Herve Renard has reason to smile at Saudi Arabia’s World Cup draw

Herve Renard has reason to smile at Saudi Arabia’s World Cup draw
Saudi Arabia’s coach Herve Renard is carried by team players in celebration at the end of the 2022 FIFA World Cup Asian qualifiers match between Saudi Arabia and Australia in Jeddah on March 29, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 02 April 2022

Herve Renard has reason to smile at Saudi Arabia’s World Cup draw

Herve Renard has reason to smile at Saudi Arabia’s World Cup draw
  • Green Falcons will face Lionel Messi’s Argentina, Poland and Mexico at Qatar 2022

RIYADH: Herve Renard was smiling as the World Cup draw came to an end on Friday in Doha. Perhaps it was because the Saudi Arabia coach was just happy to be there and free of jet lag after the short journey, unlike some of his counterparts.

Perhaps it is because Group C starts with a barnstormer against Argentina.

Maybe it is because, he may think, that if he can finish above Poland and Mexico then a possible second round tie against his native France is on the cards. Or possibly it is because his team will face some world-class talent like Lionel Messi and Robert Lewandowski.

There are reasons to be cheerful. As a team in Pot 4, the Green Falcons were always going to get a tough group but this could have been tougher. It couldn’t have been much more exciting, however, not least because it features three teams from different continents.

It starts on November 22 against Argentina, then continues with Poland and ends on the last day of November with what could be a tense tie with Mexico. If all goes well, then the team goes into December and the knockout stages.

It is easier said than done of course but whatever happens, the opener against the two-time champions will be something special, and is what World Cups are all about.

Much will be written about the Saudi defense facing Messi and rightly so. It will be a privilege for this fully domestic-based team to line up against perhaps the best player in history, in what is sure to be his last World Cup. That feeling of privilege should end when the action starts however. Coach Renard, who will be spending the next few months working out how to stop the Albiceleste, will make sure of that.

It is not all about Messi of course, Argentina have plenty of stars elsewhere in the squad and are strong favorites to win the group. Fresh after winning the Copa America, they now have the World Cup in their sights, the last chance for a certain player to win it.

Better balanced than in the past, Argentina are potential champions, the kind of team that Saudi Arabia did not face in their group four years ago as none of Russia, Uruguay and Egypt were ever going to go all the way.

But playing them first up may work out for the best. Opening games can be full of surprises because teams have often not yet found their rhythm.

What also may help, as well as the hope of having a healthy contingent of fans in the stadiums, is that the other three will see them as potentially easy three points. Saudi Arabia should know what to expect in all three games: Aggressive opponents who expect to win.

It may well be that they will be underestimated and Renard is a coach that can use that to his team’s advantage. There is little to zero pressure on the Green Falcons to win against teams who can easily become frustrated if things don’t go their way.

Nobody will expect an open and expansive approach to this game, the onus will be on the South Americans. One thing is for sure, Argentina are going to provide the kind of test that most of these players have never faced.

Realistically, anything from the opening game would be a huge boost to the Asian team and set up the all-important second against Poland. If Saudi Arabia are to get out of the group, then they need a result.

The headlines will focus on Lewandowski and rightly so as the Bayern Munich marksman is a fearsome striker. There are some great forwards in the Saudi Pro League for defenders to face on a weekly basis but none are at the level of the 33-year-old.

Poland may be more than the striker but there is no doubt that he is their spearhead and talisman. Yet Poland will need to be wary of the Saudi fullbacks bombing forward and the trickery of Salem Al-Dawsari and Fahad Al-Muwallad in attack.

Again, the Europeans will see this as a must-win game and whatever the coach may say about not taking it lightly, the expectation at home will be for an easy three points. It is the job of the three-time Asian champions to ensure that it is anything but, and we can safely say that there will be opportunities to score in this game. They will have to be taken.

And that leaves Mexico, the highest ranked of the teams in Pot Two but not too much should be read into that. El Tri have made the last seven second rounds at the World Cup only to go no further. In qualification, they did not impress, scoring just 17 goals in 14 games. They took just two points out of a possible 12 in the four games against fellow qualifiers Canada, who won the group, and the US.

The squad does not possess the kind of standout star that Argentina and Poland have — though striker Raul Jimenez is one of the top marksmen in the English Premier League with Wolverhampton Wanderers, Napoli winger Hirving Lozano should need no introduction, and Atletico Madrid midfielder Hector Herrera is nearing a century of caps.

There is a lot of experience and talent in the team but it sometimes feels less than the sum of its parts. How both teams approach that game will depend to an extent on what happens in the previous two.

There are still more than seven months to go before it all kicks off and a lot of work to be done. For now, however, it does not need to be said that Saudi Arabia have a tough group — that was inevitable — but fans, players and officials should relish what looks to be a very exciting one.


Tsitsipas says Kyrgios has ‘evil side’ after fiery Wimbledon clash

Tsitsipas says Kyrgios has ‘evil side’ after fiery Wimbledon clash
Updated 03 July 2022

Tsitsipas says Kyrgios has ‘evil side’ after fiery Wimbledon clash

Tsitsipas says Kyrgios has ‘evil side’ after fiery Wimbledon clash

LONDON: Stefanos Tsitsipas said Nick Kyrgios has an “evil side” after a stormy clash at Wimbledon on Saturday in which the victorious Australian called for his Greek opponent to be kicked out of the tournament.
The bad-tempered match overshadowed the rest of the action on day six, which included the end of Iga Swiatek’s 37-match winning streak and a routine victory for Rafael Nadal.
The mercurial Kyrgios prevailed 6-7 (2/7), 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (9/7) in an incident-packed third-round match on Court One.
The contest descended into mayhem when a frustrated Tsitsipas hit the ball into the crowd after losing the second set.
Kyrgios told the umpire that Tsitsipas should be kicked out of Wimbledon, recalling the incident at the US Open in 2020 when Novak Djokovic was defaulted from the tournament after hitting a line judge with a ball.
“You can’t hit a ball into the crowd and hit someone and not get defaulted,” said the 27-year-old, who received an audible obscenity warning during the match.
He kept up his verbal jousting with the umpire, clearly unsettling Tsitsipas, who was warned over the incident and later handed a point penalty for hitting the ball in frustration toward the back of the court.
The bad feeling bubbled up again in post-match press conferences, with fourth seed Tsitsipas saying it felt like a “circus.”

Greece's Stefanos Tsitsipas emotes after losing to Australia's Nick Kyrgios on July 2, 2022.  (REUTERS)


“He bullies the opponents,” said the Greek, who admitted trying to hit the ball at Kyrgios.
“He was probably a bully at school himself. I don’t like bullies.
“I don’t like people that put other people down. He has some good traits in his character, as well but... he also has a very evil side to him, which if it’s exposed, it can really do a lot of harm and bad to the people around him.”
Tsitsipas said he wished players could “come together and put a rule in place” to curb Kyrgios’s behavior.
“There is no other player that does this,” he said. “There is no other player that is so upset and frustrated all the time with something. It triggers it so easy and so fast.”
But Kyrgios laughed off Tsitsipas’s accusations, describing his opponent as “soft.”
“We’re not cut from the same cloth,” he said. “I go up against guys who are true competitors.”
He added: “I’m good in the locker room. I’ve got many friends, just to let you know. I’m actually one of the most liked. I’m set. He’s not liked. Let’s just put that there.”

Earlier, French veteran Alize Cornet took advantage of an error-strewn performance from Polish women’s world number one Swiatek to triumph 6-4, 6-2.
Swiatek never looked comfortable in the third-round tie, losing her serve five times and making 33 unforced errors.
The 21-year-old had not lost a match since her defeat to Jelena Ostapenko in February in Dubai, winning her past six tournaments, including the French Open.
“I know I didn’t play good tennis,” said the top seed, who lost the last six games of the match. “I was pretty confused about my tactics.
“As a solid player, she used that pretty well. For sure, it wasn’t a good performance from me.”
Second seed Nadal, chasing a rare calendar Grand Slam, beat Italy’s Lorenzo Sonego 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 to set up a last-16 match against Dutch 21st seed Botic van de Zandschulp.
Australian 19th seed Alex De Minaur beat British wild card Liam Broady in straight sets and will play Chile’s Cristian Garin in the last 16.
Harmony Tan, who knocked Serena Williams out in the first round, demolished British wild card Katie Boulter 6-1, 6-1 in just 51 minutes to reach the fourth round.
Tan will next play 20th seed Amanda Anisimova, who came from behind to beat French Open finalist Coco Gauff 6-7 (4/7), 6-2, 6-1 in an all-American tie.
Simona Halep, the champion in 2019, eased through to the last 16 with a 6-4, 6-1 victory over Magdalena Frech.
The Romanian will next play fourth seed Paula Badosa, who defeated two-time champion Petra Kvitova 6-4, 7-6 (7/4).


England’s Casey confirms he’s joining LIV Golf

England’s Casey confirms he’s joining LIV Golf
Updated 03 July 2022

England’s Casey confirms he’s joining LIV Golf

England’s Casey confirms he’s joining LIV Golf
  • Casey, ranked 26th in the world, is the 22nd of the world’s top 100 golfers to join the new LIV circuit 

LOS ANGELES: England’s Paul Casey confirmed Saturday he’s making the jump to the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Series, but the 44-year-old hopes to play the Open Championship before his debut on the breakaway circuit.
Casey, 44, is ranked 26th in the world, giving the LIV circuit 22 of the world’s top 100 players.
“I’m so excited,” Casey said in an interview during the live stream of Saturday’s final round of the LIV Golf Invitational in Portland, Oregon.
A lingering back injury forced Casey out of the US Open, and he noted that he hadn’t played a tournament since March.
Casey said he planned to make his LIV debut later this month at Trump National Golf Club Bedminster in New Jersey.
That will be the third of eight events in this inaugural LIV season.
First, however, Casey said he would “love to tee it off in the Open Championship in St. Andrews.
“I’ve already missed three majors so far this year ... and then you will see me at Bedminster.”
The R&A announced in June that players signed up to the LIV Golf series will be allowed to compete in the 150th Open Championship.
 


Sainz takes 1st career pole position for British Grand Prix

Sainz takes 1st career pole position for British Grand Prix
Updated 02 July 2022

Sainz takes 1st career pole position for British Grand Prix

Sainz takes 1st career pole position for British Grand Prix
  • Sainz set the fastest time late in the third qualifying session to edge Verstappen by just .072 seconds
  • First pole position, it's always special, and especially to do it in Silverstone in the wet,” Sainz said

SILVERSTONE, England: Carlos Sainz was fastest in the rain in Saturday qualifying for the British Grand Prix to earn his first career pole position in his 150th start.
He edged reigning Formula One champion Max Verstappen, who was booed by some in the crowd at the end of the session.
“Maybe some of them don’t like me, but that’s fine,” Verstappen said. “I don’t care.”
Sainz set the fastest time late in the third qualifying session to edge Verstappen by just .072 seconds. It was the seventh pole in 10 races for Ferrari this season, though Sainz teammate Charles Leclerc had earned the first six poles prior to Sainz’s surprise run.
“First pole position, it’s always special, and especially to do it in Silverstone in the wet,” Sainz said. “Kept it cool through the session and toward the end I decided to push.”
Sainz narrowly missed out on what would have been his first career win at the last race in Canada, when he finished just behind Verstappen.
Leclerc will start third, ahead of Sergio Pérez in the second Red Bull.
Seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton qualified fifth for his home race as Mercedes seemed to have made progress with its problems of bouncing at high speed. His teammate George Russell was eighth.
As Verstappen spoke trackside following qualifying the boos were audible for the Dutchman. Verstappen and Hamilton collided in last year’s race, with Verstappen hitting the wall while Hamilton overcame a penalty to win.
The incident further heightened their often-bitter rivalry in a title race ultimately won by Verstappen, and turned some British fans against Verstappen. He was taken to a hospital for observation following the crash and complained that Hamilton showed poor sportsmanship by celebrating the victory as Verstappen was being medically evaluated.
The build-up to this year’s race has been dominated by former champion Nelson Piquet’s use of a racial slur and homophobic language to describe Hamilton in an interview which was filmed last year after the crash at Silverstone. The interview did not receive wide attention until this week, ahead of the return to the track.
Hamilton and other drivers condemned Piquet. Verstappen, who is dating Piquet’s daughter, Kelly, said Piquet had used “very offensive” language but added that the Brazilian was also “a really nice and relaxed guy” who was not a racist.
Leclerc said he felt his Ferrari was “competitive” but a mistake prevented him for challenging for pole position.
“I knew it was the lap where I had to put everything together and I didn’t as a driver, so I didn’t deserve to be on pole,” he said.


French player who beat Serena reaches 4th round at Wimbledon

French player who beat Serena reaches 4th round at Wimbledon
Updated 02 July 2022

French player who beat Serena reaches 4th round at Wimbledon

French player who beat Serena reaches 4th round at Wimbledon
  • The unseeded Frenchwoman is making her debut at the All England Club
  • Tan’s debut at Wimbledon came on Day 2 of the tournament on Centre Court

WIMBLEDON, England: Whether her opponents are tournament favorites or crowd favorites, Harmony Tan keeps knocking them out of Wimbledon.
First there was Serena Williams, a seven-time champion at the All England Club. Then came 32nd-seeded Sara Sorribes Tormo. On Saturday, it was British player Katie Boulter.
“I think I like grass,” said Tan, who won three straight matches at a tournament for the first time in her career. “I really like to play with some slice, volley, everything with my game.”
The unseeded Frenchwoman is making her debut at the All England Club. She has played at the French Open four times, reaching the second round once. She also played at this year’s Australian Open and again reached the second round. At the US Open, she lost in the first round in 2018 in her only appearance at Flushing Meadows.
On Saturday, Tan beat Boulter 6-1, 6-1 on No. 2 Court. She never faced a break point in the match and converted five of the 10 she earned.
Tan’s debut at Wimbledon came on Day 2 of the tournament on Center Court, the biggest stadium on the grounds. That’s where she eliminated Williams, a 23-time Grand Slam singles champion, in three sets.
“It was really emotional for the first round against Serena, and after it was just play match for match,” Tan said on court. “Today was really good tennis. I don’t know why, but ... it depends (on) the day.”
Tan will next face either Coco Gauff or Amanda Anisimova. The two Americans will face each other in Saturday’s first match on Center Court.
French Open champion Iga Swiatek was scheduled to face Alize Cornet on No. 1 Court. Swiatek is the top-seeded player at Wimbledon and has won 37 straight matches.
Two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova was scheduled to follow Gauff and Anisimova on Center Court. Then Rafael Nadal, another two-time champion at the All England Club, was to play Lorenzo Sonego in the main stadium after that.


Saudi Arabia’s Bukhari wins bronze at the Chuncheon Korea Open International Taekwondo Championships

Saudi Arabia’s Bukhari wins bronze at the Chuncheon Korea Open International Taekwondo Championships
Updated 02 July 2022

Saudi Arabia’s Bukhari wins bronze at the Chuncheon Korea Open International Taekwondo Championships

Saudi Arabia’s Bukhari wins bronze at the Chuncheon Korea Open International Taekwondo Championships
  • Medal is the first ever international podium finish in the sport by a female Saudi athlete

Abrar Bukhari has become the first Saudi female to win an international taekwondo medal after finishing third at the Chuncheon Korea Open International Taekwondo Championships.

Bukhari took bronze in the competition’s -40 kg category, two days after Saudi colleague Riyad Al-Dhafri also took bronze in the men’s -54 kg category.

Bukhari came to prominence three years ago after winning the bronze medal at the 2019 Arab Taekwondo Championship in Morocco, the first ever women’s medal for Saudi taekwondo.

The same year, Bukhari won a bronze medal at the 10th edition of the Asian Junior Taekwondo Championships in Jordan.

Her other achievements include bronze at the Fujairah Open Championship and the silver of the 2019 GCC Games in Kuwait.