly have been a difficult decision for Regragui, but the wideman has grown more influential in every game in Qatar, and his fourth-minute goal was harder than it looked.

Poor Canadian defending left goalkeeper Milan Borjan stranded outside his area, and a first-time chip from Ziyech from around 30 meters out found the net with the kind of cool finish that only a player at the top of his game can produce.

It took the sting out of the game and Morocco were well on top, extending the lead as Youssef En-Nesyri fired home emphatically. The game looked to be as good as over, but just before the break came Aguerd’s own goal, a low cross diverted past Yassine Bounou in goal. If that was frustrating, so was a disallowed goal moments later as Aguerd was ruled to have been in the line of the goalkeeper’s vision from an offside position as En-Nesyri shot home. 

So, instead of 2-0 or 3-1, it was a little closer. It was not time for panic stations, but the scoreline did give Canada, playing for pride after two defeats and looking for a first-ever World Cup point, hope.

They came firing out of the traps in the second half and spent a great deal more time in the Moroccan half. After 72 minutes, a Canadian header hit the bar and bounced right on the goal line. In some ways, this was the Africans’ toughest game, and the pressure they were put under in the second half may stand them in good stead for the tests ahead.

It meant that instead of thinking about which of his players to bring off and rest ahead of the second-round clash, coach Regragui had to stay focused on ensuring that his team did not do anything silly and kept their focus.

Yet thoughts of the next stage were surely never that far away. Winning the group is welcome symbolically, is good for confidence and means a second-round game on Tuesday as opposed to Monday. Their opponents remain to be seen, but after their first stage performance, there is no reason to fear Spain, Germany, Japan or anyone else. 

It should be remembered that this group was seen as a tricky one. It contained the runner-up and third-placed team from Russia 2018, and Canada finished top of CONCACAF’s qualification stage. 

Morocco deserved to finish top of the standings and to take all the plaudits. History has been made, but there is surely more to come from this talented team especially now that they are flying the flag for Arab football.