Sam Bennett sprints to second straight stage win in Vuelta

Sam Bennett sprints to second straight stage win in Vuelta
Irish cyclist Sam Bennett (C) celebrates as he wins the third stage of the Vuelta a España in Breda, The Netherlands on Aug. 21, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 22 August 2022

Sam Bennett sprints to second straight stage win in Vuelta

Sam Bennett sprints to second straight stage win in Vuelta
  • Bennett was jostled out of position on the run-in but his lead-out man Danny van Poppel powered late up the left to deliver his leader with split-second timing

BREDA, Netherlands: Sam Bennett of Bora won stage three of the Vuelta a Espana on Sunday, as he was again fastest in a sprint at the end of an almost entirely flat 193.2km run around Breda.

The Irishman, who also won Saturday’s stage, tightened his hold on the sprint points green jersey by edging out Mads Pedersen and Dan McLay on the last of three days in the Netherlands.

“It was a hard fight with some tough moments,” said Bennett, whose barren patch has been forgotten with two consecutive winning performances.

Dutch team Jumbo-Visma finished the stage with a third different rider in the overall leader’s red jersey with Italy’s Edoardo Affini top of the rankings.

Bennett was jostled out of position on the run-in but his lead-out man Danny van Poppel powered late up the left to deliver his leader with split-second timing.

“Danny, it was a masterclass,” Bennett said.

His winning time of 4hrs 05min 53sec means the peloton rode the stage at around 46kph despite some windy conditions on a cool summer’s day at 20C.

Ineos had a stressful moment when their leader Richard Carapaz fell 20km from the line, but he eventually finished with the main bunch.

“Richard had a small crash, I think he’ll be alright,” said teammate Ethan Hayter.

Of the favorites to win the overall title, defending champion Primoz Roglic of Jumbo is best-placed with Carapaz just 13sec off the Slovenian’s pace.

Remco Evenepoel, the 22-year-old Belgian, is at 14sec while 2018 Vuelta champion Simon Yates is 31sec off the lead with current Giro champion Jai Hindley at 41sec.

Jumbo won the team time-trial on day one by a clear 13sec, and with flat stages suited to bunch sprints over the weekend, were able to set up a situation whereby they have shared the overall lead between team members.

Two Dutch riders from Jumbo took the honors in the first two stages in Robert Gesink and Mike Teunissen.

“The team had it thought out from the beginning,” said Affini.

“It was very nice of them to do that. Imagine how it felt for the Dutch lads?” said the Italian.

Another Dutch rider Julius van den Berg, retained the climb points jersey.

Israel-Premier Tech leader Michael Woods pulled out of the race after taking a nasty knock to the head in a fall inside the first hour.

He was taken to hospital with grazing but no broken bones.

Now the Vuelta heads home to Spain with a transit on Monday followed by stages four to nine in the Basque Country and Asturias, all over rugged hilly or mountainous terrain.

Tuesday’s stage four is a 152km ride in medium mountains between Vitoria and Laguardia.


Maradona would be ‘super happy,’ says Messi

Maradona would be ‘super happy,’ says Messi
Updated 13 sec ago

Maradona would be ‘super happy,’ says Messi

Maradona would be ‘super happy,’ says Messi
  • Messi, who still needs a World Cup winner’s medal to cement his legacy as one of the sport’s greatest players, believes Argentina are moving up through the gears

DOHA:  Lionel Messi believes Diego Maradona would be “super happy” after he led Argentina into the World Cup last 16 on Wednesday thanks to a 2-0 win over Poland.

Messi became his country’s most capped player at the tournament with a 22nd appearance surpassing his legendary compatriot who died just over two years ago.

“I learned it recently, I didn’t know it. It’s a pleasure to be able to continue to achieve these kinds of records. I think Diego would be super happy for me, because he always showed me a lot of affection, he was always happy when things went well for me,” said Messi.

Despite missing a penalty — his 39th career failure from the spot — the Argentina captain said he was “happy” with this “big match.” 

“We achieved our first objective, which was to get out of the group after starting the way we did (a shock 2-1 loss against Saudi Arabia),” said Messi.

“I was really frustrated to have missed the penalty, because I knew that a goal could change the whole match, that it makes you play in a different way. But I think that from the penalty I missed, the team came out stronger.”

Messi, who still needs a World Cup winner’s medal to cement his legacy as one of the sport’s greatest players, believes Argentina are moving up through the gears at precisely the right time.

“After the first goal, everything went our way. We started doing again what we had been trying to do since the start of the World Cup, but which we hadn’t been able to achieve for various reasons.

“Having been able to do it today, it gives us confidence for the future.”

Next up for Argentina is a last 16 clash against Australia on Saturday.

“We know that now everything will be very difficult. That whoever the opponent, it will be complicated. We have seen recently, at our own expense, that any opponent can play a good game and win.”


Green Falcons depart the World Cup with bittersweet memories of Lusail Stadium

Green Falcons depart the World Cup with bittersweet memories of Lusail Stadium
Updated 01 December 2022

Green Falcons depart the World Cup with bittersweet memories of Lusail Stadium

Green Falcons depart the World Cup with bittersweet memories of Lusail Stadium
  • Despite exiting Qatar 2022 at the site of their historic victory over Argentina, the Saudi players and supporters showed why they will be badly missed at the tournament

DOHA: Saudi Arabia will leave this World Cup having developed a love-hate relationship with Lusail Stadium. This striking architectural masterpiece is where their World Cup sprang to life in sensational fashion with that stunning win over Argentina in their opening game, which will be remembered for generations.

Sadly, after losing to Poland in game two, they could not follow up the triumph over Argentina with victory against Mexico in game three, and so it was that at Lusail Stadium on Wednesday their campaign came to a somewhat anticlimactic end.

But both before and after the game the Saudi fans showed why they will be so badly missed during the remainder of the tournament. Despite the defeat, they were in joyous spirits after the game, spilling out onto Lusail Boulevard to celebrate what was their modern footballing coming of age.

Walking — or should that be running — to Lusail Stadium before the game in a mad dash after witnessing Australia make history at Al-Janoub Stadium, one could be forgiven for thinking there were as many fans outside as inside.

Lusail Boulevard was looking resplendent as ever, with the flags of the competing nations flying overhead as tens of thousands of fans mingled and the match got underway.

As I arrived shortly after kick-off, the screams and cheers could be heard some distance from the stadium, leaving one to wonder what exactly was happening and which set of fans were making all the noise. As numerous and vocal as the Saudi fans were, the Mexican fans matched anything they had to offer.

There was so much green inside Lusail that it was hard to know which team had the greatest support because, once again, the atmosphere generated by both sets of fans was incredible.

Despite their win over Argentina and an impressive showing against Poland in defeat, the Green Falcons were under the pump for most of the first half against a Mexican side that clearly meant business. Mexico knew they needed goals to have any hope of advancing and they came out with only one intent.

Missing a host of first-team regulars, victory was always going to be a tall order for Herve Renard’s side and that is exactly how the first half played out. The Green Falcons managed few advances into the forward third of the pitch, at least few that threatened, and so the biggest cheers were reserved for lunging tackles and desperate saves.

Still, at the break the Saudis were still alive. While the score remained 0-0 they stood a chance, and with Salem Al-Dawsari there is always reason to be optimistic.

Lusail Stadium has instantly become an iconic World Cup Stadium. From its stunning, shimmering gold facade to the steep banks of seats in the grandstands that have the near-90,000 fans sitting right on top of the action, it will provide an incredible setting for the final in a little over two weeks.

But tonight, Mexico did to Saudi Arabia what the Saudis did to Argentina on matchday one, scoring two goals in a four-minute spell inside of the opening 10 minutes of the second half that ended the contest and silenced the normally vociferous Saudi fans.

But while those wearing Saudi green had lost their voice, those in Mexican green had found theirs. Beating drums, screaming chants, waving flags; the Mexican fans brought Lusail Stadium to life and the party did not end with the full-time whistle.

The great shame for the rest of the tournament is that both teams were eliminated, because the World Cup has lost two of its most passionate sets of fans.

But as the party continued on Lusail Boulevard long after full time we were reminded that the World Cup is not only about success on the pitch — it is also about the experience, the atmosphere and uniting the world.

As I looked around at the Saudi fans in Mexican hats, and fans from all over the world mingling and sharing the experience, I’m reminded that tonight there truly were no losers.


Salem Al-Dawsari’s strike too late for Green Falcons as Mexico prevail 2-1

Salem Al-Dawsari’s strike too late for Green Falcons as Mexico prevail 2-1
Updated 01 December 2022

Salem Al-Dawsari’s strike too late for Green Falcons as Mexico prevail 2-1

Salem Al-Dawsari’s strike too late for Green Falcons as Mexico prevail 2-1
  • Second-half goals from Henry Martin and Luis Chavez secured victory for Mexico but they finished third behind Poland in the group
  • Ali Al-Hassan nearly sent the bulk of the largely Saudi crowd wild late in the first half with a diving header that flashed wide of the far post

DOHA: Mexico suffered an agonizing exit from the World Cup on goal difference on Wednesday despite beating Saudi Arabia 2-1 in a dramatic finale to Group C.
Second-half goals from Henry Martin and Luis Chavez secured victory for Mexico but they finished third behind Poland after Salem Al-Dawsari’s late strike.
Mexico desperately pushed for a third goal in an effort to improve their goal difference as they faced elimination on FIFA fair play rules.
Saudi Arabia’s win over Argentina in their opening match was one of the World Cup’s great upsets, but they crashed back down to earth with a 2-0 loss to Poland in their second game.
Coach Herve Renard urged his players to show that was no flash in the pan and write themselves into Saudi football history by reaching knockout rounds for the first time since 1994.
Having failed to win either of their first two group games for the first time in 44 years, Mexico knew victory was essential if they were to stand a chance of reaching the last 16 at an eighth successive World Cup.
Mexico boss Gerardo Martino ditched the back five he used in the 2-0 loss to Argentina and brought in Martin to lead the attack.
It almost reaped immediate rewards but Saudi goalkeeper Mohammed Al-Owais raced out to block Alexis Vega after he was slipped in behind the defense by Hirving Lozano.
Al-Owais, one of the heroes of the 2-1 win over Argentina, tentatively palmed away a bouncing cross ahead of a lunging Martin and held weak attempts by Chavez and Orbelin Pineda.
Mohamed Kanno whipped a free-kick just over for Saudi Arabia, who saw defender Ali Al-Bulayhi forced off with injury — adding to their mounting casualty list.
Mexico continued to attack without success and Ali Al-Hassan nearly sent the bulk of the largely Saudi crowd wild late in the first half with a diving header that flashed wide of the far post.
Chavez tested Al-Owais right after the interval and Martin soon broke the deadlock as he turned in from close range following Cesar Montes’ clever flick-on at a corner.
Mexico’s second goal arrived just five minutes later when Chavez sensationally curled a free-kick into the top corner from 30 meters.
Keeping an eye on the score between Argentina and Poland, Mexico pushed relentlessly for a third goal, with Lozano’s effort ruled out for a tight offside.
Martin blazed over when he had a glorious chance and Chavez had another free-kick turned away by Al-Owais, who also sprawled to his right to claw out a drive from Lozano.
Uriel Antuna then had another goal disallowed for offside before Al-Dawsari’s late strike put an end to the drama.


Eriksen flops for dismal Denmark on major tournament return

Eriksen flops for dismal Denmark on major tournament return
Updated 01 December 2022

Eriksen flops for dismal Denmark on major tournament return

Eriksen flops for dismal Denmark on major tournament return
  • Eriksen's return to the World Cup had been highly anticipated after a good spell for both club and country following a dramatic comeback from a cardiac arrest
  • Demark were toothless after Mathew Leckie's twisting run and low finish gave Australia a 60th-minute lead

DOHA: Christian Eriksen’s Denmark came to the World Cup tipped as dark horses after reaching the semifinals of last year’s European Championship but have exited with barely a whimper after a 1-0 defeat to Australia.
Eriksen’s return to the World Cup had been highly anticipated after a good spell for both club and country following a dramatic comeback from a cardiac arrest.
The playmaker collapsed on the pitch against Finland in June 2021 during the delayed Euro 2020 tournament and had to be resuscitated in front of a stunned Copenhagen crowd and a television audience of millions.
On the way to hospital he told his wife Sabrina that he would probably never play football again but he fought his way back to fitness.
The 30-year-old had an implantable cardioverter defibrillator fitted, which meant he had to quit Inter Milan due to rules in Italy.
But he signed for Brentford in the Premier League and also resumed his international career, subsequently joining Manchester United.
Denmark were favorites to qualify from Group D alongside world champions France, whom they beat home and away in the Nations League.
Before their opening goalless draw with Tunisia, assistant coach Morten Wieghorst said Eriksen was “even better than he was before the accident.”
But he was underwhelming in a team that lacked the spark that carried them to the semifinals at last year’s Euros.
“Christian is a superhero but he performs with the team,” said Denmark captain Simon Kjaer.
“He is an amazing footballer but we have to look to each other and see that as a team we didn’t perform.
“We made one goal, got one point, couldn’t beat Australia at the end of the group and OK we go home.”
Eriksen was wearing the captain’s armband on Wednesday in place of the injured Kjaer but he failed to sparkle at Al Janoub Stadium, unable to inspire his strangely lacklustre teammates.
Demark were toothless after Mathew Leckie’s twisting run and low finish gave Australia a 60th-minute lead, which ultimately gave them the win they needed to qualify from the group, second behind France.
A strangely subdued display from Eriksen was summed up in stoppage time when he miscontrolled a pass even though he had a chance to shoot in the penalty area and then bounced off Australia defender Harry Souttar onto the grass.
Coach Kasper Hjulmand wondered aloud why his team had played with such a “lack of enthusiasm and coherence” in a match they had to win.
Kjaer pinned the blame on the squad as a whole rather than the man who was supposed to show why he is rated as one of Europe’s best playmakers.
“Every team has a player that they count on, and we count on Christian,” said Kjaer.
“This is not on Christian, this is on the team, because if we managed to put him in the right situations, Christian will make the difference. We win and lose as a team.”


Messi and Argentina advance at World Cup, beat Poland 2-0

Messi and Argentina advance at World Cup, beat Poland 2-0
Updated 01 December 2022

Messi and Argentina advance at World Cup, beat Poland 2-0

Messi and Argentina advance at World Cup, beat Poland 2-0
  • The Argentina great had a penalty saved but his team still beat Poland 2-0
  • Messi’s likely final World Cup rolls onto Saturday

DOHA: Rest easy, soccer fans. Lionel Messi will grace the World Cup stage at least one more time.
The Argentina great had a penalty saved but his team still beat Poland 2-0 Wednesday after second-half goals from Alexis Mac Allister and Julian Alvarez and advanced to the last 16.
Argentina finished in first place in Group C to set up a match against Australia, a surprise qualifier for the knockout stage.
It’s a strong position for Argentina to be in, especially considering the team opened the World Cup with a shocking 2-1 loss to Saudi Arabia in one of biggest upsets in the tournament’s history. Messi’s likely final World Cup rolls onto Saturday.
He will be relieved after failing to score a penalty for the second straight World Cup. It was awarded after being hit in the face by the flailing hand of Poland goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, who made amends by diving to his left to block Messi’s kick.
Mac Allister converted a cross from Nahuel Molina inside the first minute of the second half and Alvarez — selected ahead of Lautaro Martinez — curled the second into the top corner in the 67th minute.