Pulisic sinks Iran as US advance in World Cup duel

Pulisic sinks Iran as US advance in World Cup duel
Christian Pulisic scores the winner for the US against Iran at Al-Thumama Stadium, Doha, Nov. 29, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 30 November 2022

Pulisic sinks Iran as US advance in World Cup duel

Pulisic sinks Iran as US advance in World Cup duel
  • Christian Pulisic swooped to score the decisive goal in the 38th minute
  • The Americans will face Group A winners the Netherlands in the knockout phase

DOHA: Christian Pulisic fired the United States into the last 16 of the World Cup on Tuesday as the Americans downed Iran 1-0 in their politically charged grudge match.
Chelsea star Pulisic bundled home the do-or-die Group B game’s only goal on 38 minutes to set up a second round clash with Group A winners the Netherlands on Saturday.
The victory was no less than US coach Gregg Berhalter’s youthful side deserved in what was only the third international football clash between the bitter ideological rivals.
The build-up to a pulsating showdown had been marked by steadily escalating tension, with Iran’s Football Federation on Sunday demanding FIFA sanction US Soccer for posting a modified version of their country’s flag on social media.
But despite an electrifying atmosphere at Doha’s Al Thumama Stadium, Tuesday’s game played out without controversy as the US avenged their 1998 World Cup defeat to Iran to send the Asian qualifiers crashing out of the tournament.
Iran’s fans had roared their team onto the field at the start of the game amid a deafening cacophony of air-horns and cheers from the crowd of 42,127.
But despite the intimidating reception it was the Americans who looked more comfortable, quickly establishing their dominance.
US captain Tyler Adams and Juventus’ Weston McKennie controlled proceedings in midfield to leave Iran struggling to gain foothold.
The US signalled their attacking ambition after only two minutes, Pulisic surging forward menacingly before being dispossessed.
That was a shape of things to come as they laid siege to the Iranian goal.
Valencia midfielder Yunus Musah shot over the bar and Pulisic just failed to get enough power on a header after a cross from Antonee Robinson.
Fullback Sergino Dest was a constant threat down the right flank for the Americans, whipping a cross over in the 17th minute that Iran goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand could only parry.
After sustained US pressure, the breakthrough finally came in the 38th minute.
A brilliant crossfield pass from McKennie picked out Dest down the right.
The AC Milan defender headed back across goal and Pulisic was on hand to bravely finish.
There was alarm for US fans with Pulisic needing sustained treatment after a heavy collision with Beiranvand but it was the Iranians and their noisy fans who were left winded by the goal.
The crowd instantly became more subdued and the US twice came close to doubling their lead before half-time.
Josh Sargent and Tim Weah combined well with a dazzling counter-attack but the final ball went astray.
Then in injury time McKennie’s sublime pass found Weah who finished brilliantly past Beiranvand only to be ruled just offside.
Knowing that an equalizer would send them into the second round, the Iranians stepped up the pressure in the second half.
But substitute Saman Ghoddos squandered two gilt-edged chances to get his team into the match, heading over from close range before blazing a shot over the bar on the 65th minute with the whole goal to aim at.
Saeid Ezatolahi curled a long-range shot over the bar soon afterwards as the Americans continued to live dangerously.
Iran threatened again inside the final 10 minutes when Ali Karimi just failed to get on the end of a teasing cross by Ezatolahi.
A diving header from Morteza Pouraliganji whistled just wide in injury time and then Mehdi Taremi had calls for a penalty after a tangle with Cameron Carter Vickers waved away as to leave American nerves jangling before their team hung on for a famous win.


Djokovic wary of semifinal underdog Tommy Paul in quest for 22nd Slam title

Djokovic wary of semifinal underdog Tommy Paul in quest for 22nd Slam title
Updated 16 sec ago

Djokovic wary of semifinal underdog Tommy Paul in quest for 22nd Slam title

Djokovic wary of semifinal underdog Tommy Paul in quest for 22nd Slam title
  • The 25-year-old Paul, ranked 35th, is a surprise semifinalist, making this far at a major for the first time on the 14th attempt
  • Tsitsipas aims to snap a run of three semifinal losses in Melbourne as he meets Khachanov in the other last-four showdown

MELBOURNE: Novak Djokovic has won all nine of his Australian Open semifinals and is not ready to let Tommy Paul ruin his unblemished record on Friday as he closes in on a 22nd Grand Slam crown.
The Serb, who won his first Slam at Melbourne Park in 2008, struggled physically in the early rounds this year with a hamstring injury.
But straight-sets thrashings of Alex de Minaur and Andrey Rublev for the loss of just 12 games ominously signalled that the favorite is back to his best for the semifinals.
Should he beat the unseeded American Paul on Rod Laver Arena, he will face either third seed Stefanos Tsitsipas or Russian 18th seed Karen Khachanov as a final roadblock to a 10th Australian Open title on Sunday.
Djokovic has extra motivation to go all the way and equal Rafael Nadal’s 22nd Grand Slam crowns after missing last year’s event when he was deported over his Covid vaccination stance. In his absence the Spanish great won.
“I always try to give my best, particularly in Grand Slams, because at this stage of my career those are the tournaments that count the most,” said the 35-year-old.
“But you could say that there is something extra this year. You could say because, yeah, the injury, what happened last year, I just wanted to really do well.
“So far I have a perfect score in Australian hard courts, in Adelaide (which he won) and here. I’ve been playing better and better. I couldn’t ask for a better situation to be in at the moment.”
With Djokovic on a 26-match win streak at the Australian Open — equalling Andre Agassi’s Open-era record at the first Grand Slam of the year — the 35th-ranked Paul is a heavy underdog.
The 25-year-old is a surprise semifinalist, making this far at a major for the first time on the 14th attempt.
“We never played a match against each other. Obviously he’s pretty comfortable here in Australia,” Paul said.
“It’s going to be a challenging match, but I’m playing some of my best tennis, so it’s a good time.”
Djokovic said he had been monitoring the American and would not underestimate the challenge.
“He’s been playing probably the tennis of his life,” he said. “Very explosive, very dynamic player. I think he can hit all the spots with the serve. Very complete player.
“First semifinals for him, so of course he doesn’t have much to lose.”

Tsitsipas versus Khachanov
Tsitsipas meets Khachanov in the other last-four showdown on Friday, aiming to snap a run of three semifinal losses in Melbourne, including over the past two years.
Now 24, he believes he has matured and that this could finally be his year as he bids to become the youngest champion since Djokovic won the title in 2011 aged 23.
“I’m feeling great with my tennis. I don’t think I felt so good in a long time,” the Greek said.
“I’ve said it — I’m a different player (from the past), playing different. My mentality is different.”
He has won all five previous encounters with Khachanov, most recently at the Rome Masters last year, and said he was eager to face the Russian again.
“It’s a match that I’m looking forward to,” he said. “I’m looking ahead for more, for better. Looking to create some magical experiences here in Australia.”
The 26-year-old Russian also made the semifinals at September’s US Open.
He has now made the quarters or better at all four Grand Slams and will draw on the experience when he plays the Greek star.
“I think the first semifinals, which I did in US Open, that gave me an extra boost and extra confidence to show where I really am, and what I can do when I’m at my best,” he said.
“I think all those things together, they push me to where I am right now.”

 


Sabalenka, Rybakina march into Australian Open final showdown

Sabalenka, Rybakina march into Australian Open final showdown
Updated 21 min 27 sec ago

Sabalenka, Rybakina march into Australian Open final showdown

Sabalenka, Rybakina march into Australian Open final showdown
  • Wimbledon champion Rybakina of Kazakhstan defeated two-time Melbourne winner Victoria Azarenka of Belarus on Thursday
  • Belarusian Sabalenka marched into the championship match with a 7-6 (7/1), 6-2 win over Magda Linette of Poland

MELBOURNE: Aryna Sabalenka and Elena Rybakina will clash in Saturday’s Australian Open women’s final after both won in straight sets in the last four in Melbourne.
Wimbledon champion Rybakina defeated two-time Melbourne winner Victoria Azarenka 7-6 (7/4), 6-3 at a blustery and chilly Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne on Thursday.
Belarusian Sabalenka then marched into the championship match with a 7-6 (7/1), 6-2 win over Magda Linette.
The 24-year-old Sabalenka will be a slight favorite to win the title, for what would be her first major crown, and promises to be a bruising showdown between two hard-hitters.
“I’m super happy, super happy that I was able to get this win,” said the fifth seed after reaching her first Grand Slam final.
“Magda’s an unbelievable player. She played really great tennis.”
Sabalenka has been in the form of her life since arriving in Australia.
She won the Adelaide International warm-up tournament and has now extended her unbeaten streak to 10 matches, not losing a single set in any of them.
But it was Poland’s Linette, contesting her first major semifinal aged 30, who was out of the gate fastest, breaking to love in the opening game and holding for an early lead.
Sabalenka was being made to work hard and showed all her new-found patience to get back on terms with a break of her own, to love, for 2-2 and the set went to a tiebreak.
Sabalenka timed her moment perfectly to up the aggression, and the decibel level, racing to 4-0 with a scream.
An ace that barely clipped the line stretched it to 5-0 and she closed out comfortably after 51 minutes, having smacked 20 winners to just seven from Linette.
“I would say that I didn’t start really well,” admitted Sabalenka.
“And then on the tiebreak I kind of found my rhythm and just started trusting myself, started going for the shots. It was great tennis from me in the tiebreak.”
Sabalenka showed no sign of letting up in the second set, breaking Linette and with a scream of “Come on!” holding for a 3-1 advantage.
A second break took her within sight of the finish line, which she raced across in 1hr 33min.

Rybakina, 23, said she hoped she had made her watching family proud after another impressive display.
The Moscow-born Kazakh prevailed in 1hr 41min against the 2012 and 2013 champion Azarenka of Belarus to account for a third major winner in as many matches.
The 22nd seed Rybakina had already defeated reigning French and US Open champion Iga Swiatek in the fourth round and 2017 Roland Garros winner Jelena Ostapenko in the quarter-finals.
Rybakina said her semifinal triumph was even more special because she had her sister and parents all watching at Melbourne Park for the first time.
“I’m super happy that we can spend evenings together and they can watch me live,” said Rybakina, whose parents were not there to see her win Wimbledon last year.
“For sure it’s great for them. I didn’t even talk with them yet. I’m sure they’re happy. They don’t see me often playing live, so I think this time, it’s a big result already.
“No matter how I play in the final, I think they’re very proud and happy.”
Azarenka, 33, was left to rue missed opportunities as her dream of a third Australian Open crown dissolved.
“Right now especially it’s kind of hard to digest,” she said.
“I’m proud of myself how I fought and I tried.
“Tennis-wise I felt like I just wasn’t there, especially in the important moments when I kept creating those opportunities for me. Just couldn’t convert them.”
 


Ukraine urges Australian Open to ban Djokovic’s father over pro-Russian stance

Ukraine urges Australian Open to ban Djokovic’s father over pro-Russian stance
Updated 48 min 31 sec ago

Ukraine urges Australian Open to ban Djokovic’s father over pro-Russian stance

Ukraine urges Australian Open to ban Djokovic’s father over pro-Russian stance
  • Social media video showed Djokovic’s father Srdjan posing with a man holding a Russian flag with Vladimir Putin’s face on it

SYDNEY: Ukraine’s ambassador to Australia on Friday urged tennis officials to ban Novak Djokovic’s father from the Australian Open after he was filmed posing with fans brandishing Russian flags.
“He should be stripped of his accreditation. It’s up to Novak and his team to address this and fix it,” Ambassador Vasyl Myroshnychenko told AFP.
Myroshnychenko also called on Djokovic, who is preparing to face Tommy Paul in the semifinals of the tournament, to personally apologize and to clarify his stance on the Russian invasion.
“It’s important for Novak to address this situation,” he said.
“He should apologize for what has happened, and condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine.”
A video posted to a pro-Russian Australian YouTube account on Thursday showed Djokovic’s father Srdjan posing with a man holding a Russian flag with Vladimir Putin’s face on it.
The video was captioned: “Novak Djokovic’s father makes bold political statement.”
Serbian tennis reporters confirmed it was Djokovic’s father and the Melbourne Age newspaper reported he said in Serbian: “Long live Russia.”
Another man was photographed by AFP inside the stadium during Djokovic’s match with a T-shirt bearing the pro-war “Z” symbol.
Tournament organizer Tennis Australia said Thursday it would continue to work with security to enforce entry rules, without directly addressing the incident with Djokovic’s father.
 

 


Reed fares better than McIlroy after delayed start in Dubai

Reed fares better than McIlroy after delayed start in Dubai
Updated 27 January 2023

Reed fares better than McIlroy after delayed start in Dubai

Reed fares better than McIlroy after delayed start in Dubai
  • Three English players — Matthew Jordan, Daniel Gavins and Oliver Wilson — held the clubhouse lead after shooting rounds of 4-under 68

DUBAI: Patrick Reed fared better than Rory McIlroy after some pre-tournament friction as the Dubai Desert Classic got off to a wet start Thursday with only 11 players managing to finish their weather-affected first rounds.

Play only began at the European tour event after a delay of six hours caused by heavy overnight rain that left the course unplayable at Emirates Golf Club.

By the time the siren sounded to suspend play because of fading light, Reed was 4 under par after 16 holes and top-ranked McIlroy was 2 under having played 15 holes.

Thomas Pieters was leading on 5 under, though he also had three holes to play. Three English players — Matthew Jordan, Daniel Gavins and Oliver Wilson — held the clubhouse lead after shooting rounds of 4-under 68.

“It’s certainly strange around here,” Jordan said of the wet conditions, “to see water hazards and stuff in places that you don’t expect it to be.”

Reed and McIlroy traded verbal blows Wednesday after an interaction — of sorts — at the practice range on Tuesday that saw McIlroy snub Reed, who had gone over to wish the Northern Irishman a happy new year. Reed walked away before tossing a tee — featuring a logo of his 4 Aces team in the LIV Golf league — in the direction of McIlroy, one of the most vocal critics of the global series.

Reed said it was “unfortunate” that McIlroy didn’t shake his hand and was quoted as describing McIlroy as “an immature little child.”

It has set the scene for a potential on-course head-to-head in Dubai between two of golf’s most high-profile players. It didn’t come Thursday, with McIlroy starting at No. 10 in his first event of 2023 and Reed opening at the first hole.

McIlroy bogeyed two of his first six holes after leaving chips from the fringe short. He got up and down from a greenside bunker for birdie at No. 18, picked up more shots at No. 2 and 3, and was lining up a birdie putt from inside 4 feet on No. 7 when the siren went off.

Reed birdied three of his first five holes and rebounded from a bogey at No. 10 by holing short birdie putts at Nos. 12 and 14.

Tommy Fleetwood (15 holes) and Victor Perez (16 holes), who won the Abu Dhabi Championship last week, were also on 4 under when they had to leave the course.

Half the field had yet to get on the course and will start their first rounds on Friday. Players were informed in the early hours of Thursday morning that Emirates Golf Club was “inaccessible” and told not to travel to the course due to several roads being flooded following heavy rain.

Play finally got underway following a few hours of dry weather and a massive clean-up operation by ground staff.

“It’s tough,” Jordan said. “I mean, it was nice to see that at 5.20 a.m. I could roll back over in bed and have a lie-in. So that was nice.”


Madrid snatch derby victory against Atletico to reach Copa semifinals

Madrid snatch derby victory against Atletico to reach Copa semifinals
Updated 27 January 2023

Madrid snatch derby victory against Atletico to reach Copa semifinals

Madrid snatch derby victory against Atletico to reach Copa semifinals
  • Vinicius netted at the death to send Los Blancos through to the final four for the first time since 2019
  • Athletic Bilbao won 3-1 at Valencia to join  Barcelona and Osasuna in Monday’s semifinal draw

MADRID: Karim Benzema and Vinicius Junior’s extra-time strikes earned Real Madrid a 3-1 win over rivals Atletico Madrid on Thursday to reach the Copa del Rey semifinals.

The spiky, gripping derby clash turned against Diego Simeone’s side in the additional period when defender Stefan Savic was sent off.

Atletico took the lead through Alvaro Morata after 19 minutes but Rodrygo’s sensational slalom run past three defenders and slick finish pulled Madrid level with 11 minutes remaining.

After Savic’s 99th minute red card, Benzema tucked home from Marco Asensio’s pass and Vinicius netted at the death to send Los Blancos through to the final four for the first time since 2019.

The buildup to the derby was tainted when a crude effigy of Vinicius was hung from a bridge near Real Madrid’s training ground, which the club described as “a disgusting act of racism, xenophobia and hatred.”

Madrid fans had planned to sing Vinicius’ name in support in the 20th minute, matching his shirt number, but were stunned into silence by Morata’s goal moments before.

Atletico, hitting their best form of the season, conjured a brilliant move to break the deadlock, with Morata tapping home after Koke’s dink allowed Nahuel Molina to stroke a first-time cross to the back post.

Eder Militao might have equalized but headed over from point-blank range, the ball deflecting slightly behind his leap to make the chance harder.

Antoine Griezmann was moving with freedom between the lines, relishing his new deeper role and pulling the strings for Atletico as they dominated the first half.

Madrid added another name to a long injury list when Ferland Mendy had to be replaced before half-time, with Eduardo Camavinga slotting in at left back and Dani Ceballos coming on.

Along with injuries for Dani Carvajal, David Alaba and Lucas Vazquez, it left Madrid without any natural full backs.

Benzema was not far away from reaching Fede Valverde’s flick-on from Nacho’s drive, as Madrid started the second half strongly.

Jan Oblak produced a fine save to deny the French forward, with Vinicius unable to react quickly enough to finish from the rebound.

At the other end, Axel Witsel sent an overhead kick narrowly wide and Thibaut Courtois tipped a vicious Griezmann free kick over as Atletico tried and failed to kill off the game.

Rodrygo levelled with 11 minutes to go with his jinking solo effort and subtle near-post finish, taking the game to extra-time.

Atletico defender Savic foolishly handed Madrid the edge when he was sent off for two yellow cards in two minutes.

The first came during an argument with Vinicius and the second for fouling Camavinga.

Madrid immediately began to capitalize when Vinicius crossed for Antonio Rudiger, who headed narrowly wide.

Benzema struck lethally after 104 minutes when Vinicius miskicked Marco Asensio’s cross and the ball traveled through to the striker.

Madrid, who last won the Copa del Rey in 2014, kept Atletico at bay in the final 15 minutes before Vinicius dribbled through and fired home to clinch the victory.

Earlier, Athletic Bilbao won 3-1 at Valencia to join record 31-time winners Barcelona and Osasuna in Monday’s semifinal draw.