Mexico face early World Cup exit against Saudi Arabia

Mexico face early World Cup exit against Saudi Arabia
Mexico’s forward Raul Jimenez takes part in a training session at the Al Khor SC in Al Khor, north of Doha on Tuesday, on the eve of their World Cup match against Saudi Arabia. (AFP)
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Updated 29 November 2022

Mexico face early World Cup exit against Saudi Arabia

Mexico face early World Cup exit against Saudi Arabia
  • Mexico have reached the round of 16 at the last seven World Cups
  • El Tri sit at the bottom of Group C ahead of a must-win match against Saudi Arabia

DOHA: Mexico are going to have to suddenly find goals — and perhaps even several of them — to extend their knockout-round streak at the World Cup.
Mexico have reached the round of 16 at the last seven World Cups, tied for the longest current streak with Brazil. But in Qatar, El Tri sit at the bottom of Group C ahead of a must-win match against Saudi Arabia on Wednesday at Lusail Stadium.
The last time Mexico played at soccer’s biggest tournament and didn’t advance out of their group was in 1978.
But it’s not quite as simple as winning: El Tri must also get help. They’ll need Poland to beat Lionel Messi and Argentina at the exact same time at Stadium 974.
That’s the easiest way forward for Mexico. Beyond that, it gets complicated. If Mexico do their job and win but Argentina, one of the tournament’s favorites, also win, then goal difference comes into play.
The problem is, Mexico have no goals yet in Qatar.
In fact, El Tri haven’t scored in 384 straight minutes at the World Cup, dating back to their second group match at the 2018 tournament in Russia.
“We believe in our chances. We hold on to our chances,” said veteran Mexico midfielder Andres Guardado, who is appearing in his fifth World Cup. “And obviously we will try until the very end.”
The drought was extended Saturday with a 2-0 loss to Argentina. Neither team scored in the Mexico’s opener against Poland.
Mexico haven’t been eliminated from the group stage since the tournament in Argentina 44 years ago. El Tri didn’t qualify for the 1982 World Cup in Spain, and were banned from the 1990 event in Italy for using overage players at an under-20 tournament.
Since then, Mexico have advanced to the round of 16 in their last seven appearances — but no further. El Tri came to Qatar looking to play in an elusive “quinto partido” — a fifth game — for the first time since Mexico hosted the tournament in 1986.
“In the next game we have no more chances,” Mexico forward Henry Martin said. “We have to score the goals that we can, and not worry what happens in the other game.”
With the lack of goals, the criticism of Mexico coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino grew. He had already been questioned over some of his choices, including his decision to leave all-time leading scorer Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez off the team.
Hernandez, who now plays for the LA Galaxy in Major League Soccer, scored the team’s last goal in a 2-1 group-stage victory over South Korea in Russia. LAFC forward Carlos Vela, who also fell out of favor in the national team, scored the other.
Martino could be looking for a new job if Mexico doesn’t advance after playing Saudi Arabia, a team that pulled off one of the tournament’s biggest upsets ever when they beat Argentina 2-1 in their opener.
“Not getting through would leave a lot of frustration,” Martino said Tuesday. “We need the goals to win, that is what it takes to keep us here.”
Saudi Arabia couldn’t pull off another upset Saturday when they fell to Poland 2-0. The Saudis reached the round of 16 back in 1994, the team’s World Cup debut, but haven’t made it past the group stage since.
“We will play to the last second of this tournament and we will not give up,” Saudi Arabia coach Herve Renard said.
Nawaf Al-Abed sustained an ankle injury against Poland and it was unclear if he would be available against Mexico.


Cremonese pull off another Italian Cup shock to beat Roma

Cremonese pull off another Italian Cup shock to beat Roma
Updated 02 February 2023

Cremonese pull off another Italian Cup shock to beat Roma

Cremonese pull off another Italian Cup shock to beat Roma
  • Wednesday’s match at Rome’s Stadio Olimpico was Cremonese’s first quarterfinal since 1997

MILAN: Hapless in Serie A, Cremonese pulled off another shock in the Italian Cup on Wednesday by beating Roma 2-1 to reach the semifinals for only the second time in their history — and the first in 36 years.

Last-place Cremonese, without a win in the league, followed up their cup victory at Napoli in the last round by eliminating Jose Mourinho’s Roma.

It will face Fiorentina in their first semifinal since 1987. The other semifinal pits holders Inter Milan against either Juventus or Lazio.

Cremonese’s win at Napoli was coach Davide Ballardini’s first match in charge and he followed that up with a draw at Bologna and a narrow loss to Inter in Serie A.

Wednesday’s match at Rome’s Stadio Olimpico was Cremonese’s first quarterfinal since 1997 but the players didn’t let the occasion get to them and impressed from the start.

Roma defender Marash Kumbulla was partly to blame for the opener, however, as he took too long on the ball, allowing Cyriel Dessers to steal it off him on the halfway line and sprint downfield into the area where he was brought down by goalkeeper Rui Patricio.

Dessers dusted himself down and fired a precise penalty into the top left corner to give the visitors a 28th-minute lead.

Mourinho rang the changes at halftime but Cremonese doubled their advantage four minutes after the break. David Okereke raced down the right flank and rolled the ball across for Charles Pickel, who tried to flick it on to Frank Tsadjout but it was deflected into his own net by Roma defender Mehmet Çelik to send the 200 traveling fans wild.

Andrea Belotti pulled one back for Roma in the fourth minute of stoppage time.

Fiorentina avenged its league loss Torino by beating it 2-1 in the quarterfinals.

After chances for both teams in Florence, the breakthrough was made in the 65th minute. A corner was taken short to Aleksa Terzic, who whipped in a cross for Luka Jovic to head in at the far post.

Jonathan Ikone sealed the result — and a place in the final four — with a fine strike into the bottom right corner in the final minute after good work from Arthur Cabral.

Cabral also hit the crossbar in stoppage time before Yann Karamoh pulled one back for Torino to set up a nervy final three minutes.

Torino had won 1-0 at Fiorentina in Serie A less than two weeks ago.


Lewandowski scores as Barça beat Betis to improve league lead

Lewandowski scores as Barça beat Betis to improve league lead
Updated 02 February 2023

Lewandowski scores as Barça beat Betis to improve league lead

Lewandowski scores as Barça beat Betis to improve league lead
  • Lewandowski sealed Barcelona’s sixth straight victory in all competitions with his first league goal since October

MADRID: Robert Lewandowski ended his scoring drought in the Spanish league to help Barcelona defeat Real Betis 2-1 and increase their lead over Real Madrid on Wednesday.

Lewandowski sealed Barcelona’s sixth straight victory in all competitions with his first league goal since October. He is the league’s leading scorer with 14 goals. The Poland striker was making his return from a three-game suspension for disrespecting a referee in a match last year.

Raphinha opened the scoring for Barcelona, which now are eight points ahead of second-place Real Madrid ahead of the rival’s home match against Valencia on Thursday.

Both midweek games were postponed from January because of the teams’ participation in the Spanish Super Cup in Saudi Arabia. Barcelona defeated Betis in a penalty shootout in the semifinals before eventually winning the final against Madrid. Madrid played Valencia in the other semifinal, also advancing in a shootout.

It was Betis’ sixth straight league loss at home against Barcelona, who have won seven straight if counting the shootout win over Betis in the Super Cup.

Betis stayed in sixth place in the league, 19 points behind Barcelona. They are three points behind fourth-place Atletico Madrid in the final Champions League place. Manuel Pellegrini’s team has won one of its last five games in all competitions.

Raphinha put Barcelona ahead with a touch from close range after a left-flank low cross by Alejandro Balde in the 65th minute. Lewandowski added to the lead with a shot from inside the area in the 80th, and Betis got on the board with an own-goal by Barcelona defender Jules Koundé in the 85th.

Lewandowski has five goals in his last five matches in all tournaments.

The win came after Barcelona closed the winter transfer window without any signings to boost their squad. It saw forward Memphis Depay move to Atletico and Hector Bellerin join Sporting Lisbon. Veteran defender Gerard Pique retired.

Betis lost defender Alex Moreno to Arsenal and forward Loren Moron to Las Palmas, but it signed former Leicester forward Ayoze Perez.


Messi strikes as PSG moves 5 points clear but Mbappe injured

Messi strikes as PSG moves 5 points clear but Mbappe injured
Updated 25 min 31 sec ago

Messi strikes as PSG moves 5 points clear but Mbappe injured

Messi strikes as PSG moves 5 points clear but Mbappe injured
  • The Argentina star Messi tucked home PSG’s second goal with a typically neat finish in the 72nd
  • Marseille extended their unbeaten run to 10 games overall

PARIS: World Cup winner Lionel Messi scored and Kylian Mbappe missed a twice-taken penalty before getting injured as Paris Saint-Germain won 3-1 at Montpellier to move five points clear at the top of the French league on Wednesday.

Mbappe went down clutching his leg just under the right knee and limped off in the 21st minute — having earlier missed a twice-taken penalty and blazed the rebound over an open goal on his second effort.

It was unclear exactly what his injury was. Television cameras also caught him rubbing the back of his left thigh as he walked to the dressing room.

PSG coach Christophe Galtier told broadcaster Canal Plus “he took a blow behind the knee,” and then said at his news conference the injury does not appear serious.

“Is it a bruise? We don’t know yet. It doesn’t look very serious,” Galtier said. “We’re not too worried.”

The Argentina star Messi tucked home PSG’s second goal with a typically neat finish in the 72nd after being set up by Fabian Ruiz, who put PSG ahead in the 55th.

Striker Arnaud Nordin pulled one back in the 89th and, with the home team pushing forward, 16-year-old substitute Warren Zaire-Emery drove the ball home for 3-1 in stoppage time with his first goal for the club.

“It’s my first goal in the first division, so I’m very happy,” Zaire-Emery said after becoming PSG’s youngest scorer. The midfielder turns 17 in March.

Defending champion PSG are five points ahead of Marseille, who won 2-0 at Nantes to move one point ahead of Lens into second spot for the automatic Champions League place.

Lens lost 1-0 against Nice for their first home league defeat and second overall.

PSG visit both Monaco and Marseille this month and are at Marseille in the French Cup, as well as take on Bayern Munich in the first leg of their round-of-16 encounter in the Champions League on Feb. 14.

Earlier, Marseille extended their unbeaten run to 10 games overall.

Marseille scored in the 58th when Nantes central defender Joao Victor put the ball into his own net when tackling on-rushing winger Cengiz Under inside the penalty area. New signing Azzedine Ounahi, a midfielder with World Cup semifinalst Morocco, added the second goal in stoppage time on his Marseille debut.

Nantes had not conceded a goal in their seven previous games. Marseille have won seven of their past eight league matches under coach Igor Tudor.

Striker Gaetan Laborde netted for the second straight game as eighth-place Nice handed Lens thir first league defeat since Oct. 9.

Fourth-place Monaco continued their scoring form with a 3-2 home win against 19th-place Auxerre to stay one point ahead of fifth-place Rennes. Striker Wissam Ben Yedder and 17-year-old attacking midfielder Eliesse Ben Seghir both scored for Monaco, which has 13 goals in its past four league games.

Forward Amine Gouiri scored twice for Rennes in a 3-0 home win against 18th-place Strasbourg while mid-table Lyon drew 0-0 at home to Brest.

Elsewhere, English striker Folarin Balogun, who equalized in stoppage time when Reims drew 1-1 at PSG on Sunday, grabbed a hat-trick in his team’s 4-2 win against Lorient to move top of the scoring charts. His 14 goals put him one ahead of PSG striker Kylian Mbappé.

Balogun, who started his career at Premier League club Arsenal, netted his treble against goalkeeper Vito Mannone, who also began his career at Arsenal, and even went close to a fourth goal near the end.

Dutch striker Thijs Dallinga followed up his two goals for Toulouse last weekend with his team’s first goal in a 4-1 win against Troyes.

Also, Clermont earned a 0-0 draw at Lille and last-place Angers lost 2-1 at home to fellow struggler Ajaccio, which scored in the fourth minute of injury time through striker Mounaïm El Idrissy.

Angers has lost a French league record 13 straight matches and has won only two of 21 this season.


Al-Ahly sweep aside Auckland City in Club World Cup opener

Al-Ahly sweep aside Auckland City in Club World Cup opener
Updated 02 February 2023

Al-Ahly sweep aside Auckland City in Club World Cup opener

Al-Ahly sweep aside Auckland City in Club World Cup opener
  • Hussein El Shahat hammered in a long-range drive in first-half stoppage time for Al-Ahly, who added to their lead with goals from Mohamed Sherif and Percy Tau

TANGIERS, Morocco: Egyptian giants Al-Ahly brushed past New Zealand’s Auckland City 3-0 on Wednesday in the opening round of the Club World Cup in Morocco.

Hussein El Shahat hammered in a long-range drive in first-half stoppage time for Al-Ahly, who added to their lead with goals from Mohamed Sherif and Percy Tau.

El Shahat’s strike put him in elite company as the fourth player to score at three different editions of the Club World Cup — joining Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale.

Auckland, the Oceania champions appearing at the tournament for a record 10th time, had defender Adam Mitchell sent off in the closing moments.

Al-Ahly, runners-up to tournament hosts Wydad Casablanca in last year’s CAF Champions League, play the Seattle Sounders on Saturday with the winners advancing to meet Real Madrid.


Man Utd finish off Forest to cruise into League Cup final

Man Utd finish off Forest to cruise into League Cup final
Updated 02 February 2023

Man Utd finish off Forest to cruise into League Cup final

Man Utd finish off Forest to cruise into League Cup final
  • United book their place in a first League Cup final for six years

MANCHESTER, United Kingdom: Manchester United will meet Newcastle at Wembley on February 26 in the League Cup final after a 2-0 win over Nottingham Forest sealed a 5-0 semifinal aggregate victory.
Anthony Martial and Fred scored the goals for Erik ten Hag’s men in the final 17 minutes as United booked their place in a first League Cup final for six years.
The damage was done for the Red Devils in last week’s 3-0 win at the City Ground in the first leg as Ten Hag was able to rotate his squad with United still involved in four competitions.
Ten Hag made six changes from the side that beat Reading 3-1 in the FA Cup fourth round on Saturday with Marcus Rashford among those left on the bench, but Casemiro and Bruno Fernandes did start despite the heavy schedule.
United failed to reach the heights of their first leg performance but were let off the hook by Forest in the first half as Brennan Johnson and Emmanuel Dennis missed big chances to reduce the visitors’ arrears in their first major cup semifinal since 1992.
Wout Weghorst opened his account for United when the sides last met and the giant Dutch striker was inches away from his first goal at Old Trafford as he headed Casemiro’s cross off the post just before half-time.
Ten Hag was handed a limited budget in the January transfer window after spending over £200 million ($247 million) in the summer with just the loan signings of Weghorst, Marcel Sabitzer and Jack Butland.
But the return of Jadon Sancho comes at just the right time to bolster United’s attacking options.
The England international had been sidelined since October due to a combination of mental and physical issues, but made his return just after the hour mark.
Rashford and Martial were introduced alongside Sancho and made an instant impact.
The Frenchman slotted home after Rashford’s initial effort was blocked to open the scoring.
Three minutes later it was 2-0 as this time Rashford teed up Fred for the simplest of finishes into an empty net.
A much tougher test lies ahead for Ten Hag’s men against high-flying Newcastle, but the former Ajax boss is just one game away from his first goal of ending United’s six-year trophy drought.