Heroic Saudi Arabia produce shock of Qatar 2022 by beating Argentina 2-1

Update Heroic Saudi Arabia produce shock of Qatar 2022 by beating Argentina 2-1
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 Saudi Arabia stunned Lionel Messi’s Argentina on Tuesday, beating the two-time winners 2-1 in one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history. (AN Photo/Basheer Saleh)
Update Heroic Saudi Arabia produce shock of Qatar 2022 by beating Argentina 2-1
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 Saudi Arabia stunned Lionel Messi’s Argentina on Tuesday, beating the two-time winners 2-1 in one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history. (AN Photo/Basheer Saleh)
Update  Saudi Arabia stunned Lionel Messi’s Argentina on Tuesday, beating the two-time winners 2-1 in one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history. (AN Photo/Basheer Saleh)
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 Saudi Arabia stunned Lionel Messi’s Argentina on Tuesday, beating the two-time winners 2-1 in one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history. (AN Photo/Basheer Saleh)
Update  Saudi Arabia stunned Lionel Messi’s Argentina on Tuesday, beating the two-time winners 2-1 in one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history. (AN Photo/Basheer Saleh)
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 Saudi Arabia stunned Lionel Messi’s Argentina on Tuesday, beating the two-time winners 2-1 in one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history. (AN Photo/Basheer Saleh)
Update  Saudi Arabia stunned Lionel Messi’s Argentina on Tuesday, beating the two-time winners 2-1 in one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history. (AN Photo/Basheer Saleh)
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 Saudi Arabia stunned Lionel Messi’s Argentina on Tuesday, beating the two-time winners 2-1 in one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history. (AN Photo/Basheer Saleh)
Update  Saudi Arabia stunned Lionel Messi’s Argentina on Tuesday, beating the two-time winners 2-1 in one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history. (AFP)
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 Saudi Arabia stunned Lionel Messi’s Argentina on Tuesday, beating the two-time winners 2-1 in one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history. (AFP)
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Updated 23 November 2022

Heroic Saudi Arabia produce shock of Qatar 2022 by beating Argentina 2-1

Heroic Saudi Arabia produce shock of Qatar 2022 by beating Argentina 2-1
  • Win is first ever by an Arab or Asian nation against the two-time world champions
  • Herve Renard revealed that before the match he had told his players to think of the 35 million watching at home

Saudi Arabia produced the shock of the 2022 World Cup so far by beating Argentina 2-1 in front of a celebratory crowd at Lusail Stadium in Doha.  

The victory by Herve Renard’s men was the first time an Arab or Asian team have beaten the two-time world champions at this level, and will go down as one of the greatest upsets in the history of the competition.

Argentina took the lead after only 10 minutes through Lionel Messi’s penalty, and looked to have doubled their lead when Lautaro Martinez netted later in the first half, only for VAR to intervene and rule out the goal.

The Saudi players emerged from the break a team on a mission, and completed a remarkable turnaround with two wonderful strikes by Saleh Al-Shehri in the 48th minute and star man Salem Al-Dawsari five minutes later.

Argentina came back strongly but some heroic defending and a man-of-the-match performance by goalkeeper Mohammed Al-Owais saw them secure a historic win in their opening Group C fixture.

A 0-0 draw between Poland and Mexico in the same group means Saudi Arabia lead the pack.

Renard said after the match: “We made history for Saudi football; it will stay forever.

“That is the most important thing. But we have to look forward. We have two difficult games ahead of us.”

The French coach, who masterminded Morocco’s World Cup campaign in Russia four years ago, thanked the Kingdom’s leaders and football authorities for their backing and faith in his abilities, and for supporting the team.

“When I decided to coach this team three years ago I found all the support,” he told Reuters.

“We have a great federation president and also a great Ministry of Sport.

“When we met with the prince (Mohammed bin Salman), he did not put any pressure on us, and this is wonderful. Being pressured does not work often.”

Renard revealed that before the match he had told his players to think of the 35 million watching at home. He added that some of them had shed tears before entering the field of play.

Saudi Arabia’s next match will be against Poland on Nov. 26 at Education City Stadium in Doha, and they will conclude their group matches against Mexico on Nov. 30 at Lusail Stadium.


Tyler Herro’s return to the court remains a waiting game as the Heat keep winning

Tyler Herro’s return to the court remains a waiting game as the Heat keep winning
Updated 07 June 2023

Tyler Herro’s return to the court remains a waiting game as the Heat keep winning

Tyler Herro’s return to the court remains a waiting game as the Heat keep winning
  • He had surgery on April 21 for the fracture, with a four-to-six week recovery timetable, making a finals return possible
  • Players like Caleb Martin, Gabe Vincent and Max Straus, have delivered in Herro’s absence

MIAMI: Since breaking his hand in the first round of the NBA playoffs, Miami Heat guard Tyler Herro has been relegated to offering his teammates support in conspicuously gaudy outfits — topics of much conversation — from the sidelines.

The Heat would much rather have their 20-point scorer on the court. But, his return is still pending, and though Miami are holding out hope that Herro could play basketball again this season, he is running out of time and games.

The NBA Finals head to Miami on Wednesday with the series against the Denver Nuggets tied 1-1. Miami’s Eric Spoelstra said Herro was to do a full-contact workout Tuesday, but the veteran coach remained noncommittal on the player’s possible return. Herro hasn’t yet been cleared to play.

“I don’t want to be Nostradamus right now. We’re taking it one day at a time,” Spoelstra said. “I know that sounds like a cliché. He did the practice with the group ... we’ll meet with the training staff later on today and probably tomorrow, and we’ll just continue this process. He has not been cleared yet, so that’s where we are, but we’re encouraged by the work that he’s been doing.”

Herro was diving for a loose ball late in the second quarter of the Eastern Conference playoff opener against the Milwaukee Bucks when the injury to his right hand occurred. He re-entered the game, but was leaning forward in obvious pain in front of Miami’s bench in the final minute of the first half.

“I feel like I had some things to prove this postseason,” Herro said in April. “It was a tough moment. I still can’t believe it.”

He had surgery on April 21 for the fracture, with a four-to-six week recovery timetable, making a finals return possible.

“He’s another guy that provides so much shot-making, playmaking ability,” forward Kevin Love said. “You saw in Game 1, we got cold from the 3-point line, didn’t shoot the ball particularly well from the field. He’s just one of those guys that provides so much firepower.”

Losing such a pivotal piece of their offense — their third-leading scorer behind Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo — seemed like a blow that would prematurely end the Heat’s postseason run.

But they just keep winning.

They eliminated the top-seeded Bucks in five games, handled the New York Knicks in six, and recovered from blowing a 3-0 series lead in the Eastern Conference Finals against Boston to advance to the championship series for the second time in four seasons.

Players like Caleb Martin, Gabe Vincent and Max Straus, have delivered in Herro’s absence.

Vincent is Miami’s third-leading postseason scorer with 13.9 points and 3.9 assists in 31.6 minutes. And Martin, undrafted out of college with a stint in the G League, was the breakout star of the conference finals with 19.3 points on 60 percent shooting, including a playoff career-high 26 points at Boston in Game 7.

“I’m so happy for the city of Miami,” Butler said Wednesday. “This organization, they deserve to be in the finals. They deserve to win the finals and win a championship, and we will do everything in our power to make that happen.”


West Ham, Fiorentina aim to end long European trophy droughts in Europa Conference League final

West Ham, Fiorentina aim to end long European trophy droughts in Europa Conference League final
Updated 07 June 2023

West Ham, Fiorentina aim to end long European trophy droughts in Europa Conference League final

West Ham, Fiorentina aim to end long European trophy droughts in Europa Conference League final
  • West Ham earned their lone European title in 1965, the old European Cup Winners’ Cup
  • The reward for the winner of the final is not just a trophy but also a berth in the Europa League next season

PRAGUE: West Ham and Fiorentina haven’t won a European trophy for more than 50 years.

The drought will end for one of them when they play out the Europa Conference League final on Wednesday in Prague.

“This will be the biggest match that the club has had in so long, so it’s going to be an honor to be part of and hopefully we can create some history on the night for the fans to cheer about,” said West Ham captain Declan Rice, who is widely expected to leave the club after the season.

West Ham earned their lone European title in 1965, the old European Cup Winners’ Cup. Alan Sealey scored twice to beat 1860 Munich 2-0 at Wembley Stadium. The Hammers reached the final again in 1976.

Forward Jarrod Bowen scored four goals in helping West Ham reach its third European final and said it will be “certainly be the biggest game of my career.”

“I’ve played for England, but I think achieving this with your teammates who you’ve been with together to get to a final and you have the opportunity to win a trophy together, it will be a massive moment,” Bowen said. “We’re mentally ready, physically ready for a massive game tomorrow night.”

Fiorentina’s only European trophy was also the Cup Winners’ Cup, the first one back in 1961 when it defeated Rangers in a two-leg final 4-1 on aggregate.

By reaching the second final of the Europa Conference League, Fiorentina have become the first club to contest a final in four major continental competitions.

Fiorentina were defeated by Real Madrid for the 1957 European Cup (the forerunner of the Champions League), and by Juventus in the 1990 UEFA Cup final. They also failed to win the Cup Winners’ Cup back to back, losing the 1962 final to Atletico Madrid.

Fiorentina have had a good buildup. They played the Italian Cup final two weeks ago and were beaten by Inter Milan 2-1. That’s the only loss for the Florence-based club in their  last six matches. The last warmup for the Conference final was beating Sassuolo 3-1 last Friday for an eighth-place finish in Serie A.

“We needed this victory,” Fiorentina coach Vincenzo Italiano said after the match. “Now we have a mountain to climb but we will be aiming for the summit in Prague.”

Despite struggling to a 14th-place finish in the English Premier League, West Ham have been a European title contender for a second straight year under manager David Moyes.

Following a campaign to the Europa League semifinals a year ago, West Ham marched to Prague as the only undefeated team in the third-tier Europa Conference League. West Ham won 13 games including qualifying, and were held by Gent to 1-1 in the first leg of their quarterfinal. The Hammers were the first club to win all six group stage encounters.

“They’re a team that has a lot of ability, they’ve got some top level players, they have got strength all over the pitch,” Italiano said about West Ham in Prague on Tuesday. “But if we’ve made it to the final, then we clearly have some strength as well.”

At Eden Arena in the Czech capital, West Ham will face a team that scored the most goals in the campaign, 36, led by forward Arthur Cabral’s seven.

“I’ve been hugely impressed by Fiorentina,” Moyes said. “A difficult opponent, an Italian opponent is always difficult and we respect that.”

The reward for the winner of the final is not just a trophy but also a berth in the Europa League next season.

The first Conference final was won by Jose Mourinho’s Roma against Feyenoord 1-0 in Tirana, Albania a year ago.


Novak Djokovic perfect in key tiebreaker at French Open and faces No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz next

Novak Djokovic perfect in key tiebreaker at French Open and faces No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz next
Updated 07 June 2023

Novak Djokovic perfect in key tiebreaker at French Open and faces No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz next

Novak Djokovic perfect in key tiebreaker at French Open and faces No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz next
  • Djokovic: Every point was perfectly scripted for me, so to say. Yeah, sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t
  • No. 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka and unseeded Karolina Muchova both reached the women’s semifinals

 

PARIS: Novak Djokovic, in his words, felt “quite sluggish, quite slow” for nearly two full sets against Karen Khachanov in the French Open quarterfinals Tuesday.

Afterward, Djokovic called it his worst stretch of the tournament, a fair assessment. He dropped the opening set, something he hadn’t done at Roland Garros this year. As the second went to a tiebreaker in Court Philippe Chatrier, he knew it was vital to step up his game, bring forth his best.

It’s one thing to seek perfection; it’s another entirely to deliver. As if merely wanting so made it so, Djokovic did what he’s done before at crucial moments over the years en route to 22 Grand Slam titles.

Managing to choose the right shot every time, managing to put each ball precisely where he intended, Djokovic threw a shutout of a tiebreaker to point himself toward what would become a 4-6, 7-6 (0), 6-2, 6-4 victory over the 11th-seeded Khachanov.

Djokovic, who will meet No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz in a much-anticipated semifinal Friday, found one word to describe that segment of the match: “Amazing.”

Alcaraz beat Djokovic on clay at the Madrid Masters last year in their only previous encounter, and the 20-year-old from Spain got past No. 5 Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-2, 6-1, 7-6 (5) on Tuesday night.

“Since the draw came out, everyone was expecting that match — the semifinal against Novak. Myself, as well. I really want to play that match,” Alcaraz said. “Since last year, I really wanted to play again against Novak.”

No. 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka and unseeded Karolina Muchova both reached the women’s semifinals by winning earlier in the day. Sabalenka, the reigning champion at the Australian Open, eliminated Elina Svitolina 6-4, 6-4, then appeared at a news conference for the first time in nearly a week. Muchova defeated 2021 runner-up Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 7-5, 6-2.

How does Djokovic approach a tiebreaker?

“It’s kind of a mentality of (locking down): ‘OK, I’m present, I’m focused only on the next point and I have to really think clearly about what I want to do against ... a given opponent. It worked really well for me,” said Djokovic, a 36-year-old from Serbia who has spent more weeks ranked No. 1 than anyone in his sport’s history and is currently No. 3. “It worked really well for me.”

Well, there’s an understatement.

“Every point was perfectly scripted for me, so to say. Yeah, sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t,” he said. “I was lucky that, throughout my career, I have a very good and positive score in the tiebreaks. My opponents know that, and I know that. So, I think, mentally that serves me well.”

Indeed, he is 307-162, a winning percentage of .655, in those set-deciders now played at 6-all at every major. In 2023, it’s 14-4, including 5-0 in Paris. And get this: Those tiebreakers at the 2023 French Open have been comprised of 47 total points — and he has made a grand total of zero unforced errors.

On an 80-degree afternoon, Djokovic brought that brand of make-no-mistakes tennis to the next set, too, against Khachanov, a semifinalist at the US Open last September and the Australian Open this January.

“The energy of the court shifted to my side. I felt the momentum. I started releasing and relaxing through my shots a bit more,” Djokovic said, pantomiming a backhand swing, “and going for it more, with more confidence. And he backed up a bit.”

On the 10th point of the third set’s opening game, Djokovic flubbed a backhand. But he then would not commit an unforced error the rest of the way in that set, compiling 19 winners in that span.

Whenever an answer was required, Djokovic found one.

“It always feels like he finds a way ... to make you (in) trouble,” Khachanov said. “He’s always there. He’s always pushing, and you know this.”

After Khachanov wildly celebrated his best shot of the match — a back-to-the-net ‘tweener that drew a netted volley from Djokovic, who bowed his head — by wind-milling his arms and shouting and yelling, the perfect response came next. Djokovic hit a 128 mph (206 kph) serve followed by a forehand winner, and a 130 mph (209 kph) serve followed by a drop shot winner to take that game, then pointed his left index finger toward the azure sky.

When Djokovic played a shaky game that ended with a double-fault to suddenly make it 4-all in the fourth — “A little bit of a scare,” he said — he turned back into that vibrant version of himself.

Djokovic collected the remaining eight points — breaking at love, then holding at love — and was on his way to a 12th semifinal at the French Open (among men, only Rafael Nadal, with 15, has more; the 14-time champion is currently sidelined by a hip injury) and 45th at all Grand Slam events (only the retired Roger Federer, with 46, has more).

“It’s exactly,” Djokovic said, “where I want to be.”

Alcaraz progressed to his second major semifinal — the other came when he won the 2022 US Open — by outclassing two-time Slam runner-up Tsitsipas in every possible manner until stumbling slightly near the finish line.

It was so lopsided for much of the evening that fans roared, and Tsitsipas raised his arms to acknowledge their reaction, when Alcaraz’s third-set edge was trimmed from 3-0 to 3-1. Soon after, at 5-2, Alcaraz held two match points that he frittered away; he got broken for the first time to make it 5-3; and another match point came and went at 5-4.

Not until his sixth match point of the contest did Alcaraz finally convert, with a backhand volley winner.

Like Djokovic hours earlier, Alcaraz was superior when he needed to be.
 


LIV Golf’s merger with PGA Tour set to usher in prosperous new era for the sport

LIV Golf’s merger with PGA Tour set to usher in prosperous new era for the sport
Updated 06 June 2023

LIV Golf’s merger with PGA Tour set to usher in prosperous new era for the sport

LIV Golf’s merger with PGA Tour set to usher in prosperous new era for the sport
  • After a lengthy and bitter dispute between the two sides, the agreement offers vindication for the PIF-backed tour

DUBAI: The most bitter war to engulf a sport that has been around for more than six centuries came to a surprising, and welcome, end on Tuesday when the North American PGA Tour and European DP World Tour shook hands on a deal with the Saudi Public Investment Fund-backed LIV Golf.

It has been a tumultuous 12 months for men’s professional golf since the 48-player league was launched with a tournament in England a year ago this week. The newcomer sharply divided opinions, forcing players and lovers of the sport to take sides. But it also quickly gained acceptance, and a significant fan base, as a much-needed alternative to the usual tour events.

Vehemently opposed to the idea of an upstart organization threatening its established territory, the PGA Tour banned from its events all players who joined LIV Golf. This led to legal challenges on both sides, and players denigrating one another. Major championships and sponsors were asked to choose sides. The very legality of tournaments such as the Ryder Cup and institutions such as the Official World Golf Ranking was being questioned.

In short, the usually prim and proper world of golf was in shambles. However, the Public Investment Fund was vindicated for its belief in its product on Tuesday, when the PGA Tour agreeing to merge their commercial interests.

The exact details were sparse in the joint press release that was issued but a decision has been made to form a new, yet-to-be-named, for-profit entity. The two tours and the PIF will “implement a plan to grow these combined commercial businesses, drive greater fan engagement and accelerate growth initiatives already underway.”

The good news is that LIV Golf will continue to exist and now benefit from the PGA Tour’s full pool of players and its mighty media and sponsorship expertise. There is a distinct possibility that players such as Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, who were vehemently opposed to LIV Golf, could tee up in team-format events next year.

The reverse also applies; players who switched to LIV Golf, such as recent PGA Championship winner Brooks Koepka and reigning Open champion Cam Smith and stars such as Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Lee Westwood, will be reinstated on their respective tours at the end of the season.

Still, there are likely to be a tense few months ahead. Players on both sides were taken by surprise by the announcement and some are already expressing concern they were not informed about the talks that were taking place and only found out about them through the media.

Following the announcement, two-time Major champion Colin Morikawa tweeted: “I love finding out morning news on Twitter.”

One potential roadblock could be the fact that players such as Woods and Hideki Matsuyama reportedly rejected big-money offers of $800 million and $400 million, respectively, to join LIV Golf. The PGA Tour and its commissioner, Jay Monahan, will have to give them a solid justification for proceeding as they have done.

Yet there can be no denying the fact that the arrival of LIV Golf has been an absolutely amazing development for PGA Tour and DP World Tour players as well.

It prompted the PGA Tour to up its prize money significantly, increasing its Players Impact Program bonus pool to $100 million and introducing 12 designated events with $20 million prize purses. Meanwhile, 10 top DP World Tour players will be given PGA Tour membership at the end of the season, and all increases in prize funds for the next 11 years have been guaranteed by the PGA Tour.

It has also been good for college golfers. The decision by players such as Eugenio Chacarra and David Puig to opt for LIV Golf led to the establishment of the PGA Tour University program, which gave top-ranked National Collegiate Athletic Association players direct access to the main Tour.

After speaking to a couple of LIV Golf players, who were also caught unaware by the announcement, the prevailing sentiment was a feeling that they have been vindicated for their stance, after copping a lot of criticism and abuse from fellow players and fans on social media.

The board of directors of the new entity will include PIF Governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan, as chairperson, and Monahan as SEO. The former will also join the PGA Tour Policy Board.

One question everyone seems to be asking is what changed from last week, when host Jack Nicklaus was dismissive of the absence of LIV Golf players from his Memorial Tournament, and McIlroy was once again critical of their inclusion in Europe’s Ryder Cup team.

Unconfirmed reports suggest that the PGA Tour was feeling the heat in legal proceedings filed by LIV Golf. A long-drawn-out court case would not have been beneficial for either side, hence the compromise.

However, the most important thing is that peace has prevailed — and golf can only prosper with the coming together of these giants.


Juventus plan to leave Super League project after season of legal turmoil

Juventus plan to leave Super League project after season of legal turmoil
Updated 06 June 2023

Juventus plan to leave Super League project after season of legal turmoil

Juventus plan to leave Super League project after season of legal turmoil
  • Juventus responded to reports they already left the Super League by explaining they contacted the two Spanish clubs “to initiate a discussion period” about their exit
  • It has been a tough season for Juventus’ owners, players and lawyers with no trophies won, legal cases lost and mass resignations among the board of directors

TURIN, Italy: Juventus plan to leave the Super League project still being pursued by Real Madrid and Barcelona, though the club denied Tuesday they had been threatened with a European ban by UEFA.
The three storied clubs are awaiting a ruling expected within weeks from the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg into their legal challenge against what they claimed is UEFA’s monopoly control of European club competitions.
But Juventus responded to reports they already left the Super League by explaining they contacted the two Spanish clubs “to initiate a discussion period” about their exit.
The three clubs were holdouts after the other nine Italian, Spanish and English clubs who joined them to launch the breakaway Super League in April 2021 renounced it within weeks of its quick failure.
UEFA was a clear winner when the Luxembourg court gave a first, non-binding opinion in the Super League case in December that went against the clubs.
It has been a tough season for Juventus’ owners, players and lawyers with no trophies won, legal cases lost and mass resignations among the board of directors.
A 10-point deduction in Serie A was finally confirmed last month in a false accounting case that dropped Juventus to finish seventh instead of qualifying for the next Champions League. That entry would have been worth tens of millions of euros (dollars) to the financially troubled club.
However, even the two-time European champion’s place in the third-tier Europa Conference League are at risk from a separate UEFA investigation of the false accounting allegations.
Juventus appear likely to have broken UEFA’s financial fair play rules that can lead to bans imposed by a UEFA-appointed panel. A final verdict, potentially on appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, is needed before the Europa Conference League qualifying playoffs round in August.
Long-time club president Andrea Agnelli resigned in November in fallout from the case. He had been a UEFA executive committee member and chairman of the influential European Club Association before giving up those positions of power in 2021 to help launch the Super League.