Qatar first World Cup hosts to lose opener with Ecuador defeat

Ecuador players celebrate after they won the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group A football match against Qatar at the Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, north of Doha on November 20, 2022. (AFP)
Ecuador players celebrate after they won the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group A football match against Qatar at the Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, north of Doha on November 20, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 20 November 2022

Qatar first World Cup hosts to lose opener with Ecuador defeat

Qatar first World Cup hosts to lose opener with Ecuador defeat
  • Asian champions Qatar enjoyed backing of majority of crowd at 60,000-capacity Al Bayt Stadium
  • Ecuador proved too strong on the field as they cruised to a 2-0 victory

DOHA: Qatar became the first home team to lose their opening World Cup match as Ecuador cruised to a 2-0 victory over the hosts, with Enner Valencia scoring twice in the tournament curtain-raiser on Sunday.
Asian champions Qatar enjoyed the backing of the majority of the crowd at the 60,000-capacity Al Bayt Stadium, but could not follow a glitzy opening ceremony with a statement performance.
Ecuador thought they had made a dream start when they silenced the home fans as Valencia headed in, only for the goal to be ruled out by VAR for an offside in the build-up.
Valencia did break the deadlock with a penalty in the 16th minute and doubled his tally just after the half-hour mark.
Qatar improved slightly in the second period, but by the end of the 90 minutes, the excitement which greeted the build-up — featuring Morgan Freeman and BTS star Jung Kook — was a distant memory as thousands of fans left early amid a deflated atmosphere.
Felix Sanchez’s Qatar will likely need a positive result in their second Group A match against Senegal on Friday just to avoid the ignominy of becoming only the second hosts, after South Africa in 2010, to be dumped out in the first round.
Hopes were high among the crowd that Qatar could make a winning start, but the deficiencies of the World Cup debutants were ruthlessly exposed by an impressive Ecuador.
Qatar failed to even muster a shot on target in the game, with spectators filing out of the stands long before the final whistle.
In the 92-year history of the tournament, home countries had previously won 16 and drawn six of their opening matches.
The South Americans had the ball in the net inside three minutes when captain Valencia nodded home from Felix Torres’ miscued overhead kick.
VAR officials spotted an offside against Michael Estrada in the build-up after Torres challenged for the ball with Qatar goalkeeper Saad Al Sheeb.
Ecuador were completely dominant in the early exchanges, though, and were awarded a penalty after Valencia was tripped by Al Sheeb when through on goal.
The former West Ham forward coolly sent Al Sheeb the wrong way from the spot and stroked the ball into the bottom corner to score his 36th international goal.
Ecuador did not have to wait long to double their advantage as, after a surging run from Moises Caicedo, right-back Angelo Preciado swung in a cross which Valencia met with a thumping header.
Even the small section of noticeably enthusiastic Qatari fans situated behind the goal, who arrived together after the majority of the crowd and wore matching t-shirts, briefly fell silent.
Almoez Ali, the hero of Qatar’s 2019 Asian Cup success, should have pulled one back on the stroke of half-time but could only steer a free header wide from eight yards out.
Ecuador allowed Qatar more of the ball after the break but still looked the more dangerous side, with Romario Ibarra bringing a diving save from Al Sheeb.
Valencia hobbled off in the 77th minute after being on the wrong end of a series of heavy challenges, although that would only have taken some of the shine off a famous night for Ecuador.
By the time an official attendance of 67,372 was read out over the tannoy, the stadium was barely half full.


Juventus beat Lazio to reach Italian Cup semifinals

Juventus beat Lazio to reach Italian Cup semifinals
Updated 8 sec ago

Juventus beat Lazio to reach Italian Cup semifinals

Juventus beat Lazio to reach Italian Cup semifinals
  • Juventus are 14 points away from Serie A’s European spots

MILAN: Juventus will face Inter Milan in the last four of the Italian Cup after beating Lazio 1-0 in Thursday’s final quarter-final tie.
Gleison Bremer headed home the decisive goal a minute before half-time when he beat Lazio goalkeeper Luis Maximiano to Filip Kostic’s cross.
The Brazilian’s second goal of the season won a tight contest in Turin and set up a two-legged semifinal against Juve’s biggest rivals Inter.
Victory and a clean sheet came after a 2-0 home defeat by promoted Monza at the weekend which meant they had conceded 10 goals in their three most recent league matches.
“You need the right tactics and play but above all you need the right spirit,” said coach Massimiliano Allegri.
“We were coming off that Monza defeat so it wasn’t an easy situation for us... now we’ve laid the foundations to recover our league form as well.”
April’s semifinal will be crucial to Juve’s season as should they get past Inter, who beat Atalanta on Tuesday, they will be favorites for the win the final in May against either Fiorentina or Cremonese.
Winning the cup would qualify them for the Europa League and that is their most realistic route to continental competition next season after being hit with a 15-point penalty for illicit transfer activity last month.
Juventus are 14 points away from Serie A’s European spots and a further point off the Champions League places.


US backs Russians competing as neutrals in Olympics

US backs Russians competing as neutrals in Olympics
Updated 53 min 14 sec ago

US backs Russians competing as neutrals in Olympics

US backs Russians competing as neutrals in Olympics
  • The US position adds to a growing debate over the status of athletes from Russia and Belarus at the 2024 Paris Games

WASHINGTON: The US backs moves to allow athletes from Russia and Belarus to take part at the 2024 Olympics as neutral athletes provided they are prevented from displaying their national flags or emblems, the White House said Thursday.

“The United States has supported suspending Russia and Belarus’ sport national governing bodies from international sports federations,” Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters.

However, if athletes are invited to an international event, such as the Olympics, “it should be absolutely clear that they are not representing the Russian or Belarussian states,” she said.

“The use of official state Russian, Belarussian flags, emblems and anthems should be prohibited as well.”

The US position adds to a growing debate over the status of athletes from Russia and Belarus at the 2024 Paris Games.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky staunchly opposes any participation by Russian and Belarussian athletes, and has called for Russia to be banned over its invasion of Ukraine.

Russia is pushing for all restrictions to be lifted, arguing that the Olympics should not be politicized.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has said it is examining a “pathway” for Russians to take part in the summer Games, probably as neutral athletes.

Writing on Twitter shortly after the White House remarks on Thursday, Zelensky described the IOC’s stance as a “legitimization of the criminal aggression against Ukraine.”

“We won’t allow sport to be used against humanity & for war propaganda!” Zelensky tweeted.

The IOC’s willingness to allow Russian and Belarussian athletes in Paris has divided the sporting and diplomatic world.

On Wednesday, two UN rights experts applauded the IOC’s moves to allow athletes from the two countries to compete, arguing that no athlete should be “discriminated against on the basis of their nationality.”

The United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) has also backed the IOC’s moves to create a pathway for Russian and Belarussian athletes.

In a conference call in December, USOPC chairwoman Susanne Lyons warned that the “fabric” of the Olympic movement was at risk if athletes were not given the chance to compete as neutrals.

Barring Russian and Belarussian athletes from Paris risked a return to the Olympic boycotts of the 1970s and 1980s.

“There are conflicts around the world every day, countries at war every day, and if people decide they want to boycott things, tit-for-tat, — ‘You didn’t come to our games, so we won’t come to your games’ — very quickly the fabric of the Olympic and paralympic movement falls apart,” Lyons said.

US Olympic officials are adamant however that athletes would only be able to participate in “strictly neutral” uniforms.

Similar words of support have come from the Olympic Council of Asia and the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo.

But Britain, Poland and Baltic nations have all condemned the IOC’s position.

Writing on Twitter after a meeting with his counterparts from the Baltics and Poland in Riga earlier this week, Latvia’s foreign minister Edgars Rinkevics said allowing Russian and Belarusian athletes at the Olympics was “immoral and wrong.”

British Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan said the IOC’s plans were “a world away from the reality of war being felt by the Ukrainian people.”

“We will strongly condemn any action taken that allows President Putin to legitimize his illegal war in Ukraine — a position the IOC previously shared,” Donelan said.

“We, and many other countries, have been unequivocal on this throughout, and we will now work urgently across like-minded countries to ensure that solidarity continues on this issue.”


Vinicius scores, escapes injury after hard hit in Real Madrid win

Vinicius scores, escapes injury after hard hit in Real Madrid win
Updated 03 February 2023

Vinicius scores, escapes injury after hard hit in Real Madrid win

Vinicius scores, escapes injury after hard hit in Real Madrid win
  • Vinicius scored his goal after a long run on a breakaway in the 54th

MADRID:  Vinicius Junior had more than his goal to celebrate in Real Madrid’s 2-0 win over Valencia in the Spanish league on Thursday.

Vinicius also was glad to escape serious injury after a vicious foul by Gabriel Paulista in the second half, which ignited a brawl and earned the Valencia defender a straight red card.

Paulista struck a hard kick at Vinícius’ legs after the Brazil forward got past him with the ball in the 72nd minute, sending the Brazil forward hard to the ground. Vinicius quickly got up and went to confront Paulista, shoving him from behind as other players arrived to join the scuffle.

Madrid defender Éder Militao, who had been taken off earlier in the match, confronted Paulista as he made his way to the tunnel after being sent off.

Vinicius scored his goal after a long run on a breakaway in the 54th, two minutes after Marco Asensio had given the hosts the lead with a shot from outside the area.

Vinícius endured a tumultuous period last week after his effigy was hanged off a bridge in a hate attack before Madrid’s game against city rival Atletico Madrid in the Copa del Rey.

Thursday’s win put Madrid back within five points of league leader Barcelona at the halfway point of the season. The Catalan club won 2-1 at Real Betis on Wednesday.

Both games were postponed from January because of the teams’ participation in the Spanish Super Cup in Saudi Arabia, where Madrid beat Valencia in the semifinals after a penalty shootout before losing to Barcelona in the final.

Madrid, who hadn’t won in two matches in all competitions, lost two of their key players because of injuries — Militão had to be replaced in the first half and Karim Benzema early in the second.

Madrid have one last league game — at Mallorca on Sunday — before traveling to Morocco to play in FIFA’s Club World Cup next week, when it will seek a record-extending eight title.

It was Valencia’s first game without coach Gennaro Gattuso, whose contract was terminated by mutual agreement amid the team’s poor run. It was under the command of Voro Gonzalez, a club director who often acts as an interim manager.

Valencia have won only one of its last 11 league games and is one point from the relegation zone. Its only two wins this year came in the Copa del Rey, though it failed to get past the quarterfinals.

Defender Antonio Rüdiger thought he had put Madrid ahead with a header off a corner kick three minutes into first-half stoppage time, but the goal was disallowed after video review saw a foul by Benzema away from the ball.

Madrid, the defending league champions, are six points in front of third-place Real Sociedad.


Tennis star Kyrgios to contest Australian assault charge

Tennis star Kyrgios to contest Australian assault charge
Updated 03 February 2023

Tennis star Kyrgios to contest Australian assault charge

Tennis star Kyrgios to contest Australian assault charge
  • The charge reportedly relates to an incident involving his former girlfriend

CANBERRA, Australia: Tennis star Nick Kyrgios was due to appear in an Australian court Friday to apply to have an assault charge stemming from events two years ago dismissed on mental health grounds.
His lawyer Michael Kukulies-Smith appeared in a court in Kyrgios’ hometown of Canberra in October and asked for an adjournment so forensic mental health reports could be prepared.
Magistrate Glenn Theakston adjourned the case until Friday, when lawyers for the 27-year-old Australian are expected to apply to have the charge dismissed under a section of the local crimes law.
Kyrgios, a Wimbledon finalist last year, is set to appear in court in person for the first time since he was charged by police by summons in July last year.
His hearing was listed to start at 2:15 p.m. local time (0315 GMT).
The law gives magistrates the power to dismiss a charge if they are satisfied an accused person is mentally impaired, and if dealing with an allegation in such a way would benefit the community and the defendant.
The common assault charge, which has a potential maximum sentence of two years in prison, relates to an incident in January 2021 that was reported to local police in December that year.
The charge reportedly relates to an incident involving his former girlfriend.
Kukulies-Smith told the court his client’s mental health history since 2015 made the application appropriate, citing a number of public statements made by Kyrgios.
In February last year, Kyrgios opened up about his performance at the 2019 Australian Open, saying what appeared to be a positive time in his life had been “one of my darkest periods.”
“I was lonely, depressed, negative, abusing alcohol, drugs, pushed away family and friends,” he wrote on Instagram. “I felt as if I couldn’t talk or trust anyone. This was a result of not opening up and refusing to lean on my loved ones and simply just push myself little by little to be positive.”
Kyrgios made further references to his mental health struggles during his runs to the final at Wimbledon and the quarterfinals at the US Open.
After ending Daniil Medvedev’s US Open title defense in September last year to reach the quarterfinals, Kyrgios expressed pride at lifting himself out of “some really tough situations, mentally” and “some really scary places” off the court.
Theakston questioned whether Kyrgios would need to appear in court for Friday’s hearing, but Kukulies-Smith said his client wanted to attend.
Kyrgios had a career setback last month when he withdrew from the Australian Open because of an injured left knee that required arthroscopic surgery.
He was the runner-up to Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon last year in singles and teamed with good friend Thanasi Kokkinakis to claim the men’s doubles championship at the 2022 Australian Open.
Kyrgios was considered the host country’s strongest chance to win a title at Melbourne Park last month before he had to pull out of the tournament. Djokovic went on to win the Australian Open singles championship for the 10th time.


Injured Mbappé out for 3 weeks, will miss Bayern 1st leg

Injured Mbappé out for 3 weeks, will miss Bayern 1st leg
Updated 02 February 2023

Injured Mbappé out for 3 weeks, will miss Bayern 1st leg

Injured Mbappé out for 3 weeks, will miss Bayern 1st leg
  • PSG said in a statement Thursday that tests revealed a tear in his left thigh
  • The injury comes at a bad time for PSG as it enters a hectic period this month

PARIS: Kylian Mbappé has been ruled out for three weeks with a left-thigh tear and will miss the first leg of Paris Saint-Germain’s round-of-16 game against Bayern Munich in the Champions League.
Mbappé sustained the injury in the first half of PSG’s game at Montpellier on Wednesday and limped off the field. TV cameras also showed him rubbing the back of his left thigh as he walked to the dressing room.
PSG said in a statement Thursday that tests revealed a tear in his left thigh.
The injury comes at a bad time for PSG as they enter a hectic period this month. PSG play away at bitter rival Marseille in the French Cup and in the league, either side of the home game against Bayern on Feb. 14. They also have a league game at fourth-place Monaco.
Mbappé faces a race to be fit in time for the league game at second-place Marseille on Feb. 26. The return leg against Bayern is on March 8.
His injury also raises questions about his recent workload. Mbappé played and scored for PSG just 10 days after playing in the World Cup final for France on Dec. 18 — where he became only the second player to score a hat trick in the final.
PSG coach Christophe Galtier selected him to face Strasbourg on Dec. 28 and away to Lens on Jan. 1. The decision was taken in full agreement with Mbappé, who wanted to play in both games.