Liverpool smell a third Champions League final in five seasons with dominant win over Villarreal

Liverpool smell a third Champions League final in five seasons with dominant win over Villarreal
Liverpool's Sadio Mane scores during the UEFA Champions League semi-final first leg match against Villarreal. (AFP)
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Updated 28 April 2022

Liverpool smell a third Champions League final in five seasons with dominant win over Villarreal

Liverpool smell a third Champions League final in five seasons with dominant win over Villarreal
  • Reds remain on course for an unprecedented quadruple of Champions League, Premier League, FA Cup and League Cup

LIVERPOOL: Jurgen Klopp said Liverpool have to remain "on alert" despite putting one foot in the Champions League final with a dominant 2-0 win over Villarreal in the the first leg of their semifinal tie at Anfield on Wednesday.

Two goals in two minutes undid Villarreal boss Unai Emery's defensive game plan as Pervis Estupinan deflected Jordan Henderson's cross into his own net before Sadio Mane slotted in a second.

The Reds remain on course for an unprecedented quadruple of Champions League, Premier League, FA Cup and League Cup.

And barring a huge upset when the sides meet again in southern Spain in six days' time, Liverpool's season will finish with a third Champions League final in five seasons in Paris on May 28.

"It is 2-0 at halftime," said Klopp. "You have to be completely on alert, 100 percent in the right moment and play the second half like we played the first. We know it will be a tricky atmopshere for us."

In stark contrast to the free-flowing thrills of Manchester City's 4-3 win over Real Madrid in the other semifinal on Tuesday, Emery's men followed the same tactic that saw them past Juventus and Bayern Munich by retreating behind the ball.

However, the Yellow Submarine could barely lay a glove on Klopp's men as Liverpool just had to bide their time to make their dominance count.

"The 2-0 is a clear, deserved result," said Emery. "It could have been even worse but we still have a chance.

"I want to show we are capable of playing a different game at home."

The Reds have now scored 135 goals this season, but were held scoreless in a frustrating first 45 minutes.

Mane headed wide Mohamed Salah's pinpoint cross with the best opening.

The Senegalese also saw a deflected effort fly just wide and Villarreal goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli escaped unpunished with some sloppy handling from a number of speculative efforts.

Another long-range strike was the closest Liverpool came to breaking the deadlock before the break as Thiago Alcantara's sweet strike clipped the post.

The six-time European champions started the second half at a higher tempo and quickly began to punch holes in Villarreal's rearguard.

Fabinho's goal was ruled out for offside against Virgil van Dijk in the buildup.

Moments later, Anfield erupted as the error-prone Rulli finally cost the Spaniards with a feeble attempt at parrying Henderson's deflected cross.

The last thing the visitors could afford was the floodgates opening, but they were powerless to stop the waves of Liverpool attacks.

Salah was the architect with a perfectly weighted pass for Mane to prod past Rulli on 55 minutes.

The offside flag came to Villarreal's rescue once more to rule out Andy Robertson's strike.

Emery was hailed the "king of the cups" by Klopp for his stunning Europa League record, with one of his four triumphs in that competition coming as Sevilla boss against the German during his first season at Liverpool in 2016.

However, Liverpool are a different beast six years on and the limitations of a side sitting seventh in La Liga were shown up as they struggled to mount any sort of response to going behind.

Luis Diaz smashed across the face of goal as Liverpool threatened to kill the tie off with a third.

The English giants had to settle for a two-goal advantage, but they are yet to lose by a two-goal margin in 55 matches this season.


Game 7: Heat, Celtics set to finally decide East champion

Game 7: Heat, Celtics set to finally decide East champion
Updated 29 May 2022

Game 7: Heat, Celtics set to finally decide East champion

Game 7: Heat, Celtics set to finally decide East champion
  • Miami have the home-court advantage for the finale, though home court has meant nothing in this series

MIAMI: Erik Spoelstra didn’t even have to finish the sentence. The Miami Heat coach was speaking in the locker room after a season-extending win in Boston, players and staff standing around him in a semicircle.

“There’s no two better words,” Spoelstra said.

“Game 7,” about a half-dozen people responded, in unison.

Game 7, for a berth in the NBA Finals. Either the Heat or the Boston Celtics will become Eastern Conference champions on Sunday night, when they’ll finally finish their series and see which club will face the Golden State Warriors in the title round.

It’ll be the second Game 7 between the teams; the other was in 2012, when the Heat topped the Celtics 101-88 to win that year’s East title.

“Look, we’re here,” Spoelstra said after Miami fended off elimination with a 111-103 win in Boston on Friday night, behind a 47-point, nine-rebound, eight-assist, four-steal effort from Jimmy Butler. “This is the way it should be with these two teams. It should have gone seven games.”

Miami have the home-court advantage for the finale, though home court has meant nothing in this series. The Heat went 2-1 in Boston, the Celtics have gone 2-1 in Miami so far with the two wins coming by a combined 38 points and Boston’s 6-2 road record is the best of any teams in this season’s playoffs.

And that has the Celtics brimming with confidence, even though road teams are 34-110 all-time — a winning percentage of .236 — in Game 7s.

“Scale of 1 to 10? Ten. I mean, it shouldn’t be any less than that, right?” Celtics forward Jayson Tatum said when asked how certain he is that Boston can win the series on Miami’s floor. “You know, it’s the last game. That’s what it’s all about.”

Injuries have been one of the major storylines of the series, and that remains the case Sunday.

Butler has been dealing with knee issues and twisted an ankle late in Game 6 though still came through with arguably the best game of his career. Kyle Lowry and Max Strus — who had big bounce-backs Friday after posting a combined zero points in Game 5 — still have hamstring concerns. For Boston, Marcus Smart’s ankle has been balky, Robert Williams III’s knee is an ongoing question and Jaylen Brown banged a knee on a drive in Game 5 though finished the game with no obvious ill effects.

“This time of year, there’s nobody 100 percent healthy, both sides,” Miami’s P.J. Tucker said. “I’m sure they got a bunch of guys, too, just trying to figure it out and give what they can. Try to win. That’s it. You can’t get these days back. It’s living in the moment, trying to just do what you can.”

The Heat might get one key piece back: Tyler Herro, who has been sidelined for the last three games with a strained groin, is going to try some on-court work Sunday in hopes of playing in Game 7.

“For us, it’s just another opportunity,” Celtics coach Ime Udoka said Saturday. “You put yourself in this position, going up 3-2, to have two games to win one. And so, as much as you’d love to finish it on your home court, we’ve been up and down in the series and due to that it’s where it is right now. ... It’s just another opportunity and we obviously see the big picture ahead.”

The Celtics last went to the NBA Finals in 2010. This is their fifth trip to the East finals since, and Friday’s loss made them 0-5 in potential East clinchers over that span.

“We’ve just got to come out and play, come out and respond,” Brown said. “Backs are on the wall, Game 7, loser go home. We’ve got to come out and find a way to win.”

From Miami’s perspective, the seeds began being planted for this just moments after Game 5. The Celtics had just won in Miami to take a 3-2 series lead, and Spoelstra stepped into a defeated locker room to lay out the objective. He repeated it, over and over.

“Bring this thing back on the 29th,” Spoelstra kept saying.

The 29th is Sunday.

They brought it back. Game 7 awaits.

“There’s nothing like a Game 7,” Spoelstra said. “And I’m just really excited that we all get to experience that together.”

Heat fined

The NBA fined Miami $25,000 on Saturday for violating league rules regarding team bench decorum. The league said “on multiple occasions, several players stood for an extended period in Miami’s team bench area, stood away from the team bench, and were on, encroaching upon or entering the playing court during live game action” during Game 6 in Boston.

It has been a point of emphasis for the league of late. Dallas was fined a total of $175,000 for three similar infractions.

Power of 3

No opposing team has ever won three games at Miami in the same playoff series, a trend that Boston will aim to break on Sunday.

This deep into the playoffs — conference finals or NBA Finals — such a feat has occurred only 10 times in the last 40 seasons, most recently when Toronto won three times at Golden State in the 2019 NBA Finals.

Game 7 history

Miami have two players who have scored at least 30 points in a Game 7. Lowry had 35 for Toronto in a 2016 romp over the Heat, and Victor Oladipo had 30 for Indiana in a 2018 loss to Cleveland. Tatum has averaged 24.0 points in four previous Game 7s, the best of anyone on this Boston roster.

The Celtics are 25-9 in Game 7s, Miami 6-4.

Trends

There have been two Game 7s so far in these playoffs, both in the second round: Boston beat Milwaukee by 28 and Dallas won at Phoenix by 33.

Road teams have won three of the last four Game 7s.

Century mark

Both teams will be playing their 100th games of the season. Miami enters 64-35, Boston 62-37.


Scheffler seizes PGA Colonial lead with closing birdie

Scheffler seizes PGA Colonial lead with closing birdie
Updated 29 May 2022

Scheffler seizes PGA Colonial lead with closing birdie

Scheffler seizes PGA Colonial lead with closing birdie
  • Scheffler could become the first world No. 1 to win the event since Australian Adam Scott in 2014

LOS ANGELES: Top-ranked Masters champion Scottie Scheffler closed with a 30-foot birdie putt to seize a two-stroke lead after Saturday’s wind-whipped third round of the US PGA Charles Schwab Challenge.

The 25-year-old American, chasing his fifth victory of the year, fired a 2-under par 68 to stand on 11-under 199 after 54 holes at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas.

“The winds were up really high. The greens were actually pretty firm, and so it was challenging,” said Scheffler. “The birdies were not coming easy to anybody out there late in the day.”

Scheffler, among eight players sharing the 18-hole lead and four co-leaders after 36, had not made a bogey over the first 52 holes before stumbling at the 17th.

But he responded with a dramatic birdie at the 18th to stretch his lead back to two entering Sunday’s final round.

“I was glad it was going toward the cup. I hit it a little bit too firm,” Scheffler said of his final birdie. “I struggled a little bit with the speed of the greens today. It’s tough when the wind gets blowing that hard.

“Like 18, I’m putting downhill but straight into the wind. That one I was just trying to make sure I got to the hole because putting downhill when the greens get iffy late in the day is very tough... fortunately that one hit the bottom of the cup.”

An eagle-birdie start helped American Brendon Todd shoot 65, the day’s low round, to share second on 201 with countryman Scott Stallings. American Harold Varner was in fourth on 202.

Patrick Reed, the 2018 Masters champion, was on 203 with fellow Americans John Huh and Chris Kirk and Australian Cam Davis.

Scheffler could become the first world No. 1 to win the event since Australian Adam Scott in 2014.

With a victory, Scheffler would join South African Bobby Locke from 1947 and Australian Joe Kirkwood Sr. from 1923 as players winning their first five  PGA Tour titles in the same season. Locke took six in his debut campaign while Kirkwood won five.

After winning his first US PGA title at Phoenix in February, Scheffler won at Bay Hill and captured the WGC Match Play title in March then won his first major title at Augusta National in April to overtake Spain’s Jon Rahm as world No. 1.

Patience was at a premium on a blustery day for Scheffler, who parred his way through the front nine to remain tied for the lead.

At the 10th, Scheffler found greenside rough but chipped in from 20 feet to seize the solo lead, then landed his approach at the par-5 11th inches from the cup and tapped in to reach 11-under and lead by two.

At 14, Scheffler chipped from 70 feet to inches from the cup for a tap-in par, but his bogey-free run ended with a five-foot par putt miss at the 17th, setting the stage for his dramatic birdie finish.

“This is a golf course you have to be pretty careful around. It’s very challenging,” Scheffler said.

Todd drove the green in two and sank an eight-foot eagle putt on the par-5 opening hole, then holed out from just over 33 feet at the second.

Todd dropped his approach to four feet to set up a birdie at the sixth and rolled in a 30-foot birdie putt at the par-3 eighth, then parred his way to the clubhouse.


Jai Hindley on brink of Giro glory after snatching overall lead in Dolomites

Jai Hindley on brink of Giro glory after snatching overall lead in Dolomites
Updated 29 May 2022

Jai Hindley on brink of Giro glory after snatching overall lead in Dolomites

Jai Hindley on brink of Giro glory after snatching overall lead in Dolomites
  • Hindley made his move with less than 3 km remaining of the final Passo Fedaia climb and left Carapaz needing a miracle in Sunday’s final stage time trial in Verona
  • Stage winner Covi claimed the biggest win of his career on home turf after a bold attack with over 50km to go

PASSO FEDAIA, Italy: Jai Hindley took a huge step toward winning the Giro d’Italia on Saturday after snatching the overall lead from Richard Carapaz in the final kilometers of the gruelling penultimate stage in the Dolomites, won by Italian Alessandro Covi.

Bora-Hansgrohe’s Hindley all but ensured that he would win his first Grand Tour after a dazzling raid at the end of the mountainous, 168km 20th stage which left him one minute and 25 seconds ahead of Carapaz in the fight for the pink jersey.

The 26-year-old made his move with less than three kilometers remaining of the final Passo Fedaia climb and left Carapaz needing a miracle in Sunday’s final stage time trial in Verona.

“I knew this was going to be the crucial stage of the race. I knew there was a brutal finish and that you could make a difference,” said the 26-year-old.

“We just stayed patient, saved our energy until today and, you know, actually it was perfect. “I will die to defend the pink jersey.”

The Australian, who has won only stage nine in this year’s Giro, started the day just three seconds behind 2019 winner Carapaz and demolished the Ineos rider toward the summit of the Passo Fedaia.

Ecuadorian Carapaz visibly struggled to keep up with Hindley on a 14km climb at 7.6 percent and watched his slender lead vanish after a powerful and well-time attack by his rival.

Carapaz even finished behind Mikel Landa, who had appeared out of the running earlier in the day and is 1:51 off the pace in the general classification.

Hindley will be especially happy with the time gap between him and Carapaz as he struggles in time trials and lost the 2020 edition of the Giro on the final time trial stage.

He had come into that year’s climax in Milan level with Briton Tao Geoghegan Hart, who ended up winning the overall race.

Stage winner Covi claimed the biggest win of his career on home turf after a bold attack with over 50km to go.

The 23-year-old UAE rider went for it on the stage’s second big Passo Pordoi climb and held off Domen Novak to win his first Grand Tour stage.

Covi had finished second in last year’s 11th stage, and came in third at the top of Monte Zoncolan three stages later.

“Last year we went close a couple of times, this year I wanted to win a stage, but I had to help (Joao) Almeida so my chances for winning were few and far between,” said Covi.

“Unfortunately Joao caught Covid and we were left bare for the final three stages, so we wanted to take home at least one of them for the team.”

Hindley should seal his win on Sunday in Verona, where the race will climax at the famous ancient Roman Arena at the end of a 17.4km time trial.


Bromell, Thompson-Herah bag 100-meter wins at Prefontaine Classic

Bromell, Thompson-Herah bag 100-meter wins at Prefontaine Classic
Updated 29 May 2022

Bromell, Thompson-Herah bag 100-meter wins at Prefontaine Classic

Bromell, Thompson-Herah bag 100-meter wins at Prefontaine Classic
  • Despite intermittent rain, the day included a host of world-leading performances, starting with Brazilan Alison dos Santos’s 400m hurdles victory in 47.23
  • Dos Santos' win shaved one-hundredth of a second off the world leading mark he posted in winning at the Doha Diamond League meet

EUGENE, Oregon: Trayvon Bromell and Elaine Thompson-Herah grabbed 100m Wanda Diamond League Prefontaine Classic victories Saturday in Eugene, where eight world-leading performances highlighted the action at Hayward Field.

America’s Bromell, the fastest man in the world last year, bounced back from a false start disqualification in Birmingham last weekend to win a star-studded men’s 100m in 9.93sec.

Jamaica’s Thompson-Herah, who won back-to-back Olympic 100m-200m doubles in 2016 and last year, captured the women’s 100m in 10.79.

Neither was a world best for 2022, but Thompson-Herah said she was just pleased to hit the line first and healthy on a rainy day in Eugene at the same venue that will host the athletics World Championships on July 15-24.

“I’m excited I crossed the line healthy,” Thompson-Herah said. “I don’t care about the time. The rain was falling. It was a little cold.

“It shows I’m on a great path,” added the Jamaican star, who pulled out of the Birmingham Diamond League meeting with a shoulder injury, testing herself in a lower-level meeting in Kingston last Saturday instead.

“I’m getting into shape,” added the Jamaican, who said on Friday that her training had also been disrupted by a nagging Achilles injury. “I’m getting where I need to be.”

Thompson-Herah made a smooth start on the damp track and took control at the 50m mark. Rising US star Sha’Carri Richardson won a close battle for second place ahead of Jamaica’s Shericka Jackson, both credited with a time of 10.92.

Elaine Thompson-Herah of Jamaica celebrates after winning the women's 1,500m at the Wanda Diamond League Prefontaine Classic. (AFP]

Richardson, 22, shot to prominence last season at the US Olympic trials with a wind-aided 10.64 in the final. But she missed the Tokyo Games after a positive test for marijuana.

Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce made it a women’s sprint double for Jamaica with a victory in the 200m in 22.41.

Bromell, who clocked a wind-aided 9.75 in Florida earlier this month, said his race left plenty of room for improvement as he looks toward the US World Championship trials in Eugene next month and the Worlds themselves.

“I was happy to come out with a win, but I felt like there was a lot of technical stuff I messed up on,” he said. “I’m pretty sure I’m already getting messages from my coach.”

Compatriot Fred Kerley, silver medallist at the Tokyo Olympics last year, was second in 9.98 and reigning world champion Christian Coleman, still working his way back after an 18-month suspension for violating doping whereabouts rules, completed a US podium sweep in 10.04.

“It went pretty well, just considering the elements and where I’m at in the season,” Coleman said.

Despite intermittent rain, the day included a host of world-leading performances, starting with Brazilan Alison dos Santos’s 400m hurdles victory in 47.23, which shaved one-hundredth of a second off the world leading mark he posted in winning at the Doha Diamond League meet.

The Tokyo Olympics bronze medallist said it was “amazing” to get a chance to test the World Championships venue.

“It’s so nice, because you can feel the energy, you can feel the track, you can feel everything before the championships.”

American Michael Norman shattered a 22-year-old meet record set by Michael Johnson with his 400m triumph in 43.60.

Norman’s fastest performance in more than a year was the best in the world in 2022 and carried him to victory over Grenada’s 2012 Olympic champion Kirani James (44.02) and Britain’s Matthew Hudson-Smith (44.35).

Britain’s Keely Hodgkinson backed up her victory in Birmingham with a gritty win in the women’s 800m in a world-leading 1:57.72.

Kazakhstan’s Norah Jeruto won the women’s 3,000m steeplechase in a world-leading 8:57.97. Winfred Mutile Yavi of Bahrain became just the seventh woman to break nine minutes in the event with her second-place finish in 8:58.71.

World record-holder Ryan Crouser won the shot put with a season’s best 23.02 ahead of compatriot Joe Kovacs (22.49) and New Zealand’s Tomas Walsh (21.96).

Two-time Olympic gold medallist Faith Kipyegon of Kenya won the women’s 1,500m in 3:52.59, Norway’s Jakob Ingebrigtsen won the men’s mile in 3:49.76 and Ethiopia’s Berihu Aregawi won the men’s 5,000m in 12:50.05.

Aregawi’s victory improved on the world leading time of 12:57.99 set by Tokyo Olympic gold medallist Joshua Cheptegei on Friday night in a separate 5,000m race billed as a world record attempt by the Ugandan.


Swiatek racks up 31st straight win as French Open gets Nordic twist

Swiatek racks up 31st straight win as French Open gets Nordic twist
Updated 29 May 2022

Swiatek racks up 31st straight win as French Open gets Nordic twist

Swiatek racks up 31st straight win as French Open gets Nordic twist
  • Swiatek’s winning streak is the best since Serena Williams’s 34 successive victories in 2013

PARIS: World No. 1 Iga Swiatek was the only top 10 women’s seed left standing at the French Open on Saturday as Casper Ruud and Holger Rune gave Roland Garros a rare Nordic twist with landmark performances.

Swiatek, the 2020 champion, dropped serve three times against 95th-ranked Danka Kovinic of Montenegro before sealing a 6-3, 7-5 third round victory, her 31st successive win.

“I wanted to play really aggressively but sometimes I felt I was hitting with too much power and it was hard to control,” said the 20-year-old Pole.

Swiatek’s winning streak is the best since Serena Williams’s 34 successive victories in 2013.

She next faces Chinese teenager Zheng Qinwen who made the last 16 on her debut when French veteran Alize Cornet, playing in her 61st consecutive Grand Slam, retired with a leg injury, trailing 6-0, 3-0.

Having stunned 2018 champion Simona Halep in the second round, Zheng becomes only the fourth Chinese woman to make the fourth round in Paris where compatriot Li Na captured her landmark Slam title in 2011.

“I always knew I had the level to do well, now I just want to keep going,” said the 19-year-old Zheng, ranked at 74.

Cornet, the last Frenchwoman in the draw, was booed off by the Court Philippe Chatrier crowd.

“It hurt more than my injury,” she said.

Spain’s Paula Badosa, who made the quarterfinals in 2021, retired due to a calf injury when she was trailing Russia’s Veronika Kudermetova 6-3, 2-1.

Aryna Sabalenka, the seventh seed, slipped to a 4-6, 6-1, 6-0 defeat against Italy’s Camila Giorgi.

The exits of Badosa and Sabalenka meant that for the first time in the Open era only one top 10 seed has survived to the fourth round.

In stark contrast, nine of the top 10 men’s seeds have made the second week.

Eighth-seeded Casper Ruud became the first Norwegian man to reach the last 16 with a 6-2, 6-7 (3/7), 1-6, 6-4, 6-3 win over Italy’s Lorenzo Sonego.

Ruud hit 39 winners and goes on to face Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz, a Wimbledon semifinalist last year who is also in the last 16 in Paris for the first time.

Meanwhile, Holger Rune became the first Danish man in the Roland Garros fourth round since 1959 when he knocked out France’s last man, Hugo Gaston.

Rune, 19, and ranked at 40, breezed to a 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 win and next faces 2021 runner-up Stefanos Tsitsipas.

The last Danish man to make a Slam fourth round was Kenneth Carlsen at the 1993 Australian Open.

Fourth seed Tsitsipas needed just 92 minutes to clinch a 6-2, 6-2, 6-1 win over 95th-ranked Mikael Ymer.

The Greek star had to come back from two sets down to beat Lorenzo Musetti and then needed four hours and four sets to see off 134th-ranked qualifier Zdenek Kolar in his first two outings.

However, the 23-year-old was never troubled on Saturday, breaking his Swedish opponent six times.

“It was different from my first two matches. The conditions were warmer and drier, which suited me better,” said Tsitsipas after a season-leading 34th win.

World No. 2 Daniil Medvedev eased through by defeating Serbian 28th seed Miomir Kecmanovic 6-2, 6-4, 6-2.

Medvedev has not dropped a set in three rounds and will next play former US Open champion Marin Cilic who ended 37-year-old Gilles Simon’s 17-year-old Roland Garros career with a 6-0, 6-3, 6-2 win.

Medvedev fell in the opening round on his first four trips to Paris before reaching the quarterfinals a year ago.

“It was really hard, everyone was asking how I could be number two in the world without getting past the first round,” said the US Open champion who has never won a clay title.

Mackenzie McDonald, the 60th-ranked American, lost to Italian 11th seed Jannik Sinner after managing to squander 11 set points in the second set.

Sinner, a quarterfinalist in 2020, triumphed 6-3, 7-6 (8/6), 6-3 and will face seventh-seeded Andrey Rublev for a last-eight spot.

Rublev, also a quarterfinalist two years ago, defeated Chile’s Cristian Garin 6-4, 3-6, 6-2, 7-6 (13/11).