Groves wins sprint after Alaphilippe becomes latest Vuelta casualty

Groves wins sprint after Alaphilippe becomes latest Vuelta casualty
Team Bikeexchange's Australian rider Kaden Groves celebrates as he wins the 11th stage of the 2022 La Vuelta cycling tour of Spain, a 191.2 km race from Alhama de Murcia to Cabo de Gata, on Aug. 31, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 01 September 2022

Groves wins sprint after Alaphilippe becomes latest Vuelta casualty

Groves wins sprint after Alaphilippe becomes latest Vuelta casualty
  • Evenepoel finished safely in the peloton to preserve his 2min 41sec lead over Primoz Roglic but the Belgian lost a key ally in Alaphilippe

MADRID: Australian Kaden Groves won a frantic sprint to take stage 11 of the Vuelta a Espana on Wednesday as Remco Evenepoel maintained his overall lead on a day dominated by further rider casualties.

After more big names failed to start following positive COVID tests, Julian Alaphilippe crashed out with less than 70 kilometers to go, dealing a blow to his hopes of a world title hat-trick and to the Vuelta chances of team-mate Evenepoel.

“It’s sad on such a quiet stage to lose Julian,” said Evenepoel. “It’s a stupid fall. I hope he’s okay and that he doesn’t suffer too much.

“He was in great shape, but I have confidence in all my teammates for the coming weeks.”

Groves gave BikeExchange their first victory of this year’s Vuelta on the day they lost British team leader Simon Yates following a positive COVID test.

“This morning with the news of Simon going positive for Covid all the boys were pretty disappointed,” said Groves after the 191.2km run along the windy Andalusian coast to Cabo de Gata.

“It was the best way to bounce back after such news.”

“I’m really happy to celebrate but also wish he was here,” said Groves after his first major tour stage victory.

Evenepoel finished safely in the peloton to preserve his 2min 41sec lead over Primoz Roglic but the Belgian lost a key ally in Alaphilippe.

The double world champion left the course in an ambulance after dislocating his right shoulder in a fall with less than 70km to go.

He will fly to Belgium on Thursday for further scans to rule out any further damage, his Quick-Step team said in a statement.

The crash puts 30-year-old Alaphilippe’s chances of winning three straight world championship road races in doubt. This year’s event is in Wollongong, Australia, on Sept. 25.

Among the Covid casualties was Irish sprinter Sam Bennett of Bora, who dropped out Tuesday. He had been a close second in the points competition after winning two stages earlier in the race.

Sprint leader Mads Pedersen suddenly had a big advantage but needed to collect as many points as possible on flat finishes with second-place Evenepoel a threat in the coming mountain stages.

Pedersen collected maximum points in an intermediate sprint with 10km to go, but was outmaneuvered in the massed charge for the finish line. The Dane ended up fifth after being boxed in.

“It was pretty fast, a lot of guys everywhere,” the Trek rider said. “I misjudged it a little bit.”

Groves outpaced Dutchman Danny van Poppel and Belgian Tim Merlier to the line.

Alaphilippe was the latest casualty in a Vuelta that has been hit unusually hard by crashes and Covid positives.

Quick-Step had lost another rider, Pieter Serry, to a positive Covid test on Sunday.

After Yates, the 2018 Vuelta champion, Pavel Sivakov of Ineos, who was also in the top 10, and three Kern Pharma riders withdrew before Wednesday’s 11th stage, the day’s racing began with ony 154 of the 184 starters.

“There is a little paranoia among the riders,” said Colombian Miguel Angel Lopez. “We see that every day several teams are starting without all their riders. We have to be pay a lot of attention and wear the mask and continue to respect the rules.”

On Thursday, riders travel 192.7km through Andalusia on a stage that is mostly flat until a demanding 19km finishing climb up Penas Blancas.


Lewandowski celebrates ‘happy defeat’ as Poland go through to next round

Lewandowski celebrates ‘happy defeat’ as Poland go through to next round
Updated 01 December 2022

Lewandowski celebrates ‘happy defeat’ as Poland go through to next round

Lewandowski celebrates ‘happy defeat’ as Poland go through to next round
  • That late Saudi goal ensured Poland finished as runner-up in Group C, ahead of Mexico on goal difference

DOHA: Robert Lewandowski left the field with a huge smile on his face after blowing kisses to fans and hugging teammates.

You’d never know his team just lost a crucial World Cup game 2-0 to Argentina.

But Poland scraped into the knockout stages of the tournament, despite Wednesday’s loss to the South American champions, after Salem Aldawsari’s stoppage-time goal for Saudi Arabia in a 2-1 defeat to Mexico.

That late goal ensured Poland finished as runner-up in Group C, ahead of Mexico on goal difference, to set up a last 16 game against France on Sunday.

“You can say it’s a happy defeat,” said Lewandowski, who failed to even have a shot on target. “I’m not happy with the way we played. Of course not. We can’t be happy with the game itself.”

Poland had been thoroughly outplayed by Argentina with Lewandowski an ineffective isolated figure as his team was pegged back for the duration of the game. Argentina had 24 attempts at goal, 13 on target. Poland had three, none on target.

“We didn’t want to take any risk and, you know, we achieved our result because we reached the next round,” Lewandowski said with a smile. “Even though we lost, we can be happy.”

Poland coach Czeslaw Michniewicz said his team’s lack of attacking threat wasn’t Lewandowski’s fault.

“I’m not attacking anyone from the team, but we didn’t help him to score,” Michniewicz said. “If (Lionel) Messi played for us and Robert played for Argentina, Robert would have scored five goals. Robert needed to get assistance and the match was played in our half. There were so many players covering him.”

Poland had goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny to thank for a string of saves — including a first-half penalty from Messi — and Karol Swiderski for a goal-line clearance that avoided a heavier defeat.

Yet Poland’s players celebrated like they’d won, spraying each other with water bottles on the field.

It had been an anxious wait.

Poland’s game finished but Mexico was leading Saudi Arabia 2-0 and desperately pushing for the third goal that would have been enough to progress at Poland’s expense.

Both Poland and Mexico had four points, with two goals scored and two goals conceded each at that moment. Poland only had the edge by having fewer yellow cards than Mexico’s players.

Poland defender Bartosz Bereszynski covered his face. He couldn’t bear the tension.

Then Aldawsari scored for Saudi Arabia to end Mexico’s hopes.

“I guess it’s the first time I felt you can be happy after a loss,” Lewandowski said.

The Poland star is already looking ahead to Sunday’s game against France.

“It’s another favorite to win the world championship and we’ve nothing to lose,” he said. “We know what kind of players they have but we have to enjoy it and do our best. We have to fight … France will be a huge challenge and we have to play better than today.”


Maradona would be ‘super happy,’ says Messi

Maradona would be ‘super happy,’ says Messi
Updated 01 December 2022

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.”