Biggest-ever Asian Games ready for liftoff in China after COVID delay

Biggest-ever Asian Games ready for liftoff in China after COVID delay
Flags of participating countries, among them North Korea, India, and Brunei, are hoisted at the Athletes Village at the 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou, China. (AP)
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Updated 21 September 2023
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Biggest-ever Asian Games ready for liftoff in China after COVID delay

Biggest-ever Asian Games ready for liftoff in China after COVID delay
  • The Games were supposed to take place last September but were postponed because of China’s strict zero-COVID rules
  • The 19th edition throws together competitors from 45 countries and territories across Asia and the Middle East

HANGZHOU: The biggest Asian Games in history, boasting about 12,000 competitors — more than the Olympics — will open on Saturday in the Chinese city of Hangzhou after a year’s delay because of COVID.

Athletes including world and Olympic champions will fight for medals in 40 sports from athletics, swimming and football to eSports and bridge.

Nine sports, among them boxing, break dancing and tennis, will serve as qualifiers for next year’s Paris Olympics.

The Games were supposed to take place last September but were postponed because of China’s strict zero-COVID rules, before China’s ruling Communist Party abruptly abandoned the policy.

The 19th edition of the Games, which were first held in New Delhi in 1951, throws together competitors from 45 countries and territories across Asia and the Middle East.

For China, which hosted the 2022 Winter Olympics in a COVID-secure “bubble” in Beijing, it is a chance to show off its organizational, sporting and technological prowess after the pandemic years cut the country off from the sporting world.

“We have overcome a lot of challenges but we are now fully conditioned to hold a successful Games,” Chen Weiqiang, chief spokesperson for the Games, said on Wednesday.

The Games will be staged at 54 venues — 14 newly constructed — mostly in Hangzhou but also extending to cities as far afield as Wenzhou, 300 kilometers (180 miles) south.

The centerpiece is the “Big Lotus” Olympic stadium with a capacity of up to 80,000 where athletics and the opening and closing ceremonies will be staged.

President Xi Jinping will attend the opening ceremony and meet Syrian counterpart Bashar Assad there, along with other visiting leaders, Chinese state media says.

Assad is making his first visit to ally China since the war erupted in Syria in 2011.

Russian President Vladimir Putin likewise attended the opening ceremony of the Beijing Winter Olympics, along with Xi, and weeks later launched the invasion of Ukraine.

Hangzhou, a city of 12 million people an hour’s bullet train from Shanghai, is famed in China for its ancient temples, gardens and its beloved West Lake.

It is also the unofficial home of China’s tech industry, notably the birth place of Jack Ma’s Alibaba.

The Games will showcase some of the latest tech to come out of the city, including driverless buses, robot dogs and facial recognition.

Hosts China have topped the medals table at every Asian Games since 1982 and are expected to do so again by the time the curtain comes down on Oct. 8.

They should reign in swimming, with Qin Haiyang fresh from his heroics at the world championships, where he announced himself as the new undisputed breaststroke king.

The 24-year-old swept all three men’s events and set a new world record in the 200m.

In athletics, another of the most closely watched sports, India’s Olympic and world champion Neeraj Chopra will defend his Asian Games javelin crown.

His nearest competitor should be world silver medallist Arshad Nadeem from arch-rivals Pakistan and the countries are also on a collision course in cricket and hockey.

ESports, in what is seen as a step toward Olympic inclusion one day, will make its full Asian Games debut having been a demonstration sport five years ago.

Lee Sang-hyeok, better known as “Faker,,” has idol status in League of Legends and will lead the South Korean charge at the futuristic-looking China Hangzhou Esports Center.

There is an added incentive which has caused controversy in South Korea — winning gold will exempt them from having to do military service.

A feature of the Asian Games is that it includes sports that are a little more quirky than the Olympics.

Xiangqi — also known as “Chinese chess” — the card game bridge and the ancient wrestling discipline of kurash are all on the menu.

Although the Games officially open on Saturday, the sporting action began on Tuesday, when North Korea returned to major international competition for the first time since the pandemic with a 2-0 win over Taiwan in men’s football.


Murray survives Shapovalov challenge to reach last 16 in Dubai

Murray survives Shapovalov challenge to reach last 16 in Dubai
Updated 27 February 2024
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Murray survives Shapovalov challenge to reach last 16 in Dubai

Murray survives Shapovalov challenge to reach last 16 in Dubai
  • Briton fights back from a set down to secure landmark 500th hard court career win and safe passage at ATP 500 event
  • Frustrated sixth-seed Mannarino falls to the Netherlands’ Botic Van de Zandschulp in straight sets after warning for on-court anger

DUBAI: Former champion Andy Murray dug deep to edge out Canada’s Denis Shapovalov 4-6, 7-6, 6-3 in front of a jubilant center court crowd at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Monday night.

The come-from-behind victory saw Murray — who claimed a solitary Dubai title in 2017 — register a landmark 500th career win on hard courts. He becomes only the fifth player to achieve the feat, joining luminaries of the game Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andre Agassi.

“It’s not bad, is it?” Murray said after reaching the milestone. “Hard courts have been a great surface for me over the years, and getting to 500 is a lot of matches. I am very proud of that, not a lot of players have done it, so it’s great to do it before I’m done.”

In challenging winds, the twilight ATP 500 round of 32 match started with eight consecutive service holds as both players found early rhythm. The first break points arrived in game nine, as Shapovalov found the outer corners of center court with a pair of dazzling one-handed backhand winners. After squandering the first chance, the 24-year-old grabbed the second to move 5-4 up, then held serve to claim the first set.

With both players holding serve for the first three games of the second set, Murray finally broke the big-serving Shapovalov in game four. The Brit’s ecstasy, however, immediately turned to agony as Shapovalov instantly broke back, then held, to make it 3-3.

As Murray, 12 years his opponent’s senior, increasingly threatened the Shapovalov serve, the Canadian’s monstrous first service cannons got him out of jail on numerous occasions. Murray, receiving, regularly stood some way behind the Dubai signage adorning the hardcourt beyond the baseline. The tactic proved fruitless, as Shapovalov unleashed 215-km serves time after time with pinpoint accuracy.

Battle-worn and grimacing repeatedly after several points near the end of the second set, Murray found emergency reserves of energy to force a tiebreak, which he won 7-5 to level the match — much to the delight of an adoring crowd.

Murray then broke Shapovalov in the opening game of the third set, which progressed on serve until 5-3 when Shapovalov suddenly found himself serving to stay in the match. With unforced errors now littering the Canadian’s game, Murray unleashed a glorious backhand winner at 30-30 to set up match point. It proved to be the only opportunity the British veteran needed, as Shapovalov volleyed Murray’s return of serve into the net.

In the ATP 500 event’s opening match on center court, the Netherlands’ Botic Van de Zandschulp upset sixth seed Adrian Mannarino, the world No. 19, in straight sets. With both players holding serve and almost politely swapping breaks enroute to a 6-6 stalemate, Van de Zandschulp, the world No. 75, managed to pull clear in the tiebreak to seal it 7-3.

After the umpire handed Mannarino a conduct warning between sets for smashing his racquet in frustration, the second set remained a tight affair. Eleven consecutive holds of serve suggested another tiebreak lay in wait, but Van de Zandschulp got the better of his French opponent’s service game at exactly the right time to triumph 7-6, 7-5 in just under two hours.

In the evening games under the lights, world No. 5 Andrey Rublev safely negotiated his route to the round of 16, defeating Zhizhen Zhang 6-7, 6-2, 6-4. The former Dubai champion was made to fight by his opponent, however, with the serve of the world No. 46 looking particularly formidable as he claimed the first set.

“It was a really tough match,” said Rublev. “I started well, but he was serving unreal. I don’t know how high his percentage was on the first serve, but it feels like some games lasted only one second, and serves were around 220 and super tough to return.”

A center court surprise came even closer in the following match as world No. 8 Hubert Hurkacz came within two match points of crashing out in the first round. His tie with German Jan-Lennard Struff went the distance as both men held their thumping serves for three straight sets, before the Pole squeezed through on the decisive set tiebreak to claim a 7-6, 4-7, 7-6 win.

“He’s such a great guy and great opponent,” said Hurkacz, who will face either Christopher O’Connell or Maximilian Marterer in the round of 16. “In the end, I got a little bit lucky, but I tried to compete until the last point and that is what I always try to do. It could have gone either way.”


Embattled Bayern Munich appoint new sports director to oversee shakeup

Embattled Bayern Munich appoint new sports director to oversee shakeup
Updated 27 February 2024
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Embattled Bayern Munich appoint new sports director to oversee shakeup

Embattled Bayern Munich appoint new sports director to oversee shakeup
  • Bavarian powerhouse said the 50-year-old Eberl signed a contract through June 2027 and will begin on Friday
  • Eberl will be charged with rejuvenating a team that has lost its aura of dominance

BERLIN: Stung by the prospect of a first season without a major trophy for 12 years, Bayern Munich appointed Max Eberl as their new sporting director to oversee a major shakeup.

The Bavarian powerhouse said on Monday the 50-year-old Eberl signed a contract through June 2027 and will begin on Friday. He was to appear at a press conference with club president Herbert Hainer and chief executive Jan-Christian Dreesen on Tuesday.

Eberl will be charged with rejuvenating a team that has lost its aura of dominance and no longer demonstrates the assured belief it used to as the best in Germany.

“Not only does he have decades of experience in football management, but he also started playing football at FC Bayern and became a professional here,” Hainer said. “We are convinced that he will successfully form and shape the future of this club.”

Eberl, a former right back, made only one Bundesliga appearance for Bayern in October 1991, when he was substituted off at halftime in a 3-2 loss at Stuttgart.

He went to Bochum in January 1994, played for Greuther Fürth for 3½ seasons, then joined Borussia Mönchengladbach to start a 23-year association with the club.

After finishing his playing career, Eberl enjoyed success as the sporting director at Gladbach from 2008 until he quit abruptly in January 2022, citing burnout. He started at Leipzig in the same role eight months later but was fired last September for “his failure to commit to the club.”

At Leipzig, Eberl led a rebuild that saw established players like Josko Gvardiol and Dominik Szoboszlai depart for big sums, while young talents like Loïs Openda and Paris Saint-Germain loanee Xavi Simons arrived to star this season.

Eberl’s alleged lack of commitment to Leipzig likely had to do with the speculation linking him with Bayern, where his work in a managerial capacity at Gladbach had long been admired.

Eberl was already a target for Bayern before it appointed Hasan Salihamidzic as sporting director in 2017.

Salihamidzic was fired hours after Bayern clinched the league title last season, along with chief executive Oliver Kahn. Both men paid the price for the problems that Eberl will be expected to address.

Bayern won the Bundesliga last season only because Borussia Dortmund squandered their chance on the final day. The decision to axe Kahn and Salihamidzic was taken earlier, after a season in which the team’s decline had been plain to see.

Former chief financial officer Jan-Christian Dreesen took over as CEO and Bayern hired former Salzburg sporting director Christoph Freund to take over from Salihamidzic, though he didn’t start officially until Sept. 1, and wasn’t involved in the summer transfer business.

Eberl and Freund will be expected to work together, with a priority being the hiring of a new coach following Bayern’s decision not to continue with Thomas Tuchel next season after the team lost three games in a row.

Tuchel said on Friday he wasn’t the “only problem” at Bayern and his employers were unable to contradict him over the weekend.

“If FC Bayern loses three times in a row, then we all have to question ourselves; the team, the coach, we in management, we do it as well, it’s not in question at all,” Hainer said Saturday. “But you will see, we will draw the right analysis and conclusions and do the right thing.”

Asked why Bayern had worked their way through three highly regarded German coaches in Tuchel, Julian Nagelsmann and Hansi Flick since 2021, Hainer replied that the demands at Bayern were very high and there was constant pressure to do well.

“But I believe that at the end of the day, the formula for success at FC Bayern is that we are never satisfied with where we are, and then we continue to move forward,” Hainer said.

Bayer Leverkusen coach Xabi Alonso – a former Bayern player – is the favorite as Tuchel’s replacement, though former Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane and Stuttgart’s Sebastian Hoeneß have also been linked. The latter is the nephew of Bayern honorary president Uli Hoeneß and has led Stuttgart to third place in the Bundesliga after saving it from relegation last season.

Hainer placed the onus on the new coach for success by saying the Bayern squad is “not un-coachable.”

Eberl will be under pressure from the start.


Investigation into Red Bull boss overshadows new F1 season as Verstappen aims for fourth title

Investigation into Red Bull boss overshadows new F1 season as Verstappen aims for fourth title
Updated 27 February 2024
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Investigation into Red Bull boss overshadows new F1 season as Verstappen aims for fourth title

Investigation into Red Bull boss overshadows new F1 season as Verstappen aims for fourth title
  • The team’s parent company is facing calls from senior F1 figures such as Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff and McLaren counterpart Zak Brown for the investigation — conducted by an external lawyer — to be handled transparently
  • On the track, Red Bull again seems to be the team to beat after a season in which Verstappen and Perez won all but one race

MANAMA: A still-unresolved investigation into the boss of Formula 1’s champion team is overshadowing the start of the new season this week at the Bahrain Grand Prix.

It’s been three weeks since Red Bull team principal Christian Horner was confirmed to be under investigation over alleged misconduct toward a team employee. No timeline has been given for a decision on his future.

The team’s parent company is facing calls from senior F1 figures such as Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff and McLaren counterpart Zak Brown for the investigation — conducted by an external lawyer — to be handled transparently.

In a letter to the team, Ford Motor Co. CEO Jim Farley insisted on a resolution and said Ford was “frustrated by the lack of full transparency surrounding this matter.” Ford is set to become Red Bull’s engine supplier in 2026.

The Red Bull drinks company said on Feb. 5 it was investigating Horner but didn’t give any details. Horner denies any wrongdoing and has not been suspended from his role. He has continued to be the face of the F1 team, declaring “business as normal.”

Horner has led Red Bull since its 2005 debut in F1, and had a prominent role at the team’s car launch — far more visible than three-time defending champion driver Max Verstappen or his teammate Sergio Perez. Horner was on site for three days of preseason testing in Bahrain last week.

“For everyone, it’s nice, of course, when things are resolved,” Verstappen said Friday at testing.

On the track, Red Bull again seems to be the team to beat after a season in which Verstappen and Perez won all but one race. Verstappen finished with a record 19 wins. While most teams seem to have used the 2023 Red Bull as inspiration for their new cars, Red Bull has evolved, using a slim sidepod design that Mercedes previously tried with little success.

Red Bull was strong throughout the three days of testing, though Ferrari drivers Carlos Sainz Jr. and Charles Leclerc posted the fastest times on the second and third days. Times set in testing are generally considered a poor guide for racing.

HAMILTON’S SWITCH

Seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton is going into his last season with Mercedes ahead of joining Ferrari next year.

For the 39-year-old Hamilton, there’s the hope that Ferrari allow him to fight for an eighth title after Mercedes was uncompetitive in the last two years. It’s also making a childhood dream come true. At testing in Bahrain, Hamilton reminisced about driving Michael Schumacher’s Ferrari in a video game as a child.

“We’ve had an absolutely incredible journey together, we’ve created history within the sport, and I’m very proud of what we’ve achieved,” Hamilton said of his time with Mercedes. “I’m writing my story and I felt like it was time to start a new chapter.”

The sudden announcement shook up F1 and leaves some leading drivers unsure of their places for next year. Sainz was expecting a contract extension at Ferrari but is making way for Hamilton to partner Leclerc.

The open seat at Mercedes has fueled speculation about drivers ranging from 41-year-old two-time champion Fernando Alonso, still at Aston Martin, to the 17-year-old Mercedes junior driver Kimi Antonelli, who is making his Formula 2 debut this week.

ANDRETTI’S FIGHT

Michael Andretti and General Motors are still developing a car for F1 but they don’t have a spot on the grid yet.

The governing body, the FIA, has approved Andretti’s application to become the 11th team but F1 rejected the proposed US team for 2025 and 2026, arguing it would not be competitive — something Andretti and GM dispute.

In GM and its Cadillac brand, Andretti has the backing of one of the world’s leading auto manufacturers, and GM has applied to be an F1 engine supplier from 2028. “Our joint teams are continuing to develop our car at pace,” GM Racing director Jim Campbell said this month.

The series’ existing American team, Haas, looks to be headed for a difficult season, its first since Guenther Steiner — a star of the “Drive To Survive” series on Netflix — was dropped as team principal last month. Haas drivers Kevin Magnussen and Nico Hulkenberg were consistently among the slowest over the three days of testing.

SATURDAY START

Don’t tune in on a Sunday to watch the race. The Bahrain GP and the following week’s race in Saudi Arabia are being held on Saturday, with qualifying on Friday.

That’s because the Muslim holy month of Ramadan starts on March 10, the Sunday of the race week in Saudi Arabia, and that race was moved forward a day. F1 rules stipulate there has to be a week between races, so the Bahrain Grand Prix had to move up, too.

Last year’s race in Las Vegas set a precedent when it was held on a Saturday to maximize the audience in the US and around the world. That was the first F1 race held on a day other than Sunday since 1985.


Klopp’s last dance has one trophy and the Liverpool manager is targeting more

Klopp’s last dance has one trophy and the Liverpool manager is targeting more
Updated 27 February 2024
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Klopp’s last dance has one trophy and the Liverpool manager is targeting more

Klopp’s last dance has one trophy and the Liverpool manager is targeting more
  • References to Klopp’s last dance have started to trend on social media, likening his Liverpool farewell to Michael Jordan’s final season with the Chicago Bulls in 1998, when they won the NBA championship
  • The League Cup was his eighth trophy, among them a full set of major trophies including the Premier League and Champions League

LONDON: Jurgen Klopp’s last dance at Liverpool is off to the perfect start.

Klopp steps down as manager at the end of the season but he and Liverpool have locked up the first trophy of a possible four.

After a heavily depleted team defied the odds to win the English League Cup final by beating Chelsea 1-0 in extra time, Klopp is determined to win more silverware and the players are determined to help him.

“We just want to give our all for him. We always did,” defender Joe Gomez said. “But now when the finishing line is in sight it adds that extra emphasis. It’s special and hopefully it’s the first (trophy) of a few we can get.”

References to Klopp’s last dance have started to trend on social media, likening his Liverpool farewell to Michael Jordan’s final season with the Chicago Bulls in 1998, when they won the NBA championship. The season was documented in the Netflix series, “The Last Dance.”

Since Klopp was hired in 2015, he has transformed a sleeping giant into a force again. The League Cup was his eighth trophy, among them a full set of major trophies including the Premier League and Champions League.

And Liverpool might not be finished. They lead the Premier League, and are still in the FA Cup and Europa League.

“I couldn’t care less about my legacy. I’m not here to create one,” Klopp said on Sunday. “As a manager of a football club, you are there to do the job actually.”

But the League Cup final showed Klopp will leave the club in good shape. Seven of his players on the day were aged 21 or under. When Virgil van Dijk headed in the winner in the 118th minute, he had three academy players beside him.

“We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves but we are in every competition and we are going to try to win every game,” Gomez said. “That’s the target and we will go again.”

Beside the players, Liverpool fans are savoring their final moments with Klopp.

Supporters carried flags and banners with messages of thanks to their outgoing manager as they made the short walk from Wembley Park subway station to Wembley Stadium. Singing loudly, it was a party atmosphere long before kickoff and they are hoping for one long party before finally saying goodbye.

“It has been a bit sad for everyone, but I think everyone now thinks we’re going to push on and do even better than we would have done (this season),” Liverpool fan Nick Knight told The Associated Press.

His father, Andrew, added: “I think he means everything (to Liverpool). Within a few weeks or months of him arriving it was obvious they were a perfect fit and the type of football he played — high energy, playing to the final whistle — it was everything as a Liverpool fan you wanted to see.”

The fans showed their appreciation long after the final whistle as they serenaded Klopp and his players on the field.

“It’s not a problem if the manager leaves or whatever, (but) if these people would leave — our supporters — that would be a problem,” Klopp said. “But as long as they are the way they are, Liverpool Football Club will be fine and that’s the most important thing.”


West Ham’s winless run in EPL finishes. Non-league Maidstone’s FA Cup fairy tale ends

West Ham’s winless run in EPL finishes. Non-league Maidstone’s FA Cup fairy tale ends
Updated 27 February 2024
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West Ham’s winless run in EPL finishes. Non-league Maidstone’s FA Cup fairy tale ends

West Ham’s winless run in EPL finishes. Non-league Maidstone’s FA Cup fairy tale ends

LONDON: Jarrod Bowen scored his first English Premier League hat trick for West Ham as they beat Brentford 4-2 and eased pressure on coach David Moyes on Monday.
The Hammers’ first win in 2024 ended an eight-game winless run in all competitions.
West Ham jumped from 10th to eighth in the league, behind Brighton only on goal difference.
Brentford was 16th, five points above the relegation zone.
Bowen was already West Ham’s top goal-scorer but he hadn’t scored in the league since before Christmas, and he broke that drought in spectacular fashion.
His first goal was a potent left-foot strike that gave the goalkeeper no chance, and the second capped a counter-attack when he side-footed home a cross from Vladimír Coufal.
Neal Maupay got one back soon after for Brentford but Bowden grabbed his and West Ham’s third after 63 minutes when he headed home a cross from Mohammed Kudus.
Full-back Emerson Palmieri made it 4-1 six minutes later with a spectacular long-range shot.
Yoane Wissa got a second for Brentford with eight minutes remaining.

Maidstone’s FA Cup run ends
A first-half hat trick from Coventry’s Ellis Simms helped to end Maidstone’s FA Cup fairy tale 5-0.
Maidstone was the first sixth-tier team to appear in the fifth round since 1978.
But second-tier Coventry was too strong from the off, with Kasey Palmer pulling the strings in midfield.

Maidstone United pose for a team group photo after the match. (Reuters)


His passes helped Simms to his first hat trick for the club. Tavares Desidério got two more in the dying seconds to complete the rout.
The rest of the fifth-round ties will be played on Tuesday and Wednesday.