Nations League returns with all eyes on World Cup

Nations League returns with all eyes on World Cup
From left, Portugal’s forward Cristiano Ronaldo and teammates Goncalo Guedes and Bernardo Silva during a training session at Portugal’s ‘Cidade do Futebol’ training camp in Oeiras, on the outskirts of Lisbon on Wednesday. (AFP)
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Updated 02 June 2022

Nations League returns with all eyes on World Cup

Nations League returns with all eyes on World Cup
  • Some teams will play four matches in June and two more in September to finish the group stage of the biennial Nations League ahead of the World Cup in Qatar

MADRID: The third Nations League competition begins this week with many participants already thinking about the World Cup.

National teams will get a rare opportunity to play several matches in a row — practically serving as a preseason — as the international dates were moved to June because of the World Cup beginning in November.

Some teams will play four matches in June and two more in September to finish the group stage of the biennial Nations League ahead of the World Cup in Qatar.

“This is a competition that is really close to the World Cup, so obviously these matches will be meaningful,” Portugal midfielder William Carvalho said.

The Nations League starts later Wednesday with Wales visiting Poland in the top-tier League A. On Thursday, the highlight will be the match between Spain, last year’s runner-up, and Portugal, the inaugural winner of the competition.

“We are already thinking about Portugal, it’s the start of this Nations League and we want to make it to the Final Four and, above all, prepare for the next World Cup, which will begin in no time and we will have to be ready,” Spain defender Dani Carvajal said.

For some teams, like Wales, the Nations League begins even before it has been able to qualify for the World Cup. They will visit Poland without some of their regular starters as the match comes just four days before they face either Scotland or Ukraine in a World Cup playoff.

Scotland and Ukraine will also face each other in the Nations League as they were drawn in the same second-tier group.

Defending Nations League champions France debut on Friday at home against Denmark, while the Netherlands visits Belgium.

“For us, playing against Holland is a real derby, a footballing derby, a big occasion and is the perfect preparation for the World Cup,” Belgium coach Roberto Martínez said. “As much as we want to enjoy the games and we want to see the games for what they are, they bring that extra dimension which is preparing for the World Cup.”

On Saturday, England are at Hungary and Germany is at Italy, one of the teams that will likely have more to play for in the Nations League as it missed out on the World Cup again.

“We have the world’s best in our sights. We want to continue down this path and we’ll see after the matches how far we still have to go,” Germany coach Hansi Flick said ahead of the nation’s four games over 10 days.

Italy and England are in the same group and in future games will play a rematch of the 2020 European Championship final won by the Italians. Likewise, France will play against Croatia in a rematch of the 2018 World Cup final.

The Nations League will also give players a chance to try to secure their spot in the World Cup if they do well so close to the tournament in Qatar.

“This is an important call-up, with the games coming just before the World Cup,” Spain forward Pablo Sarabia said. “We want to win these four matches, they will be important for the players and also as a preparation for the World Cup, which obviously we want to win.”

Many coaches will likely rotate their squads considerably in the four matches, both to test and rest players after a long season.

Belgium coach Martínez is certainly taking it seriously. He said he will use his best players to test his team ahead of the World Cup.

“This is the real competitive camp,” he said. “We’ve got 14 days, four games, something that we have never done before. It is important that we get that time together.”

Flick challenged players who were left out of his 26-man Nations League squad to keep fighting for a World Cup place even if they were not called up now.

The four group winners in the main league will make it to the Final Four, with one of the nations that qualified expected to host the finals in June next year.

The group winners in the lower tiers will gain promotion, while the last-place finishers in the top two tiers will move down.


Fury sees Chisora trilogy as catalyst for Muhammad Ali-style world tour

Fury sees Chisora trilogy as catalyst for Muhammad Ali-style world tour
Updated 24 sec ago

Fury sees Chisora trilogy as catalyst for Muhammad Ali-style world tour

Fury sees Chisora trilogy as catalyst for Muhammad Ali-style world tour
  • Veteran promoter Bob Arum, now working alongside Warren, helped take Ali for world-title fights well outside of his native US in the mid-1970s
  • It is eight years since WBC champion Fury, unbeaten as a professional, convincingly defeated Chisora for a second time

LONDON: Tyson Fury wants to emulate Muhammad Ali by embarking on a world tour following his all-British world heavyweight title fight with Derek Chisora in London on Saturday.

For Fury, it is a matter of making up for lost time, following a mental health breakdown and the impact of COVID-19.

“I have only had two years of activity in the last seven years, which is not great,” he said.

“After I beat Chisora and after I beat Oleksandr Usyk next year, I am going to try and go on a massive campaign all over the world.”

It is eight years since WBC champion Fury, unbeaten as a professional, convincingly defeated Chisora for a second time.

Rather than a trilogy bout with Chisora, many fans would rather Fury was involved in a unification fight with Usyk at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium this weekend or an alternative all-British clash with former world champion Anthony Joshua.

Usyk holds the IBF, WBA and WBO versions of the heavyweight title, having taken them off Joshua in September last year.

But the Ukrainian, after defeating Joshua again, in Jeddah in July, said he would not be ready to face Fury in December.

Usyk appeared injured and mentally drained following months away from his family as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Fury’s only fight so far this year was a six-round stoppage of Dillian Whyte at Wembley in April, with Fury then announcing his retirement.

But, having reversed that decision, it appears his management wanted a ‘warm-up’ bout ahead of a lucrative clash against Usyk in the Middle East next year.

Fury called out Joshua, but the longstanding bitterness between his promoter Frank Warren and Eddie Hearn, who represents Joshua, made negotiations awkward and talks broke down.

Even so, a capacity crowd of 60,000 is still expected on Saturday, such is the appeal of Fury.

And the self-proclaimed ‘Gypsy King’ is ready to travel widely, should all go to plan against Chisora.

“Like go to Antarctica, they have nothing else on there,” said the 34-year-old Fury.

“Fire out places like one a month, a Tyson Fury roadshow, where were you for that?“

Veteran promoter Bob Arum, now working alongside Warren, helped take Ali for world-title fights well outside of his native US in the mid-1970s.

These included two of the most celebrated wins by ‘The Greatest’ — the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ with George Foreman in Zaire and the ‘Thrilla in Manilla’, when Ali defeated arch-rival Joe Frazier.

“We did that for Ali,” recalled Arum. “We did him in Japan, Malaysia, we did him in Indonesia. That is what a true champion does because they are a world champion.”

Fury added: “I am champion of the whole world...It would be lovely to give these fans the opportunity to see a world champion.

“I know it sounds like a pipedream, a fairy-tale story, but just to get these fights in, to give some random heavyweight — like Apollo did in the Rocky movie — the chance.”

At 38, Chisora, with 12 defeats from 45 bouts, appears to have little more than a puncher’s chance.

“I don’t care what is said,” insisted Chisora. “For me to give up, just because a newspaper says so, I can’t do that.”

Unlike many of Fury’s bouts, the build-up to this fight has been notable for for a lack of ‘trash-talking’, with Chisora saying: “Tyson phoned me up and said ‘I want to give you an opportunity’.

“So for me to sit here and talk about a man who is putting food on my kids’ table? I cannot do that.”


Saudi Arabia submits bid to host AFC Women’s Asian Cup 2026

Saudi Arabia submits bid to host AFC Women’s Asian Cup 2026
Updated 26 min 21 sec ago

Saudi Arabia submits bid to host AFC Women’s Asian Cup 2026

Saudi Arabia submits bid to host AFC Women’s Asian Cup 2026

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s has submitted an official bid to the Asian Football Confederation to host the AFC Women’s Asian Cup 2026.

President of the Saudi Arabian Football Federation Yasser Al-Misehal said that hosting this tournament opens new horizons for women's football in the Kingdom and the region.

The Saudi delegation submitting the bid included Saudi national team assistant coach Dana Rajab, and Saudi national team and Al-Shabab player Raghad Helmi.

Saudi Arabia is competing with Jordan, Australia, and Uzbekistan to host the event. The AFC is scheduled to make the decision in 2023.

The AFC Women’s Asian Cup 2026 is expected to build on the solid foundations of the tournament’s celebrated legacy. 

Expanded from eight to 12 teams, not only was the AFC Women’s Asian Cup India 2022 the biggest-ever edition in nearly two decades, but it was also organized by the largest-ever women’s delegation.


Germany crash out of World Cup despite 4-2 defeat of Costa Rica

Germany crash out of World Cup despite 4-2 defeat of Costa Rica
Updated 02 December 2022

Germany crash out of World Cup despite 4-2 defeat of Costa Rica

Germany crash out of World Cup despite 4-2 defeat of Costa Rica
  • Germany took an early lead but briefly fell behind in the second half as coach Hansi Flick made a flurry of changes, reacting to the live score of the Japan v Spain game
  • Costa Rica led 2-1, but Germany hit back with a brace from Kai Havertz before Fuellkrug added another in the 89th minute to bring the score to 4-2

AL KHOR: Germany crashed out of the World Cup at the group stage for the second time in succession despite a 4-2 win against Costa Rica on Thursday.
The four-time World Cup winners came into the match needing a win but were also relying on the result of Japan’s game with Spain to progress.
But the Germans were eliminated due to goal difference as Japan followed up their defeat of Germany with another shock result by beating Spain 2-1.
Germany took an early lead but briefly fell behind in the second half as coach Hansi Flick made a flurry of changes, reacting to the live score of the Japan v Spain fixture.
The Germans started positively, with Flick’s all-Bayern Munich front line turning the screws early, battering the Costa Rica defense before Serge Gnabry got his head to a curling cross from Leipzig defender David Raum after 10 minutes to open the scoring.
Midfielder Leon Goretzka almost doubled Germany’s lead just five minutes later but his header was directly at Keylor Navas.
Complacency began to creep into Germany’s game. Keysher Fuller, Costa Rica’s goal-scoring hero in a 1-0 win against Japan, forced Manuel Neuer into a fingertip save after some half-hearted defending from Raum and Antonio Ruediger.
Flick moved Kimmich back to his familiar defensive midfield position at half-time, bringing on Lukas Klostermann at the expense of Goretzka, who like Kimmich started the match on a yellow.
Just seven minutes into the second half, word crept around the vast Lusail Stadium that Japan had scored two quick goals to take the lead against Spain, a result which would force Germany out of the tournament.
Flick reacted immediately, bringing on Niclas Fuellkrug and taking off another midfielder in Ilkay Gundogan.
Germany appeared disjointed as Costa Rica went on the counter on the 58-minute mark, the ball rebounding off Neuer and into the path of Yeltsin Tejeda, who slammed it home.
Flick continued to chase the game, making more changes but it was Costa Rica who scored next when Juan Pablo Vargas tapped a free kick past Neuer to put his side past Spain and into the Round of 16. The goal was later recorded as an own goal.
Germany hit back minutes later through Chelsea forward Kai Havertz to draw level.
Havertz scored again in the 86th minute and Fuellkrug added another in the 89th minute to bring the score to 4-2, but the side’s focus remained nervously fixed on the group’s parallel fixture.
The night ended with Germany losing out to second-placed Spain on goal difference.
It means Germany, who had not missed out on the knockout stages of a World Cup for 80 years until the 2018 tournament in Russia, have been bundled out in the group stage for the second World Cup in a row.


Japan in stunning 2-1 win over Spain as both teams reach last 16

Japan in stunning 2-1 win over Spain as both teams reach last 16
Updated 02 December 2022

Japan in stunning 2-1 win over Spain as both teams reach last 16

Japan in stunning 2-1 win over Spain as both teams reach last 16
  • Ritsu Doan and Ao Tanaka’s goals saw Japan mount a sensational comeback to win 2-1
  • Alvaro Morata had sent Spain ahead early on with a towering header

DOHA: Spain staggered through to the World Cup last 16 on Thursday despite a 2-1 defeat by Japan, who remarkably won Group E on a rollercoaster night which saw four-time champions Germany eliminated.
Japan secured another incredible triumph after beating Germany in their opening game, with their progression from the “group of death” one of the greatest achievements in the country’s footballing history.
For a few heart-stopping minutes Spain were poised to head out when Costa Rica were leading in the other game, but the 2010 champions squeezed through after Germany did them a favor by coming back to beat Los Ticos.
Spain and Germany ended on four points each, but La Roja progressed on goal difference.
Alvaro Morata sent Spain ahead early on with a towering header, but Japan dramatically struck back at the start of the second half.
Ritsu Doan and Ao Tanaka’s goals saw them mount a sensational comeback, just as they did against Germany.
Tanaka’s goal was highly controversial after the officials relied on VAR to decide Kaoru Mitoma had kept the ball in play by a hair’s breadth to set him up.
Spain struggled to create chances against a staunch Japanese defense in the final stages, with the Asian side aware that conceding another goal would see them eliminated.
Japanese players collapsed at full-time in celebration, exhausted and elated, while the substitutes raced on to celebrate.
Spain face Morocco in the last 16, while Japan play Croatia.
Both sides made five changes, with Luis Enrique bringing in Morata to lead the line, and handing Alejandro Balde and Nico Williams their full debuts.
Japan started with five at the back, hoping to keep Spain at bay, but pressed high in attack to try and capitalize on any mistakes.
Spain are sometimes guilty of glaring defensive errors and Pau Torres exemplified that with a sloppy touch which led to Japan’s first chance, fired into the side-netting by Junya Ito.
Morata sent La Roja ahead in the 12th minute with a towering header from Cesar Azpilicueta’s cross, rekindling the connection which occasionally worked at Chelsea after the striker’s arrival in 2017.
Japan coach Hajjime Moriyasu replaced the ineffective Takefuso Kubo and Yuto Nagatomo at the break with Mitoma and Doan, and it paid instant dividends.
Balde lost the ball under pressure and from the edge of the box winger Doan hammered past Unai Simon, who might have done more to keep it out.
Three minutes later and Japan had turned the game on its head, Tanaka bundling home from on the goalline after Mitoma had miraculously kept the ball in play as he crossed it — according to VAR.
Spain were shellshocked and struggled to react, with Luis Enrique making a raft of substitutions to try and regain control.
The coach, alone and perched on the edge of his technical area, was unaware that for a few moments his team faced elimination, when Costa Rica took the lead against Germany in the other game to go 2-1 ahead.
Spain survived, progressing thanks to their superior goal difference, on a night that was far more terrifying than they had anticipated — and Japan secured a hugely unlikely achievement.


Belgium crash out of World Cup after Croatia draw

Belgium crash out of World Cup after Croatia draw
Updated 01 December 2022

Belgium crash out of World Cup after Croatia draw

Belgium crash out of World Cup after Croatia draw
  • Croatia had a penalty award controversially cancelled by VAR early in a largely uneventful first half
  • Belgium saw their run of reaching at least the quarter-finals at four straight major tournaments come to an abrupt end

DOHA: Romelu Lukaku missed a string of late chances as Belgium crashed out of the World Cup in the group stage after a 0-0 draw with Croatia on Thursday which sent the 2018 runners-up into the knockout phase.
Croatia had a penalty award controversially canceled by VAR early in a largely uneventful first half.
The introduction of Lukaku at the interval changed the game, but he was guilty of three dreadful misses as Zlatko Dalic’s side rode their luck to hold on.
Croatia progressed as runners-up in Group F behind winners Morocco who beat Canada 2-1 to also qualify for the last 16.
Belgium, the world’s second-ranked side, saw their run of reaching at least the quarter-finals at four straight major tournaments come to an abrupt end.
Roberto Martinez’s men managed just one goal in the tournament in a fortunate opening 1-0 win over Canada.
Martinez dropped captain Eden Hazard to the bench as one of four changes which also saw Leandro Trossard and Dries Mertens start for the first time in Qatar.
The build-up to the match had been dominated by rumors of an altercation between senior Belgian players, involving Eden Hazard, which Martinez described as “fake news.”
Croatia almost took the lead inside the first 10 seconds, as the ball was played forward to Ivan Perisic after kick-off and the Tottenham man cut inside and drilled a shot just wide of the far post.
The likelihood of Belgium needing to win was increased when Morocco scored an early goal across Doha. Yannick Carrasco had a chance to open the scoring but his shot was blocked.
Mertens curled over after a trademark Kevin De Bruyne run and pass, before Croatia were awarded a penalty seconds later when Carrasco tripped Andrej Kramaric in the box.
But the decision was overturned following a lengthy VAR check which decided that a tiny fraction of Dejan Lovren’s shoulder was offside.
Desperate for a goal after a first half in which neither side mustered a shot on target, Martinez sent on Lukaku, Belgium’s record scorer, for Mertens at half-time.
They immediately carried more threat, with Lukaku, who struggled with injury in the build-up to the tournament, heading straight at Croatia goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic.
Thibaut Courtois was then called into action for the first time, stretching to tip over Mateo Kovacic’s curling effort as the game opened up.
That also suited the Croatian attackers though and Courtois had to twice get down to keep out low shots from Marcelo Brozovic and Luka Modric.
Belgium should have taken the lead on the hour mark.
Carrasco almost bundled the ball in but was denied by Livakovic, before Lukaku contrived to hit the post with the goal gaping on the rebound.
Lukaku was guilty of an even worse miss two minutes later, heading over an empty net from six yards out, although replays suggested the ball may have been out of play when De Bruyne crossed it in.
Martinez also threw on Thorgan Hazard, Youri Tielemans and Jeremy Doku as Belgium searched for that all important goal.
Lukaku saw another chance come and go in the 87th minute, deflecting the ball wide from Thomas Meunier’s volley.
The striker, on loan at Inter Milan from Chelsea, still had another golden opportunity to be the hero, but he opted to chest the ball toward the open net from three yards out and directed it into the arms of Livakovic.