Homa’s heroics turn close day into US rout in Presidents Cup

Homa’s heroics turn close day into US rout in Presidents Cup
Max Homa (R) of the US Team celebrates after winning with teammate Billy Horschel in the 2022 Presidents Cup on Sept. 23, 2022 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (AFP)
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Updated 19 October 2022

Homa’s heroics turn close day into US rout in Presidents Cup

Homa’s heroics turn close day into US rout in Presidents Cup
  • Homa’s big putts at the end allowed the Americans to win another session by a 4-1 margin, stretching the lead to 8-2

CHARLOTTE, US: Max Homa never felt more energized over a big putt on a Friday, perhaps because he never had so many people who shared in the celebration.

This is why making the Presidents Cup was the top of his wish list this year, and his latest afternoon heroics at Quail Hollow exceeded expectations.

The final fourballs match was all square with two holes to play, the green surrounded by American players and caddies, captains and their red carts. Homa stepped toward the hole and slammed his fist when he made a 12-foot birdie putt for a 1-up lead.

And then it got even better. Taylor Pendrith was clutch with a 15-foot birdie putt as the Internationals tried to scratch out a third tie. Homa stepped up and delivered again with another 12-foot birdie putt for the win.

The matches felt closer. The outcome was not. Homa’s big putts at the end allowed the Americans to win another session by a 4-1 margin, stretching the lead to 8-2.

“It was pretty surreal,” said Homa, who improved to 2-0 in his debut. “The atmosphere out there is insane. There’s so many people you can feel them on the back of your neck.”

Quail Hollow was packed with 40,000 fans on a gorgeous autumn day, with former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush among those at the course.

In five matches that covered 87 holes, the players combined for 67 birdies and three eagles, and three matches went the distance.

All the International team could manage were two halves. What it faces now is a task even more monumental against a US team that looks well on its way to a ninth straight win in this lopsided affair.

“We feel like we’ve played some pretty good golf, some solid golf tee-to-green, particularly the last couple of days,” International captain Trevor Immelman said. “But we have absolutely been out-putted. No doubt about it.”

He was with that final match as Homa and Billy Horschel dropped key putts down the stretch. And when Pendrith dropped his birdie on the last and it look like he and Corey Conners might escape with a half-point, Homa was just as clutch.

“I was nervous as could be over that putt, but it was fun,” Homa said. “I was telling my wife, when we talk about things money can’t buy, money cannot buy that feeling. And that was something that I will remember forever, and I will tell anybody who ever wants to hear about it how that felt.”

For the second straight time on home soil, the powerful American team goes into a double session on Saturday with a mathematical chance to win the cup.

There are four matches of foursomes and fourballs, and the Americans would have to win seven of them and halve the other to clinch the cup. That sounds unlikely, except for who they have and how they’re playing.

The International teams led in one match — Mito Pereira and Christiaan Bezuidenhout, for a total of five holes — that ended in a halve with Cameron Young and Kevin Kisner.

Over two days and 10 matches, International teams have had a lead for only 10 of the 170 holes that have been played.

The 12 Americans are among the top 25 in the world and most of the are playing like it. The International team was cobbled together at the last minute with more defections to Saudi-funded LIV Golf run by Greg Norman, a former Presidents Cup captain.

Norman sent out a tweet wishing the International team well, accompanied by a photo of the team from its lone win in 1998. “Outside of all this angst — golf is golf, competition is competition; something every golfer thrives on.”

One of replies was from Immelman: “LOL.”

“I pretty much say it exactly as I’m thinking it,” Immelman said. “What I said was exactly what I was doing when I read that tweet. I was laughing out loud.”

The strength of the American team came from a pair of dynamic partnerships. Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele were 5-up at the turn and easily held on for a 3-and-2 win over Hideki Matsuyama and Tom Kim.

Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas improved to 6-2 as a team in Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup matches, leading from the fourth hole in a 2-and-1 victory over the Australian pair of Adam Scott and Cameron Davis.

As usual, Spieth and Thomas were far from dull.

They were 2 up with five holes to play when Thomas hit 6-iron that came inches away from an ace on the par-3 14th over water to a back pin for birdie. And right when it looked as though the International side might get closer, Spieth was up to his tricks.

His approach on the 15th was headed for the stream when it hit the rocks and caromed over the green into the rough. He chipped 15 feet by, and then made the putt to halve the hole.

The Spieth-Thomas and Cantlay-Schauffele teams, formed as much by friendship as their games, are 2-0 this week and are tough to beat no matter whom the International team sends out against them.

The passion came from the Presidents Cup rookies.

Horschel hasn’t played for his country since the 2007 Walker Cup and said he felt like vomiting for three hours ahead of his match. For Homa, it was the second straight day he was in the final match, and both made it to the 18th green with a big audience outside and inside the ropes.

“It’s surreal to have 10 of the best golfers I’ve ever seen in my life watching you and you’ve got to help them,” Homa said. “It’s a heavy weight. But it’s also really fun.”

After latest milestone, Ronaldo eyes World Cup glory

After latest milestone, Ronaldo eyes World Cup glory
Updated 28 November 2022

After latest milestone, Ronaldo eyes World Cup glory

After latest milestone, Ronaldo eyes World Cup glory
  • A win against Uruguay would secure Portugal’s qualification from Group H to the knockout stages with a game to spare

DOHA: Another game, another personal milestone. For all the turmoil that has surrounded Cristiano Ronaldo ahead of what is likely to be his final World Cup, the Portugal great is still making his mark.

On Thursday, he became the first man to score in five World Cups.

Earlier this season, he registered the 700th club goal of his career.

Not bad for a 37-year-old, who doesn’t know where he will be playing beyond Qatar after having his Manchester United contract terminated in the wake of his incendiary interview criticizing manager Erik ten Hag and the club’s owners.

A win against Uruguay on Monday would secure Portugal’s qualification from Group H to the knockout stages with a game to spare after their opening 3-2 win against Ghana.

“This is just the beginning,” Ronaldo said in an Instagram post, adding that “there are no impossibilities.”

But if soccer’s ultimate numbers man is to achieve his ambition of lifting the one major trophy that eludes him, he can’t do it by himself.

That much was clear against Ghana, when Portugal also needed goals from Joao Félix and Rafael Leao to hold on for victory.

Felix is the likeliest heir to Ronaldo’s throne as Portugal’s inspiration-in-chief — and has even been linked with a potential move to United.

If Qatar is Ronaldo’s last World Cup dance, the moves aren’t quite as fluid as they once were.

His goal against Ghana came from the penalty spot, rather than a moment of the type of individual brilliance on which his career has been built.

That being said, FIFA Technical Study Group member Sunday Olizeh still described as “total genius” his ability to win a disputed foul from Mohammed Salisu that led to it — and Ghana coach Otto Addo insisted shouldn’t have been awarded.

Ronaldo’s celebrations suggested he doesn’t care where the goals come from, so long as they keep on coming. But Portugal can’t solely rely on such moments — and amid the noise that surrounds its most celebrated player, it can be forgotten how much talent coach Fernando Santos has at his disposal.

Not least Atletico Madrid forward Felix, United midfielder Bruno Fernandes and Bernardo Silva of Manchester City.

“We have players that are more visible than others and they need to deal with that, with the high priority and pressure,” Santos said at a news conference Sunday before the game at the Lusail Stadium. “They express themselves in one particular way. There are players who are more extroverted, those more introverted, the most important thing is they play as a group, play together as one team.”

Portugal will be without Danilo Pereira, who suffered a rib injury in training.

Pepe, the 39-year-old center back, could replace him.

Uruguay drew 0-0 with South Korea in their first game of the tournament.

Like Portugal, Uruguay are blending the old and the new. Ronaldo’s long-time rival from their time at Real Madrid and Barcelona respectively, Luis Suarez, is in an attack that also features the country’s new generation of talent in Darwin Nunez and Facundo Pellistri.

At 35, Suarez is no longer the force he once was and he was substituted just after an hour against South Korea. Another 35-year-old in Edinson Cavani replaced him, but Uruguay still couldn’t find a goal.

“I said that we had not been able to perform at our best,” Uruguay coach Diego Alonso said. “However, we had six chances to score against their one in the first half — we hit South Korea’s post, we had six, and two that hit the post.”

Ghana exposed vulnerabilities in Portugal’s defense — but Uruguay will need to be much more clinical if the South American team is to capitalize on Monday.

Fullkrug strikes late to salvage Germany World Cup draw with Spain

Fullkrug strikes late to salvage Germany World Cup draw with Spain
Updated 28 November 2022

Fullkrug strikes late to salvage Germany World Cup draw with Spain

Fullkrug strikes late to salvage Germany World Cup draw with Spain
  • Niclas Fullkrug — on only his third international appearance — lashed home an 83rd-minute equalizer
  • Alvaro Morata’s deft touch from Jordi Alba’s cross had put Spain ahead

AL KHOR; Qatar: Niclas Fullkrug’s late equalizer snatched Germany a morale-boosting 1-1 draw with Spain in a heavyweight World Cup clash on Sunday, leaving both sides’ hopes of qualifying for the last 16 still in the balance.
Alvaro Morata’s flicked finish had Spain on course to secure qualification from Group E, but the electric Jamal Musiala and Fullkrug combined to foil La Roja and restore some German pride.
Costa Rica’s surprise win over Japan earlier eased some pressure on Germany after their shock loss to the Asian side, but they were unable to capitalize for large periods in a battle for the ball against Spain.
The four-time world champions suffered a humiliating group-stage exit in Russia four years ago, and Morata’s strike at Al Bayt Stadium had them on the ropes, but Werder Bremen striker Fullkrug finished brilliantly to divide the points.
Spain lead Group E on four points, from Japan and Costa Rica on three each, while Germany have one, with a final round of matches to come.
The only World Cup group-stage clash to pit two former champions against each other lived up to its top billing in intensity and tactical intrigue, with both sides set on trying to dominate possession and press extremely high.
Germany coach Hansi Flick rejected suggestions his side had been distracted in their shock opening defeat by Japan because of their pre-game protest against FIFA “silencing teams” and the taut opening exchanges quickly ensured all focus was on the football.
Flick cut Kai Havertz from his line-up and deployed Thomas Mueller up front after their shocking opening-day capitulation, hoping for a quick reaction.
However, Spain almost took the lead in the seventh minute when Manuel Neuer palmed Dani Olmo’s powerful drive from range onto the woodwork.
It seemed like they were picking up where they left off after their 7-0 demolition of Costa Rica, but Germany steeled themselves, keeping Luis Enrique’s side at bay.
Spain goalkeeper Unai Simon relied on his footwork under pressure as La Roja sought to dominate possession.
One mistake handed Serge Gnabry an opportunity, but he fired wide.
Neuer erred with the ball at his feet too, with Germany similarly looking to build from the back, but Ferran Torres could not capitalize.
Antonio Ruediger powered home a header from a free-kick, but his celebration was cut short after VAR caught him half a step ahead of the Spanish defense, leaving the teams tied at the break.
Germany nearly struck after Joshua Kimmich won the ball back pressing extremely high, but Simon produced a fine save to deny him.
Just when Luis Enrique’s side seemed to have lost their grip on the game, they broke the deadlock.
Morata, on for Torres, finished clinically at the near post from an inviting low cross from Jordi Alba after 62 minutes.
It looked like it was enough for the 2010 champions, but Fullkrug — on only his third international appearance — decided otherwise, sneaking in behind substitute Alejandro Balde and lashing past Simon with seven minutes remaining.
Leroy Sane, on as a substitute after injury, might have won it late on for Germany but was forced extremely wide as he rounded Simon and could not find a finish or produce a cutback.
Spain face Japan on Thursday, while Germany play Costa Rica, needing to win and hoping La Roja do not lose.

Green Falcons resume preparations for match against Mexico

Green Falcons resume preparations for match against Mexico
Updated 27 November 2022

Green Falcons resume preparations for match against Mexico

Green Falcons resume preparations for match against Mexico
  • The players who had played against Poland were assigned recovery exercises
  • The players who had not played against Poland did warm-up exercises and drills

DOHA: The Saudi national team resumed their preparatory program at their residence in Qatar on Sunday for their match against Mexico on Wednesday, in the third and final round of the group stage of the World Cup.
On the pitch, coach Herve Renard divided the players into two groups. The first included those who mainly participated in the last match against Poland; he assigned them recovery exercises in the health club.
The training session for the second group, which was held at the Sealine Resort Stadium, began with warm-up exercises then the squares exercise.
After that, a two-group division was conducted on half of the pitch, to conclude the training session with stretching exercises.
Riyad Sharahili participated in group training after completing his recovery training.
Medical examinations conducted for Mohamed Al-Breik revealed that he had an injury to the calf muscle.
The Green Falcons will continue their preparations on Monday, with a training session at 6 p.m. at the Sealine Resort Stadium. It will be open to the media for the first 15 minutes.

Brazil confident Neymar will be back to lead championship bid

Brazil confident Neymar will be back to lead championship bid
Updated 27 November 2022

Brazil confident Neymar will be back to lead championship bid

Brazil confident Neymar will be back to lead championship bid
  • Doubts have even been raised in some quarters that Neymar might struggle to feature again at the tournament, which finishes with the final in Doha on Dec. 18. Defender Marquinhos, who is also a teammate of the forward at Paris Saint-Germain, said Neymar

DOHA: Brazil are confident that Neymar will return to lead their bid to win a sixth World Cup despite the world’s most expensive player suffering an ankle injury in their opening match in Qatar.

The Brazil captain came off late on in Thursday’s 2-0 win over Serbia with what was later diagnosed as a sprained ankle and has since been ruled out of their second Group G outing against Switzerland on Monday.

Doubts have even been raised in some quarters that he might struggle to feature again at the tournament, which finishes with the final in Doha on December 18.

But defender Marquinhos, who is also a teammate of the forward at Paris Saint-Germain, said Neymar has since been spending his days undergoing intensive physiotherapy in an attempt to recover full fitness as soon possible.

“At the time it was difficult for him and after the game he was sad which I think is normal given how much he has dreamt of this,” center-back Marquinhos said at a press conference in the Qatari capital on Sunday.

“Now, after the tests and the treatment, he is doing physiotherapy 24 hours a day which shows how much he wants to be back with us.

“We don’t know when, but we hope it’s as soon as possible.”

Brazil coach Tite insisted in the immediate aftermath of the win over Serbia that the 30-year-old Neymar would definitely play again at the tournament, but this time he was rather more measured when pressed on the subject of the superstar’s fitness, as well as that of right-back Danilo.

“I believe that Neymar and Danilo are going to play again at this World Cup. I do. But medically, clinically, I am in no position to say anything,” he admitted.

“I will keep doing so, not just for Neymar but also Danilo. I believe we are going to be able to use them again.”

A Brazil win against Switzerland at Doha’s Stadium 974 could be enough for them to secure a place in the last 16 with one group game to spare, depending on the result of the earlier Group G match between Cameroon and Serbia.

They would then play a last-16 tie on either December 5 or 6.

Danilo, the 31-year-old Juventus full-back, also suffered an ankle injury against Serbia and is expected to be replaced against the Swiss by either Real Madrid’s Eder Militao or the 39-year-old Dani Alves.

Yet it is the injury to Neymar that dominates all the talk in Brazil, a country which has become used to hanging on the fitness of its creative inspiration at the World Cup.

In 2014 he suffered a fractured bone in his back as Brazil beat Colombia in the quarter-finals and so missed the semifinal as the host nation went down 7-1 to Germany.

Four years ago he had to race to be fit in time for the World Cup in Russia and his impact on the tournament was

limited as the Selecao lost in the quarter-finals to Belgium.

This time he is the leader of a Brazil side that is nevertheless packed with quality in attack and who won their opening game thanks to a brace from the Tottenham Hostpur forward Richarlison.

“Obviously we wanted to have Neymar and Danilo. The coach wanted all 26 players available for the World Cup. But we are ready and confident that we can show how strong the squad is, that we are well trained and ready for whatever the tournament throws at us,” said Marquinhos.

“In a World Cup the team that starts the tournament is not always the team that finishes it, because of injuries or because some are playing better than others.

“Everyone has an important role to play.”

Morocco claim finest result in their history to beat Belgium

Morocco claim finest result in their history to beat Belgium
Updated 27 November 2022

Morocco claim finest result in their history to beat Belgium

Morocco claim finest result in their history to beat Belgium
  • The 2-0 win over the world’s No. 2 team surpasses famous 3-1 victory over Portugal in 1986, and leaves them needing a draw to reach round of 16

DOHA: Belgium are the second best team in the world, according to FIFA, but they were definitely second best to Morocco on Sunday.

The 2-0 win that went the way of the Atlas Lions was fully deserved and surely the most impressive World Cup result in the country’s history. It also leaves the side’s short-term future looking pretty healthy too. 

The second-half goals from Abdelhamid Sabiri and Zakaria Aboukhlal mean that Morocco have claimed four points from their first two games in Group F. A draw against Canada will put them in the last 16.

But whatever happens on Thursday, this was Morocco’s best ever day on the global stage.

Back in 1986, they became the first Arab (and African) team to make the second round of the World Cup. Then they topped the group with two 0-0 draws against Poland and England, before defeating Portugal 3-1. That dream ended with a narrow 1-0 defeat against eventual finalists West Germany.

Fast forward 12 years and Morocco found themselves in another tough group. They started with a 2-2 draw against a strong Norway team, a point followed by a 3-0 defeat at the hands of the mighty Brazil. In the final game, the North Africans, inspired by Mustapha Hadji, sparkled as they put Scotland to the sword, winning 3-0.

Ten minutes from the end they were heading into the next stage as Brazil were leading Norway 1-0, only for a late turnaround from the Scandinavians to give them a 2-1 win and that coveted knockout stage spot.

Knowledge of the past means that coach Walid Regragui will not be taking anything for granted against Canada, but history has already been made.

Beating Portugal 36 years ago was a fine result, but the Iberians were not at their best; Scotland 12 years later were stronger than now but still not a major power.

Belgium are different. Second in the world at present and third in Russia in 2018, this generation of Red Devils may have lost their luster to an extent, but the likes of Kevin De Bruyne of Manchester City, Real Madrid’s Eden Hazard and Thibaut Courtois, and Romelu Lukaku, on loan at Inter Milan, are generally regarded as world-class and play at elite clubs.

And yet Morocco were too good for them. With a defense that has not conceded a goal in five games since Regragui replaced Vahid Halilhodzic in August, they kept Belgium at bay fairly comfortably.

Hakim Ziyech was excellent, driving his team forward at all times.

There was such intensity and purpose from Morocco that they were far too much for the Europeans to handle.

The scoreline did not flatter the victors, and confidence will now be sky high.

In retrospect, Morocco’s 0-0 draw with Croatia in the opening game was the perfect start, providing the platform to move to the next level.

Many thought that a repeat of 1986, with two goalless draws in the opening games, would be the target, leaving victory in the final match with Canada as enough to qualify. It became quickly apparent that this was never the limit of Morocco’s ambitions.

Canada have already shown that they will be no pushovers: they have been energetic and hard-working, although perhaps lacking a cutting edge so far.

Morocco will be wary of taking their foot off the pedal, but their players will be well aware of the possibility of taking top spot in the group, as they did in 1986.

That is all about next week, though. Sunday was celebration day for the whole of Morocco, including their magnificent supporters in Qatar, after the biggest and best result in their World Cup history.