Ajax boss Erik ten Hag reportedly closing in on Man United job

Ajax boss Erik ten Hag reportedly closing in on Man United job
Erik ten Hag is viewed in some quarters as the man who can restore the glory days that Manchester United enjoyed under Alex Ferguson. (Getty Images)
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Updated 07 April 2022

Ajax boss Erik ten Hag reportedly closing in on Man United job

Ajax boss Erik ten Hag reportedly closing in on Man United job
  • Both the BBC and the Daily Mail claim the 52-year-old Ajax manager is seen as fitting the profile the United board want
  • Ten Hag's contract is up at the end of next season and would cost United around £1.6 million ($2.1 million) to prise him away

LONDON: Erik ten Hag is the strong favorite to be named Manchester United's next full-time manager, dealing a crushing blow to the dreams of embattled Paris Saint-Germain coach Mauricio Pochettino, according to British media reports on Thursday.

Both the BBC and the Daily Mail claim the 52-year-old Ajax manager is seen as fitting the profile the United board want for the man who they hope will restore the glory days the club enjoyed under Alex Ferguson.

The Mail says United held talks with Ajax — whose chief executive is former United goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar — at the end of last week about the conditions under which Ten Hag can leave.

His contract is up at the end of next season and would cost United around £1.6 million ($2.1 million) to prise him away whereas PSG might demand a far larger sum for Pochettino to leave.

However, Pochettino's position at PSG is far from secure after a disappointing exit in the last 16 of the Champions League — the barometer by which coaches at the Qatar-owned club are judged.

Ten Hag — whose Ajax side were denied a place in the 2019 Champions League final in the final minute by Pochettino when he managed Tottenham — has been interviewed by United and is said to have demanded backing from United to pursue his transfer targets.

According to the Independent newspaper, Ten Hag told United's football director John Murtough and technical director Darren Fletcher he envisaged a "five-year project."

He also addressed the futures of several present squad members, saying they are nowhere near "Champions League shape."

However, according to the Independent he has "not blown people away" at United due to a perceived lack of charisma — which reportedly saw him lose out to Nuno Espirito Santo for the Spurs job last summer.

In that respect Pochettino comes out way ahead of Ten Hag, although he has been more muted at PSG than his passionate performances on the touchline when at Spurs.

Both the BBC and the Mail say that United will hold off on an announcement out of respect for Ajax and the closeness of their title race with PSV Eindhoven — the latter trail Ten Hag's side by four points.

Despite managers of the stature of Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho bringing some cup silverware, United have persistently failed to mount a significant challenge for the title while UAE-backed neighbors Manchester City have won it four times since Ferguson stood down in 2013.

Temporary incumbent Ralf Rangnick has failed to create consistency in results since Ole Gunnar Solksjaer was sacked in November but will reportedly stay on as an advisor.

Manchester United are seventh in the table, three points off Tottenham, who occupy the fourth and final Champions League spot, with both having played the same number of games.


Cameroon fight back to draw World Cup thriller with Serbia

Cameroon fight back to draw World Cup thriller with Serbia
Cameroon's forward Vincent Aboubakar scores his team's second goal during the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group G match. AFP
Updated 28 November 2022

Cameroon fight back to draw World Cup thriller with Serbia

Cameroon fight back to draw World Cup thriller with Serbia
  • Jean-Charles Castelletto scored first for Cameroon but Serbia led 3-1 after goals from Strahinja Pavlovic, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Aleksandar Mitrovic

DOHA: Cameroon kept their hopes of making the last 16 of the World Cup alive on Monday after fighting back from two goals down to draw a thrilling Group G encounter with Serbia 3-3.
Rigobert Song’s team looked almost dead and buried after goals from Strahinja Pavlovic, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Aleksandar Mitrovic gave Serbia a 3-1 lead early in the second half.
But substitute Vincent Aboubakar and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting snatched a draw with two quick-fire strikes just after the hour mark to leave both Cameroon and Serbia on a single point, two behind group leaders Brazil and Switzerland.
Had they lost, Cameroon would have been relying on the Swiss beating Brazil in order to not be eliminated with a game to spare, but instead the west Africans still have a chance of getting out of the group stage for the first time since 1990.
Cameroon have a tough task ahead as they play Brazil in their final match, which according to reports they will play without first-choice goalkeeper Andre Onana who was dropped from the matchday squad just hours before kick-off following an unspecified disciplinary issue.
Media reports suggest that Onana has been sent home from the World Cup after a disagreement with Song, but that pre-match turmoil didn’t stop Cameroon putting in a fighting display against a Serbia team who probably deserved to win on the balance of play.
Mitrovic was almost invisible in Serbia’s defeat to Brazil but here he was involved from kick-off, the Fulham forward unlucky not to give Serbia the lead in the 11th minute when he crashed a shot off the post from a tight angle following a neat exchange of passes with Dusan Tadic.
- Cameroon comeback -
But Mitrovic only had himself to blame for not opening the scoring six minutes later, shanking an awful first-time finish wide when, after a mix up in the Cameroon defense, the ball dropped at his feet with only Onana’s replacement Devis Epassy to beat.
And Castelletto punished the Serbs for Mitrovic’s miss in the 29th minute with the simplest of finishes after ghosting in at the back post to meet Nicolas Nkoulou’s flick-on at a corner.
Pierre Kunde then passed up a golden opportunity to double Cameroon’s lead in the 43rd minute when he first shot straight at goalkeeper Vanja Milinkovic-Savic and then smashed the rebound wide.
It was Cameroon’s turn to be undone at a set-piece as the half crept into first-half stoppage time when Pavlovic brilliantly headed home Dusan Tadic’s floated free-kick.
The Serbs’ tails were up and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic flipped the match on its head two minutes later with a superb left-footed finish after Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa sloppily gave the ball away just outside his own penalty area.
Mitrovic finally had the goal his strong display deserved seven minutes after the break, tapping in Andrija Zivkovic’s pass unopposed at the end of beautiful move guided by Milinkovic-Savic and Tadic.
The match looked over but from nowhere Cameroon sprung back into life thanks to Aboubakar’s odd goal.
The Al Nassr forward raced through onto Castelletto’s launched pass over the top and scooped an improbable finish over the Serbia ‘keeper, beaming with delight after his goal was awarded following a VAR check.
Aboubakar’s pace caused Serbia all kinds of problems and he laid on Choupo-Moting’s leveller, bursting down the right and laying on a simple finish for the Bayern Munich forward which sparked wild celebrations on the pitch and in the stands.
Neither side could find a winner in an end-to-end finish to the game and their bids to make the knockouts will go down to the final game.


Netherlands on cusp of advancing at World Cup

Netherlands on cusp of advancing at World Cup
Updated 28 November 2022

Netherlands on cusp of advancing at World Cup

Netherlands on cusp of advancing at World Cup
  • If the Dutch advance it will put more focus on 71-year-old coach Louis van Gaal
  • Van Gaal stepped out of retirement just over a year ago to take over the national team

DOHA: The Netherlands is on the verge of reaching the knockout stage at the World Cup and an overwhelming favorite in its final Group A match on Tuesday against host nation Qatar.
If the Dutch advance it will put more focus on 71-year-old coach Louis van Gaal, who stepped out of retirement just over a year ago to take over the national team while being treated for aggressive prostate cancer.
Host nation Qatar has lost its first two matches and already missed its chance to move on from the group stage.
For the Netherlands a draw will suffice to advance and put the Netherlands into contention again in a World Cup after failing to qualify four years ago. The Dutch could even get through with a loss if Ecuador beats Senegal in the other Group A match.
In the round of 16, the Netherlands would face one of the top two teams from Group B, where England is the favorite with Iran, Wales, and the United States scrambling for a spot.
Van Gaal said before the World Cup that the Netherlands can win it all, although few see this as one of the country’s best teams.
No powerful soccer nation has come up short at the World Cup as often as the Dutch, who have been the runners-up three times: in 1974 against West Germany, in 1978 facing Argentina, and in 2010 vs. Spain.
The Dutch also finished third in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil after losing a shootout against Argentina in the semifinals.
After being out of the game for several years, Van Gaal came out of retirement and replaced Frank de Boer in August of 2021. He said he did it out of duty.
“Because, simply, no one else was available at that time,” Van Gaal said.
Van Gaal’s matter-of-fact courage has to be a motivator for the Dutch. But he might also stir up Qatar.
Earlier this year the outspoken Van Gaal said it was “ridiculous” holding the World Cup in Qatar, a tiny country of 3 million. Qatar’s vast wealth is fueled by natural gas and oil.
“It’s ridiculous that we’re going to play in a country to — what does FIFA say? — — to develop football there,” Van Gaal said, adding that Qatar is too small and lacks a soccer culture.
“But it doesn’t matter. It’s about money, commercial interests. That’s what matters to FIFA,” Van Gaal added.


Lewis Hamilton’s X44 Vida Carbon Racing claim first Extreme E title in rollercoaster second season

Lewis Hamilton’s X44 Vida Carbon Racing claim first Extreme E title in rollercoaster second season
Updated 28 November 2022

Lewis Hamilton’s X44 Vida Carbon Racing claim first Extreme E title in rollercoaster second season

Lewis Hamilton’s X44 Vida Carbon Racing claim first Extreme E title in rollercoaster second season
  • Drivers Sebastien Loeb and Cristina Gutierrez ecstatic
  • Last race won by Klara Andersson, Nasser Al-Attiyah

URUGUAY: Lewis Hamilton’s X44 Vida Carbon Racing has secured its first Extreme E title, capping a drama-filled second season of the series.

The team finished third by half a second in the Uruguay Natural Energy X Prix to secure the championship in a final that went right down to the wire, with ABT CUPRA XE securing a maiden X Prix victory.

Hamilton’s outfit entered a final that was missing three of the top four teams in the championship standings, including leaders RXR. As their closest rivals watched on from the paddock, Sebastien Loeb and Cristina Gutierrez secured the podium finish needed to take their maiden Extreme E title, just two points clear of RXR in the standings, having bagged a crucial five points from the Continental Traction Challenge in Qualifying 2.

Gutierrez was ecstatic. “I still can’t believe it. It was a very tough weekend for us, especially after my roll yesterday. The team did a crazy job with the (spare) car and Qualifying 2 was the first time we had driven it.

“As for the final, on the radio they told me someone was going to be penalized but still I didn’t know. I wanted to be sure that we won so I did not celebrate before it was official. It was a rollercoaster, but it is much better than that for us as we can now believe in what we have achieved.”

Loeb was equally happy. “We could only go and compete with everything we had and try to score maximum points. In the final, it was a critical moment because I was fourth and we needed to be third. We had some contact here and there, but there was nothing I could do to overtake. Cristina did a great job to stay very close to the car in front and we knew potentially we were third. At the end it was what we needed so I’m really relieved to be here and really proud to win this championship.”

Alejandro Agag, founder and CEO of Extreme E, added: “I think the season finale was an amazing rollercoaster. Everything was open. There was an incredible comeback from X44 Vida Carbon Racing and bad luck for Rosberg X Racing, who have done some incredible things this season. Once again the championship decider was close, with the season going down to the wire, so we’re ready for a fantastic campaign next year.”

The stakes were high, and from the outset it was clear that it would be no easy task for X44 Vida Carbon Racing. ABT CUPRA XE’s Nasser Al-Attiyah and Veloce Racing’s Kevin Hansen surrounded Loeb as the trio approached the opening sequence of corners. A fantastic move from Loeb seemed to have taken the lead for the Frenchman, as he carried his speed through a wider line, until Al-Attiyah surged up the inside to steal first.

With the title on the line, Loeb kept the ABT CUPRA XE within reach, but as the leading teams tussled for supremacy, NEOM McLaren Extreme E’s Tanner Foust timed his attack perfectly, charging through to take second away from X44 Vida Carbon Racing.

Championship glory slipped further away from the challengers as Timmy Hansen managed to get past the recovering Loeb to secure third for Genesys Andretti United Extreme E. A masterclass in defending followed, with Hansen keeping Loeb at bay as the teams approached the Switch Zone, where Gutierrez would pick up the fight with Catie Munnings.

A five-second penalty for Veloce Racing, from Hansen hitting a waypoint flag on his stint, took the pressure off X44 Vida Carbon Racing from behind, but the heat was on to overtake Genesys Andretti United Extreme E. Gutierrez threw her ODYSSEY 21 into every corner but was struggling to gain enough ground on Munnings up ahead. In addition, the Spaniard was under investigation for a collision with Veloce Racing’s Molly Taylor, for which she would later receive a five-second penalty.

Just as time seemed to be running out for X44 Vida Carbon Racing, a seven-second penalty came through for Genesys Andretti United Extreme E for speeding in the Switch Zone. This was the lifeline that Gutierrez needed as she fought to stay close enough to the Genesys Andretti United Extreme E ODYSSEY 21. The Spaniard crossed the line in fourth but within two seconds of Munnings, thus securing third place and the championship title for X44 Vida Carbon Racing, just two points clear of RXR.

Further up the field, a measured drive from Klara Andersson kept Emma Gilmour in her mirrors as the NEOM McLaren Extreme E driver chased a maiden podium for the team. Gilmour secured second, while Andersson and Al-Attiyah’s performances earned ABT CUPRA XE their first X Prix win and back-to-back podiums during the pair’s first Extreme E campaign.

Behind the tussling Gutierrez and Munnings was Veloce Racing. Fifth place marked an impressive turnaround for the team and an amazing comeback from Taylor as she returns to the Extreme E championship and competitive ways.

Andersson from ABT CUPRA XE said: “Wow. There are just so many emotions in me right now to be honest. I’ve been waiting for this for so long. It’s only my second Extreme E race, and my first proper Extreme E race weekend, so to be on top of the podium is huge. I couldn’t have done it without Nasser and the whole team.”

Al-Attiyah also had praise for his teammate: “Thank you to the team and thank you to Klara. We had an amazing weekend and we are happy to win the last race. Now we have a lot of confidence to come back next year and fight for the title.”

Tanner Foust, NEOM McLaren Extreme E, said: “There was mayhem at the start, which is weirdly what you hope for when you’re last. I ended up coming out in second I think, and I had Timmy (Hansen) behind me and I got almost rolled. It was a push to stay in second place on the first lap and then Emma (Gilmour) came through. She was awesome.”

Gilmour said: “It’s just fantastic. The team has worked so hard all year. We’ve had a few setbacks along the way so this is for the team, we couldn’t do it without them. I’ve got a fantastic teammate in Tanner and I’m just so happy to finish on this high note for the season.”

Results

ABT CUPRA XE 10 minutes, 26.537 seconds

NEOM McLaren Extreme E +3.427

X44 Vida Carbon Racing +10.467 (penalized)

Genesys Andretti United Extreme E +11.029 (penalized)

Veloce Racing +15.094 (penalized)

Championship Points Standings

X44 Vida Carbon Racing: 86

Rosberg X Racing: 84

ACCIONA | SAINZ XE Team: 66

No.99 GMC HUMMER EV Chip Ganassi Racing: 63

NEOM McLaren Extreme E: 52

ABT CUPRA XE: 46

Genesys Andretti United Extreme E: 45

XITE ENERGY Racing: 33

JBXE: 27

Veloce Racing: 18


Warriors power past Timberwolves in convincing road win, Celtics cruise

Warriors power past Timberwolves in convincing road win, Celtics cruise
Updated 28 November 2022

Warriors power past Timberwolves in convincing road win, Celtics cruise

Warriors power past Timberwolves in convincing road win, Celtics cruise

LOS ANGELES: Stephen Curry scored 25 points and the Golden State Warriors parlayed a hot start into a comfortable 137-114 NBA win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday.

Curry added 11 rebounds and eight assists while Draymond Green posted his first double-double of the season with 19 points and 11 assists as the reigning NBA champions put together three straight victories for the first time this season.

It was just their second away victory of the campaign and moved them to 11-10, the first time in a month they have been above .500.

The Warriors, seemingly determined to turn around their dismal fortunes on the road, exploded out of the gate, engineering a 17-0 scoring run on the way to 47 first-quarter points and a 20-point lead after the first period.

They were up by 20 going into the fourth although the Timberwolves, led by 26 points from Anthony Edwards with 21 from Karl-Anthony Towns, cut that by half with 5:31 remaining.

Golden State responded, with Curry draining a three-pointer before Klay Thompson delivered a trey, a steal and another three-pointer to push the lead back to 19.

Six Warriors players finished in double figures, Thompson posting 21 and Jordan Poole adding 24 off the bench.

“I think what really propelled us that first half, especially defensively, is not fouling,” Thompson said. “As simple as it sounds, it has us playing at such a higher level.

“Our defense obviously fuels our offense, getting out in transition, hitting the open man. And it’s crazy how when we play simple basketball, it’s a thing of beauty.”

The Warriors will try to build more momentum on the road when they travel to Dallas for a Western Conference finals rematch on Tuesday.

The Mavs will be looking to rebound at home after falling 124-115 to the Bucks in Milwaukee on Sunday.

Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 30 points with 11 rebounds for the Bucks and Grayson Allen, who was a perfect seven-for-seven from three-point range in the first half, added 25.

Luka Doncic scored 27 points to lead Dallas, who suffered a fourth straight defeat.

It was no surprise to see the league-leading Boston Celtics cruise to a 130-121 home victory over the Washington Wizards.

Even with MVP candidate Jayson Tatum sidelined with a sore ankle, the Celtics offense was explosive. Boston connected on 16 of 34 three-point attempts and shot 55 percent from the field overall in a game that was more lopsided than the final score indicated.

Jaylen Brown scored a season-high 36 points to lead seven Celtics players in double figures in the team’s 16th win of the season.

At Madison Square Garden, Memphis star Ja Morant thrived in the spotlight, with a triple-double of 27 points, 10 rebounds and 14 assists powering the Grizzlies to a 127-123 victory over the New York Knicks.

Morant rebounded his own miss and made the put-back basket to put Memphis up 124-123 with 13.9 seconds remaining, and the Grizzlies — who had led by 12 early in the fourth quarter — sealed it with a string of free-throws.

Across town in Brooklyn, superstar Kevin Durant scored 31 points and Seth Curry added 29 off the bench as the Nets pulled away late for a 111-97 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers.

Seth Curry hit seven of 10 from three-point range and scored the Nets’ first eight points of the final period. His three-pointer with 6:45 remaining pushed the Nets’ lead to nine points.

“We kept using the word ‘aggressive,’” Nets coach Jacque Vaughn said of the mindset in a game that featured 16 lead changes. “We want to be the aggressors on every possession.”

Jerami Grant led the Blazers with 29 points, stepping up again as Damian Lillard remained sidelined with a calf strain.

In Los Angeles, injured Clippers stars Paul George and Kawhi Leonard watched from the bench as Croatian center Ivica Zubac scored 31 points and pulled down a career-high 29 rebounds, blocked three shots and handed out three assists before fouling out in the Clippers’ 114-100 victory over the Indiana Pacers.

Zubac’s 29 rebounds were the most in an NBA game this season and three short of the Clippers’ franchise record of 32 — set by Swen Nater back in 1979.


Political foes Iran, US get ready to rumble for do-or-die match 

Political foes Iran, US get ready  to rumble for do-or-die match 
Updated 28 November 2022

Political foes Iran, US get ready to rumble for do-or-die match 

Political foes Iran, US get ready  to rumble for do-or-die match 
  • In the context of the tournament, the stakes are simple — a win for either team secures a place in the last 16 while defeat will guarantee elimination

DOHA: Twenty-four years after their first World Cup meeting billed as the “Mother of all football matches,” Iran and the US face off in a politically-charged showdown on Tuesday with a place in the knockout rounds up for grabs.

Decades of mutual enmity between the arch geopolitical foes is the backdrop to what promises to be a white-hot sporting occasion at Doha’s Al Thumama Stadium.

In the context of the tournament, the stakes are simple — a win for either team secures a place in the last 16 while defeat will guarantee elimination.

But the wider significance of the Group B contest is less clear-cut.

The US and Iran have been bitter ideological enemies for more than four decades, severing diplomatic relations after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Quite what bearing that has on a 90-minute World Cup football match involving 22 players remains to be seen.

US coach Gregg Berhalter has been at pains to dampen down suggestions that the game carries a political dimension.

“I envision the game being hotly contested for the fact that both teams want to advance to the next round — not because of politics or because of relations between our countries,” Berhalter said.

“We’re soccer players and we’re going to compete and they’re going to compete and that’s it.”

Yet Berhalter’s desire for politics to be absent from the occasion may be wishful thinking.

A rare public relations gaffe by US Soccer — posting a modified version of Iran’s national flag on the US team’s social media feeds in what it said was a gesture of solidarity with Iranian women protesters— has infuriated football authorities in Tehran.

The offending post was removed from official US Soccer feeds on Sunday after the Iran Football Federation lodged a complaint with world governing body FIFA.

The controversy almost certainly guarantees that what was already shaping as a nail-biting showdown on Tuesday is likely to carry a crackle of political tension.

That was certainly the case when Iran and the US met for the first time at the 1998 World Cup in France, the Iranians claiming a memorable 2-1 victory at the Stade Gerland in Lyon.

Political intrigue seeped into the buildup to the match with a row over the pre-game rituals.

Iran, the designated away team, refused to abide by the standard FIFA protocol of walking over to the American players for the handshake before kickoff.

That potential flashpoint was deftly defused by Swiss referee Urs Meier, who suggested that the two teams pose for a joint team photo.

Iran’s players, who presented US players with bouquets of white roses to symbolize peace, happily complied, linking arms with their American counterparts.

Iran coach Jalal Talebi and veteran defender Mohammad Khakpour would later reveal how much the Iranians had invested emotionally in the game, viewed in some quarters as a battle against representatives of the “Great Satan.”

“Just imagine being told for six months, repeatedly, that this game is the most important game in our history, which it really was,” Talebi said in a 2018 interview.

Khakpour added: “I personally was contacted by people whose family members had been martyred, those who had lost children in the Iran-Iraq war. Fathers, mothers, called and said ‘This game really does matter to us. You have to go and win this game for us.’“

The US’s coach at the 1998 World Cup, Steve Sampson, has since expressed regret that he did not use the political tensions between the two countries as a motivator.

“We were asked by FIFA, by US Soccer, by the organizing committee in France, to make it about football, and not about politics. And I went along with that,” Sampson told Time magazine.

“In hindsight, I would have made it about politics. A coach’s job is to use any and every tool available to him to prepare his team.”

Yet the American class of 2022 insist that politics won’t come into the latest instalment of the US-Iran World Cup rivalry.

“The emotional side of having to win to get to the next round is enough to be up for it,” US defender Tim Ream said on Sunday. “I don’t think we have to worry about anything else.

“What is on the line is advancing into the knockout stages. And if that’s not enough then I think we have issues.”