Luka Modric wins Ballon d’Or to end Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo’s reign

(FromL) 2018 FIFA Ballon d'Or awarded for best player of the year, Men's Ballon d'Or Real Madrid's Croatian midfielder Luka Modric, Women's Ballon d'Or Olympique Lyonnais' Norwegian forward Ada Hegerberg and Under-21 Ballon d'Or (Kopa trophy) Paris Saint-Germain's French forward Kylian Mbappe pose at the end of the 2018 FIFA Ballon d'Or award ceremony at the Grand Palais in Paris on December 3, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 04 December 2018

Luka Modric wins Ballon d’Or to end Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo’s reign

  • Real Madrid and Croatia star picks up award after Champions League glory and World Cup heroics.
  • First time in 10 years a player other than Messi and Ronaldo has won the coveted prize.

PARIS: Luka Modric won the Ballon d’Or award for the first time on Monday, ending the 10-year dominance of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Modric won the Champions League with Real Madrid and then guided Croatia to the World Cup final in July. He was voted player of the tournament.
“As a kid we all have dreams. My dream was to play for a big club and win important trophies,” Modric said. “The Ballon d’Or was more than just a dream for me and it is really an honor and a privilege to hold this trophy.”
Ronaldo was second in the Ballon d’Or followed by France forward Antoine Griezmann. France’s teen star, Kylian Mbappe, was fourth in the polling. Brazil star Neymar, who was third last year, was a lowly 12th despite a domestic treble with Paris Saint-Germain.
Also, Norwegian forward Ada Hegerberg won the inaugural women’s Ballon d’Or.
Modric, who has won the Champions League four times with Madrid, was fifth in Ballon d’Or polling last year.
“2018 is a dream year for me,” the 33-year-old Modric said. “Throughout my career I realized hard work, persistence and belief in yourself in difficult moments are the foundations of success.”
Modric’s father was shown on the big screen during the ceremony at the imperious Grand Palais in Paris, wiping away tears.
Ronaldo missed out on a record sixth award, which would have moved him one ahead of Messi. The last player to win it before those two started dominating world soccer awards was Brazil midfielder Kaka with AC Milan in 2007.
Ronaldo also won the Champions League last season with Modric, before leaving to join Juventus. He scored a hat trick against Spain at the World Cup but he failed to make an impression when Portugal lost to Uruguay in the round of 16.
Mbappe and Griezmann scored in the 4-2 World Cup final win against Croatia. Mbappe won the domestic treble with PSG, while Griezmann scored twice for Atletico Madrid in the Europa League final win against Marseille.
France coach Didier Deschamps said a France player should have won the award.
“They deserve it because of what they did with the national team at the World Cup and also because of the trophies they won with their clubs,” Deschamps said.
Messi was fifth in the voting, having been runner-up to Ronaldo the past two years and in the top three every year since 2007. Modric had never previously been in the top three.
The previous oldest winner was central defender Fabio Cannvaro, who was also 33 when he won it in 2006 after helping Italy win the World Cup.
The 19-year-old Mbappe — the youngest player to score in a World Cup final — also won the Raymond Kopa Trophy awarded to the best young player.
Hegerberg is a three-time Women’s Champions League winner with French side Lyon and scored a tournament-record 15 times last season.
France Football magazine has been awarding the Ballon d’Or since 1956, and created a women’s award for the first time this year.
“I want to say thanks to France Football. It’s a huge step for women’s football,” Hegerberg said. “I want to end this speech with a message to all young girls in the world. Believe in yourselves.”
The outspoken 23-year-old Hegerberg said she won’t play for Norway at the Women’s World Cup in France next June.
Taking a stand against what she describes as a lack of respect for female players in Norway, she hasn’t played for the national team since it crashed out of the group stage of the Women’s European Championship in 2017 without scoring a goal.
After collecting her Ballon d’Or, Hegerberg told The Associated Press she has no plans to reconsider her decision taken to preserve her “authenticity and my values, as a person, as a footballer.”
“A lot of things need to be done to make the conditions better for women who play football,” she said. “It’s all about how we respect women’s football. I don’t think the respect has been there.
“Sometimes you have to take tough decisions to stay true to yourself. I let them know, quite clearly, what I found wasn’t working.”


Messi fans from Asia cheer on Argentina at World Cup

Updated 6 sec ago

Messi fans from Asia cheer on Argentina at World Cup

DOHA: On their way to Argentina’s decisive game against Poland, Mohit Daga and Aayush Verma approached the stadium carrying a massive painting of their heroes Lionel Messi and Diego Maradona with the World Cup trophy.
Daga had spent 17 days painting it. It weighed 5 kilograms. An offering. Anything for Messi.
“He is the epitome of everything. He is the source of inspiration and happiness,” said Daga, who is from Kolkata, India. “He brings happiness to our life.”
Argentina are finding a legion of passionate superfans from India, Bangladesh and other Asian countries at the World Cup in Qatar.
Thousands have traveled to the Gulf nation specifically to see Messi and his team with their own eyes, while many others are among migrant workers that make up about 90 percent of the emirate’s population of 3 million.
Other Argentina fans cheered from afar. In Indonesia, social media showed hundreds of people celebrating Argentina’s team’s 2-0 win over Poland after watching the game on large screens. They paraded on motorbikes waving flags after Argentina secured progress to the knockout stages. A newsreader wore an Argentina shirt during a broadcast.
Smitha Issac, originally from India, now living in Qatar, was attending the game with her family, including two sons who were “too excited” to see Messi.
Isaac said: “We are expecting that he will just make something like magic today.”
Outside Stadium 974 shortly before kickoff on Wednesday, Argentina fans were still scrambling for any spare tickets to see the game. Demand far outstripped supply for the 44,000-capacity stadium.
Mohammed Haque from Bangladesh, now living in Australia, was one of the lucky ticket holders. He waved a large Argentina flag as he walked toward the flood-lit stadium made of shipping containers, approaching it like a holy shrine.
“It’s unbelievable,” Haque said of seeing Messi for the first time. “I’ve actually been preparing for the last two or three weeks for this. I had a sleepless night last night.”
Argentina has had a big following in Bangladesh since the days of Maradona, one of the greatest to play the game, and an icon to fans around the world.
“Diego Maradona, he was exceptional. And from then I just loved this country and especially the soccer every time,” Haque said. “Then later, (Gabriel) Batistuta, (Hernan) Crespo, every Argentine player, and now Messi is the legend.”
Bangladesh, India and Pakistan — where cricket is king — have never played a World Cup. So when the tournament comes along, many soccer fans typically root for Argentina or Brazil, soccer powerhouses admired for their attacking style of play and a long line of international stars, including Messi, Maradona and Pele.
Fans who had traveled from Argentina to support their team in Qatar were delighted with the support from non-Argentines.
“We love to see other countries showing their love for Messi and Maradona,” said Mauricio Neraj from Mendoza, Argentina. He posed for pictures next to the Messi and Maradona painting by Daga outside the stadium.
Some of the South Asian fans in Qatar said they were deeply hurt by speculation on social media and in some Western media before the tournament that they were hired actors, paid by Qatar to fill the stadiums. The World Cup organizing committee rejected the reports as false.
“It is coming from the bottom of our hearts. It is not coming from any outside forcing or anything like that,” said Binoy John, and Indian worker in Qatar who has been an Argentina fan since childhood when he saw Maradona lead Argentina to win the 1986 World Cup. “All the fans are true fans. There is nothing like fake fans out here.”
Argentina have a following among Arab soccer fans, too. Messi-devotion brought Ahmed Qassim Nasher from Yemen to see his favorite player as Argentina advanced.
“Football is a festival, joy, celebrations. It connects people from different nationalities, different languages, and different ethnicities,” Nasher said. “You will find Arabs and non-Arabs coming to cheer for Messi. It’s common sense that he will have the best audience and fans, because he is the best player throughout history.”

Morocco roar past Canada to top group, cruise into World Cup last 16

Updated 27 min 46 sec ago

Morocco roar past Canada to top group, cruise into World Cup last 16

  • Morocco, who last reached the knockout stages of the World Cup in 1986, will face the runners-up from Group E
  • Morocco’s raucous fans erupted in celebration at the whistle

DOHA: Morocco powered into the last 16 of the World Cup for the first time in 36 years on Thursday with a 2-1 victory over eliminated Canada.
Goals from Hakim Ziyech and Youssef En-Nesyri ensured the North Africans finished top of Group F ahead of 2018 World Cup runners-up Croatia.
Morocco, who last reached the knockout stages of the World Cup in 1986, will face the runners-up from Group E in the last 16, with the identity of their opponents decided later Thursday.
Canada’s defeat meanwhile capped a disappointing World Cup for the CONCACAF side, who depart after losing all three of their group games on their long-awaited return to the finals.
Morocco put themselves firmly on course for the second round after upsetting Belgium 2-0 on Sunday, a result that left them needing only a point against Canada on Thursday to be sure of advancing.
Achieving that objective never looked in doubt after the Moroccans grabbed the lead after only four minutes in front of 43,102 fans at the Al-Thumama Stadium.
Canada captain and goalkeeper Milan Borjan raced off his line to clear an underhit backpass from Steven Vitoria but could only watch in horror as the ball fell to Morocco’s Ziyech.
The Chelsea star seized the opportunity ruthlessly, coolly lifting a finish over the stranded Borjan into the empty net for 1-0.
That early setback winded Canada, who struggled to gain any sort of a foothold against a rampant Morocco who were soon 2-0 up.
Right-back Achraf Hakimi’s long ball caught the Canadian defense napping and En-Nesyri darted in behind before smashing home a finish at the near post to beat Borjan.
Canada pulled a goal back on a rare foray forward five minutes from half-time when defender Sam Adekugbe skipped clear down the left and rifled in a low cross.
Defender Nayef Aguerd stuck a leg out and the ball deflected into the net past Morocco goalkeeper Yassine Bounou to make it 2-1.
Morocco thought they had restored their two-goal cushion in first-half stoppage time when En-Nesyri lashed home eight yards out only for the effort to be deemed offside.
Canada started the second half brightly, with Alphonso Davies jabbing a shot just wide after a promising attack.
But Morocco dropped deeper and Canada lacked the inventiveness to seriously threaten.
Their best chance of drawing level came from a setpiece on 71 minutes, when substitute Atiba Hutchinson’s header from a corner crashed off the underside of the crossbar and bounced off the goal-line.
Full-back Alistair Johnston failed to control the rebound and Morocco’s lead remained intact.
Canada captain Borjan almost got caught out again in another risky advance in injury time, but Davies was on hand to snuff out the danger before Morocco’s raucous fans erupted in celebration at the whistle.

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Saudi Arabia exits World Cup with newfound confidence

Updated 01 December 2022

Saudi Arabia exits World Cup with newfound confidence

  • With Herve Renard motivating the team in his emblematic white shirt on the sidelines, Saudi Arabia proved tough to beat
  • Performance could also help promote a possible joint bid by Saudi Arabia with Egypt and Greece to host the 2030 World Cup

LUSAIL, Qatar: From a generational-defining win over Lionel Messi and Argentina to the recent reports that Cristiano Ronaldo could soon be on his way to play soccer in the kingdom, Saudi Arabia has caused a sensation at the World Cup.
The Green Falcons have nothing to be ashamed about after being eliminated following a 2-1 loss to Mexico on Wednesday.
The second-lowest ranked team in the tournament at No. 51 — one spot behind host Qatar — and ahead of only 61st-ranked Ghana, Saudi Arabia was competitive from start to finish at the first World Cup in the Middle East.
“We did our best. Today it was more difficult for us,” said Hervé Renard, Saudi Arabia’s French coach. “But we don’t have to forget what we did together.”
The Saudis opened with a surprising 2-1 victory over Argentina and also played solidly in a 2-0 loss to Poland before conceding two second-half goals to Mexico to finish last in Group C.
Salem Al-Dawsari, the team’s star No. 10, pulled a goal back in added time, before the Saudi players bent over on the field at the final whistle in prayer and then stood up to applaud their fans.
Strong goalkeeping from Mohammed Al-Owais prevented Mexico from scoring another goal — which could have sent the South Americans through to the round of 16. Instead, it was Argentina and Poland who advanced in the most wide-open group of the tournament.
With Renard motivating the team in his emblematic white shirt on the sidelines, Saudi Arabia proved tough to beat with a team featuring all 26 players based at home.
The fact that none of the Saudis play abroad may have been a surprise factor but the reality is that the country’s best players don’t need to go to Europe for rich contracts when they are paid handsomely in the lucrative Saudi league.
A high-paying contract is exactly what could lure Ronaldo to join six members of the Saudi national team at Al Nassr, one of the country’s leading clubs.
The reports linking Ronaldo with Al Nassr come after the five-time Ballon d’Or winner had his contract terminated by Manchester United.
Saudi-owned Newcastle United is also reportedly in the market for Ronaldo.
But whether Ronaldo goes to a Saudi or Saudi-owned club or not, the country’s national team leaves Qatar with plenty of newfound confidence.
The performance could also help promote a possible joint bid by Saudi Arabia with Egypt and Greece to host the 2030 World Cup.


Indictments requested for Agnelli and others in Juve scandal

Updated 01 December 2022

Indictments requested for Agnelli and others in Juve scandal

  • Former vice-president Pavel Nedved and CEO Maurizio Arrivabene are also named
  • A date for the preliminary hearing to decide whether to indict and proceed to trial is expected to be announced in the next week

TURIN, Italy: The Turin prosecutor’s office has requested indictments of former Juventus president Andrea Agnelli, 10 other former board members, and the club following an investigation into alleged false accounting.
Former vice president Pavel Nedved and CEO Maurizio Arrivabene — who left the club on Monday when Agnelli and the entire board of directors resigned — are also named, as is former Juventus director of sport Fabio Paratici, who has moved to Tottenham.
A date for the preliminary hearing to decide whether to indict and proceed to trial is expected to be announced in the next week.
Juventus maintains “the accounting treatment adopted in the contested financial statements falls within those allowed by applicable accounting principles,” and it has drawn that conclusion “on the basis of a solid set of opinions by leading legal and accounting professionals.”
In a lengthy statement issued by the club, it added: “Juventus remain convinced that they have always acted correctly and intend to assert their reasons and defend their corporate, economic and sporting interests in all forums.”
Prosecutors have been investigating since last year whether Juventus cashed in on illegal commissions from transfers and loans of players. The case is also exploring if investors were misled with invoices being issued for non-existent transactions to demonstrate income that in turn could be deemed false accounting.
The case involves player contracts, transfers and agent dealings from 2018-20.
At the start of the pandemic, Juventus said 23 players agreed to reduce their salary for four months to help the club through the crisis. But prosecutors claim the players gave up only one month’s salary.
Turin prosecutors have also apparently discovered more secret payments to former player Cristiano Ronaldo that were not reported by the club.
Juventus are listed on the Milan stock exchange, which also opens it to regulatory scrutiny by the CONSOB watchdog. The club CFO, Stefano Cerrato, was caught on phone taps saying that if CONSOB questioned their moves, they would “razzle-dazzle” the regulators with fancy words, according to leaks to Italian media.
Trading in Juventus shares was flat on Thursday, after a negative 1.16 percent close on Wednesday at 0.2738 euros.


Record-breaking England put Pakistan to the sword in first Test

Updated 01 December 2022

Record-breaking England put Pakistan to the sword in first Test

  • Openers Zak Crawley (122) and Ben Duckett (107) set the tone with quick-fire tons against a hapless Pakistan bowling attack
  • It was also the first time four batters scored hundreds on day one of a Test

RAWALPINDI, Pakistan: Four England batsmen scored hundreds Thursday as the visitors piled up a record 506-4 on the opening day of the first Test against Pakistan in Rawalpindi.
Openers Zak Crawley (122) and Ben Duckett (107) set the tone with quick-fire tons against a hapless Pakistan bowling attack before Ollie Pope (108) and Harry Brook (101 not out) compounded the hosts’ misery.
Ben Stokes was also not out, on 34, when bad light stopped play, having helped England break a 112-year-old record for the most runs on the first day of a Test — beating Australia’s 494-6 against South Africa at Sydney.
It was also the first time four batters scored hundreds on day one of a Test.
After winning the toss England went straight into “Bazball” mode, the brand of freewheeling, aggressive play taken from the nickname of head coach Brendon McCullum.
England’s fiery batting — with 73 boundaries and three sixes — lifted the gloom over the start, which hung in the balance Wednesday after several of the tourists came down with a mystery virus.
As if the punishment from the top three wasn’t enough, Brook — playing only his second Test — cracked six consecutive boundaries off one over from debutant spinner Saud Shakeel.
He is only the fourth batsman to score six consecutive boundaries in a Test, following West Indians Chris Gayle and Ramnaresh Sarwan, and Sri Lanka’s Sanath Jayasuriya.
Brook reached his maiden century off just 80 balls, capping a highly entertaining day for a crowd of 6,000 that included around 150 “Barmy Army” fans.
He added 176 for the fourth wicket with Pope, who fell to pacer Mohammad Ali.
Pakistan fought back briefly in the second session when they dismissed Duckett, Crawley and Joe Root (23) in the space of 53 runs, but that was shortlived.
England have set their sights on even more runs.
“It was obviously a very good wicket to bat on,” said Crawley.
“Hopefully, we can go on tomorrow and get more runs.”
Debutant leg-spinner Zahid Mahmood was the most successful Pakistan bowler with 2-160 on an unresponsive wicket.
“The pitch was similar to the one we had against Australia, but it should have been a bit more supportive,” said Pakistan head coach Saqlain Mushtaq, referring to the Test played earlier this year that yielded 1,187 runs for the loss of just 14 wickets over five days.
Duckett, who hit his maiden hundred after being recalled to the Test side following an absence of six years, was the first to go when he missed a reverse sweep off Mahmood and was trapped leg-before.
West Indian umpire Joel Wilson initially ruled it not out, only to change his decision on Pakistan’s review.
Duckett, who hit 15 boundaries, put on 233 for the first wicket with Crawley — an England record for the first wicket against Pakistan.
It beat the 1962 stand of 198 between openers Geoff Pullar and Bob Barber in Dhaka, then East Pakistan.
Crawley was bowled off a sharp delivery by Haris Rauf in the next over, the Test debutant’s first wicket.
The lanky Crawley hit 21 boundaries in his quickfire 111-ball innings, his third Test hundred.
Former skipper Root also fell leg-before to Mahmood, unsuccessfully challenging the decision.
Crawley showed his intent right from the start, hitting three boundaries off Pakistan fast bowler Naseem Shah’s first over of the match, and bringing up his half-century off just 38 balls.
He could have become the first England batter to score a century before lunch on day one of a Test but was left nine short.
England are on their first Test tour to Pakistan in 17 years.