Cricket-mad India readies for World Cup final against Australia in 132,000-seat venue

Cricket-mad India readies for World Cup final against Australia in 132,000-seat venue
India's captain Rohit Sharma, center, inspects the pitch during a training session ahead of the ICC Men's Cricket World Cup final match between India and Australia in Ahmedabad, India, on November 18, 2023. (AP)
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Updated 18 November 2023
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Cricket-mad India readies for World Cup final against Australia in 132,000-seat venue

Cricket-mad India readies for World Cup final against Australia in 132,000-seat venue
  • Australia captain expects one-sided crowd in the final and hopes to hear them go silent during the match
  • The home side boasts 10 consecutive victories in the tournament and remains the only unbeaten team

AHMEDABAD: India, a country of 1.4 billion people, will come to a virtual standstill on Sunday when its cricket team led by Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli takes on five-time champion Australia in the Cricket World Cup final.

It will be played at Narendra Modi Stadium, the world’s largest cricket venue with a seating capacity of 132,000. It was commissioned in 2015 and built with the purpose of hosting the tournament final eight years later. In the process it will likely set a world cricket attendance record.

From Chennai to Dharamsala and Mumbai to Kolkata, India has played in front of partisan crowds during the six-week tournament. The home side has channeled that weight of expectations and pressure to win 10 consecutive games — the only unbeaten team.

“We know it’s going to be a packed house,” said Australia captain Pat Cummins. “There’s going to be 130,000 fans here supporting India. So it’s going to be awesome. You have got to embrace it. The crowd will be very one sided, but also in sport, there’s nothing more satisfying than hearing a big crowd go silent. That’s the aim for us tomorrow.”

Kohli, not surprisingly, has been the focal point for this Indian performance. Now the foremost one-day international batter in history with 50 centuries, he has scored 711 runs in 10 innings at average of 101.57. It is an insurmountable tally, with Sharma (550 runs) and Australia’s David Warner (528) well behind.

India’s dominance in this World Cup, however, has been underlined by its bowling attack. Mohammed Shami has been the leader — 23 wickets in only six games. And Shami wasn’t in contention for the first four games when India opted for Hardik Pandya and Shardul Thakur/Ravichandran Ashwin.

Pandya’s left ankle injury ruled the allrounder out of the tournament and made more room for Shami. Also helping India was Jasprit Bumrah, who took 18 wickets in 10 games, while spinners Ravindra Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav chipped in with 31 wickets between them.

India’s bowling has been so impressive that it has yet to chase any total over 273 runs in this tournament and restricted the opposition to sub-100 scores twice and under-200 scores two other times. Among them, Australia was bowled out for 199 in its tournament-opening match at Chennai on Oct. 8.

“The difference is our bowling attack,” said opener Shubman Gill. “Our bowlers have either defended the total or restricted the other team to a below-par score.”

Going for its sixth title, Australia is the most dominant side in World Cup history. It has lost two finals — to the West Indies in 1975 and to Sri Lanka in 1996. Now in its eighth final, it stands between India’s quest for a third title.

The two sides have a previous knockout history — they have met on two occasions. Australia beat India in the 2015 World Cup semifinal at Sydney, enroute to its fifth title. In 2011, Yuvraj Singh’s heroic half-century allowed the eventual championship-winning home side to beat Australia in the quarterfinals at Ahmedabad.

The 2003 final in Johannesburg was the last time the teams met in a championship match. Skipper Ricky Ponting smashed an unbeaten 140 off 121 balls as Australia won by 125 runs, amassing 359-2 before India surrendered meekly with 234-9.

Sharma will once again look to take the attack to Australia captain Pat Cummins and his fellow bowlers. Sharma especially loves short deliveries and has hit the most sixes in this tournament — 28.

Australia lost its first two games — to India and South Africa — and was in 10th and last place in the standings with no points on Oct. 15. Since, Warner, Mitchell Marsh (426 runs in nine games) and Adam Zampa (22 wickets) have been the cornerstones of its revival.

“It’s why we play the game, we want to take on the best,” Australia fast bowler Mitchell Starc said after his team’s semifinal win over South Africa.

“India has been the best in the tournament so far and we both find ourselves in the final. We played them in the first game of the tournament, now we get to take them on in the last. What a place to be at the end of a World Cup.”


Second-seeded Holger Rune eases past American Michael Mmoh at Mexican Open

Second-seeded Holger Rune eases past American Michael Mmoh at Mexican Open
Updated 19 sec ago
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Second-seeded Holger Rune eases past American Michael Mmoh at Mexican Open

Second-seeded Holger Rune eases past American Michael Mmoh at Mexican Open
  • The 20-year-old Rune, from Denmark, reached the semifinals in Acapulco last year
  • Fifth-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas defeated Roman Safiullin 6-3, 6-4 and moved on to the second round where he will face Flavio Cobolli

ACAPULCO, Mexico: Second-seeded Holger Rune eased past American Michael Mmoh 6-2, 6-3 on Tuesday and advanced to the second round of the Mexican Open.

Rune, ranked seventh in the ATP, needed 92 minutes to dispatch Mmoh, who made his way into the main draw through the qualification tournament.

The 20-year-old Rune, from Denmark, reached the semifinals in Acapulco last year. He advanced to face the winner of the late match between Aleksandar Kovasevic and Jordan Thompson.

Earlier, fifth-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas defeated Roman Safiullin 6-3, 6-4 and moved on to the second round where he will face Flavio Cobolli.

The 25-year-old Greek reached the semifinals last week in Los Cabos, Mexico, and is trying to win his first career 500 tournament.

Also Tuesday, Frances Tiafoe, seeded eighth, rallied to beat Max Purcell 4-6, 6-3, 6-0. He moved on to face Dominik Koepfer, who took care of Terence Atmane 6-4, 4— 6, 6-0.

Tiafoe is the highest-ranked American player in contention in the tournament after fourth-seeded Taylor Fritz and seventh-seeded Tommy Paul were knocked out on Monday.


Mallorca beat Real Sociedad on penalties to return to Copa del Rey final two decades later

Mallorca beat Real Sociedad on penalties to return to Copa del Rey final two decades later
Updated 28 February 2024
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Mallorca beat Real Sociedad on penalties to return to Copa del Rey final two decades later

Mallorca beat Real Sociedad on penalties to return to Copa del Rey final two decades later
  • Mallorca goalkeeper Dominik Greif saved the opening penalty by Mikel Oyarzabal, then Sergi Darder converted the decisive kick to put Mallorca in the final
  • Mallorca will play the April 6 final in Seville against either Atletico Madrid or Athletic Bilbao, who will play the second leg of the other semifinal on Thursday in Bilbao

MADRID: More than two decades later, Mallorca are back in the Copa del Rey final.

The Spanish club partly owned by Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr and former NBA great Steve Nash defeated Real Sociedad 5-4 in a penalty shootout on Tuesday to make it to the final 21 years after they won the competition for the only time.

Mallorca goalkeeper Dominik Greif saved the opening penalty by Mikel Oyarzabal, then Sergi Darder converted the decisive kick to put Mallorca in the final. The teams drew 1-1 in regulation and were scoreless in extra time at Sociedad’s Reale Arena.

The teams had drawn 0-0 in the first leg in Mallorca on Feb. 6.

Mallorca will play the April 6 final in Seville against either Atletico Madrid or Athletic Bilbao, who will play the second leg of the other semifinal on Thursday in Bilbao. Athletic won the first leg 1-0 in Madrid.

It will be the fourth Copa final for Mallorca, which hadn’t made it the title game since it won the tournament in 2003 against Recreativo Huelva. Its other final appearances were in 1991 and 1998. It hadn’t made it to the semifinals since 2009.

Mallorca’s Mexican coach Javier Aguirre had taken Osasuna to the 2005 final, when it lost to Real Betis.

Sociedad was trying to return to the Copa final for the first time since it beat rival Athletic to lift the trophy in the 2019-20 season.

Vedat Muriqi, Manu Morlanes, Omar Mascarell and Nemanja Radonjic also scored for Mallorca in the penalty shootout. Beñat Turrientes, Jon Ander Olasagasti, Martín Zubimendi and Sheraldo Becker scored for Sociedad.

Mallorca took the lead in the 50th with a header by Gio Gonzalez into the far corner in what was the visitors’ only attempt on target during regulation. There was a long delay before the goal was confirmed as video review looked for a possible offside in the buildup.

The hosts, who had nearly 30 attempts throughout the match, equalized in a breakaway in the 71st with Oyarzabal finding the net with a low shot after a nice through ball by Brais Méndez.

Mallorca, who sit just outside the relegation zone in the Spanish league, had won only one of their last six games.

Sociedad, seventh after 26 league rounds, had one win in its last seven matches across all competitions. The Basque Country club is in the round of 16 of the Champions League, having lost the first leg against Paris Saint-Germain 2-0 in France.


Haaland scores five goals in Man City’s 6-2 rout of Luton in the FA Cup

Haaland scores five goals in Man City’s 6-2 rout of Luton in the FA Cup
Updated 28 February 2024
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Haaland scores five goals in Man City’s 6-2 rout of Luton in the FA Cup

Haaland scores five goals in Man City’s 6-2 rout of Luton in the FA Cup
  • Haaland now has 27 goals in all competitions for the season after scoring 52 in his first year at the club

Erling Haaland looks determined to make up for lost time.
The Norway striker scored five goals to power Manchester City into the quarterfinals of the FA Cup in a 6-2 win against Luton on Tuesday.
It was his eighth hat trick in a season-and-a-half with City and the second time he has scored five in a single game for the club.
Perhaps more significantly, it was evidence that Haaland is fully back up to speed after recently returning from a foot injury that ruled him out for more than a month between December and January.
“My fitness is getting back to its best finally,” he said. “I feel good. It’s an amazing feeling.”
Haaland had scored only three goals in seven appearances since making his comeback on Jan. 31.
By his remarkable standards, that represented a relative drought, but he looked back to his devastating best at Kenilworth Road with a first-half hat trick and two more after the break. Four of those goals came from assists by Kevin De Bruyne, who has also missed large parts of the season through injury.
“It’s a pleasure playing with him,” Haaland said. “I think we know what we both want from each other, we look at each other and it clicks well.”
Mateo Kovacic added a sixth for City, while Jordan Clark struck twice for Luton.
Haaland was denied a possible double hat trick when he was replaced by Julian Alvarez in the 77th minute. It was the second time City manager Pep Guardiola substituted the striker after scoring five goals, having taken him off during the 7-0 rout of RB Leipzig in the Champions League last year.
Haaland now has 27 goals in all competitions for the season after scoring 52 in his first year at the club.
His performance and linkup play with De Bruyne will also fuel the belief City can emulate last season’s treble of trophies when it won the Premier League title, FA Cup and Champions League.
“We’re coming. Exciting times (are) ahead,” Haaland said.
The forward completed his hat trick after 40 minutes, having opened the scoring in the third and adding a second in the 18th.
Clark pulled one back for Luton in the 45th and made it 3-2 with another seven minutes after halftime.
But Haaland quickly extended City’s lead with further goals in the 55th and 58th.
Kovacic completed the scoring with a long range effort in the 72nd.


Liverpool's injury list worsens after Ryan Gravenberch is ruled out

Liverpool's injury list worsens after Ryan Gravenberch is ruled out
Updated 28 February 2024
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Liverpool's injury list worsens after Ryan Gravenberch is ruled out

Liverpool's injury list worsens after Ryan Gravenberch is ruled out
  • Gravenberch sustained an ankle injury in the first half of Sunday’s English League Cup final
  • Endo left Wembley Stadium on crutches and wearing a protective boot

LIVERPOOL, England: Liverpool's injury crisis keeps on getting worse.
Ryan Gravenberch is the latest name to be added to an ever-lengthening list of players unavailable to the Premier League leader, while Wataru Endo is a doubt for Wednesday's FA Cup fifth round match against Southampton.
Gravenberch sustained an ankle injury in the first half of Sunday’s English League Cup final triumph against Chelsea and was taken off on a stretcher.
Endo left Wembley Stadium on crutches and wearing a protective boot.
“We need miracles with a few players,” Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp said Tuesday. “I don’t want to rule them out for too long. But it is touch and go with a lot of players who were not available for the final: Darwin (Nunez), Mo (Salah), Dom (Szoboszlai) — we have to see what they can do."
Gravenberch has ligament damage that will keep him out for at least two games, Klopp said.
Trent Alexander-Arnold, Thiago Alcantara and goalkeeper Alisson Becker are other key players Klopp has had to do without in recent weeks.
Yet Liverpool remain in contention for a quadruple of trophies after Sunday's 1-0 win against Chelsea.
The Merseyside club are one point ahead of Manchester City at the top of the table and still competing for the FA Cup and the Europa League.


Bundesliga boss says rejection of investor deal ‘bad for the league’

Bundesliga boss says rejection of investor deal ‘bad for the league’
Updated 28 February 2024
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Bundesliga boss says rejection of investor deal ‘bad for the league’

Bundesliga boss says rejection of investor deal ‘bad for the league’
  • Fans had littered pitches with everything from tennis balls to chocolate coins in opposition to the plan
  • German football has a notable commitment to fan control and involvement via a “50+1” rule

BERLIN: Bundesliga boss Hans-Joachim Watzke said Tuesday the rejection of a planned investor deal, shelved after widespread fan protests, was “bad for the league.”
Last week the German Football Leagues (DFL) which runs the Bundesliga abandoned a planned billion-euro investment deal, which had previously been approved by the necessary two-thirds majority of clubs, due largely to fan protests resulting in long delays at matches.
Fans had littered pitches with everything from tennis balls to chocolate coins in opposition to the plan to swap a portion of the league’s future media revenues for an upfront cash injection.
DFL chairman Watzke told AFP and other journalists on Tuesday that fans “in Germany have a problem with investors.”
“Germans are traditional, perhaps even a bit old-fashioned.
“In Germany, investor is perhaps not the best word.”
German football has a notable commitment to fan control and involvement via a “50+1” rule which restricts the degree of influence an external investor can have over a club.
The rule remains enduringly popular among German fans, many of whom value it more than domestic or international competitiveness.
The DFL had promised the new deal would include supporter-friendly protections against changes in kick-off times or moving competitive fixtures abroad.
“Our contract with the investor had clear red lines that nothing could happen which would be a problem for the fans, but the problem was that fans didn’t believe us.
“It’s actually a problem in German society. Every idea that you tell the public, the public says ‘not good’.”
Watzke said the protests did not reflect the opinion of the average fan.
“Five percent of the fans — which is not so much, but they’re the organized fans — were against it.
“The average fans had no problem, but they did not tell anyone.
“Maybe 500 or 800 in the stadium, the organized fans, they had a clear position — no investor.”
The 64-year-old said the protests had changed the atmosphere around the deal, with clubs getting cold feet.
“As the boss of the Bundesliga, I always had the feeling that the clear majority of clubs supported it, but in the past weeks that changed.
“When I recognized that the majority was not there, then I stopped it.”
Watzke said the result will hit mid-table teams the hardest, rather than those at the top of the tree.
“You can be sure that there’s no problem for Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund.
“It’s a problem for the other clubs in the league. The money from the investor would be perfect to help the whole Bundesliga grow.
“Bayern and Dortmund will make our own way if it’s necessary.”
Watzke is also CEO of Bundesliga side Borussia Dortmund and he was speaking on Tuesday to announce the opening of Dortmund’s first office in New York, where fellow Bundesliga heavyweights Bayern Munich have had a presence for a decade.