Are Cristiano Ronaldo and Ralf Rangnick heading for an inevitable divorce?

Are Cristiano Ronaldo and Ralf Rangnick heading for an inevitable divorce?
Does Ronaldo forgive his coach, Ralf Rangnick, for having lost confidence in him? (FILE/AFP)
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Updated 15 March 2022

Are Cristiano Ronaldo and Ralf Rangnick heading for an inevitable divorce?

Are Cristiano Ronaldo and Ralf Rangnick heading for an inevitable divorce?
  • After missing out on the Manchester derby, the Portuguese star answered his critics in savage manner against Tottenham. But it seems all is not well between player and coach as United face Atletico Madrid in the Champions League

Nobody answers their critics quite as savagely as Cristiano Ronaldo.

His brilliant hat-trick against Tottenham at the weekend came in the wake of rising criticism in recent weeks.

Does Ronaldo forgive his coach, Ralf Rangnick, for having lost confidence in him?

The Portuguese did not play the Manchester derby and left for his country on a trip that surprised many people.

Not only did he not play the derby against Manchester City the previous week — official reason: Injury — but he was not even at the Etihad Stadium to support his teammates, having taken an unexpected trip to Portugal.

Something strange is happening with the CR7, who did not give any kind of answer or explanation for his absence from the derby.

Since replacing Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Rangnick does not seem to have the smoothest of relationships with the 37-year-old Ronaldo.

But to not make the bench in the derby, if rumors he was not injured are true, would suggest something more serious is going on between the coach and a player who is characterized by his relentless ambition.

Rangnick recalled him against Tottenham and out of pure frustration, it would seem, Ronaldo showed his value to the team. The epic hat-trick, his first at Old Trafford in 24 years, showed the Portuguese star at his mesmerizing best.

While Ronaldo’s confidence in his own abilities remains unshakeable, perhaps he was proving something to himself in that angry performance against Tottenham as much as he was proving his coach and critics wrong.

Ronaldo always wants to play. His voracity to win, his competitive spirit and desire to break records is what drives him, even in bad times.

Perhaps there is hint of the issue between him and Rangnick. Cristiano seems to exist in a plane of his own, or at least he demands to, regardless of the trials of the team.

Clearly there is something that is not going well in the relationship between the manager and the player. It’s a divorce that’s been brewing for months; two personalities that collided from the start.

What was surprising from the Manchester derby incident was that in his absence, Ronaldo was not playing the role of team leader that he has always fulfilled in a difficult period for his teammates. It’s not what we’re used to from a footballer who looks to make history in every game he plays in. It surprised me and showed a lack of motivation we do not usually associate with the great CR7.

Perhaps at another time, with another coach, he wouldn’t have missed the opportunity to play in such a huge fixture.

The problems between Rangnick and Cristiano behind the scenes in my opinion would not have been resolved with the hat-trick he scored against Antonio Conte’s team. For someone who have achieved miracles in his career, Cristiano most likely feels betrayed that his coach does not 100 percent trust in him.

Have the coach and player already made their minds up about each other?

Ronaldo wanted to leave Juventus after a three-season cycle in which he failed to win the Champions League, to continue winning with his old club. It hasn’t worked out quite as he expected.

The Manchester United team are now fifth in the Premier League table, a point behind Arsenal who have three games in hand in the race for fourth place and that final Champions League spot.

They were also disappointingly knocked out of the FA Cup on penalties against Middlesborough at Old Trafford.

But then there’s the Champions League, a competition Ronaldo, as he has shown through his career, has been sensational in.

On Tuesday night at Old Trafford, Ronaldo and United take on Atletico Madrid in the round of 16 return leg clash having drawn 1-1 in the Spanish capital in the first leg.

It is a match in which any brewing tension between Rangnick and Ronaldo cannot be allowed to develop into a full-blown divorce.

How the German coach approaches Manchester United’s most important match of the season so far will be intriguing, but in my opinion, whatever happens next, the split between Cristiano Ronaldo and Ralf Rangnick seems inevitable.

Rangnick will not be the team’s manager next season, but it remains to be seen how much power he will wield in the role of technical director.

And will Ronaldo stay on at Old Trafford for another season?

One thing is for sure, he is not the type of player who will stand for being disrespected. As he showed against Tottenham.


Enrique set Spain players ‘homework’ of 1,000 penalties ahead of World Cup

Enrique set Spain players ‘homework’ of 1,000 penalties ahead of World Cup
Spain's coach Luis Enrique attends a press conference at the Qatar National Convention Center (QNCC) in Doha. AFP
Updated 05 December 2022

Enrique set Spain players ‘homework’ of 1,000 penalties ahead of World Cup

Enrique set Spain players ‘homework’ of 1,000 penalties ahead of World Cup
  • “Over a year ago, in one of the Spain camps, I told them they had to get here with at least 1,000 penalties taken,” Enrique said on Monday

DOHA: Spain coach Luis Enrique set each of his players the “homework” of practicing 1,000 penalties ahead of the World Cup, saying he is convinced they are not a lottery.
The 2010 world champions face Morocco in the last 16 on Tuesday, with the threat of extra-time and penalties looming in the knockout phase of the tournament in Qatar.
Spain beat Switzerland on penalties at last year’s Euro 2020 but were eliminated on spot-kicks by Italy in the semifinals.
“Over a year ago, in one of the Spain camps, I told them they had to get here with at least 1,000 penalties taken,” Enrique said on Monday.
“I imagine that they have done their homework. If you wait until getting here to practice penalties... (it won’t be enough).
The Spaniard insisted spot kicks were “not a lottery.”
“It’s a moment of maximum tension, a time to show your nerve, and that you can shoot the penalty in the way you have decided, if you have trained it a thousand times,” he said.
“It says a lot about each player. It’s trainable, manageable, how you manage the tension. It’s increasingly less luck — the goalkeepers have more influence.
“We have a very good goalkeeper, any of the three can do very well in this situation. Every time we finish training I see a lot of players taking penalties.”
The Spain coach also responded to criticism over the team’s style of play — their commitment to playing out from defense sometimes puts them under pressure in dangerous areas.
Japan earned a shock 2-1 win over Spain, with their first goal coming after the European team lost the ball on the edge of their box and Ritsu Doan slammed home.
“Every team has their weapons,” said Enrique. “We want to get the ball in the best way possible to the forward,“ 
“If we have to hit a long ball, we’ll hit it. The interpretation has to be done on the pitch.”
He said he did not agree with Spain’s critics.
“It doesn’t make sense to say that against Japan if we hoofed it away to clear our lines we wouldn’t have let in the first goal,” he said.
“We also wouldn’t have scored any goals if we kept kicking it long. We will keep playing the ball out from the back, it’s what we want.”
Enrique confirmed that Cesar Azpilicueta had recovered from his knock against Japan and all 26 players would be fit to train on Monday evening ahead of the game.


Morocco out to make history in crunch World Cup game with Spain

Morocco out to make history in crunch World Cup game with Spain
Updated 05 December 2022

Morocco out to make history in crunch World Cup game with Spain

Morocco out to make history in crunch World Cup game with Spain
  • The Atlas Lions reached last-16 stage in 1986, but progress to the quarter-finals this year will lift them, and Arab football, to new levels

DOHA: Morocco face Spain on Tuesday with a place in the World Cup quarterfinals at stake.

It is surely the biggest game in the country’s history and perhaps the biggest game ever played by an Arab nation. A knockout game against a football superpower on the global stage — this is what dreams are made of. 

There is also no reason to have nightmares. After all, Morocco topped their group with seven points, more than any other Arab nation has ever collected.

This is also a team that has conceded just one goal in seven games under coach Walid Regragui. Even that was an unfortunate own goal in Thursday’s 2-1 victory over Canada.

This is a team that started with a solid draw against Croatia and then deservedly beat Belgium 2-0. Spain thrashed Costa Rica 7-0 but then were held to a draw by Germany and were defeated 2-1 by Japan to finish second.

The Europeans remain favorites but they created little for all their possession against Japan. There is no reason for Morocco to fear Spain. They have already shown they can live with, and beat, some of the best that Europe has to offer.

Morocco are now a force to be reckoned with. They have been here before, winning the group back in 1986 and then losing 1-0 to West Germany, when Lothar Mattheus grabbed the only goal of a hard-fought encounter in Mexico with just two minutes remaining. 

Going one round further this time around would give the present crop of players immortal status.

If they were to make it, a quarterfinal against either Portugal or Switzerland would really get the excitement flowing in North Africa.

They already have the quality. Captain Romain Saiss and Nayef Aguerd have been excellent in the center of the backline. Goalkeeper Yassine Bounou is as solid as they come. The likes of Hakim Ziyech of Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain’s Achraf Hakimi, and Nasser Mazraoui of Bayern Munich, play at the highest club level week in, week out and have started to show their class in this World Cup. 

It is such stars who will need to be at their best against the 2010 champions. A World Cup knockout game will not faze them and they are able to help Morocco get forward quickly and to devastating effect.

Soon, some of their national team mates will be joining them in the UEFA Champions League. Liverpool are reportedly interested in midfielder Sofyan Amrabat who has been one of the standout players of the tournament so far. His current club Fiorentina are big but a move to the elite is on the cards.

Youssef En-Nesyri has also impressed. The Sevilla striker will know the Spanish national team very well. He may also be in line for a move elsewhere in 2023, and there have already been reports of interest from West Ham United.

“We are determined to continue the dream in Qatar with the same will, determination, and perseverance,” the 25-year-old said. “Our focus will be on ourselves, our abilities, and the possibility of presenting a level worthy of the Moroccan national team in order to continue the adventure with success.” 

There is also coach Regragui. The 47-year-old has been in charge for just over three months, succeeding Vahid Halilhodzic. As well as bringing tactical discipline, he has been praised for his motivational skills and bringing together a squad that had looked disunited at times under the former boss. 

It was striking that after the win over Canada sealed top spot, Regragui refused his players’ attempts to throw him in the air before eventually relenting. The message is very much that it is a case of so far, so good but there is still work to do.

While the destination is still unknown, everyone is enjoying the journey. 

“I never dreamed of achieving something for my country,” said Hakimi. “Playing with Morocco is something amazing. To do something big for your country is better than with the club. 

“I am here to help all the Moroccan people. When I was young I saw the last generation that came to the World Cup and I dreamed of being like them.”

It remains to be seen what happens on the pitch but it is clear that Morocco’s fans will win the contest in the stands. They have been one of the loudest, most passionate and numerous groups of supporters at the World Cup. 

Such was the demand for the Spain game that FIFA released an extra 5,000 tickets. There will be ‘home’ advantage and a fantastic atmosphere.

That’s the way it should be. The locals will be supporting them too. At the 2010 World Cup, much of Africa got behind Ghana when the Black Stars were the only team left in the tournament. Now, Morocco are representing the Arab world and history awaits.


Neymar close to World Cup return, England and France set up last-eight showdown

Neymar close to World Cup return, England and France set up last-eight showdown
Brazil's forward Neymar reacts at the end of the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group G football match between Cameroon and Brazil. AFP
Updated 05 December 2022

Neymar close to World Cup return, England and France set up last-eight showdown

Neymar close to World Cup return, England and France set up last-eight showdown
  • Superstar forward Neymar has been absent for Brazil since spraining his ankle in his team’s opening Group G win against Serbia last month and their supporters have been sweating on his fitness ever since

DOHA: Neymar could make his return to the World Cup stage on Monday as Brazil continue their bid to be crowned kings for a record-extending sixth time against South Korea.
Superstar forward Neymar has been absent for Brazil since spraining his ankle in his team’s opening Group G win against Serbia last month and their supporters have been sweating on his fitness ever since.
Coach Tite said Neymar would be assessed in Brazil’s final pre-game training session on Sunday, but gave a heavy hint that the Paris Saint-Germain attacker would start.
“He’s going to train this afternoon and if he’s OK, he will play tomorrow,” Tite told reporters.
His return would be a big boost as Brazil have scored just once since Neymar fell foul to his ankle injury and on Saturday lost Arsenal forward Gabriel Jesus for the rest of the World Cup.
South Korea famously reached the semifinals 20 years ago when the tournament was shared between their country and Japan, who are also in action on Monday against Croatia.
The Koreans have not reached the knockout stages since 2010 and only got to the last 16 in Qatar thanks to an injury-time winner from Hwang Hee-chan in their final group game against Portugal.
They will need a different performance to the one in June’s friendly between the two teams, when Brazil romped to a 5-1 victory with Neymar scoring two penalties.
“We have good memories of 2002, of making it to the last four and we want to relive that,” said Korea midfielder Kim Jin-su, who was 10 years old at that time.
“We’ve waited so long to come to this knockout stage and we all truly wanted to come this far.”
Japan veteran Yuto Nagatomo said his side will again show the world their samurai spirit in their clash with unbeaten Croatia, after having already stunned Germany and Spain on their way to topping Group E.
“Before battle, the samurai would polish their weapons and refine their technique, but if they were scared in battle, all that would count for nothing,” the former Inter Milan left-back said Sunday.
“The most important thing is to have courage.”

- Mbappe shines, England cruise -

Kylian Mbappe was the star of the show again for France with a superb brace which sunk Poland 3-1 and gave the world champions a mouthwatering last-eight showdown with England, easy 3-0 winners over Senegal.
Paris Saint-Germain superstar Mbappe rifled home two blistering second-half strikes after his veteran striker partner Olivier Giroud became France’s all-time leading scorer with his 52nd goal for his country just before half-time.
Mbappe called the World Cup his “obsession” after his match-winning performance, which took his tally to a tournament-leading five and also included an assist for Giroud’s record-breaking opener.
“The only objective for me is to win the World Cup,” said the 23-year-old.
“That is what I am dreaming of. I didn’t come here to win the Golden Ball (for best player). That is not why I am here. I am here to win and help the French national team.”
France will face England on Saturday at the Al Bayt Stadium, where Gareth Southgate’s team strolled past Senegal in a performance full of positives, not least the form of teen sensation Jude Bellingham.
Bellingham, 19, set up Jordan Henderson’s opener and the Borussia Dortmund midfielder was involved again when England captain Kane bagged his first goal in this World Cup and overtook Gary Lineker as England’s all-time top scorer in major tournaments.
Bukayo Saka dinked home England’s third in the 57th minute to secure a comfortable win and set up a huge tie with one of the pre-tournament favorites.
“We’ll enjoy this one but then our focus turns to that, it’s going to be a really tough game,” said captain Kane. “They are reigning champions but it’s a good battle.”


Saudi Arabia set to host 2027 Asian Cup after India withdraws bid

Saudi Arabia set to host 2027 Asian Cup after India withdraws bid
Updated 05 December 2022

Saudi Arabia set to host 2027 Asian Cup after India withdraws bid

Saudi Arabia set to host 2027 Asian Cup after India withdraws bid
  • Bids from India and Saudi Arabia had been shortlisted by the AFC’s executive committee in October
  • The 2023 Asian Cup will be played in Qatar after China withdrew as host

KUALA LUMPUR: Saudi Arabia is set to host the 2027 Asian Cup after India withdrew its bid.
The Asian Football Confederation issued a statement Monday saying the All Indian Football Federation had withdrawn from the host selection process. No reason was published.
The bids from India and Saudi Arabia had been shortlisted by the AFC’s executive committee in October and the final decision was expected to be made at a regional congress in February. Saudi Arabia is now the only candidate to host the 2027 tournament.
The 2023 Asian Cup will be played in Qatar after China withdrew as host. Qatar, which is hosting the ongoing World Cup, has already staged the Asian Cup twice.
The Saudis started their World Cup campaign in Qatar with a stunning 2-1 upset win over Argentina, but didn’t advance to the knockout stages after back-to-back losses to Poland and Mexico in Group C. Argentina topped the group and then edged Australia in the Round of 16 to qualify for the quarterfinals.


Sergei Perelygin and Lindsay Webster crowned winners at Spartan World Championships in Abu Dhabi

Sergei Perelygin and Lindsay Webster crowned winners at Spartan World Championships in Abu Dhabi
Updated 05 December 2022

Sergei Perelygin and Lindsay Webster crowned winners at Spartan World Championships in Abu Dhabi

Sergei Perelygin and Lindsay Webster crowned winners at Spartan World Championships in Abu Dhabi
  • Event in Al-Wathba saw athletes compete from more than 80 countries

ABU DHABI: Sergei Perelygin and Lindsay Webster have been crowned Spartan World Champions after conquering an all-new obstacle course in Al-Wathba to beat the world’s best athletes at the weekend.

The event — only the second time it has been held outside the US — was organized by Abu Dhabi Sports Council in partnership with Spartan, which is the world’s leading endurance sports and wellness brand.

Taking place at Al-Wathba Luxury Collection Resort & Spa, the race saw international athletes from more than 80 countries compete for the men’s and women’s individual World Championship Super, with more than $125,000 in prize money on offer.

On Saturday, athletes from both categories tackled a number of challenging obstacles, including A-Frame Cargo, Atlas Carry and Ape Hanger.

Perelygin, who settled for an impressive second place in last year’s race, won the Men’s Elite 2022 title following the completion of the 10 km race in a time of 1 hour, 3 minutes, 47 seconds. The Russian beat his rival Ryan Atkins by 0.12 seconds, who achieved a time of 1:03:59.

“I’ve always dreamed of being a Spartan World Champion since I first began competing back in 2015,” said Perelygin. “I’m very happy as it’s only my second world championship. Last year was very hard to compete against Ryan Atkins, he pushed me as much as I pushed him. Last year he got the finish but this year it was my turn. If you believe in your dreams, it can happen.”

The women’s category saw Canadian Webster victorious in 1:12:49 to claim her fourth title, whilst Slovakian and European Spartan Champion, Ezster Hortobagyiova, finished second in 1:14:52.

“This year’s race felt a lot shorter. I thought the terrain was going to be equally as tough but it was sufficiently easier,” said Webster. “I feel relieved, it’s been a big lead-up to this event so it felt really good to get out there. We’re excited to be back in Abu Dhabi, they completely spoil athletes here and take really great care of you.”

Suhail Abdulla Alareefi, executive director of the event sector at Abu Dhabi Sports Council, said: “It’s the second year Abu Dhabi has held the Spartan World Championship and we’re extremely proud of the large and diverse participation from both men and women. It’s been a tremendous turnout. Hosting such an established brand within the region further cements our efforts to encourage the community to get fit and take part in activities like Spartan.”

Alareefi and Joe De Sena, CEO and founder of Spartan, presented the winners and runners up from each category with their awards. “Being back in Abu Dhabi for this year’s Spartan World Championship and be among this ever-growing community is tremendously exciting,” said De Sena.

In addition to the two elite races, the event also showcased the Age Group World Championship with winners crowned across 10 categories, from ages 14 to over 60.