Messi on brink as Argentina look to salvage World Cup

Messi on brink as Argentina look to salvage World Cup
Argentina's Lionel Messi reacts during the Group C World Cup 2022 match against Saudi Arabia at Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar on Tuesday. (Reuters)
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Updated 25 November 2022

Messi on brink as Argentina look to salvage World Cup

Messi on brink as Argentina look to salvage World Cup
  • There was a sobering admission that at 35, Messi might not be as great as he once was

 

AFP DOHA: It was not supposed to be this way. Before the World Cup started, hopes were high in Argentina that Lionel Messi was set for a glorious swansong.

The diminutive superstar with magic in his boots insisted he was in fine shape physically ahead of what he suggested would be his final tilt at World Cup success.

After winning La Liga 10 times, the Ballon d’Or seven times, the Champions League four times and the Copa America once, this trophy is all that is missing from Messi’s massive collection of personal and collective accolades.

Argentina came into the tournament on a remarkable 36-match unbeaten streak having stunned bitter rivals Brazil in their own back yard to win last year’s Copa America.

Pundits and fans the world over were proclaiming Argentina one of — if not the — favorites.

Argentines were allowing themselves to dream: One of the greatest players the world has ever seen was about to lift football’s greatest prize.

But Tuesday’s shock 2-1 defeat to a tactically superior and more athletic Saudi Arabia has brought them back down to earth with a bump.

The realization is that far from coating an already delicious cake with icing, Messi’s World Cup story may just be about to end in ignominious fashion.

The autopsy has already begun in Argentina.

Football pundits and fans alike are speculating whether or not the ‘Pibe’ was truly fit.

He had sat out a couple of group training sessions, following his own personal program apart, because of a knock on his calf.

A picture went viral on social media of his apparently deformed ankle — although he was merely wearing an ice pack.

Fingers were even pointed at his club Paris Saint-Germain, seemingly for daring to play him week in, week out rather than wrap him in cotton wool so he could arrive at the World Cup in the best possible shape to help his country.

Coach Lionel Scaloni also came under fire for his perceived inability to spring the Saudis’ high defensive line as his side were caught offside seven times in the first half.

He was also castigated for their inability to break down a stubborn defense that dropped deeper once they took the lead.

There was a sobering admission, though, that at 35, Messi might not be as great as he once was.

“He is not injured, but he does have several logical ailments due to his age and the number of minutes played this season,” said sports newspaper Ole.

Even so, Messi remains the darling of a nation upon whom their hopes rest.

Tales of his stirring speech to teammates on the bus after the Saudi game were quick to emerge.

At training the following day he supposedly told them: “The people believe that this group will not abandon them.

“It is up to us, we know that we have no choice (but to win) but we’ve already played in these types of games before, it’s time to lift our heads above the water.”

Messi will have to lift himself above the poor fare produced against the Saudis if Argentina are to beat Mexico on Saturday and keep their hopes of progressing alive.


Cameroon beat Brazil 1-0 in final group game at World Cup

Cameroon beat Brazil 1-0 in final group game at World Cup
Updated 10 sec ago

Cameroon beat Brazil 1-0 in final group game at World Cup

Cameroon beat Brazil 1-0 in final group game at World Cup
LUSAIL, Qatar: Vincent Aboubakar scored with a header two minutes into stoppage time in Cameroon’s 1-0 win over Brazil at the World Cup on Friday, a result that still allowed the five-time champions to win the group and eliminated the Africans.
Aboubakar was then sent off with a second yellow card for taking off his shirt during his celebration.
Brazil, which had already reached the knockout stage after victories over Serbia and Switzerland, will face South Korea in the round of 16.
Brazil finished with six points, the same as Switzerland but the South Americans had a better goal difference. The Swiss also advanced and will face Portugal. Cameroon ended with four points and Serbia one.
Coach Tite rested nearly all of his regular starters and made 10 changes from the win against Switzerland on Monday.
Brazil was still without the injured Neymar, but the star forward was at Lusail Stadium to watch the match with his teammates.

Switzerland beat Serbia 3-2 to reach last 16 of World Cup

Switzerland beat Serbia 3-2 to reach last 16 of World Cup
Updated 11 min 47 sec ago

Switzerland beat Serbia 3-2 to reach last 16 of World Cup

Switzerland beat Serbia 3-2 to reach last 16 of World Cup
  • Remo Freuler scored the winning goal just after halftime as the Swiss secured second place in Group G
  • They will next face Portugal on Tuesday at Lusail Stadium

DOHA: Switzerland advanced to the last 16 of the World Cup for the third tournament in a row after a 3-2 win over Serbia on Friday.
Remo Freuler scored the winning goal just after halftime as the Swiss secured second place in Group G. They will next face Portugal on Tuesday at Lusail Stadium.
Xherdan Shaqiri put Switzerland ahead early in the first half before Aleksandar Mitrovic and Dusan Vlahovic responded for Serbia. Breel Embolo evened the score just before halftime.
Switzerland needed a win to guarantee themselves a place in the knockout round after beating Cameroon and losing to Brazil in their opening two games. The team reached the round of 16 at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and again four years later in Russia. They lost 1-0 in both matches, to Argentina and Sweden, respectively.
Against Portugal, the Swiss will be looking to reach the quarterfinals for the first time since hosting the competition in 1954.


Ronaldo ‘insulted’ by South Korean player in World Cup loss

Ronaldo ‘insulted’ by South Korean player in World Cup loss
Updated 02 December 2022

Ronaldo ‘insulted’ by South Korean player in World Cup loss

Ronaldo ‘insulted’ by South Korean player in World Cup loss
  • The 37-year-old skipper looked miffed and ambled off slowly when his number went up in the 65th minute
  • "He was angry with the player from Korea and everyone saw that," Santos said

DOHA: Cristiano Ronaldo was “insulted” by a South Korean player as he was substituted during Portugal’s 2-1 World Cup defeat on Friday, coach Fernando Santos said.
The 37-year-old skipper looked miffed and ambled off slowly when his number went up in the 65th minute.
Santos denied that was because he was upset at being hooked.
“He was angry with the player from Korea and everyone saw that,” Santos said after his side topped Group H despite conceding in injury time to fall to defeat for the first time in Qatar.
“The player was insulting him, telling him to go away (get off the pitch) so that’s why he was angry and everyone saw that.
“I saw the interaction with the Korean player and have no doubt about it.”
Becoming irritated by the line of questioning, Santos added: “He (the Korean player) was not aggressive, he was verbally aggressive.
“He was speaking in English to Cristiano and Cristiano said, ‘Well, perhaps he did not have a good day.’“
South Korean midfielder Hwang In-beom attempted to play down the controversy.
“I didn’t see it, I was too tired,” he said. “I was looking at the ground, so I didn’t see it and I have nothing to say.”


Uruguay beats Ghana 2-0 at World Cup but both teams out

Uruguay beats Ghana 2-0 at World Cup but both teams out
Updated 02 December 2022

Uruguay beats Ghana 2-0 at World Cup but both teams out

Uruguay beats Ghana 2-0 at World Cup but both teams out
  • Suarez was distraught on the sidelines and covered his face
  • Suarez had been substituted when the screen at Al-Janoub Stadium suddenly flashed that South Korea was in second place

AL-WAKRAH, Qatar: This time, Luis Suarez cried on the sidelines after Uruguay were eliminated from the World Cup despite a 2-0 win over Ghana on Friday.
The result also put Ghana out of the competition.
Suarez played a key role in both first-half goals scored by Giorgian De Arrascaeta and Uruguay appeared headed for the round of 16 after inflicting more pain on Ghana 12 years after their now-infamous meeting in the quarterfinals at the World Cup in South Africa.
Then, Suarez denied Ghana a winning goal with a deliberate handball on the goal-line and having been sent off, he celebrated wildly on the sidelines when Ghana missed the resultant penalty.
Uruguay were in a position to go through in Qatar until South Korea’s late goal gave it a 2-1 win over Portugal in the other Group H game. That meant Uruguay needed to score one more goal in the dying minutes of its game to qualify.
They didn’t and were eliminated because they had scored fewer goals than South Korea in the group stage. Suarez was distraught on the sidelines and covered his face with his shirt having been substituted in what was likely his last World Cup appearance.
Uruguay’s goals came in a six-minute spell soon after Ghana raised more memories of the 2010 quarterfinal by missing a penalty.
A Suarez shot led to De Arrascaeta’s opener and Suarez set up the second with a clever pass that De Arrascaeta volleyed in. After those two strikes, Uruguay thought it was on its way to the knockouts.
Ghana captain Andre Ayew, the team’s only survivor from the 2010 squad, had his penalty saved by Sergio Rochet in the 21st minute and the game changed immediately after that. De Arrascaeta scored in the 26th and 32nd minutes to crush Ghana hopes.
But the Uruguayans were ultimately also crushed.
Suarez had been substituted when the screen at Al-Janoub Stadium suddenly flashed that South Korea was in second place in the group after a late goal against Portugal.
Uruguay surged forward in search of the goal that would have put it through. Substitutes Maximiliano Gomez and Sebastian Coates both missed late chances and Suarez was crying after the final whistle.


Saudi motorsport chiefs predict ‘best ever’ Red Bull Car Park Drift world final in Jeddah

Saudi motorsport chiefs predict ‘best ever’ Red Bull Car Park Drift world final in Jeddah
Updated 02 December 2022

Saudi motorsport chiefs predict ‘best ever’ Red Bull Car Park Drift world final in Jeddah

Saudi motorsport chiefs predict ‘best ever’ Red Bull Car Park Drift world final in Jeddah
  • Jeddah will host 21 drifters from 18 different countries who will battle it out to be named the Red Bull Car Park Drift King

JEDDAH: For the first time ever the Red Bull Car Park Drift World Final will be held in Saudi Arabia on December 8 in Jeddah.

Organizers Saudi Motorsport Company and Jeddah Corniche Circuit are promising fans the “best ever” season-ending event as tickets for the final have gone on sale.

Jeddah will host 21 drifters from 18 different countries who will battle it out to be named the Red Bull Car Park Drift King of Drift for 2022. 

Expert power control, pure pace, and the most delicate of touches will be the difference between victory and defeat for the competitors, set to deliver packed grandstands and a festive atmosphere.

For Saudi motorsport fans, the event will welcome three competitors from the Kingdom. Those drivers will be confirmed at a qualifying event on 3 December.

With tickets available for all fans of high octane, Saudi Motorsport Company (SMC) CEO, Martin Whitaker, said he is counting down the days to one of Jeddah’s biggest automotive moments. 

“I believe the Jeddah Corniche Circuit is one of the best ever venues in the long and impressive history of the Red Bull Car Park Drift and we expect an event which is more than equal to this stunning location,” he said.

“This is such a special event for the region, and we are so proud to be able to bring it to Jeddah and give drifting fans the chance to experience world-class competition.

“Of course, with three Saudi Arabian drivers competing in the final we expect the crowd to be more enthusiastic than ever and how special it would be to see a local driver crowned the King of Drift,” he added.

The Saudi drivers will go head-to-head with drifters who qualified in competitions from Jamaica to Mauritius, Sri Lanka to Pakistan, Kenya to South Africa, while the series also travelled through Poland, Estonia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, as well as Qatar, Oman, UAE, Bahrain, Jordan and Lebanon.