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.


Brazil-Argentina World Cup qualifier definitively canceled

Brazil-Argentina World Cup qualifier definitively canceled
Updated 11 sec ago

Brazil-Argentina World Cup qualifier definitively canceled

Brazil-Argentina World Cup qualifier definitively canceled
  • Even if the match were replayed, its result could not affect the outcome of qualifying, with Brazil topping the group and Argentina finishing second

RIO DE JANEIRO: Last year’s aborted World Cup qualifier between Brazil and Argentina will not be replayed, the two South American countries’ football associations said on Tuesday.

The original fixture, in September last year, was halted when Brazilian health officials stormed onto the pitch after seven minutes in Sao Paulo, alleging COVID-19 quarantine breaches by the visitors.

But with nothing riding on the match as both countries have already qualified for the World Cup, which begins in Qatar on Nov. 20, they had pleaded with world football’s governing body FIFA to cancel the match definitively.

“The Brazil-Argentina match will not be played,” the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) and Argentine Football Association (AFA) said in a joint statement.

“AFA, CBF and FIFA have resolved the dispute at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).”

Both countries argued that playing the match as scheduled on Sept. 22 would adversely affect their World Cup preparations.

FIFA ruled in February that the game must be replayed and in May it rejected an appeal by both federations to have the match canceled, while also hitting them with fines worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The two federations then took their case to CAS, which was due to rule this month.

Both countries qualified for the World Cup with several matches to spare in the single South American qualifying group.

Even if the match were replayed, its result could not affect the outcome of qualifying, with Brazil topping the group and Argentina finishing second.

Brazil have won the World Cup a record five times while reigning Copa America holders Argentina are twice champions.


Serena Williams gets door from Raducanu in Cincinnati opener

Serena Williams gets door from Raducanu in Cincinnati opener
Updated 17 August 2022

Serena Williams gets door from Raducanu in Cincinnati opener

Serena Williams gets door from Raducanu in Cincinnati opener
  • Raducanu broke Williams at the start of both sets to claim victory in what was her first and likely last meeting with the 23-time Grand Slam singles champion

CINCINNATI: Serena Williams bowed out of the WTA/ATP Cincinnati Masters at the first hurdle on Tuesday, losing in straight sets to US Open champion Emma Raducanu as the end of her glittering career looms ever closer.

Williams, who last week indicated that she is planning to retire after this month’s US Open, was no match for British teenager Raducanu, who romped to a 6-4, 6-0 win.

The 40-year-old Williams left the court swiftly after the defeat without speaking to television reporters and did not hold a press conference.

Raducanu broke Williams at the start of both sets to claim victory in what was her first and likely last meeting with the 23-time Grand Slam singles champion.

“I was nervous from the first point to the last,” Raducanu said. “Serena is dangerous and can come back from any situation.

“I had to stay focused. I’m so pleased I managed to keep my composure.”

Williams, winner of titles here in 2014 and 2015, was competing in only her fourth match of 2022 after starting her season at Wimbledon due to injury.

Raducanu announced her intentions from the start with a break to love of Williams and never let up.

The young Briton improved to 14 wins, 17 defeats since winning the Open last September from a qualifying start.

Raducanu meanwhile said she was honored to be part of the spectacle on Tuesday in what was one of Williams’ final games as a professional.

“We all need to honor Serena and her amazing career,” she said. “I’m so grateful for the experience of playing her and for the fact that our careers have crossed.

“All she has achieved is inspirational. It’s a true honor to share the court with her.”

Raducanu never let Williams into the match.

The young Londoner seeded 10th took a 4-1 lead in the opening set and completely swept the second, advancing on her first match point, an unreturnable serve.

Raducanu committed a single unforced error in the opening set compared to a dozen for Williams.

Williams’ elder sister Venus took a 7-5, 6-1 loss earlier in the day, losing to 2016 champion Karolina Pliskova.

In the men’s draw of the joint event, Nick Kyrgios began the last major US Open tuneup with a 7-5, 6-4 win over Alejandro Davidovich Fokina.

The Australian marched through with 29 winners — including 10 aces — and three breaks of the Spaniard’s serve to reach the second round.

The 28th-ranked Kyrgios has won all 11 of his first-round matches this season and won his 22nd match since returning to the ATP in June after skipping the clay season.

He now faces good friend Taylor Fritz after the American crushed Sebastian Baez 6-1, 6-1.

“Physically, I didn’t feel the best, but you have to keep pushing, keep trying,” Kyrgios said.

“Alejandro’s a hell of a player, he’s got a lot of shots at his disposal. I had to serve well and dictate,” the Montreal quarter-finalist added. “It was tricky conditions out there, the courts are a lot more lively than Montreal, it was harder to control the ball.”

It marked a happy return to Cincinnati for Kyrgios, who was fined a record $113,000 during a spectacular meltdown at the tournament in 2019

“I’ve played some amazing tennis here and had some crazy outbursts,” he said. “It’s a flip of the coin as to which Kyrgios shows up here.”

Elsewhere, Spanish third seed Carlos Alcaraz advanced in his tournament debut, defeating American Mackenzie McDonald 6-3, 6-2.

Italian 10th seed Jannik Sinner celebrated his 21st birthday by beating Thanasi Kokkinakis 6-7 (9/11), 6-4, 7-6 (8/6).


Dutch debut for Vuelta a Espana as Roglic targets fourth title

Dutch debut for Vuelta a Espana as Roglic targets fourth title
Updated 17 August 2022

Dutch debut for Vuelta a Espana as Roglic targets fourth title

Dutch debut for Vuelta a Espana as Roglic targets fourth title
  • The flat Dutch terrain means stages two and three are likely to culminate in mass sprints, so Jumbo’s best chance on home soil is the opening day team race

UTRECHT: Cycling’s Vuelta a Espana embarks Friday with defending champion Primoz Roglic chasing an unprecedented fourth straight victory over a mountainous 3,280km route that begins, however, on the flatlands of the Netherlands.

After the Giro d’Italia started in Budapest and the Tour de France in Copenhagen, both to rousing support from roadside fans, the final grand tour of the season begins its 21-day odyssey with a 23km team time-trial around Utrecht.

It is home terrain for Slovenian Roglic’s Jumbo team. They are Dutch-based and include three Dutch riders in Sam Oomen, Robert Gesink and Mike Teunissen.

“We have a nice and balanced team at the start that can optimally support Primoz in all areas,” Jumbo director Merijn Zeeman said.

The flat Dutch terrain means stages two and three are likely to culminate in mass sprints, so Jumbo’s best chance on home soil is the opening day team race.

The 23 teams, which start with 184 riders, transfer to Spain on Monday, and start climbing at once with all six stages before the next rest day in medium or high mountains.

The race winds through the rugged terrain of the Basque Country and Asturias, where plenty of traveling Dutch fan are expected.

Stage five ends in Bilbao, near Frank Gehry’s landmark Guggenheim museum, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary.

Stage eight and nine in Asturias offer climbers the chance to gain serious time.

After a second rest day, the race swoops south where the kind of sizzling temperatures that effected the Tour de France could play a roll.

An individual time-trial on stage 10 should provide a minor shake up while the cliff-perched city of Ronda hosts the start of stage 13.

A mountaintop finish, more than 2,500m high in the Andalusian Sierra Nevada may provide some drama on stage 15.

The race might only be settled on stage 20 with a series of climbs designed to produce a final showdown on the road toward Madrid.

Quick Step starlet Remco Evenepoel targets his first Grand Tour at 22 and was the bookies tip for triumph before Roglic was declared fit on Monday.

The rigours of a 21-day Tour will test Evenepoel, who has won several shorter tours, but he will be chaperoned by the world champion Julian Alaphilippe, as co-leader.

“He doesn’t start as a favorite, and we will just take it day by day,” said Quick Step sports director Klaas Lodewyck.

“It’s a whole new adventure for him,” Lodewyck said of the rider with 11 wins this season, including a resounding triumph at Liege-Bastogne-Liege.

Former Giro champion Richard Carapaz leads a youthful Ineos line up and, after a narrow miss at the Giro in May, the reigning Olympic champion cannot be ignored.

Ineos director Rod Ellingworth expects “an exciting edition of the Vuelta” with some “outstanding racing.” 

Powerful roller Dylan van Baarle and the climbers Pavel Sivakov and Tao Geoghegan Hart provide ample back up in an otherwise youthful Ineos lineup.

Giro champion Australia’s Jai Hindley and British climber Simon Yates both appear to have the credentials to target at least a podium shot.

But several of cycling’s hottest riders are missing with Egan Bernal, Jonas Vingegaard and Tadej Pogacar all sitting out this Vuelta.


Elon Musk says he is buying Manchester United

Elon Musk says he is buying Manchester United
Updated 17 August 2022

Elon Musk says he is buying Manchester United

Elon Musk says he is buying Manchester United
  • Musk is currently trying to exit a $44 billion agreement to buy the social media company, which has taken him to court

LONDON: Elon Musk, the world’s richest person, on Tuesday tweeted that he was buying football club Manchester United Plc, without offering any details.

Musk has a history of being unconventional and making irreverent tweets, and it was not immediately clear whether he planned to pursue a deal to secure Manchester United.

“I’m buying Manchester United ur welcome,” Musk said in a tweet. The team is controlled by the American Glazer family. Neither the family nor Musk immediately responded to a request for comment.

British newspaper The Daily Mirror reported last year that the Glazers were prepared to sell the club but only if they were offered in excess of £4 billion.($4.84 billion)

Musk is currently trying to exit a $44 billion agreement to buy the social media company, which has taken him to court.

Manchester United is one of the world’s best supported football clubs. They have been champions of England a record 20 times and have won the European Cup, the most prestigious club competition in the global game, three times.

Dissatisfaction among fans at the Glazers’ perceived lack of ambition to bring in top players intensified after the club finished sixth in the English Premier League last season, while crosstown rivals Manchester City won a second successive title.

The football club had a market capitalization of $2.08 billion, as of Tuesday’s stock market close.

Manchester United fans have in recent years protested against the Glazers, who bought the club for 790 million pounds ($955.51 million) in 2005, due to the team’s struggles on the pitch.

The anti-Glazer movement gained momentum last year after United were involved in a failed attempt to form a breakaway European Super League.

Some fans have urged Musk to buy Manchester United instead of buying Twitter.

Musk has a history of unconventional actions and comments, making it difficult sometimes to tell when he is joking.

His ambitions range from colonizing Mars to creating a new sustainable energy economy, and in the process he has built the most valuable car company in the world, electric vehicle maker Tesla, rocket company SpaceX, and a slew of smaller firms. One is a tunnel maker called the Boring Company.

Musk has appeared to smoke marijuana in a podcast and fought US regulators over his comments about his plans for Tesla, including an abandoned effort to take it private.

Forbes estimates his fortune at $270 billion. 


Jacobs storms to Euro 100m crown as Ingebrigtsen and Perkovic shine

Jacobs storms to Euro 100m crown as Ingebrigtsen and Perkovic shine
Updated 17 August 2022

Jacobs storms to Euro 100m crown as Ingebrigtsen and Perkovic shine

Jacobs storms to Euro 100m crown as Ingebrigtsen and Perkovic shine
  • In a heady night of track and field at a packed Olympic Stadium, the raucous crowd went wild as unheralded home favorite Gina Lueckenkemper pulled off a shock by winning the women’s blue riband sprint
  • There was also drama in the decathlon as Germany’s Niklas Kaul snatched gold from Swiss rival Simon Ehammer on the back of a monstrous 76.05m in the javelin and a personal best of 4:10.04 in the strength-sapping final 1500m

MUNICH: Olympic champion Marcell Jacobs put an injury-ravaged season behind him to storm to gold in the 100m gold in the European Athletics Championships in Munich on Tuesday.

Jacobs, who was world indoor 60m champion in Belgrade in March, but withdrew before the semifinals of the 100m at last month’s world championships in Oregon, clocked a championship record-equalling time of 9.95 seconds.

Defending champion Zharnel Hughes claimed silver in 9.99sec with another Briton, Jeremiah Azu, taking bronze in 10.13.

“This was a difficult season with problems, with injury,” said the 27-year-old Italian, who has been beset by leg injuries and who competed with a heavily-strapped left calf in Munich.

“My leg is not good and I am not happy about how the race went technically, there were some problems.

“But I am over the moon with the gold medal. After Olympic gold, I’ve now got the European gold. I’ve got to get the world championship gold now.”

In a heady night of track and field at a packed Olympic Stadium, the raucous crowd went wild as unheralded home favorite Gina Lueckenkemper pulled off a shock by winning the women’s blue riband sprint.

The 25-year-old, who won 100m silver in the last European champs in Berlin in 2018 and 200m bronze in 2016, threw herself at the line to clock 10.99sec for a photo-finish victory over Switzerland’s Mujinga Kambundji.

Britain’s Daryll Neita took bronze with 11.00sec, while her teammate, defending champion Dina Asher-Smith, pulled up with injury halfway through the race and finished last.

A trio of proven performers had earlier showed off their prowess in perfect, balmy conditions, retaining their titles in no little style. 

Norway’s Jakob Ingebrigtsen celebrates winning the men’s 5000m final during the European Athletics Championships at the Olympic Stadium in Munich. (AFP)

First up was Norway’s Jakob Ingebrigtsen, who dominated the 5,000m to keep a repeat double bid on track.

The 21-year-old, crowned world champion over the distance at last month’s worlds in Eugene, timed 13min 21.13sec.

“I believe in myself and I believe in the things I have done before. It was amazing here today, it was a great race to be a part of,” said Ingebrigtsen.

“It feels great to be back and win, it is special.”

Greece’s defending long jump champion Miltiadis Tentoglou, the reigning Olympic and world indoor champion who won world silver in Eugene, then set a championship record to retain his Euro title.

The Greek soared out to 8.52m on his fourth attempt, bettering the previous best of 8.47m set by Germany’s Christian Reif in Barcelona in 2010. 

Croatia’s Sandra Perkovic during the women’s discus throw final at the European Athletics Championships. (AFP)

Then came the turn of the doyenne of the women’s discus, Croatia’s Sandra Perkovic.

The 32-year-old Croat left it late, going out to a winning 67.95 meters on her fifth attempt for gold.

It was a record sixth successive European title, the two-time Olympic and world champion having first won the continental competition in Barcelona in 2010.

“I just won my sixth European title here at this beautiful stadium in front of this amazing crowds, so I am so happy and proud tonight,” said Perkovic.

“I knew I was ready to do it and I think the fight was nice.”

There was also drama in the decathlon as Germany’s Niklas Kaul snatched gold from Swiss rival Simon Ehammer on the back of a monstrous 76.05m in the javelin and a personal best of 4:10.04 in the strength-sapping final 1500m.

After also registering 11.16sec in the 100m, 7.10m in the long jump, 14.90m in the shot put, 2.02m in the high jump, 47.87sec in the 400m, 14.45sec in the 110m hurdles and 41.80m in the discus, Kaul was left with 8,545 points.

Ehammer had to be happy with silver, just 77pts behind, while Estonia’s Janek Oiglane claimed bronze (8,346).