Alaba free-kick gives Real Madrid win to start title defense

Alaba free-kick gives Real Madrid win to start title defense
Real Madrid’s Austrian defender David Alaba celebrates scoring this team’s second goal during the Spanish league football match between UD Almeria and Real Madrid CF at the Municipal Stadium of the Mediterranean Games in Almeria on August 14, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 15 August 2022

Alaba free-kick gives Real Madrid win to start title defense

Alaba free-kick gives Real Madrid win to start title defense
  • The winner arrived with 15 minutes remaining at Almeria’s Power Horse Stadium, as Alaba strode onto the pitch and curled a free-kick in off the upright after Luka Modric had been fouled just outside the box

MADRID: David Alaba scored with a stunning free-kick immediately after coming on as a substitute as reigning champions Real Madrid came from behind to beat Almeria 2-1 in their opening game of the season in La Liga on Sunday.
Carlo Ancelotti’s side trailed to an early goal by Largie Ramazani away against their promoted opponents, but Lucas Vazquez equalized just after the hour mark.
The winner arrived with 15 minutes remaining at Almeria’s Power Horse Stadium, as Alaba strode onto the pitch and curled a free-kick in off the upright after Luka Modric had been fouled just outside the box.
Real were made to work hard for the points against an Almeria side who won last season’s second-tier title to return to La Liga after a seven-year absence.
“We had lots of shots on goal but once we got the first goal it made things much easier for us,” said Ancelotti.
“I am happy with the way the game went. We were not spectacular but there were lots of things to take into account, like the game on Wednesday and the heat.”
At one point it looked like Madrid might suffer a defeat in their opening league game of the season for the first time since 2008, with Ancelotti’s decision to rotate his squad not initially paying off.
The Italian had made five changes to the line-up that started in Wednesday’s 2-0 win over Eintracht Frankfurt in the UEFA Super Cup in Helsinki, when goals by Alaba and Karim Benzema gave the defending European champions the first silverware of the campaign.
Alaba and Modric were among the players dropped to the bench, while close-season signings Antonio Rudiger and Aurelien Tchouameni were handed first competitive starts for their new club.
Yet the game was just six minutes old when former Chelsea defender Rudiger was caught out by a ball over the top and Ramazani ran through to beat Thibaut Courtois.
Ramazani, the 21-year-old Belgian winger who used to be on the books at Manchester United, ran off to celebrate in acrobatic fashion as Saudi-owned Almeria enjoyed a dream start to their top-flight comeback.
Yet the hosts needed some inspired goalkeeping from Fernando Martinez to keep them ahead into half-time, with the standout save coming low to his left to deny Rudiger five minutes before the break.
Vazquez then had the ball in the net in the 43rd minute only to be denied by a very tight offside call, but the full-back was the man who dragged the away side back level in the 61st minute as he pounced on a loose ball in the area to score.
Almeria, who had already seen a hanging Vinicius cross strike the frame of their goal on its way behind before that, soon conceded again.
When Modric was fouled just outside the box by Rodrigo Ely, Austrian defender Alaba was waiting on the sideline for the chance to come on.
The break in play allowed him to replace Ferland Mendy, and he came straight on to take the free-kick and score in stunning fashion to complete the latest comeback from Ancelotti’s team.
Earlier, Japan star Takefusa Kubo marked his Real Sociedad debut by scoring the only goal in a 1-0 win at Cadiz.
Kubo, 21, moved to San Sebastian last month on a five-year deal from Real Madrid, after never managing to break into the first team at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Signed by Madrid from FC Tokyo as an 18-year-old in 2019, he was farmed out on loan to Mallorca, Villarreal and then Getafe, before returning to Mallorca last season.
Carlos Soler’s penalty gave Valencia a 1-0 win over promoted Girona in their first La Liga outing under new coach Gennaro Gattuso.
Valencia held on after having Swiss defender Eray Comert send off early in the second half.
Barcelona were held to a 0-0 draw by Rayo Vallecano in their opening game at the Camp Nou on Saturday.
Atletico Madrid begin their campaign away at Getafe in one of three matches to be played on Monday.


Portugal cruise past Czechs as Dalot bags brace

Portugal cruise past Czechs as Dalot bags brace
Updated 12 sec ago

Portugal cruise past Czechs as Dalot bags brace

Portugal cruise past Czechs as Dalot bags brace
PRAGUE: Defender Diogo Dalot scored twice as Portugal eased past the Czech Republic 4-0 in Prague on Saturday to get within a point of reaching the UEFA Nations League play-offs.
Portugal, who won the first edition of the Nations League in 2019, lead Group 2 on 10 points, two ahead of Spain who were stunned by Switzerland 2-1 at home on Saturday.
Portugal host Spain next Tuesday in their final group game.
Dalot opened the scoring on 33 minutes as he nutmegged Czech goalkeeper Tomas Vaclik from a cutback provided by Rafael Leao.
Dalot sprinted down the pitch, passed the ball to his right and dashed into the box to pick up Leao’s pass from the left following a cross narrowly missed by Cristiano Ronaldo.
Bruno Fernandes made it 2-0 in first-half stoppage time as Mario Rui found him facing Vaclik with a low cross from the left.
A minute later, the hosts squandered a penalty kick as Patrik Schick fired over the crossbar after VAR spotted Ronaldo handling the ball inside the box.
Dalot added a second as he stunned Vaclik with a low left-foot shot from outside the area on 52 minutes.
Second-half substitute Diogo Jota headed home a late fourth from close range following a corner and Ronaldo’s glancing header that found him at the far post.
Ronaldo failed to improve his record tally of 117 international goals and was left with a bloodied face after a clash with Vaclik early in the game.

Djokovic makes stylish return at Laver Cup as Federer watches on

Djokovic makes stylish return at Laver Cup as Federer watches on
Updated 42 min 21 sec ago

Djokovic makes stylish return at Laver Cup as Federer watches on

Djokovic makes stylish return at Laver Cup as Federer watches on
  • Djokovic showed no signs of rust as he played for the first time since winning the seventh Wimbledon crown
  • The 35-year-old's dominant victory over Tiafoe put Team Europe 6-4 up at London's O2 Arena

LONDON: Novak Djokovic made an impressive return after two months out of action as the Team Europe star thrashed Team World’s Frances Tiafoe 6-1, 6-3 with Roger Federer cheering him on at the Laver Cup on Saturday.
Djokovic showed no signs of rust as he played for the first time since winning the seventh Wimbledon crown of his remarkable career in July.
The 35-year-old’s dominant victory over Tiafoe put Team Europe 6-4 up at London’s O2 Arena, with Djokovic set to return to court with Berrettini for a doubles match against Sock and Alex de Minaur on Saturday evening.
Djokovic, a 21-time Grand Slam champion, missed the US Open in September due to his unvaccinated status, leaving him to take an enforced break from competitive action.
He was quickly back in the old routine against US Open semifinalist Tiafoe as he broke in the fourth game and again in the sixth to take the opening set in just 23 minutes.
Djokovic went for the kill as he landed yet another break in the first game of the second set and cruised to the finish line with Federer waiting to congratulate him at courtside.
Federer said a tearful goodbye to tennis late on Friday night when the 20-time Grand Slam champion and doubles partner Rafael Nadal were beaten by Tiafoe and Jack Sock.
The 41-year-old announced earlier this month that he would retire after the Laver Cup due to the knee problems that had kept him on the sidelines since Wimbledon in 2021.
Federer’s fitness issues meant he could only play one doubles match, so Matteo Berrettini was called into the Team Europe squad to replace the Swiss legend after the last game of his incredible career.
With Federer watching on, Berrettini proved a capable deputy as he defeated Felix Auger-Aliassime 7-6 (13/11), 4-6, 10/7 in Saturday’s first game.
The 26-year-old Italian, who finished as the 2021 Wimbledon runner-up, had to dig deep to hold off a spirited challenge from Auger-Aliassime, a 22-year-old Canadian rising star.
On the first day of his life after tennis, Federer could have been forgiven for following Nadal’s example and heading off for a well-earned rest.
But Federer showed his passion for tennis is unlikely to fade anytime soon as he sat courtside to support Berrettini with the rest of the Team Europe squad despite the post-midnight finish to his emotional finale.
Federer, who was involved in setting up the Ryder Cup-style Laver tournament, had said “we can all party together” as the 17,500-crowd raised the roof with their acclaim for one of the sport’s all-time greats after his final match.
There was an inevitable hangover at the O2 Arena as the atmosphere during Berrettini’s clash with Auger-Aliassime struggled to live up to the great man’s swansong.
But Federer looked relaxed as he mimicked Berrettini’s clenched-fist celebration as the Italian took the first set after Auger-Aliassime saved five set points in the tie-break.
Auger-Aliassime was unfazed by losing that 75-minute opening set and levelled the match in the second set before Berrettini finally closed out the victory in the first to 10 points ‘Laver Breaker’.
In the day’s second singles match, Team World’s Taylor Fritz beat British world number eight Cameron Norrie 6-1, 4-6, 10/8.
Norrie was only playing because Nadal had opted to pull out of the rest of the tournament after the Federer doubles match for what organizers said were “personal reasons.”
The Spanish world number three has been struggling with an abdominal injury while his wife is heavily pregnant.


Egypt considers bid to host 2036 Olympics

Egypt considers bid to host 2036 Olympics
Updated 24 September 2022

Egypt considers bid to host 2036 Olympics

Egypt considers bid to host 2036 Olympics
  • If successful with its bid, Egypt would become the first African or Arab nation to host the Olympics

CAIRO: Egypt is planning to apply to host the 2036 Olympic Games, sports minister Ashraf Sobhi said on Saturday during a reception for IOC president Thomas Bach in Cairo.
“President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has given his permission for Egypt to put itself forward as host for the 2036 Olympics,” Sobhi said.
If successful with its bid, Egypt would become the first African or Arab nation to host the Olympics.
“Egypt has solid sporting infrastructures and if it can host the Olympic Games, it will be historic,” Bach said during a joint press conference with Sobhi.
An Egyptian official announced earlier in the month that Egypt, Greece and Saudi Arabia were in talks to jointly host the 2030 World Cup.
Egypt staged the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, as well as last year’s handball world championship during the Covid-19 pandemic.


Barca confirm injuries for defensive duo Araujo and Kounde

Barca confirm injuries for defensive duo Araujo and Kounde
Updated 24 September 2022

Barca confirm injuries for defensive duo Araujo and Kounde

Barca confirm injuries for defensive duo Araujo and Kounde
  • Araujo was taken off inside the first minute of Uruguay's 1-0 loss to Iran
  • Kounde lasted just 23 minutes of France's 2-0 Nations League win over Austria

BARCELONA: Barcelona defender Ronald Araujo suffered a thigh-muscle tear while on international duty, his club said Saturday, while confirming Jules Kounde also had a thigh issue.
Araujo was taken off inside the first minute of Uruguay’s 1-0 loss to Iran in a friendly on Friday night. Kounde lasted just 23 minutes of France’s 2-0 Nations League win over Austria on Thursday.
The central defenders will miss their countries’ next match and are likely to be unavailable for Barcelona’s first games when club football resumes.
With the Clasico approaching on October 16, Barcelona coach Xavi Hernandez may need to construct a new defense for upcoming fixtures, including a reprieve for Gerard Pique, who has been largely frozen out.
Since he was registered to play for the Catalan side, following his summer switch from Sevilla, Kounde has become a key part of Barcelona’s rear guard, often used at right-back. Spanish reports suggest he will be out for at least three weeks, although the club did not specify a recovery time.
The international break has been problematic for Barca. Memphis Depay suffered a hamstring injury with the Netherlands in their 2-0 win over Poland on Thursday. Frenkie de Jong was substituted for precaution in the same match.


Tchouaméni looking to impress again as France plays Denmark

Tchouaméni looking to impress again as France plays Denmark
Updated 24 September 2022

Tchouaméni looking to impress again as France plays Denmark

Tchouaméni looking to impress again as France plays Denmark
  • Tchouaméni was excellent as France, missing nine regulars, beat Austria 2-0 in the Nations League on Thursday night
  • The young midfielder gets another chance to push his claim for a permanent starting place when Les Bleus travel to play Denmark

PARIS: Amid mounting injuries and off-field problems, at least France coach Didier Deschamps has one less thing to worry about heading into the World Cup.
Aurélien Tchouaméni looks a very good option to start in midfield.
Tchouaméni is 22 with only 13 caps but is already playing with the maturity of a seasoned international and, with Paul Pogba’s place in Qatar looking in doubt, his form is most welcome for Deschamps.
Tchouaméni was excellent as France, missing nine regulars including goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, striker Karim Benzema, N’Golo Kante and Pogba, beat Austria 2-0 in the Nations League on Thursday night.
The young midfielder gets another chance to push his claim for a permanent starting place when Les Bleus travel to play Denmark in Copenhagen on Sunday for the last group game in the Nations League — the last match for both sides before the World Cup.
It should be a competitive game, too, with the Danes still in contention for first place in Group 1 and a place in next year’s Final Four.
Defending champion France already lost their title in June and are fighting with Austria to avoid relegation to the second tier. Last-place Austria, one point behind France, host Croatia, which hold top spot but are only one point ahead of Denmark.
His own form and other circumstances have accelerated Tchouaméni’s international career.
Pogba is recovering from a knee injury and is weighed down by an extortion probe involving his elder brother Mathias.
Tchouaméni is the latest in a long production line of talent to emerge from the French league, following in the footsteps of Benzema, Kylian Mbappé, Anthony Martial and many others.
Like Mbappé and Martial, he came through at Monaco — which boasts one of the finest scouting networks in Europe.
Real Madrid paid 100 million euros ($97 million) to sign Tchouaméni in the offseason and then sold Casemiro to Manchester United.
That Madrid fans are hardly missing Casemiro speaks volumes for how easily Tchouaméni has settled into a side leading the league with six straight wins.
So what makes Tchouaméni so good?
He is the complete midfield package. But perhaps his greatest attribute is composure.
He showed that on his first start for France in a World Cup qualifier away to Ukraine one year ago, when it looked like he’d been playing at international level for years.
In a similar way to Pogba, he is a tall, lean and athletic player who always plays with his head up. He has an assured first touch wherever he receives the ball, and sprays passes short or long with equal effect.
He showed that against Austria by pinging a 50-meter pass to Mbappé that landed not only at the forward’s feet, but into his path as he was running onto it. That was just minutes into the game, when lesser players would have been settling down.
Rarely wasteful, Tchouaméni has the same knack as Kanté for knowing when to release the ball quickly and offload it to a better-placed teammate.
It may look obvious, but it ensures that — like Kanté — Tchouaméni’s rarely caught in possession and his calmness enables him to shake off players closing him down around the penalty area.
Even under pressure from an Austria striker on the edge of his own box, Tchouaméni dropped his shoulders, turned and completed a clean pass as casually as if it was a pre-season training session.
He drops deep to collect, is quick and covers ground well with his rangy running style.
Tchouaméni’s good at making late runs into the opposing area and he’s not afraid to shoot, either, having one 20-meter effort saved and then hitting the crossbar against Austria with a spectacular overhead kick that displayed technique befitting an attacking player.
Another bright spot for Deschamps was the form of Benoît Badiashile in a three-man defense and his Monaco teammate Youssouf Fofana in central midfield.
The left-footed Badiashile impressed with his passing out from the back while, Fofana won the ball effectively.
Olivier Giroud also staked a strong claim to be in the World Cup squad with a goal and assist against Austria. He’s on 49 international goals, just two behind Thierry Henry’s national record.
Giroud and Tchouaméni could have a big part to play in Qatar.