Benzema, De Bruyne put on masterclasses as clamor for Ballon d’Or starts early

Benzema, De Bruyne put on masterclasses as clamor for Ballon d’Or starts early
Benzema has reached his greatest of heights this season with Real Madrid and looks to be getting even better. (File/AFP)
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Updated 27 April 2022

Benzema, De Bruyne put on masterclasses as clamor for Ballon d’Or starts early

Benzema, De Bruyne put on masterclasses as clamor for Ballon d’Or starts early
  • Frenchman Benzema’s two goals kept Real Madrid in Champions League semi-final 1st leg which Manchester City threatened to run away with as Belgian De Bruyne conducted play for home team

RIYADH: It almost defies belief that Karim Benzema is producing remarkable goalscoring statistics and setting historic landmarks aged 34.

It is an age where footballers in the modern era have often found it harder to maintain peak performance at a brutally challenging level — and are subsequently linked with moves to the Middle East or the US.

Lionel Messi is also 34 but, while many feel the Argentine legend has declined since his summer move to Paris Saint-Germain from Barcelona, Benzema has reached his greatest of heights this season with Real Madrid and looks to be getting even better as he gets older.

Validation, should it be required, of the French striker’s current lofty standing among the world’s best players came in Real’s 4-3 loss at Manchester City on Tuesday in their Champions League semi-final first-leg tie.

Without Benzema’s inspiration and impact — and wasteful City finishing — the 13-time winners would have likely faced an insurmountable task in next week’s home return against the English champions.

Three times they had a two-goal deficit to overcome, yet they responded through Benzema twice and Vinicius Junior.

“I can’t explain how good he is,” said the Brazil striker, 21, of Benzema after he recorded his 41st goal this season and 13th in 10 Champions League games — nine in the last four. “He is my mentor and inspiration, helps me so much and I hope he ends up winning three titles; La Liga, the Champions League, and the Ballon d’Or.”

The first of those trophies will be confirmed on Saturday if Real claim a point against Espanyol. The second is in the balance, but the third is in Benzema’s grasp.

According to former Real team-mate Mesut Ozil, there should be no doubt. In a tweet, he said: “Give my boy Benzi the Ballon d’Or.”

Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane — instrumental in Liverpool’s drive for a historic quadruple of trophies this season — and Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski may well disagree, but Benzema is a deserved favorite.

Labelled arrogant and lazy in the past while trying to establish himself at Real and in the French national team, the Lyon-born forward has endured battles to prove his worth — and salvage his reputation too after an unsavory blackmail court case involving former France team-mate Mathieu Valbuena that dated back to 2015.

Benzema has appealed a suspended one-year jail sentence and remained focused on football, where his growing maturity has been reflected through his performances.

The only arrogance he displayed on the pitch at the Etihad was an impudent “Panenka” penalty to deny City the two-goal advantage their efforts merited.

It followed two missed spot-kicks in a La Liga game against Osasuna last week.

Benzema, a Muslim of Algerian descent, said: “All the goalkeepers have studied my penalties and I had to change. The penalty by me was cold-blooded.

“I always have it in my head that if you don’t take a penalty, you will never miss a penalty. That’s mental confidence.

“We lacked a bit of everything in this game – ambition, pressure, confidence. The most important thing is we never lay down our arms, we are all in this until the end. This is the highest level. We fell 2-0 down but were mentally strong to fight back.

“Now we have to go to the Bernabeu (Stadium), and we are going to do something magical,” he added.

Where Cristiano Ronaldo once proved Real’s savior, now it is Benzema as he has filled the frontline role admirably since the Portuguese icon departed for Juventus in 2018.

He is no longer the support act to Ronaldo or Gareth Bale in Madrid, but the headliner as he pursues a fifth personal Champions League title.

The game at City was Benzema’s 600th for Real since his arrival from Lyon in 2009 – putting him eighth in the all-time appearance list – and he now has 320 goals, just three shy of Raul as the second-highest scorer in the club’s history behind Ronaldo.

Wearing the captain’s armband, Benzema has become a leader, lethal and legend and perhaps finally getting respect for his footballing feats.

Yet there was also another worthy Ballon d’Or candidate on show as Real and City produced a spectacular goal-fest that was gripping from the very moment Riyad Mahrez’s hip-swaying and quick feet created space for a sumptuous curling cross that Kevin De Bruyne headed in for the opener after just 94 seconds – the fastest ever in a semi-final.

The Belgian then set up Gabriel Jesus for the second in the 11th minute before Benzema’s hooked finish gave Real hope. Phil Foden headed in City’s third, but Vinicius Junior raced clear for a fine solo strike.

Back came Pep Guardiola’s side with Bernardo Silva’s blast into the top corner before Benzema’s audacious penalty eight minutes from time after Aymeric Laporte handled.

City captain Ruben Dias said: “Everyone is thinking ‘it could’ve been better, it could’ve been this, it could’ve been that’ but we just need to take the win.”

And with full-backs Joao Cancelo and Kyle Walker in line for returns after suspension and injury, they will go for the win in Madrid too, playing with the same swashbuckling style, rather than the more cautious approach seen at Atletico Madrid in the previous round.

Guardiola said: “You have to be yourself and really be truly yourself otherwise you’ve got no option to win.

“That’s what I want to tell my players to do – don’t think about anything else, think about going to the Bernabeu and putting on a good show which could give you a victory.”

City’s greatest showman is currently De Bruyne – and if the criterion for the Ballon d’Or is individual brilliance, then he has to be in the frame too. The 30-year-old midfielder is the complete player, a prototype for perfection with his vision and adept both in attack – with assists and goals – as well as defense.

If he can lead City to their first Champions League title, De Bruyne may stand a stronger chance of recognition.

It is often argued the award does not always go to the right man – as was the case with Lewandowski in 2021 after the 2020 edition was abandoned due to the coronavirus pandemic – and to those at more illustrious clubs such as Real Madrid or Barcelona.

With Messi and Ronaldo out of the picture this year, De Bruyne’s ability and contribution to City’s exploits should be lauded in the same manner as Benzema and his peers.


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.