France brace for England showdown in World Cup quarterfinal

France brace for England showdown in World Cup quarterfinal
France's forward Kylian Mbappe heads the ball during a training session at the Al Sadd SC training center in Doha, on Thursday, in the buildup to the World Cup quarterfinal between France and England. (AFP)
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Updated 09 December 2022

France brace for England showdown in World Cup quarterfinal

France brace for England showdown in World Cup quarterfinal
  • Questions about how England will keep the deadly Mbappe quiet have dominated the buildup to the match

DOHA: Defending champions France take on England in a mouthwatering World Cup quarterfinal on Saturday that pits superstar Kylian Mbappe against a forward lineup packed with youthful zest.

The two European heavyweights, separated by just 20 miles (32 kilometers) of ocean, have surprisingly met just twice on the biggest stage, but not since 1982.

France, crowned world champions for the second time in Russia in 2018, eased past Poland in the last 16, with two goals from Paris Saint-Germain forward Mbappe and one from Olivier Giroud.

England beat Senegal 3-0, turning on the style for an ultimately comfortable win against the African champions after a shaky start.

Mbappe, 23, is the Qatar tournament’s top scorer, with five goals in just four starts, while Giroud’s strike against Poland made him France’s all-time leading goalscorer.

Questions about how England will keep the deadly Mbappe quiet have dominated the buildup to the match, which takes place in the desert setting of Al-Bayt Stadium.

England’s pacy rightback Kyle Walker, likely to have the task of shackling Mbappe on Saturday, is anxious to avoid the impression that the fleet-footed attacker is the only threat.

“I know he’s a top player but we’re not playing tennis. It’s not a solo sport, it’s a team game,” said the Manchester City defender.

“We know he’s a great player and that’s why he’s the focus of all questions. But let’s not forget (Olivier) Giroud, who has scored countless (goals), and (Ousmane) Dembele, for me just as good on the other wing.”

The France midfield has coped well in the absence of the injured N’Golo Kante and Paul Pogba, with Antoine Griezmann impressing, but if there is a potential weakness in Didier Deschamps’ lineup it could be in the fullback positions.

Jules Kounde and Theo Hernandez will face a tough test against whoever they face, with Marcus Rashford, Phil Foden, Bukayo Saka, Jack Grealish and Raheem Sterling all in the mix.

That wealth of attacking options means England will also have enviable game-changing options on the bench.

France midfielder Adrien Rabiot is predicting an open match.

“England are a team with similar characteristics to us, really quick players out wide, attacking full-backs and midfielders who like to get forward,” he said.

“But I am not sure we need to say that we have to be wary of them. They will also be very wary because we can cause them problems.”

Southgate is in a tricky position. Does he stick or twist? Does he let his young attackers off the leash or bolster his defensive options?

The England coach came under fire in the buildup to the World Cup after a miserable winless run even though he has credit in the bank from reaching the semifinals in 2018 and the final of last year’s Euro 2020.

England are joint top scorers in Qatar heading into the quarterfinals, with 12 goals from their four games.

Their standout player has been marauding teenager Jude Bellingham, who has formed an impressive partnership alongside the more defensive-minded Declan Rice.

Like France, England’s potential weakness is at the back, with central defender Harry Maguire vulnerable to pace.

Southgate said the match was the “biggest test we could face.” 

“They are world champions, with an incredible depth of talent and outstanding players. They are very hard to play against and score goals against,” he said.

“It’s a fantastic challenge. It’s a historic rivalry with great games from the past. It’s a brilliant game for us to be involved in and test ourselves against the very best.”


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 16 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 33 min 31 sec ago

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.


Disappointment for captain Ronaldo as Al-Nassr lose 3-1 to Al-Ittihad in Saudi Super Cup semi

Disappointment for captain Ronaldo as Al-Nassr lose 3-1 to Al-Ittihad in Saudi Super Cup semi
Updated 27 January 2023

Disappointment for captain Ronaldo as Al-Nassr lose 3-1 to Al-Ittihad in Saudi Super Cup semi

Disappointment for captain Ronaldo as Al-Nassr lose 3-1 to Al-Ittihad in Saudi Super Cup semi
  • The winners will face Al-Feiha, who recorded a surprise 1-0 victory over Al-Hilal in day’s other last-four clash, in Sunday’s final
  • Al-Hilal will now shift their focus to the opening game of their FIFA Club World Cup campaign, against Wydad AC of Morocco, on Feb. 4

Cristiano Ronaldo will have to wait a while to lift his first Saudi silverware, after Al-Nassr fell to a 3-1 defeat at the hands of Al-Ittihad in their Saudi Super Cup semi-final on Thursday. The victors will meet Al-Feiha, who recorded a surprise 1-0 victory over Al-Hilal earlier in the day, in the final on Sunday.

Ronaldo, who was handed the captain’s armband for his second game with the league leaders, could have no complaints about the result. Al-Ittihad scored twice during an impressive first-half performance, and Nuno Santo’s side managed to hold on fairly comfortably after Anderson Talisca pulled one back for Al-Nassr midway through the second half.

Al-Ittihad took the lead after 15 minutes with almost their first attack of the game. Abdulrahman Al-Aboud exchanged passes with Abderrazak Hamdallah on the left side and then delivered a perfect low cross that Romarinho slotted home past goalkeeper Agustin Rossi, on loan from Boca Juniors and making his debut as a stand-in for the injured David Ospina.

Romarinho celebrates scoring his team’s first goal. (@ittihad) 

The Tigers visibly grew in confidence following the goal and looked like adding to their lead as they cut through the Al-Nassr back line time and time again. The Riyadh side struggled to bring Ronaldo into the game but then, just before the half-time, it looked as if the former Real Madrid star would open his Al-Nassr account.

A cross from the right found the skipper in the area and though he climbed high above the Al-Ittihad defense, his header from close range was straight at goalkeeper Marcelo Grohe.

Seconds later, Al-Ittihad extended their lead. Pity Martinez was robbed of possession on the right side and Romarinho broke free to float a perfect cross to the far side of the area. Hamdallah sent an equally perfect header back the way the ball had come and into the corner of the net.

Al-Nassr improved in the second half but still struggled to create clear chances. Ronaldo came close after 65 minutes but the five-time Ballon D’or winner sent his free-kick from just outside the left corner of the penalty area narrowly over the bar.

Shortly thereafter, Talisca put the Riyadh side back in the game as he fired home Luiz Gustavo’s low cross from the left. The Al-Nassr onslaught that might have been expected following the goal never really materialized, however, and Al-Ittihad sealed their place in the final in injury time thanks to a breakaway goal from Muhannad Al-Shanqeeti.

In May Al-Hilal lost the King’s Cup final to Al-Feiha after a penalty shootout. In Thursday’s game they did not even get that close.

The only goal of the game came after 21 minutes. Victor Ruiz had the ball in the middle of the Al-Hilal half and his perfect reverse through-pass split three defenders allowing Paulinho to run into the area, where the Brazilian calmly placed the ball to the left of goalkeeper Abdullah Al-Mayouf.

Paulinho celebrates the winning goal against Al-Hilal.  (@Alfaihaclub)

Just four minutes later, Al-Hilal were handed a perfect chance to get back on level terms. Abdullah Al-Hamdan, given a rare start by coach Ramon Diaz, dribbled into the right corner of the penalty area, where he was tripped by Ricardo Ryller. Up stepped Salem Al-Dawsari but he slammed his shot against the base of the left-hand post, though goalkeeper Vladimir Stojkovic, who did so much to help his team to victory in the King’s Cup, seemed to suggest he got a hand to it.

Al-Hilal had perhaps an even better opportunity immediately after the restart but, with the goal at his mercy, Al-Hamdan lifted the ball over from the edge of the six-yard box. Shortly after, the unmarked Saleh Al-Shehri headed wide from a good position. The blue wave continued to push forward but to no avail.

“Losing and saying goodbye to our chances of winning the Saudi Super Cup is painful,” said Al-Hilal striker Moussa Marega. “We must learn from the defeat and put it right in the future.”

Al-Feiha now have a chance to claim their second major silverware, while Al-Hilal must quickly shift their focus to another knockout tournament; the Asian champions will kick off their FIFA Club World Cup campaign against African title-holders Wydad AC of Morocco on Feb. 4.


Record-chasing Mbappé has Cavani’s PSG mark in his sights

Record-chasing Mbappé has Cavani’s PSG mark in his sights
Updated 27 January 2023

Record-chasing Mbappé has Cavani’s PSG mark in his sights

Record-chasing Mbappé has Cavani’s PSG mark in his sights
  • Mbappé's tally of 196 goals for PSG means he is only four behind Edinson Cavani's record for the club
  • Cavani is still idolized by fans, many of whom were angry at the club for letting him leave in 2020

PARIS: Kylian Mbappé can close in further on Paris Saint-Germain’s all-time scoring record when his team host Reims on Sunday.
Mbappé’s tally of 196 goals for PSG means he is only four behind Edinson Cavani’s record for the club. Cavani is still idolized by fans, many of whom were angry at the club for letting him leave in 2020.
Mbappé has taken longer to win PSG’s supporters over, especially when relations became frosty during the on-off transfer saga with Real Madrid.
But his exploits for France at the World Cup in Qatar increased his popularity all over the country, and since returning he’s been applauded at every away ground — although that might not be the case when PSG visit bitter rival Marseille twice next month.
The World Cup’s top scorer is in clinical form heading into Saturday’s match at Parc des Princes after netting five goals in a French Cup win on Monday, albeit against an amateur side.
Mbappé’s attitude in that game stood out along with his crisp finishing. He took the match very seriously and spoke of his respect for the non-league teams afterward.
“It’s a reminder for us that we all come from amateur football and it’s important to keep this link,” he said. “Even if it’s only for one game.”
Neymar has been largely anonymous for PSG since his World Cup heartbreak with Brazil, so PSG coach Christophe Galtier needs Mbappé to maintain his form.
“Kylian is among the greatest strikers, the world class strikers. He’s one of the best,” Galtier said. “He’s conditioned to score. That’s Kylian, a man of statistics and numbers. I don’t even need to encourage for him to break records.”
He is the league’s top scorer with 13 goals this season, one more than Lorient’s Terem Moffi and Lille’s Jonathan David, and it’s only a matter of time before Cavani’s record tumbles.
In far quicker time, too.
While Cavani notched his 200 goals in 301 games, Mbappé has taken just 241 matches to reach 196.
While his best season’s haul of 42 goals overall is less than Cavani’s best total of 49, Mbappé is already on 25 goals in 24 games so far in this campaign.
With half of the league campaign still to play, he could realistically hit 50 if PSG goes far in the Champions League and the French Cup.
That might be tough, however, since PSG face Bayern Munich in the round of 16 and are away to Marseille in the cup’s last 16.
A hectic schedule sees PSG playing seven games next month, including a league game at third-place Marseille that promises to be intense, and eight if they reach the cup quarterfinals.
Mid-table Reims are a hard team to beat, too, and are on an 11-match unbeaten run which includes holding PSG to a 0-0 draw at home in October.
PSG’s away form have been a concern recently, with consecutive defeats at Lens and Rennes allowing second-place Lens to close the gap to three points after 19 rounds.
So, PSG need a morale-boosting home win to get their confidence back, and help Mbappé close the gap on Cavani.