Benzema hat-trick sees Real Madrid knock PSG out of Champions League

Benzema hat-trick sees Real Madrid knock PSG out of Champions League
Real Madrid's French forward Karim Benzema heads the ball during the UEFA Champions League round of 16 second league football match between Real Madrid CF and Paris Saint-Germain at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid on March 9, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 10 March 2022

Benzema hat-trick sees Real Madrid knock PSG out of Champions League

Benzema hat-trick sees Real Madrid knock PSG out of Champions League
  • Madrid tried to reset at half-time but Mbappe carried on where he left off with a brilliant, but disallowed, goal

MADRID: Real Madrid pulled off one of the great Champions League comebacks on Wednesday as Karim Benzema scored a breath-taking hat-trick to upstage Kylian Mbappe and dump Paris Saint-Germain out in the last 16.
Madrid were set to be the latest victims of another Mbappe masterclass at the Santiago Bernabeu after the 23-year-old ran them ragged for the best part of an hour and fired in to put PSG 1-0 up on the night, 2-0 ahead on aggregate.
But Madrid came storming back as Benzema capitalized on a mistake by PSG goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma and then scored an incredible double in two minutes, the third coming within 11 seconds after PSG had kicked off.
When the full-time whistle confirmed their 3-2 aggregate victory, many of Madrid’s players dropped to their knees and looked up to the sky, as much perhaps in disbelief as joy, after completing one of the most memorable turnarounds in the club’s recent history.
“Every game is a final now for us in the Champions League and La Liga but today we showed that Real Madrid is alive,” said Benzema.
PSG coach Mauricio Pochettino fumed at referee Danny Makkelie for not whistling for a foul in the build-up to the first Madrid goal.
“Explaining what happened is easy, there was a foul on Donnarumma during the first goal, and that changed everything,” he said.
“It’s hard not to talk about this big refereeing mistake, which I don’t understand and won’t forgive. I don’t understand why the referee didn’t call VAR.”
All eyes were on Mbappe, who was the only player to be cheered by Madrid’s fans before the game as they were gifted an up-close preview of the player they hope will be theirs this summer.
Mbappe delivered, scoring a superb goal, not to mention a spellbinding second that was disallowed for offside when he bamboozled Thibaut Courtois with a magical dummy.
He might not even have been at 100 percent here after a knock in training on Monday temporarily put his involvement in doubt.
But what looked set to become an exhibition of the world’s deadliest player instead became another remarkable European night for Real Madrid, who showed again why they consider this to be their competition.
Madrid clearly wanted to hit PSG hard from the start, with Dani Carvajal leaping and waving his hands at the crowd in an attempt to generate a wave of noise.
For a while, it worked, Vinicius Junior tearing down the left and Fede Valverde bulldozing through Mbappe, but the surge was brief. PSG killed Madrid’s momentum, pushed them back and took complete control.
Mbappe sped clear for the first time in the eighth minute, Neymar curling a ball into the space on the left. The stadium held its breath, Mbappe made space but this time hit Courtois.
Madrid dropped off but ceded control. Mbappe nipped past Eder Militao and Courtois saved. A lovely interchange between Lionel Messi and Marco Verratti gave Neymar a sight of goal but Courtois was there again.
PSG were comfortable, dictating the play and sensing the trepidation. Madrid had openings, Benzema curling just wide, but all over the pitch they looked slower, heavier, more cumbersome.
Messi skipped through and scooped wide before Mbappe had his first of two goals ruled out, driving into the corner only to see the flag raised.
The goal, though, felt inevitable and in the 39th minute, it came. Carvajal lost the ball upfield and with Madrid committed, Neymar arced another brilliant pass over the top.
By the time he reached it, Mbappe only had David Alaba in front of him and as he shaped to bend into the far corner he instead fired early, whipping a deadly shot past Courtois and inside the near post.
Madrid tried to reset at half-time but Mbappe carried on where he left off with a brilliant, but disallowed, goal.
He fooled Courtois with an astonishing dummy shot, beating the Belgian without even touching the ball and slammed in. The flag went up but the stadium was astounded.
The game was becoming less a contest, more an Mbappe exhibition but then Benzema, out of nowhere, dragged Madrid back into the tie.
He chased Nuno Mendes’ backpass to Donnarumma, who skewed under pressure. Vinicius was able to collect and cut back to Benzema, who slotted home.
It was Luka Modric who inspired Madrid’s second, a scintillating run through midfield allowing Vinicius to race clear down the left. He scooped back inside to Modric, whose exquisite reverse pass found Benzema, who finished.
Madrid were level on aggregate, the goal confirmed after a check from VAR. Then just seconds later, incredibly, they were ahead. PSG squandered possession from kick-off, Rodrygo released Vinicius and Marquinhos’ attempted clearance found Benzema, who steered into the corner.


Saudi Arabia exits World Cup with newfound confidence

Saudi Arabia exits World Cup with newfound confidence
Updated 7 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 4 min 44 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 21 min 56 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.

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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 34 min 21 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.


Unrepentant Suarez refuses to apologize for Ghana World Cup handball

Unrepentant Suarez refuses to apologize for Ghana World Cup handball
Uruguay's forward Luis Suarez gives a press conference at the Qatar National Convention Center (QNCC) in Doha. AFP
Updated 34 min 30 sec ago

Unrepentant Suarez refuses to apologize for Ghana World Cup handball

Unrepentant Suarez refuses to apologize for Ghana World Cup handball
  • Suarez deliberately handled the ball on the line at that tournament to prevent a certain goal from Dominic Adiyiah’s header right at the end of extra-time

DOHA: Uruguay great Luis Suarez refused to apologize on Thursday to Ghanaians over his infamous handball at the World Cup 12 years ago.
The South Americans take on the Africans in a must-win Group H clash in Qatar on Friday that is a repeat of the notorious quarter-final in South Africa in 2010.
Suarez deliberately handled the ball on the line at that tournament to prevent a certain goal from Dominic Adiyiah’s header right at the end of extra-time.
Suarez was shown a red card but Asamoah Gyan missed the subsequent penalty and Uruguay went on to win the shoot-out and qualify for the semifinals.
Striker Suarez became an overnight hero in his homeland while Ghana missed out on becoming the first-ever African team to reach the World Cup semifinals.
Twelve years later, asked whether he knew that Ghanaians viewed him as the “devil,” Suarez said he had no regrets.
“I don’t say I apologize about that because I take the handball but the Ghana player missed the penalty, not me,” said Suarez, speaking in broken English.
“Maybe I can say I apologize if I tackle and injure a player and take a red card, maybe I can apologize. 
“But in this situation I take a red card, the referee said ‘penalty’. It’s not my fault because I did not miss the penalty, the player missed the penalty.”
There has been lots of talk since the World Cup draw was made about Ghana potentially seeking revenge and many of the African team’s fans have vented their ire at Suarez ahead of the crunch clash.
But Suarez insisted the game was in the past and that it makes no sense to talk about revenge.
“Those that are talking about revenge... were eight at the time, they have only seen it in images,” said the former Barcelona and Liverpool forward, now 35.
“You can’t misinterpret everything. When we played Portugal the players were talking about revenge for being knocked out (by Uruguay in 2018) but you can’t live in the past.”
Uruguay coach Diego Alonso said there was much more at stake for both teams than vengeance.
Uruguay must win to have any chance of progressing to the last 16 while Ghana could also be eliminated if they do not triumph.
“I don’t know how Ghana will approach it, whether or not it’s revenge,” said Alonso.
“For us it’s a decisive match, that’s what matters to us. We’re doing the best we can, respecting our opponents, but we don’t view it that way.”