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.


Arsenal looking to pile more pressure on Liverpool

Arsenal looking to pile more pressure on Liverpool
Updated 06 October 2022

Arsenal looking to pile more pressure on Liverpool

Arsenal looking to pile more pressure on Liverpool
  • For Premier League leader Arsenal, it's the latest test of their ability to mount a credible title challenge
  • For Liverpool, it's a chance to provide a platform on which to build Jurgen Klopp’s recovery plan

MANCHESTER, England: The match at Emirates Stadium on Sunday should prove informative about the prospects of both Arsenal and Liverpool.
For Premier League leader Arsenal, it’s the latest test of their ability to mount a credible title challenge against the only team that have managed to disrupt Manchester City’s dominance over the past five years.
For Liverpool, tentatively finding form after such a turbulent start to the season, it’s a chance to provide a platform on which to build Jurgen Klopp’s recovery plan.
The stakes are much higher for the team from Merseyside — not least because City lie in wait a week later.
Further dropped points ahead of the visit of Erling Haaland and Co. to Anfield would leave Klopp on the verge of crisis in a season when the title already looks beyond Liverpool.
The German has been cautious in his commentary this week — even after the confidence-boosting win over Rangers in the Champions League on Tuesday.
“I can’t wait for the moment when I can read newspapers again because I didn’t read them for weeks,” Klopp joked. “The criticism is completely fine. We are not over the moon about our situation. But we played some really good games — it’s not like it’s 10 years ago, it’s not too long ago.”
Liverpool have only lost once in the league this season but already trail Arsenal by 11 points.
The only wins have come in the 9-0 demolition of Bournemouth and via an injury-time strike against Newcastle.
Last week’s 3-3 draw at home against Brighton typified the raggedness of a team that were on course for an unprecedented quadruple going into the final weeks of last season. The loss of Sadio Mane, who joined Bayern Munich in the offseason, has had an impact, with replacement Darwin Nunez taking time to settle.
Injuries in midfield have left Liverpool looking light in that department, while Virgil van Dijk’s usual authority in defense has been lacking. In five of seven games in the league, Liverpool has conceded first to underline the vulnerability at the back.
How van Dijk handles Haaland will be fascinating — but before that he will have to try to curtail a former City striker who is enjoying a resurgence at Arsenal.
Gabriel Jesus looked to be a bargain when signed for $50 million in the offseason and he has been a key component for Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta this term, scoring five times in eight appearances.
The Brazil international was on target again as Arsenal defeated Tottenham 3-1 in last week’s north London derby.
Seven wins from eight matches has confounded expectations and even left City in Arsenal’s wake.
The one loss — to Manchester United — has not derailed momentum, while victory against Tottenham answered a lot of questions about the team’s ability to cope with the pressure at the top.
Even in the face of Liverpool’s struggles, another win on Sunday would perhaps be even more impressive as evidence of Arsenal’s readiness to replace last year’s runner-up as the new challenge to City.
TAKING A KNEE
The Premier League will reaffirm its commitment to fighting racism and discrimination with players taking a knee before the next two sets of matches.
All games between Oct. 8 and Oct. 16 will be dedicated to the “No Room For Racism” initiative.
Ahead of the start of the season, club captains collectively agreed to stop taking a knee before every match and instead select certain points in the calendar to make a statement.
Boxing Day, the final day of the season and the FA Cup and EFL Cup finals will also see players make the gesture.


Qatari government workers to work from home during World Cup

Qatari government workers to work from home during World Cup
Updated 06 October 2022

Qatari government workers to work from home during World Cup

Qatari government workers to work from home during World Cup
  • Qatar is the first Middle East country to stage the World Cup that kicks off on Nov. 20
  • The government said late on Wednesday that 80% of its workforce would be working from home between Nov. 1 and Dec. 19

DOHA: Qatar has ordered most government employees to work from home during next month’s soccer World Cup while schools will have reduced hours two weeks before the tournament before shutting as the country prepares for a big influx of visitors.
Qatar is the first Middle East country to stage the World Cup that kicks off on Nov. 20 with the final set for Dec. 18.
It hopes the tournament will attract roughly 1.2 million visitors, or almost half of the conservative country’s population, posing a logistical and policing challenge.
For this reason, the government said late on Wednesday that 80 percent of its workforce would be working from home between Nov. 1 and Dec. 19.
Public and private schools will have shortened classes only until noon between Nov. 1 and Nov. 17 and will then be closed for the entire period of the World Cup and until at least Dec. 22.
Mohammed Al Hajjri, spokesperson for Qatar’s Government Communications Office, said in a video the measures had been decided after “taking into consideration the public interest and in line with the state’s preparation for hosting this event.”
A total of 32 teams have qualified and matches will be played at eight stadiums clustered around Doha, the only major city in Qatar, which is the smallest state to host soccer’s biggest event.
The Gulf Arab state has built a new transport network in the lead up to the tournament, including expressways and a metro system that started operations in 2019, but it has never handled the kind of visitor numbers expected during the World Cup.


Kyle Walker in doubt for World Cup after groin surgery

Kyle Walker in doubt for World Cup after groin surgery
Updated 06 October 2022

Kyle Walker in doubt for World Cup after groin surgery

Kyle Walker in doubt for World Cup after groin surgery
  • “As players we have to appreciate injuries are part and parcel of the game we love," Walker tweeted
  • City said in a statement on Thursday that the surgery was “successful”

MANCHESTER, England: England defender Kyle Walker is in doubt for this year’s World Cup after undergoing groin surgery this week.
The Manchester City player sustained the injury in the win 6-3 over Manchester United on Sunday. He was taken off the field in the 41st minute.
“As players we have to appreciate injuries are part and parcel of the game we love,” Walker wrote on Twitter above a picture of himself in a hospital bed. “My operation on Tuesday was a success and now I can concentrate on my rehab and getting back to full fitness. I will be supporting my team mates every day in any way I can.”
City said in a statement on Thursday that the surgery was “successful.”
The 32-year-old Walker had been a certainty for the England squad but coach Gareth Southgate now faces an anxious wait to see if the defender can recover in time to play in Qatar.
After the 5-0 Champions League win over Copenhagen on Wednesday, City manager Pep Guardiola said Walker faced a prolonged period out of action.
“It’s something abdominal and he will be a while out. I cannot say anything else,” Guardiola said. “Kyle will be out for a bit. We have to speak to the doctors. Hopefully, he can get (back for the World Cup) like Kalvin (Phillips).
“I know how important the World Cup is for the players but honestly I don’t know right now.”
Walker was a key figure in England’s run to the semifinals of the 2018 World Cup and the final of last year’s European Championship.
Southgate has plenty of options at the back in Reece James, Kieran Trippier and Trent Alexander-Arnold, but the loss of Walker would be a major blow to his World Cup preparations.


Why nations struggle for sustained dominance across cricket’s different formats

Why nations struggle for sustained dominance across cricket’s different formats
Every cricketing country seems to want to win all competitions all of the time. (File/AFP)
Updated 06 October 2022

Why nations struggle for sustained dominance across cricket’s different formats

Why nations struggle for sustained dominance across cricket’s different formats
  • National boards often fail to keep up with the times and consistently provide the structure whereby talent is identified, nurtured and shaped into winning teams

Every cricketing country seems to want to win all competitions all of the time. At least this is what appears to be the case if public pronouncements by some national cricket boards are to be believed.

This is simultaneously alluring and aspirational, despite evidence that at times during cricket’s history some teams have dominated all others.

The West Indian men’s team won the 50-over World Cup in 1975 and 1979 whilst, between 1984 and 1991, it did not lose a Test series. After that, Australia became the dominant men’s team, going unbeaten in all Ashes series until 2005, and achieving a hat trick of World Cups in 1999, 2003 and 2007. Currently, it holds the T20I World Cup and tops the table of Test-match-playing countries.

Throughout this time, India has been straining to achieve dominance, but has failed. Its last 50-over World Cup triumph was in 2011, its last T20I World Cup triumph was in 2007 and it last reached a final in 2014, losing to Sri Lanka. In these respects, its record of achievement is inferior to the West Indies, which has twice won the T20I Cup and on a par with Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Australia and England. Neither South Africa nor Bangladesh has featured in a final of either format.

At Test level, India came second in the 2019-2021 cycle of performance to New Zealand, who suffered defeat in the finals of the 2015 and 2019 ODI World Cup and the 2021 T20I World Cup.

All of this suggests that the major trophies are shared around over a 10- to 20-year cycle. There are complex reasons why this happens. Successful sides grow old together and the transition takes longer than planned. A raft of injuries to key players prematurely weakens the team. Internal politics stunt performance, as may inappropriate selections, strategies or coaching qualities. The next generation of talent may take up alternative sports, as happened in the West Indies.

One other potential explanation is that the domestic structure is out of keeping with the times. National cricket boards are entrusted with providing the structure whereby talent is identified, nurtured and shaped into national teams. Within this structure lie regional bodies whose responsibility is to achieve the same in their designated area, providing a funnel through which the most talented players can progress to national level.

Recently, in the wake of a disastrous series in Australia, the England and Wales Cricket Board, or ECB, published a High-Performance Review of the men’s team. Its starting point is that, over the last 42 years, the team has been the No. 1 Test team in the world for a total of 12 months, No. 1 in ODIs for 64 months and has held top place in T20I cricket for the equivalent of two years since 2011. This is perceived to be a sub-optimum outcome.

Seventeen recommendations have been proposed, including changes to structure, to support a new vision. This is to be, in five years, the world’s best men’s team across all formats, defined as being No. 1 in at least one format, top three in the others and sustaining this for a long time.

It may safely be assumed that such ambition is shared by a number of other Test-playing teams and national boards. Only the ECB has a structure which does not follow the three predominant formats — multi-day matches, ODIs and T20s. Although India and Pakistan have retained domestic T20 competitions alongside T20 franchised tournaments, it is because their depth of talent allows this to happen. The ECB justifies its decision to introduce The Hundred, a format played in no other country, in terms of attracting a different segment of the market — women and young children.

One of the High-Performance Review’s conclusions was that too much cricket is being played. On the back of this, the ECB propose to reduce the number of matches in all competitions except The Hundred. Separation of the 18 first-class counties into three divisions of six is predicated on the basis that it will allow the best to play against the best. This is an objective which underpins the structures found in other countries.

Australia has only six States, so can aspire to this more easily, as can New Zealand with six teams and West Indies with seven. In 2019, a structural reorganization in Pakistan replaced a departmental, city and regional team structure with six regional teams to encourage “best versus best,” an unpopular move with departments.

Sri Lanka Cricket, with a similar objective in mind, introduced a revised structure this year. A National Super League was created, consisting of five teams selected from players who had competed in a prior 26-team Major Clubs Tournament.

Conversely, in 2021, Cricket South Africa reverted to a 15-team provincial structure, which had been replaced in 2004-2005 by a six-team franchised system. India’s domestic structure, apart from the franchised Premier League, has remained constant since each major competition was founded.

A slight tendency toward a narrow top structure of five to six teams may be discerned from the above, but it may reflect circumstances of geography, as much as deliberate strategy. What all of the Boards share in common is the problem of fitting in the requisite number of matches to fulfil national and international agreements, plus T20 franchises. As schedules continue to adapt to a post-pandemic environment, narrow structures may be best for the times.

It is ironic that since the ECB’s review was launched, its men’s team performances have improved significantly. This is a result of changes in leadership and strategy, drawing from the same talent pool that was available previously, produced by the structure deemed to be inadequate. The effects of alterations to structures can take years to become apparent. It would be wise for any Board with lofty aspirations to acknowledge this, along with recognition that dominance across all formats for a sustained time is rare and getting more difficult.


Mickelson says world golf rankings need LIV events to be credible

Mickelson says world golf rankings need LIV events to be credible
Updated 06 October 2022

Mickelson says world golf rankings need LIV events to be credible

Mickelson says world golf rankings need LIV events to be credible
  • The LIV Series stages its first event in Asia this week
  • LIV has announced plans to expand from eight events this year to 14 in 2023

BANGKOK: Six-time major winner Phil Mickelson on Thursday backed moves to award world ranking points for events on the breakaway LIV Golf circuit, saying it would help maintain the “credibility” of the global leaderboard.
The LIV Series stages its first event in Asia this week and on Wednesday announced a deal to have tournaments co-sanctioned by the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) Tour and awarded Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) points.
The OWGR has not announced whether points will now be awarded to LIV events, starting with this week’s tournament in Bangkok.
But Mickelson, whose departure from the US PGA Tour helped kickstart the big-money LIV series, said it was in the ranking body’s interests to do so.
“I think for the World Golf Rankings, this is a great way to keep its credibility, while not bringing politics into the decision-making process,” the 52-year-old left-hander said on the eve of the LIV’s Bangkok Invitational.
LIV has already staged five events but without any ranking points awarded for its players — including British Open champion Cameron Smith and former world number one Dustin Johnson.
Mickelson, Smith and Johnson are all competing at the new Stonehill course outside the Thai capital for a share of $20 million, with $4 million up for grabs for the winner, easily the largest purse for a golf tournament in Asia.
A host of top players have joined the series, plunging golf into bitter civil war as the US PGA Tour and the Europe-based DP World Tour have scrambled to hold on to talent while the Asian Tour, and now the lesser-known MENA Tour, have aligned themselves with LIV.
Only the top 50 players in the world qualify automatically for the four majors, so top names have been concerned about slipping down the rankings.
But Mickelson said he had no worries that LIV events would be given points appropriately.
“The reason I’m not concerned is that the number of points are based on the quality of the field and not the organization that’s running the tournament, and the quality of our field is remarkably strong,” he said.
“I’m sure for the world golf rankings to maintain their credibility, they’ll continue to award the proper number of points that the tournaments deserve for all tours.”
US players who have signed up to LIV Golf have been indefinitely suspended from the PGA Tour, while the DP World Tour has issued fines and short-term bans.
LIV has announced plans to expand from eight events this year to 14 in 2023, with players competing for $405 million in prize money.