Pure Hollywood ending to Premier League race as Manchester City are pushed to the limits by Liverpool

Analysis Pure Hollywood ending to Premier League race as Manchester City are pushed to the limits by Liverpool
Manchester City’s manager Pep Guardiola celebrates with the Premier league trophy as the champions staged an incredible comeback from two goals down to beat Aston Villa 3-2 on Sunday. (AFP)
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Updated 23 May 2022

Pure Hollywood ending to Premier League race as Manchester City are pushed to the limits by Liverpool

Pure Hollywood ending to Premier League race as Manchester City are pushed to the limits by Liverpool
  • Pep Guardiola’s team called on all their reserves of brilliance and resilience against Aston Villa to score three goals in five minutes and claim a fourth league title in five years

When Manchester City won the Premier League title a decade ago in iconic fashion through Sergio Aguero’s injury-time winning goal against Queens Park Rangers, the saying “We’re Man City, we’ll fight ’til the end” was born — and subsequently became the club’s mantra.

Never was it more evident again than on Sunday as the Etihad Stadium witnessed yet another emotional, unbelievable, unscripted finale that was pure Hollywood with all the sub-plots and twists.

While not quite as definitive and dramatic as Aguero’s magical moment that sealed a 3-2 comeback victory on a similarly unforgettable final day of the 2011-12 campaign, the crucial contributions of Ilkay Gundogan to this season’s triumph will be enshrined too in footballing folklore.

Needing victory to confirm a fourth league title in five seasons, Pep Guardiola’s City overturned a 2-0 deficit to an Aston Villa side managed by Liverpool hero Steven Gerrard with three goals in the last 14 minutes — and in the space of just five minutes and 36 seconds.

With Liverpool beating Wolves 3-1, Gundogan’s close-range finish in the 81st minute proved decisive to deny Jurgen Klopp’s Reds by a point. It was his second goal after heading in the first, while Rodri leveled with a precise low drive.

“It’s definitely got to be up there with Sergio’s moment,” said Phil Foden. “It just shows the incredible character of us as a team, how much we want it and how much we fight for each other — and for everything involved at this club.

“The team that Pep has built, we always keep believing until the end. Not many teams could do that.”

Foden is right and, arguably, only Liverpool and Real Madrid come close currently.

With such belief, City can exude brilliance even when behind or below par. With spirit allied to style, they have the attributes for success.

Guardiola used words such as “legends” and “special” to describe his side — and there should be no doubt or debate about that.

City are serial winners, dominating the Premier League in the manner of Manchester United under Sir Alex Ferguson. Relentless and ruthless, racking up 93 points and 99 goals this season, their greatness needs to be recognized and respected, especially in how they once more staved off Liverpool’s ferocious challenge under pressure to claim a sixth title since 2012.

City’s Algerian winger Riyad Mahrez, whose fourth title put him level with Didier Drogba for the most by an African player, said: “Liverpool are a superb team. I know they hate us. They’re sick of us because if we weren’t here, they would’ve won everything every year.

“But we’re here and we’re never letting go — and we’ll be here next year too.”

“Never in my life have I found a team like Liverpool,” added Guardiola, who shed tears after his 10th career domestic title triumph with Barcelona, Bayern Munich and City.

“They make us a better team, make us think more, work harder and handle the quality they have.”

Midfielder Gundogan, whose memorable week also saw him get married, played under Klopp at Borussia Dortmund.

And he said: “If Liverpool didn’t play the incredible football they’ve been playing, I don’t think this league would have been that attractive. We pushed each other to the limits. We need to appreciate what they have done.”

In congratulating the Abu Dhabi-owned team, owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al-Nahyan described them as “distinguished,” and Guardiola said, “We will defend our crown again and again.”

It is that mindset, ambition and willingness to further improve that makes City an exceptional team in the current era.

While some critics may never accept this due to their spending or be appeased until they win a Champions League, their domestic achievements — 14 major trophies since Sheikh Mansour bought them in 2008 — should not be belittled by the struggles in Europe.

The same applies to Liverpool and their extraordinary efforts in this campaign, despite failing to secure a 20th top-flight title.

Klopp said they played an “insane season,” and it seems difficult to envisage a team getting this close to a historic quadruple of trophies again.

Chelsea, Manchester United, Tottenham, Arsenal and Saudi Arabia-backed Newcastle will no doubt have a greater say in the future.

There may be disappointment for Liverpool in finishing second after their FA Cup and League Cup successes, but no shame after a titanic battle for top spot.

When they lost the title to City by a single point three years ago on the final day, they went on to lift a sixth European Cup by beating Tottenham.

“Of course, losing the league increased the desire to put it right next week,” said Klopp, whose side face Real Madrid in the Champions League final on Saturday.

If history is repeated — and a treble completed — in Paris, it would be equally deserved.

It would also again highlight how Liverpool and City have raised the bar in European club football over the past five years through their rivalry and desire for honors.

Others should strive to match that quality, not condemn it.

“What I learned about life is if you stay on track, if you keep going, you get the reward,” added Klopp.

“The only thing you can do in this league is you have to constantly develop. We have to carry on and will be an even more difficult team to play against. Playing in a league with Man City that’s crazy, difficult, but that will not stop us trying next season again.”

The contest promises to be just as enthralling and intriguing, especially with Guardiola — like Liverpool forwards Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane — not yet committed to extending his contract beyond next season.

And there is also the arrival of goalscoring phenomenon Erling Haaland to the Etihad and the Premier League.

Excited already?


Swiatek ‘overwhelmed’ by seeing legend Serena back at Wimbledon

Swiatek ‘overwhelmed’ by seeing legend Serena back at Wimbledon
Updated 25 June 2022

Swiatek ‘overwhelmed’ by seeing legend Serena back at Wimbledon

Swiatek ‘overwhelmed’ by seeing legend Serena back at Wimbledon
  • "I saw her [Serena] yesterday, I was pretty overwhelmed," said Swiatek
  • Swiatek wasn't even born when Williams made her Wimbledon debut in 1998

LONDON: World number one Iga Swiatek said Saturday she is “overwhelmed” to see Serena Williams back at Wimbledon, one year after the US legend limped away from the All England Club.
Williams, a seven-time champion at the tournament, and still chasing an elusive 24th Grand Slam title, will be playing her first singles match since her tearful, injury-enforced withdrawal in the first round in 2021.
“I saw her yesterday, I was pretty overwhelmed,” said Swiatek, the recently-crowned French Open champion.
“I didn’t know how to react. I wanted to meet her. I saw that she had so many people around her. I don’t know her team. It was pretty weird.
“But just seeing her around is great because she’s such a legend, there’s nobody that has done so much in tennis.”
Swiatek wasn’t even born when Williams made her Wimbledon debut in 1998.
But the Pole appreciates the ground-breaking achievements of the American and sees the 40-year-old still as a genuine threat despite her ring-rustiness.
“I’m pretty sure that she’s going to be in good shape because she has so much experience coming back from breaks or just playing in Grand Slams. I think she can use it,” said the 21-year-old.
Swiatek is on a Serena-esque run of dominance herself this season.
Having taken over from the now retired Ashleigh Barty as world number one, she has put together a 35-match win streak.
That run surpassed Serena’s best of 34 successive wins and equalled Venus Williams’ record of 35 straight victories in 2000 for the longest winning stretch by a woman in the 21st century.
A second French Open triumph earlier this month also gave Swiatek a sixth title in 2022.
With defending Wimbledon champion Barty retired, Swiatek has been given the honor of opening Tuesday proceedings on Center Court.
“I feel really privileged that I’ve been chosen,” she said.
Swiatek, a former Wimbledon junior champion, has yet to get past the fourth round of the women’s singles.
She has also not appeared on a grass court at all this summer, opting to rest after her final win over Coco Gauff in Paris.
“Honestly I still feel like I need to figure out grass,” she added.
“Last year for sure, it was that kind of tournament where I didn’t know what to expect. Then match by match I realized maybe I can do more and more.
“I didn’t have a lot of time to prepare. But I’m just trying to stay open-minded and kind of take positives from the situation and realize that I can play without any expectations.”
Swiatek begins her Wimbledon bid against Croatian qualifier Jana Fett.


Ledecky grabs another gold, Australian quartet sets world record

Ledecky grabs another gold, Australian  quartet sets world record
Updated 25 June 2022

Ledecky grabs another gold, Australian quartet sets world record

Ledecky grabs another gold, Australian  quartet sets world record
  • It’s Ledecky’s 19th gold at a worlds and her fourth this week including the 4x200 freestyle relay
  • Australia’s team clocked 3:19.38 in the 4x100 to shave two-hundredths of a second off the record set by the US at the last worlds in Gwangju, South Korea, in July 2019

BUDAPEST: Katie Ledecky extended her record haul of medals and Australia set a world record in the mixed 4x100 meters freestyle final at the world swimming championships on Friday.

American star Ledecky won the 800 freestyle final for the fifth time at the worlds to seal her fourth consecutive 400/800/1,500 triple at the event.

She clocked 8 minutes, 8.04 seconds to finish more than 10 seconds ahead of her rivals. Australia’s Kiah Melverton was 10.73 behind in second and Italy’s Simona Quadarella 10.96 behind for third.

It’s Ledecky’s 19th gold at a worlds and her fourth this week including the 4x200 freestyle relay.

“Really good end to a great week,” Ledecky said.

Her 22 medals are the most for a female swimmer in world championships history. Only Michael Phelps, who won 26, has more.

Australia’s mixed relay team of Jack Cartwright, Kyle Chalmers, Madison Wilson and Mollie O’Callaghan clocked 3:19.38 in the 4x100 to shave two-hundredths of a second off the record set by the US at the last worlds in Gwangju, South Korea, in July 2019.

Gold medalists and new world record holders Australian quartet of Jack Cartwright, Kyle Chalmers, Madison Wilson and  Mollie O'Callaghan with their medals following the mixed 4x100m freestyle relay finals at the 19th FINA World Championships on June 24, 2022. (AFP)

“I don’t think there was any mention or any expectation or even a thought about being able to break that,” Wilson said. “So to do that and see that at the end was just unbelievable and a real surprise for us.”

Canada’s team of Joshua Liendo, Javier Acevedo, Kayla Sanchez and Penny Oleksiak finished 1.23 behind the Australians for silver, and the United States team of Ryan Held, Brooks Curry, Torri Huske and Claire Curzan was third, 1.71 behind.

Canada’s silver was the country’s ninth medal this week, eclipsing the eight it won in Gwangju.

Ben Proud won Britain’s first gold of the championships, clinching the men’s 50 freestyle in 21.32 – 0.09 ahead of American Michael Andrew and 0.25 ahead of France’s Maxime Grousset.

“We’re missing quite a few key players in the pool today,” Proud said, referring to the absences of Caeleb Dressel, Florent Manaudou and Bruno Fratus. “The whole podium from the Olympics last year wasn’t in the final.”

Dressel was due to race but withdrew from the worlds for unspecified reasons on Wednesday.

“It’s not the same without him,” Proud said. “As soon as he was out, that quite changed the dynamics of the competition. A lot of people had a different type of pressure leading in..”

Dressel, the world record holder, was also missing from the 200 butterfly.

Kristóf Milák followed up his win in the 100 butterfly – where he lowered his own world record – by adding the 200. The Hungarian swimmer delighted the home fans as he clinched the title in 50.14 ahead of Japan’s Naoki Mizunuma and Canada’s Josh Liendo.

Milák joined Phelps and South African Chad Le Clos as the only male swimmers to achieve the 100/200 butterfly double at a single worlds.

Sarah Sjöström won her fourth consecutive 50 butterfly title, clocking 24.95 to head off Melanie Henique of France and Yufei Zhang of China for a record-equaling eighth gold medal in butterfly events at a worlds. Phelps has to share his record.

American Torri Huske was sixth, 0.50 behind Sjöström, who claimed her 18th individual medal at the worlds. Only Phelps, with 20, has more.

After five silver medals, Australia’s Kaylee McKeown finally claimed a gold when she edged American Phoebe Bacon by just four-hundredths of a second in the women’s 200 backstroke.

Bacon’s teammate, Rhyan White, was third for her first medal at a worlds.

It was the closest result in this race at a worlds since 1986 when East Germany’s Cornelia Sirch was two-hundredths of a second ahead of American Besty Mitchell. Sirch later suffered health problems that she attributed to her country’s state doping program.


Chun tightens grip at Women’s PGA Championship

Chun tightens grip at Women’s PGA Championship
Updated 25 June 2022

Chun tightens grip at Women’s PGA Championship

Chun tightens grip at Women’s PGA Championship
  • Chun admitted she had felt under pressure after her scintillating opening round

Bethesda, Maryland:  In Gee Chun extended her lead at the Women’s PGA Championship on Friday, firing a 3-under-par 69 to open up a six-stroke advantage at the halfway stage as she hunts down a third major title.

The 27-year-old South Korean had demolished Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland, in Thursday’s first round, shooting a course record 8-under-64 that left awed rivals in disbelief — and five shots adrift.

Chun found the going slightly harder on Friday, opening with three early birdies before back-to-back bogeys checked her progress just before the turn.

However, she regained those two strokes with birdies on the 10th and 18th to maintain a vice-like grip on the lead heading into the weekend on 11 under with a 36-hole aggregate 133.

Chun admitted she had felt under pressure after her scintillating opening round.

“I got a little pressure for sure because after I had a great first round, everyone (talked) about how you are, like, five-shot lead,” she said.

“Now I’m in a good position. Everyone’s expectations are really high.

“So it was a little tough to make focus, but I believe it’s another process in my life ... So I just want to enjoy my next two days.”

Chun’s nearest rivals are New Zealand’s Lydia Ko, who moved up the leaderboard with a 5-under-par 67, and in-form Jennifer Kupcho, who shot seven birdies and three bogeys in a 4-under 68.

Kupcho and Ko are five under for the tournament.

Former world No. 1 Ko is chasing her first major victory in six years.

The last of her two majors came at the ANA Inspiration in Rancho Mirage in 2016 — the same year she finished second at the Women’s PGA Championship.

“It is hard to win, but I’m just trying to put myself more in that kind of position, and I think when you keep knocking on the door, you hope that one day that door will open,” Ko said.

Kupcho, chasing her second major win of the season after victory at the Chevron Championship in Rancho Mirage in April, said she will not change her strategy to try and catch Chun.

“If she’s going to continue to play well, that’s her game, and there’s really nothing anyone can do about it,” Kupcho said.

Five players are tied for fourth on four under, including Canada’s Brooke Henderson, Australia’s Hannah Green and South Korea’s 2020 Women’s PGA champion Kim Sei-young.

Lexi Thompson and Australia’s Minjee Lee are eight off the lead on three under, tied for ninth with three other players including Thailand’s Pornanong Phatlum and South Korea’s Choi Hye-jin.

Thompson caught the eye with a 5-under 67 which included a spectacular eagle two at the par-four 17th, when she chipped onto the green from 102 yards, prodigious backspin sending her ball into the cup.

“I just came into today with a positive attitude and same going into the weekend if I go out and play like I did today, just solid and committing to my shots in the process of my routine,” Thompson said.

“We’ll just see where that takes me. You never know.”


Iraq beat KSA in final of WAFF Women’s Futsal Championship

Iraq beat KSA in final of WAFF Women’s Futsal Championship
Updated 25 June 2022

Iraq beat KSA in final of WAFF Women’s Futsal Championship

Iraq beat KSA in final of WAFF Women’s Futsal Championship
  • Host nation fell short of claiming title in first-ever participation in competition

Saudi Arabia fell short of glory in the final of the 2022 WAFF Women’s Futsal Championship after losing 4-2 to Iraq at King Abdullah Sports City Hall in Jeddah on Friday night.
The Saudi team had reached the final in their first-ever participation in the competition — organized by the West Asian Football Federation — after beating Bahrain 1-0 in Wednesday’s semi-final.
The Saudi team’s goals came from Leen Mohammed and Sara Al-Hamad, while Iraq’s were scored by Shokhan Salihi (2), Direen Mullabakar and Tbarek Al-Ghazawi.
The last day of action in the six-team tournament also saw Bahrain beat Kuwait 2-0 to claim third place.
On Wednesday, Palestine beat Oman 6-1 in the fifth-place playoff.


KSA exit Arab Futsal Cup after quarter-final loss to Iraq

KSA exit Arab Futsal Cup after quarter-final loss to Iraq
Updated 25 June 2022

KSA exit Arab Futsal Cup after quarter-final loss to Iraq

KSA exit Arab Futsal Cup after quarter-final loss to Iraq
  • Iraq now face Kuwait in last 4, while Morocco take on Egypt in other semi-final

Saudi Arabia have been eliminated from the 2022 Arab Futsal Cup after a 3-2 quarter-final loss to Iraq in extra time at the Green Hall in Dammam on Friday night.
The result means Iraq now have a semi-final date with Kuwait — who beat Palestine 4-1 on penalties after a 4-4 draw — on Sunday.
The other semi-final in the 10-team tournament will be contested between Morocco, who beat Libya 3-0, and Egypt, who overcame Mauritania 3-2.
Saudi Arabia had progressed to the last eight after finishing top of Group 3, which included Palestine in second place and Libya, who also progressed as one of the competition’s best third-place teams.
The four-team Group 1 also saw three teams — Morocco, Kuwait and Mauritania — through to the quarter-finals, while Somalia exited early.
Group 2 saw top-of-the-table Egypt and second-place Iraq qualify to the last eight, while Algeria were eliminated.