Rivals jostle for AC Milan’s Serie A crown

Rivals jostle for AC Milan’s Serie A crown
Defending Serie A champions AC Milan open defense of their title against Udinese at the San Siro on Saturday as teams gear up for a 15-match sprint between now and the World Cup in Qatar. (AFP/File)
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Updated 11 August 2022

Rivals jostle for AC Milan’s Serie A crown

Rivals jostle for AC Milan’s Serie A crown
  • Inter Milan, Juventus, Roma and Lazio have all made interesting moves, meaning that the race is likely to be as open as last year’s, which went down to the wire

MILAN: AC Milan have their Serie A rivals snapping at their heels ahead of their title defense, with the big boys bolstering their squads over an eventful summer which has left the league with no clear Scudetto favorite.

Stefano Pioli’s side kick off the new season against Udinese at the San Siro on Saturday as teams gear up for a 15-match sprint between now and the World Cup in Qatar.

Inter Milan, Juventus, Roma and Lazio have all made interesting moves, meaning that the race is likely to be as open as last year’s, which went down to the wire.

Milan have lost Franck Kessie to Barcelona but brought in free-agent striker Divock Origi and spent €35 million ($36 million) on promising but unproven forward Charles De Ketelaere.

Inter, meanwhile, started the summer with a bang by bringing back Romelu Lukaku on loan from Chelsea but were beaten to the punch by Roma and Juve respectively for key targets Paulo Dybala and last season’s best defender, Gleison Bremer.

The loss of Bremer to their biggest rivals was a blow for Inter, the inability to strike a deal with Paris Saint-Germain for the sale of Milan Skriniar holding up the purchase of the Brazilian from Torino and allowing Juve to bring in a sound replacement for Matthijs de Ligt and Giorgio Chiellini.

It dented the enthusiasm among fans who had thought Simone Inzaghi’s team would strengthen to the point of being hot favorites to retake the title but are newly worried about the financial stability of the club’s Chinese owners Suning.

Juve have also brought in star names Paul Pogba — now out until September with a knee injury — and Angel Di Maria, and are going after Leandro Paredes, Filip Kostic and mercurial attacker Memphis Depay.

However, Sunday’s 4-0 friendly thrashing at the hands of Atletico Madrid was exacerbated by old boy Alvaro Morata’s hat trick and has caused murmurings about the future of coach Massimiliano Allegri, who needs a big campaign after finishing 16 points behind Milan last time out.

There has been some worry among Milan fans over the low-key nature of their team’s transfer moves, as well as the fact that the club didn’t renew the contracts of directors Paolo Maldini and Frederic Massara — the architects of Milan’s recent revival — until the last minute.

Supporters are waiting for the American investment fund RedBird’s purchase of the club to go through, with the closing of the €1.2 billion ($1.3 billion) deal with current owners Elliott due to be completed in late August or early September.

Meanwhile, both Milan clubs are still sweating over the fate of their new San Siro stadium development, with a public debate expected in September decisive to the project’s fate amid significant hostility from some local residents.

A source at Inter confirmed to AFP last month that should the debate go against construction and the project be blocked, the two teams would move it to a former industrial site in working-class Milan suburb Sesto San Giovanni, where the recently re-elected mayor has repeatedly said there will be no bureaucratic hurdles put in the way of a new ground.

Fixtures

Saturday

AC Milan vs Udinese, Sampdoria vs Atalanta (both 1730), Lecce vs Inter, Monza vs Torino (both 1945)

Sunday

Fiorentina vs Cremonese, Lazio vs Bologna (both 1730), Salernitana vs Roma, Spezia vs Empoli (both 1945)

Monday

Verona vs Napoli (1730), Juventus vs Sassuolo (1945)


Independent probe blows lid off ‘systemic’ abuse and sexual misconduct in US women’s soccer

Independent probe blows lid off ‘systemic’ abuse and sexual misconduct in US women’s soccer
Updated 11 sec ago

Independent probe blows lid off ‘systemic’ abuse and sexual misconduct in US women’s soccer

Independent probe blows lid off ‘systemic’ abuse and sexual misconduct in US women’s soccer
  • The investigation began after a 2021 report by The Athletic about abusive behavior and sexual misconduct by former Portland Thorns manager Paul Riley
  • The 172-page report included interviews with more than 200 National Women’s Soccer League players

WASHINGTON: An independent investigation into allegations of misconduct in US women’s soccer released Monday found “systemic” abuse and sexual misconduct by coaches.

The probe by former acting US attorney general Sally Yates and the King & Spalding law firm uncovered verbal and emotional abuse and sexual misconduct, including a pattern of “sexually charged comments, unwanted sexual advances and touching and coercive sexual intercourse.”

The 172-page report included interviews with more than 200 National Women’s Soccer League players — many of them members of US national teams — and detailed patterns of abuse from team coaches, manipulation and tirades plus retaliation for those who complained.

“Our investigation has revealed a league in which abuse and misconduct — verbal and emotional abuse and sexual misconduct — had become systemic, spanning multiple teams, coaches and victims,” Yates wrote in the report’s executive summary.

“Abuse in the NWSL is rooted in a deeper culture in women’s soccer that normalizes verbally abusive coaching and blurs boundaries between coaches and players,” she added.

“The players who have come forward to tell their stories have demonstrated great courage. It’s now time that the institutions that failed them in the past listen to the players and enact the meaningful reform players deserve.”

The investigation began after a 2021 report by The Athletic about abusive behavior and sexual misconduct by former Portland Thorns manager Paul Riley.

That report said complaints were brought to former US Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati but no action was taken by USSF against Riley. Although he eventually was fired by the Thorns, Riley was hired to coach another NWSL team.

“The verbal and emotional abuse players describe in the NWSL is not merely ‘tough’ coaching,” Yates wrote.

“And the players affected are not shrinking violets. They are among the best athletes in the world. They include members of the US Women’s national team, veterans of multiple World Cup and Olympic tournaments.”

Rory Dames coached the Chicago Red Stars from the NWSL’s start until resigning last November. The report outlined his obscenities and verbal abuse and insults to players, saying a sexualized workplace led to multiple improper sexual relationships with players.

Christy Holly was a coach with Sky Blue for half a season in 2016 before departing after complaints of verbal abuse and an improper relationship, the report said.

Holly was hired last year by expansion club Racing Louisville, where verbal and emotional abuse was repeated and he was fired after sexually coercing and groping a player.

The NWSL, in a statement, promised “systemic reform” to make the league one “with safe and professional environments to train and compete” and acknowledged the “anxiety and mental strain” for women reliving traumatic incidents.

“We continue to admire their courage in coming forward to share their stories,” it said. “We know we must learn from and take responsibility for the painful lessons of the past in order to move the league into a better future.”

The report found teams, league officials and the USSF “repeatedly failed to respond appropriately when confronted with player reports and evidence of abuse,” and “failed to institute basic measures to prevent and address it, even as some leaders privately acknowledged the need for workplace protections.”

That allowed abusive coaches to move from club to club with positive remarks that concealed misconduct.

“Those at the NWSL and USSF in a position to correct the record stayed silent,” the report said. “And no one at the teams, the league or the federation demanded better of coaches.”

USSF president Cindy Parlow Cone, a former US women’s national team player who took charge in 2020, said measures are already underway to prevent such violations from happening again.

“This investigation’s findings are heartbreaking and deeply troubling,” Cone said. “The abuse described is inexcusable and has no place on any playing field, in any training facility or workplace.

“US Soccer is fully committed to doing everything in its power to ensure that all players — at all levels — have a safe and respectful place to learn, grow and compete.”

Federation initiatives include online and text systems for reporting incidents, tighter verifying of coaches and referees, and background screening.

“US Soccer and the entire soccer community have to do better,” Cone said. “I have faith that we can use this report and its recommendations as a critical turning point for every organization tasked with ensuring player safety.”

A new office of participant safety will be established to address the findings and act on recommendations.

“We’re taking the immediate action that we can today,” Cone said. “We can create meaningful, long-lasting change throughout the soccer ecosystem,” Cone said.


French star Wembanyama set for his first taste of NBA life

French star Wembanyama set for his first taste of NBA life
Updated 04 October 2022

French star Wembanyama set for his first taste of NBA life

French star Wembanyama set for his first taste of NBA life
  • Wembanyama at 7-foot-2 is listed as a center but plays all over the floor with guard skills in a big-man frame

LAS VEGAS: Victor Wembanyama and Scoot Henderson have been linked constantly over the last couple years, with just about every prognosticator anointing them as the top two picks in the 2023 NBA draft.

Thing is, they don’t know each other.

That’s about to change. Wembanyama — he’s listed at 7-foot-2, some say he’s 7-foot-4 — and the Paris-based club Metropolitans 92 are in Las Vegas to take on Henderson and the G League Ignite in a pair of exhibitions, the first on Tuesday and the second on Thursday.

“We’re playing against an NBA team, with NBA rules, on an NBA court,” Wembanyama said Monday. “This is really going to be a first for me. I’m curious to know how it’s going to go. I know it’s going to go well, but I’m still curious.”

Victor vs. Scoot. Scoot vs. Victor. They’re not playing 1-on-1, but they are the clear headliners and the reasons why these first-of-their-kind games were put together.

Wembanyama is listed as a center but plays all over the floor with guard skills in a big-man frame; Henderson is a point guard who has been getting tons of attention for years.

“Out of all the prospects I’ve heard about in our class, I think he’s my favorite one,” Wembanyama said. “I think he’s the most reliable that I’ve seen. He’s really a great player. If I was never born, I think he would deserve the first spot.”

Henderson — a five-star recruit from Georgia who signed with the Ignite last year and played in 10 games — sees these two games as an opportunity, downplaying the 1-on-1 storyline.

“People always try to compare and contrast whoever. I don’t look at it like that,” Henderson said. “I look at it as two good ballplayers.”

The Ignite program exists to develop young prospects in preparation for the NBA Draft, mixing them with veteran talent to help guide them along the way. It has featured three eventual top-10 picks — Jalen Green and Jonathan Kuminga last year, Dyson Daniels this year — in its first two seasons.

Henderson is a huge draw for the Ignite this year. The Ignite also have Shareef O’Neal, the son of Shaquille O’Neal. But much of what the Ignite would ordinarily be doing right now would be barely noticed nationally; hence, the games against Wembanyama were put together.

The Los Angeles Lakers are playing in Las Vegas this week, a pair of preseason matchups against Phoenix and Minnesota. Wembanyama is going to those as a fan; he’ll have a slightly different view of NBA games next season.

“He’s one of those type of players, honestly, where you say like there’ll never be like another Shaq or there’ll never be another that,” Ignite coach Jason Hart said. “He’s that. You’ll never see another one of those. The scouting report on him is tough. ... I’m honored that I’m getting to play him at 18, because at 24, he’s going to be something different.”

Wembanyama has been a pro for three seasons already, spending last season with ASVEL in France — a club owned by San Antonio Spurs legend Tony Parker. He made the decision this year to join Metropolitans in part to be coached by Vincent Collet, who also coaches the French national team.

Collet is welcoming the chance.

“I think he’s the best prospect we’ve ever had in our league,” Collet said. “He’s amazing, not only by his size, but incredible skills. Despite that, he still needs to learn the game. He’s very young. ... We will try to give him this experience. That’s the deal we have together, him and me. We want to give him the experience before he gets to the league. It’s most important to get him ready for what will follow next year.”


Leicester earn first Premier League win, drop Forest into last place

Leicester earn first Premier League win, drop Forest into last place
Updated 04 October 2022

Leicester earn first Premier League win, drop Forest into last place

Leicester earn first Premier League win, drop Forest into last place
  • The pressure, for now, is off Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers
  • Now, Forest are the league’s crisis club and Cooper is the manager battling to survive

LEICESTER, England: Getting 22 new signings to gel is proving to be a mightily difficult task for Nottingham Forest manager Steve Cooper.

A 4-0 loss at previously winless Leicester dropped Forest into last place in the English Premier League on Monday, leaving Cooper at risk of becoming the latest top-flight manager to lose his job.

In front of the club’s Thai owner, Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha, who flew in for the match, Leicester earned some respite with a dominant display that ended a six-match losing run.

James Maddison scored two — one being a curling free kick in off the far post — while Harvey Barnes and substitute Patson Daka, with a deft flick from Maddison’s cross, added the others at a rocking King Power Stadium.

The pressure, for now, is off Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers, who looked and sounded like someone who could no longer get the best out of his squad following a 6-2 loss at Tottenham before the international break.

“It was a season-changing game,” Rodgers said, “and to get the performance we did, hopefully we can push on.

“I felt we had a horrendous summer — that is the reality — and it continued into the season. We just didn’t play to the levels ... but we’ve been able to reset that.”

Now, Forest are the league’s crisis club and Cooper is the manager battling to survive.

“I completely understand the situation and the question and respect it, 100 percent,” Cooper said, when asked if his future was in doubt. “But my concern is we have lost another game for this club, not my own situation, because I care more about the club more than my personal circumstances.

“I refuse to criticize the players as a group as it is a fresh challenge.”

After securing a return to the league after a 23-year absence, Forest have been one of Europe’s highest spenders — bringing in a record 22 players at a cost of more than $150 million.

Unsurprisingly, it is taking Cooper some time to discover his best lineup or formation. It remains to be seen how much longer he gets, with Forest replacing Leicester at the bottom and having conceded 16 goals in its last four games. Cooper’s team has lost five in a row.

“Some of the guys have only met each other these last couple of weeks,” Cooper said. “That’s the realism of the situation and something we have to deal with. At the moment we are getting punished because of periods in games where we are not a team.”

Leicester scored three goals in a 10-minute span from the 25th to damage Forest’s fragile confidence. Maddison set the hosts on their way with a shot that deflected in off Scott McKenna.

Two minutes later, Barnes curled a shot into the bottom corner from the edge of the area after Maddison set Jamie Vardy free with a long-range pass.

Maddison completed the flurry of goals with a free kick from 25 meters that kissed the post as it went in, bringing up his 50th strike for Leicester.

Cooper made three halftime changes — including the last of his summer signings, right back Serge Aurier — but things didn’t get any better.

Daka, on for Vardy, rounded off the scoring with a deft flick from Maddison’s driven cross from the right.

It was a stellar all-round display from Maddison, who was disappointed to be overlooked in the latest England squad despite having strong form for much of 2022.

“It’s been a bit of a weird position — we have been bottom of the league but I have almost been as confident as I have ever been in myself. I don’t remember playing better than I have over the past 12 months.

“I’ve got to be of the mindset,” he added, “that I’ve got to force my way in (to the England squad).”

The closest Forest came to scoring was a first-half effort from Taiwo Awoniyi that hit the post, as Leicester kept a first clean sheet of the season.


Alcaraz, Nadal put Spain at 1-2 in ATP rankings for 1st time

Alcaraz, Nadal put Spain at 1-2 in ATP rankings for 1st time
Updated 04 October 2022

Alcaraz, Nadal put Spain at 1-2 in ATP rankings for 1st time

Alcaraz, Nadal put Spain at 1-2 in ATP rankings for 1st time
  • Alcaraz is a 19-year-old who rose to the top spot by winning the US Open last month for his first Grand Slam title, becoming the youngest man ever to be No. 1
  • Iga Swiatek remained at No. 1 in the WTA rankings, where she’s been since replacing the retired Ash Barty there in April

NEW YORK: No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz and No. 2 Rafael Nadal are the first countrymen to top the ATP rankings in 22 years.

And the two players from Spain are the first men from somewhere other than the US to sit at 1-2 since the tour introduced computerized rankings in 1973.

Alcaraz is a 19-year-old who rose to the top spot by winning the US Open last month for his first Grand Slam title, becoming the youngest man ever to be No. 1.

Nadal is a 36-year-old who has spent 209 weeks atop the rankings and owns a men’s-record 22 major championships, including at the Australian Open in January and the French Open in June. He rose from No. 3 to No. 2 on Monday, swapping places with US Open runner-up Casper Ruud.

The last time players from the same country held Nos. 1 and 2 in the ATP rankings was in August 2000, when Americans Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras did it.

“Proud to share this historic moment with @RafaelNadal, the best player of all-time,” Alcaraz wrote in Spanish on Twitter.

The only other changes in the ATP top 10 on Monday came with Jannik Sinner sliding from No. 10 to No. 12. That allowed Hubert Hurkacz to move up one spot to No. 10, and Taylor Fritz to shift one place up to a career-best No. 11.

Iga Swiatek remained at No. 1 in the WTA rankings, where she’s been since replacing the retired Ash Barty there in April.

Two-time major finalist Ons Jabeur stayed at No. 2. She was followed by No. 3 Anett Kontaveit and No. 4 Paula Badosa, who swapped spots on Monday.


Saudi esports federation chief says Kingdom has huge potential in market

Saudi esports federation chief says Kingdom has huge potential in market
Updated 03 October 2022

Saudi esports federation chief says Kingdom has huge potential in market

Saudi esports federation chief says Kingdom has huge potential in market
  • Prince Faisal bin Bandar said Saudi youth would play a role in esport development

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has huge potential in the esports market given its location between east and west, the chairman of the board of Directors of the Saudi Esports Federation (SEF) said Monday.

Prince Faisal bin Bandar bin Sultan, speaking about the Kingdom’s e-sports strategy recently launched by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, also said Saudi youth would play a role in its development, considering more than 21 million young people are interested in gaming.

Prince Faisal’s comments came during a tour that included Singapore and South Korea, during which he participated in the All That Matters Conference in Singapore and the World esports Summit in South Korea.

The conferences involved a large number of senior executives from around the world in the world of Web3, music, sports, games, digital and marketing.

During the tour, which aimed to introduce the Saudi strategy and its objectives, Prince Faisal touched on the sectors that it aims to develop — including new technologies and devices, the esports production sector, the governance and regulations sector, in addition to infrastructure and attracting and developing talents.