In Maradona’s shadow, Messi strives for Argentina’s forever love

In Maradona’s shadow, Messi strives for Argentina’s forever love
Argentine fans say that no matter how many Ballons d’Or and trophies Messi won with Barcelona, he could never match Maradona until he too lifted a World Cup. (AFP)
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Updated 02 December 2022

In Maradona’s shadow, Messi strives for Argentina’s forever love

In Maradona’s shadow, Messi strives for Argentina’s forever love
  • Adoring Argentines give Messi fantastic backing in Qatar
  • Argentines traditionally more ambivalent to Messi than Maradona

BUENOS AIRES/DOHA: Lionel Messi’s passionate performances at the Qatar World Cup are earning him oodles of love from Argentines, but their old favoritism for Diego Maradona may resurface unless he brings home the trophy on his final attempt.
The two diminutive and brilliant No. 10s have dazzled the world with their prolific goalscoring and strikingly similar styles, relying on low center of gravity to swerve and slalom their way past defenses, ball glued to flashing feet.
Yet only Maradona, who died two years ago, has won the biggest trophy. He dragged a mediocre team behind him in 1986 when his “Hand of God” goal against England became a symbol of national defiance after the shame of the Falkands War defeat.
For years, Argentine fans said that no matter how many Ballons d’Or and trophies Messi won with Barcelona, he could never match Maradona until he too lifted a World Cup.
And why, they asked, was he so shy and introverted whereas their lovable rascal Maradona had entertained them so richly with jokes, songs and expletive-laden tirades against authority?
Was Messi even a true Argentine anyway, some grumbled, especially older fans. After all, he left for Spain at 13 while Maradona was more one of their own, born in a slum and working his way up through local clubs including Boca Juniors.
Messi has, of course, enjoyed more success in sheer numbers of goals and honors than Maradona, even surpassing his national appearances this week as he drove Argentina into the last 16 of the World Cup. And he has kept himself in great shape whereas Maradona succumbed to drugs and wild living in ways that frustrated and saddened even his most loyal fans.
Those close to Messi say that though his shyness may have disguised it in the past, there was always nothing he longed for more than to bring glory to Argentina. That passion was laid bare when he broke down in tears after leading Argentina to the Copa America in 2021, their first major trophy in 28 years.
“Argentines always had a love-hate relationship with Messi,” said 44-year-old fan Gustavo Franchini in Buenos Aires.
“We always compare him with Maradona, who won the World Cup 36 years ago, since when we haven’t won again ... Everyone says he has to win the World Cup to achieve Maradona’s stature and many, like me, think that even then he doesn’t match him,” he added, noting how Maradona carried the 1986 team almost solo.
In Qatar, on Messi’s fifth and final quest, he has been the beating heart of the squad and Argentina appear to have as good a chance as any to lift the trophy on Dec. 18.
Packing out stadiums in Qatar and bars and parks back home, fans have backed Messi throughout, cheering his two goals, encouraging him after a penalty miss, and parading his image proudly on myriad flags and banners.
Many of the banners show Messi and Maradona together, some depicting the late No. 10 smiling down from heaven at his heir. And Messi himself has opened up emotionally to rally the team and nation after their shock defeat to Saudi Arabia. He has celebrated goals wildly with fans and lead celebratory songs on the pitch and in the changing room after they beat Mexico and Poland.
“After the Copa America he seems to have eased up, he’s more relaxed, enjoying it,” said another fan Facundo Moreno, 39, also in the Argentine capital.
“For me, Messi has always felt and done his all for the national team, from his first game until now. He’s my idol,” he added. “Maradona and he have totally different personalities but on the pitch they both do the same.”
Marcelo Sottile, a sports journalist and author of a book about Messi, said that while his clean-cut image and polite persona mirrored the sort of person Argentines aspired to be, the rebellious Maradona reflected more of who they really were.
However, there is a generation gap among those who remember and revere Maradona most and younger fans less prejudiced against Messi, he told Reuters.
“I have an 18-year-old son who never questioned Messi, who never said ‘you play well for Barcelona but not for Argentina’,” he said. “Messi has suffered from being a venerated star in Barcelona but often under attack here in Argentina.”


Big-spending Chelsea set for busy end to transfer window

Updated 7 sec ago

Big-spending Chelsea set for busy end to transfer window

Big-spending Chelsea set for busy end to transfer window
DUBAI: Chelsea have already spent more in the January transfer window — around $225 million — than every club in the top leagues in Spain, Italy, Germany and France combined.
The London team might not be finished.
The final day of the window could be another busy one for Chelsea and their new American ownership, with the club linked with a move for Benfica midfielder Enzo Fernandez and potentially looking to balance the books by offloading Jorginho and Hakim Ziyech.
Seven players have arrived at Stamford Bridge this month, including Ukraine winger Mykhailo Mudryk in a deal worth around $108 million and France center back Benoît Badiashile for $40 million.
This comes after Chelsea spent almost $300 million in Europe’s summer transfer window, the first under the new ownership fronted by Todd Boehly following the purchase of the club for $2.5 billion in May.
Chelsea have handed new players long contracts — as much as 8 1/2 years for Mudryk, for example — to allow the club to spread the cost of the signings over the length of the deal and comply with financial fair-play regulations.
British media reported Monday that Chelsea were willing to pay a British record fee of 105 million pounds ($130 million) to bring in the 22-year-old Fernandez, a World Cup winner with Argentina in December.
Jorginho has been linked with a move to Premier League leader Arsenal and Ziyech is reportedly close to joining Paris Saint-Germain on loan.
Chelsea will hope their latest spending spree helps the team climb the Premier League standings — they are currently in 10th place, 10 points off the top four — in a late attempt to qualify for the Champions League.
Other clubs that could be active are Tottenham, which appear set to sign Spain wing back Pedro Porro from Sporting in Portugal, and Nottingham Forest, with Newcastle midfielder Jonjo Shelvey and Atletico Madrid center back Felipe both pictured at the club’s training ground ahead of sealing moves.
CANCELO LEAVES CITY
Manchester City sent Joao Cancelo on loan to Bayern Munich for the rest of the season, with the Portugal fullback having fallen out of favor with manager Pep Guardiola since the World Cup.
The German champions have the option to make the transfer permanent for a fee of 70 million euros ($76 million).
Cancelo was one of City’s key players last season but Guardiola feels the team can do without the attacking, versatile defender after a recent tactical switch and the emergence of 18-year-old right back Rico Lewis.
MARQUINHOS TO NORWICH
Arsenal loaned out 19-year-old Brazilian Marquinhos midway through his first season at the league leaders. He has joined second-tier Norwich to get more first-team action.

Mekkonen returns to Dubai Marathon’s ‘life-changing’ streets

Mekkonen returns to Dubai Marathon’s ‘life-changing’ streets
Updated 31 January 2023

Mekkonen returns to Dubai Marathon’s ‘life-changing’ streets

Mekkonen returns to Dubai Marathon’s ‘life-changing’ streets
  • Former champion confirmed for Feb. 12 race after winning in 2014, finishing third in 2016

DUBAI: Former winner and unofficial junior world record holder Tsegaye Mekonnen will return to the scene of his greatest triumph when he lines up at the start of the 2023 Dubai Marathon on Feb. 12.

On his official marathon debut nine years ago, Mekonnen clinched first place as he clocked the fastest time by an 18-year-old runner in two hours, four minutes and 32 seconds, nine seconds shy of the course record and 69 seconds off the world record — a time he was on course to beat at the half-way split.

Twelve months earlier, the young Ethiopian had taken part in Dubai as a pacemaker so the whirlwind start to his marathon career was as unexpected as it was explosive. Two years later he was back running over the streets he described as “life-changing”, finishing third in the 2016 Dubai Marathon.

Still the youngest winner in the history of the Middle East’s oldest Marathon, Mekonnen has an impressive CV as a young runner with his 2014 Dubai victory being the third fastest time in history by an athlete making his full marathon debut.

Held under the aegis of the Dubai Sports Council, the 2023 Dubai Marathon will see the World Athletics Gold Label race finally return to the sporting calendar after a three-year absence.

By his own admission, victory in Dubai was a life-changing experience for the now 27-year-old. “Winning in Dubai meant I was able to buy a house in Addis Ababa and I bought a car to be able to go to training,” he said. “I was also able to stop school and concentrate fully on running. It is definitely a completely different life for me now.”

Since that mercurial debut, Mekonnen scored a fifth-place finish at the 2014 London Marathon (two hours, eight minutes and six seconds), won the 2017 Hamburg Marathon (two hours, seven minutes and 26 seconds) and finished runner-up in the 2018 Shanghai International Marathon (two hours, nine minutes and 18 seconds).

Over the past few years, he has had to deal with injury as well as a lack of race opportunities due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But the runner will return to Dubai eager to rekindle old memories on the flat and fast course that changed his life and had him dreaming of a future world record.


Farah says 2023 London Marathon will be his last

Farah says 2023 London Marathon will be his last
Updated 31 January 2023

Farah says 2023 London Marathon will be his last

Farah says 2023 London Marathon will be his last
  • Farah last ran in London in 2019, coming fifth, having finished third the year before

British athletics great Mo Farah has said this year's London Marathon will likely be his last as he contemplates the end of a brilliant career.
The 40-year-old is best known for his success on the track winning gold in the 5,000 and 10,000 metres at both the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Olympic Games, as well as several world titles across both distances.
And while his marathon career has reached nothing like the same heights, Farah is keen to run in London again after missing last year's edition even though he will be 40 by the time of the April 23 race
"It's been an amazing career and taking part in the London Marathon is a very big deal," he said in a statement issued by event organisers.
"I was gutted not to race last year and I just want to give it one more shot.
"It depends on my body. I just want to get to the start line and see what I can manage. I'm just taking one race at a time."
He added: "I'm not a spring chicken any more. You can't keep coming back in the right shape and, for me, I'd love to be able to finish it at home."
Farah has ruled out competing at the 2024 Olympics in Paris, but may yet try to finish his time as a British international at this year's World Championships in Budapest.
"I'm not going to go to the Olympics and I think 2023 will be my last year," he added.
"But if it came down to it towards the end of the year and you did get picked for your country, I'd never turn that down."
Farah last ran in London in 2019, coming fifth, having finished third the year before.
"So it's been a little while," he said. "But I'll be preparing well, I'll head out to Ethiopia and put in a lot of solid training and see what I can do when it comes to April."


Defending champions Varner III, Hall praise sporting equality at Saudi golf events

Defending champions Varner III, Hall praise sporting equality at Saudi golf events
Updated 31 January 2023

Defending champions Varner III, Hall praise sporting equality at Saudi golf events

Defending champions Varner III, Hall praise sporting equality at Saudi golf events
  • Equal prize funds on offer at PIF Saudi International (Feb. 2-5) and Aramco Saudi Ladies International (Feb. 16-19)

RIYADH: The equal prize funds available for the upcoming men’s and women’s golf tournaments in Saudi Arabia are creating a powerful statement about equality in sport, reigning champions Harold Varner III and Georgia Hall said as they prepare to defend their titles in the Kingdom over the coming weeks.

Varner and Hall were visiting Riyadh ahead of the PIF Saudi International powered by Softbank Investment Advisers (Feb. 2-5) and the Aramco Saudi Ladies International presented by PIF (Feb 16-19), to help spread the sport among a new generation of golfers at a special school clinic with boys and girls from Trbiyah Namouthajiyah School.

Hall, the 2018 Women’s British Open Champion, said: “Massive credit to Golf Saudi and the sponsors for raising the prize fund to match the men’s tournament now. It’s a massive step for the Ladies European Tour, for women’s golf, and hopefully that will help raise the bar for other tournaments and companies to do the same in the future.”

Meanwhile, Varner said: “Growing up I played golf so I can provide for my family. When players have the chance to make more money, I am happy for them. The women work so hard and commit everything to the game, so they are more than deserving of the opportunity. I’m thrilled for them and for the likes of Golf Saudi and the sponsors who do good things when they’re able to do good things.”

Talking about the growth of golf in Saudi Arabia, Varner III added: “To grow the game as professional golfers, the best thing we can do is be the best golfer. I holed that really long putt last year and people in Saudi Arabia know more about golf. Also, a cool part was being with the kids today — they’ll remember playing with Georgia and myself for a long time, they’ll be attached and hopefully carry on playing with the right opportunities.”

The PIF Saudi International, taking place at the Royal Greens Golf & Country Club, has been a major draw for the world’s best players, with a prize fund of $5 million up for grabs. Varner III faces stiff competition from a strong field featuring major winners such as Cameron Smith, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau at this year’s Saudi International, the opening event of the 2023 Asian Tour season in King Abdullah Economic City.

Hall has just as tough a challenge ahead as she prepares to defend her title at the same venue, with notable challengers including world No.1 Lydia Ko, No.4 Atthaya Thitikul, Ireland’s Leona Maguire and other big names in a field which features several of the world’s top 20 players.


WWE SuperStar Cody Rhodes emerges victorious at 2023 Royal Rumble

WWE SuperStar Cody Rhodes emerges victorious at 2023 Royal Rumble
Updated 31 January 2023

WWE SuperStar Cody Rhodes emerges victorious at 2023 Royal Rumble

WWE SuperStar Cody Rhodes emerges victorious at 2023 Royal Rumble
  • ‘The American Nightmare’ dispatched Logan Paul to be last man standing in the 30-wrestler match
  • Rhea Ripley won the women’s title after overcoming Becky Lynch, Liv Morgan and Bayley

With the Road to WrestleMania 39 underway, the 2023 Royal Rumble rocked the WWE Universe to its core with an unexpected win for Cody Rhodes.

With the Road to WrestleMania 39 underway, Cody Rhodes claimed an unexpected win at the 2023 Royal Rumble after dispatching Logan Paul to be the last man standing.

Fight Night kicked off with the Men’s Rumble as Intercontinental Champion Gunther and his fierce rival Sheamus entered at No. 1 and 2, respectively. Down to a head-to-head fight against Paul, “The American Nightmare” Rhodes emerged the winner of the 30-man Royal Rumble match.

Meanwhile, the women’s match saw Rhea Ripley as the last woman standing in a record-setting Royal Rumble win, defeating WWE Superstars Becky Lynch, Liv Morgan, and Bayley to earn a Women’s Championship Match at WrestleMania 39 in April.

In the championship matches, Bianca Belair defeated Alexa Bliss to retain the Raw Women’s title, while Roman Reigns defended the Undisputed WWE Universal Championship, destroying Kevin Owens in a brutal collision.

Elsewhere, the first-ever Mountain Dew Pitch Black Match proved to be a bizarre but captivating battle as Bray Wyatt triumphantly took on LA Knight in what was his first match since his return to the ring.

Match Results:

Cody Rhodes won the 2023 Men’s Royal Rumble Match to earn a World Title opportunity at WrestleMania.

Rhea Ripley won the Women’s Royal Rumble Match to earn a Women’s Championship Match at WrestleMania.

Bianca Belair defeated Alexa Bliss to retain the Raw Women’s Championship.

Roman Reigns defeated Kevin Owens to retain Undisputed WWE Universal Championship.

Bray Wyatt defeated LA Knight in Mountain Dew Pitch Black Match.