EPL woes deepen with lockdown party breach, another game off

This Sept. 15, 2020 file photo West Ham's Manuel Lanzini on the pitch during their English League Cup soccer match against Charlton Athletic at London stadium in London. Lanzini was among four Premier League players from Tottenham and West Ham found to have broken English lockdown laws. (Adam Davy/Pool via AP)
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Updated 03 January 2021

EPL woes deepen with lockdown party breach, another game off

  • Tottenham trio Erik Lamela, Sergio Reguilon and Giovani Lo Celso, and West Ham’s Manuel Lanzini were found to have mingled indoors with family and friends, in violation of Covid-19 precautionary measures

LONDON: Just as the English Premier League grapples with a spike in coronavirus cases wiping out matches, an illegal gathering involving four players from Tottenham and West Ham for a Christmas party has been exposed.
It wasn’t just a breach of lockdown regulations and embarrassing for their clubs and league officials who have persuaded the government to allow games to continue as coronavirus infections surge to daily records in Britain.
There was a risk of contracting COVID-19 when Tottenham trio Erik Lamela, Sergio Reguilon and Giovani Lo Celso, and West Ham’s Manuel Lanzini mingled indoors with family and friends. That potentially exposed teams and opponents to the coronavirus.
The image of the party — showing the group posing without any social distancing — was discovered on Instagram and published Saturday just as Tottenham was preparing to play Leeds.
“We are extremely disappointed and strongly condemn this image showing some of our players with family and friends together at Christmas particularly as we know the sacrifices everybody around the country made to stay safe over the festive period,” Tottenham said in a statement.
Tottenham’s last game against Fulham was postponed on Wednesday due a coronavirus outbreak at its London rival. Fulham’s game against Burnley on Sunday became the Premier League’s third fixture this week to be called off.
In another incident, a video emerged on social media on Saturday which appeared to show Crystal Palace captain Luka Milivojevic and Fulham striker Aleksandar Mitrovic, who are both Serbian, at a prohibited indoor New Year’s Eve party.
The restrictions imposed in the London area in response to a new transmissible variant of the virus prevent people from visiting another house, apart from someone in a support bubble.
Lamela, Reguilon and Lo Celso did not feature for Tottenham against Leeds, although Reguilon was an unused substitute.
“The rules are clear, there are no exceptions, and we regularly remind all our players and staff about the latest protocols and their responsibilities to adhere and set an example,” Tottenham said. “The matter will be dealt with internally.”
Lamela, one of Tottenham’s longest-serving players, said he now understands the seriousness of his indiscretion.
“I am truly thankful to everyone working hard to keep us safe and I feel ashamed knowing I’ve let people down,” Lamela said.
Fellow Argentine Lo Celso expressed regret and accepted his need to set a better example.
“I understand the great sacrifices people are making to keep themselves and loved ones safe and the frustration you have expressed toward me is justified,” he said.
Reguilon was the only one of the players to issue no apology on social media on Saturday. Tottenham manager Jose Mourinho was particularly annoyed with Reguilon, having bought the Spanish defender a Portuguese suckling pig as a present.
“I gave (it to) him because I was told he was going to spend Christmas on his own,” Mourinho said. “I had this thought about him. He was not alone as you could see and we the club of course feel disappointed because we give the players all the education, all the conditions. Of course we’re not happy. It was a negative surprise for us.”
West Ham expressed disappointment with Lanzini and said he had been “strongly reminded of his responsibilities” to following the protocols.
“I want to apologize for a bad mistake I made over Christmas and I take full responsibility for my actions,” Lanzini said.
The controversy comes amid questions about whether the Premier League should suspend the competition like last season during the pandemic. Britain on Saturday reported a daily record of more than 57,700 infections and another 445 deaths taking the national toll to 74,570.
Additional coronavirus infections were detected after further testing at Fulham, which led to the club asking the Premier League not to play Burnley on Sunday. The request was granted based on medical advice and the “exceptional circumstances of the ongoing outbreak,” the league said.


Morocco players celebrate with Palestinian flag after Spain upset

Updated 58 min 47 sec ago

Morocco players celebrate with Palestinian flag after Spain upset

  • The Palestinian flag -- which has been fluttering widely across Qatar during the finals -- was seen being held aloft by Moroccan players

DOHA: Morocco’s players unfurled a Palestinian flag during their on-pitch celebrations after the team’s stunning World Cup upset victory against Spain on Tuesday.
The Palestinian flag — which has been fluttering widely across Qatar during the finals — was seen being held aloft by Moroccan players following the dramatic penalty shoot-out win over the Spaniards.
FIFA regulations prohibit the display of banners, flags and fliers that are deemed to be “political, offensive and/or discriminatory nature.” In the past, football’s governing bodies have issued fines for displays of the Palestinian flag inside stadia.
Morocco’s players also displayed the Palestinian flag after the team’s win against Canada during the group stage last week.
World Cup host Qatar has no relations with Israel and remains a supporter of the decades-long Palestinian cause for statehood.
Israel has occupied the Palestinian territories of east Jerusalem and the West Bank since the 1967 Six-Day War fought with Arab nations.
About 250,000 Palestinians live in Qatar which has a population of around 2.9 million, most of them foreigners.


Ronaldo benched for Portugal’s last 16 tie with Switzerland

Updated 06 December 2022

Ronaldo benched for Portugal’s last 16 tie with Switzerland

  • Ronaldo, 37, is the only man to score at five World Cups
  • He angered Portugal coach Fernando Santos with his reaction to being substituted in the last group game

DOHA: Cristiano Ronaldo was left out of Portugal’s starting line-up for their World Cup last 16 clash against Switzerland on Tuesday, with Goncalo Ramos selected up front at his expense.
Ronaldo, 37, is the only man to score at five World Cups, but he angered Portugal coach Fernando Santos with his reaction to being substituted in the last group game.
Bruno Fernandes and Joao Felix return for Portugal after they were rested in the 2-1 loss to South Korea, as does Bernardo Silva who made a brief appearance off the bench in that game.
Joao Cancelo drops out, with Diogo Dalot keeping his spot at right-back and Raphael Guerreiro restored at left-back.
Otavio starts in midfield after recovering from an injury in Portugal’s opening match.
Switzerland welcome back goalkeeper Yann Sommer from illness and Fabian Schaer retains his place in defense having filled in for Nico Elvedi in the 3-2 win over Serbia.
Edmilson Fernandes comes in for the absent Silvan Widmer at right-back.

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Eto’o sorry for fan ‘altercation’ but slams Algeria ‘provocation’

Updated 06 December 2022

Eto’o sorry for fan ‘altercation’ but slams Algeria ‘provocation’

  • Eto'o released a statement in which he admitted being involved in a "violent altercation"
  • He only addressed his apology to "the public" however and made no gesture to the fan

DOHA: Former Cameroon star Samuel Eto’o apologized Tuesday for kneeing an Algeria supporter in the face but insisted he was the target of “relentless provocation” by the North African state’s supporters since a controversial World Cup qualifier this year.
The 41-year-old Cameroon federation president and ambassador for the Qatar World Cup flew into a rage after being approached as he left Brazil’s 4-1 win over South Korea in Doha on Monday night.
A video widely shown on social media showed the four-time African player of the year breaking free from people seeking to restrain him and kneeing the face of a blogger named as Sadouni SM.
The man fell back after being struck but has not reported any serious injury.
Eto’o released a statement in which he admitted being involved in a “violent altercation.”
“I would like to apologize for losing my temper and reacting in a way that does not match my personality,” said the former Barcelona, Inter Milan and Chelsea striker.
Eto’o only addressed his apology to “the public” however and made no gesture to the fan.
Eto’o lashed out at Algeria’s supporters for their behavior since Cameroon beat Algeria on away goals in a World Cup qualifying playoff in March.
Algeria later complained to FIFA about the referee and initially demanded a replay.
“I pledge to continue to resist the relentless provocation and daily harassment of some Algerian supporters,” Eto’o said.
“I have been the target of insults and allegations of cheating without any evidence,” he added.
He said Cameroon fans at the World Cup had also been “harassed and pestered” by Algerians.
“The scenario of Algeria’s defeat was cruel but perfectly in line with the rules and ethics of our sport,” Eto’o insisted.
All of Algeria’s appeals have been rejected and Eto’s said that Algerian authorities must now act to halt “this unhealthy climate before a more serious tragedy occurs.”
The African football legend was surrounded as soon as he left the 974 Stadium where the round of 16 match was played.
Wearing a blue baseball cap, he is seen allowing selfies with some fans before he was approached by the Algerian.
Eto’o handed his mobile phone to a man before surging at the blogger to deliver the blow with his knee.
Sadouni SM said in a video posted online Tuesday that his camera and microphone had been “smashed” in the incident.
“He hit me,” the man adds, pointing to his chin.
“I did all that for Algeria,” Sadouni SM says in the video.
“I am at the police station now for the inquiry.
“This video must be shared. As Eto’o is a celebrity I am afraid they will cover up the inquiry, but I trust the Qatari police,” he added.
Qatar’s World Cup organizing committee has not commented on the incident. Eto’o toured Senegal, Cameroon and Ghana in August to promote the World Cup.
The former international has a history of fiery outbursts, receiving a three-match ban in 2010 for headbutting an opponent while playing for Inter.

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Dutch flier Dumfries dazzles ahead of Argentina World Cup showdown

Updated 06 December 2022

Dutch flier Dumfries dazzles ahead of Argentina World Cup showdown

  • The Inter Milan defender provided two assists and scored the third goal in a 3-1 win to help set up Friday's quarter-final clash with Argentina
  • The Dutch will need to find a way of stopping Lionel Messi

DOHA: Denzel Dumfries had a slow start at the World Cup but the Netherlands wing-back hit his stride in spectacular style in the last-16 match against the United States.
The Inter Milan defender — one of the breakout stars at last year’s Euro 2020 — provided two assists and scored the third goal in a 3-1 win to help set up Friday’s quarter-final clash with Argentina.
The Dutch will need to find a way of stopping Lionel Messi as the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner continues his quest for a maiden World Cup title.
But coach Louis van Gaal will be hoping that his side can expose gaps behind the Argentina defense on the counter-attack, for which Dumfries and fellow wing-back Daley Blind will be crucial.
The pair assisted each other’s goals in the victory over the Americans as Van Gaal’s 3-4-1-2 formation paid dividends.
“He is (important). He got a lot of criticism in the first games but we know what he can do and he showed it today,” midfielder Davy Klaassen said after the last-16 tie.
“In this system the wing-backs are really important and if you see them assisting each other today, this is what you want.”
Kylian Mbappe is the tournament’s leading scorer with five goals, while other wingers to impress include England pair Marcus Rashford and Bukayo Saka and Brazil’s Vinicius Junior.
Wide players have been more important than usual in Qatar, according to Arsene Wenger, now FIFA’s football development chief.
“The sides with the best wingers are those who have the best chances to win because the game is changing toward the wings,” said Wenger.
“Teams are blocking the center, and attacks are going toward both sides.”
The Netherlands’ width comes from Blind and Dumfries, with Memphis Depay and Cody Gakpo starting in a narrower front two ahead of Klaassen.
The positives of that system were best shown by their opening goal when a sweeping 20-pass move was finished off by Depay from Dumfries’ cut-back.
“In that goal you see all the facets of the system that we play,” said Dumfries.
“We really attack the spaces and change sides really well. It was a fantastic team goal. This is where you see the core of the system being executed.”
The Netherlands labored at times in the first round but still finished top of Group A after wins over hosts Qatar and Senegal and a draw with Ecuador.
“We knew before that we could play better. In the group stage we didn’t lose but we felt that we could play better,” said Dumfries.
The three-time runners-up are hoping to peak at the right time in their bid to win the title for the first time.
“We’re growing in the tournament, we’re improving every game and this was another step,” said captain Virgil van Dijk.
“We came here with one goal and that’s to become world champions and we have to win every game and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Dumfries, who is named after US film star Denzel Washington, impressed at the Euros with his first two international goals in the group stage.
Those performances helped him earn a move from PSV Eindhoven to Inter Milan and he has often been linked with a switch to the Premier League.
“I play for a very beautiful club in Italy and I’m very proud that I can play for Inter,” said Dumfries.
“I’m not focused on anything other than the national team.”

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Neymar returns as Brazil brush aside South Korea to reach World Cup quarters

Updated 06 December 2022

Neymar returns as Brazil brush aside South Korea to reach World Cup quarters

  • Vinicius Junior opened the scoring inside seven minutes before Neymar added another from the penalty spot to move to 76 goals for his country
  • Richarlison’s brilliant goal made it 3-0 and Lucas Paqueta added another before half-time to leave South Korea shellshocked

DOHA: Neymar returned from injury to help inspire Brazil to a 4-1 victory over South Korea on Monday as the favorites cruised through to the quarter-finals of the World Cup.
The world’s most expensive player had sat out his team’s last two matches with a sprained ankle suffered in their first game in Qatar, a 2-0 win over Serbia.
But he came back for this last-16 tie as Tite’s team clicked into gear and delivered an ominous message to their rivals, at least before easing off in the second half.
Vinicius Junior opened the scoring inside seven minutes before Neymar added another from the penalty spot to move to 76 goals for his country, leaving him just one away from equalling Pele’s all-time record tally.
Richarlison’s brilliant goal made it 3-0 and Lucas Paqueta added another before half-time to leave South Korea shellshocked.
Paik Seung-ho pulled one back but by then Brazil were thinking about Friday’s quarter-final clash with 2018 runners-up Croatia.
The five-time World Cup winners had not scored four goals in a knockout game at the tournament since 1998.
Here they played at times with the joy associated with the Brazilian national team, the players coming together to celebrate each goal by showing off their dance moves and their coach even joining in.
If they finished playing within themselves, their first-half display was superb and a fitting tribute to the great Pele.
The Brazilian legend had said he would watch the game from the Sao Paulo hospital to where he was admitted last week amid ongoing treatment for colon cancer, and supporters in Doha’s Stadium 974 unfurled a banner with a get well soon message to him.
All of it was a chastening experience for Son Heung-min and South Korea, who have still never won a World Cup knockout match outside their own country.
Tite made 10 changes to the Brazil team after rotating his squad for the 1-0 loss to Cameroon which came after qualification for the last 16 had been secured.
Danilo also returned from injury at left-back, while Eder Militao was the only player to keep his place and shifted across to right-back.
With Alisson Becker back in goal and Thiago Silva and Marquinhos playing too, this was Brazil’s first-choice defense but their forward quickly put the tie to bed.
The opener came from their first shot on target in the seventh minute as Raphinha burst away from Kim Jin-su on the right and his ball across goal came to the feet of Vinicius who coolly picked his spot.
They then won a penalty as Richarlison was caught by Jung Woo-young and Neymar duly beat Kim Seung-gyu — his last six goals for Brazil have now all come from the spot.
Alisson was then called into action to tip over a vicious long-range effort from Hwang Hee-chan, but Brazil then scored their third in style just before the half-hour mark.
Richarlison juggled the ball on his head three times just outside the area before laying it off to Marquinhos and then continuing into the box to get on the end of Silva’s pass which he slotted home for his third goal at this World Cup.
Paqueta then got their fourth nine minutes before the break with a first-time finish as he connected with a Vinicius ball held up from the byline.
They could have added more in the second half had they not taken their foot off the pedal, although Raphinha was denied on more than one occasion by the goalkeeper.
Korea though deserve credit for keeping going and they were rewarded inside the final quarter-hour as substitute Paik brought down a headed clearance and sent in a ferocious shot from 25 meters that brushed off Silva to beat Alisson.
The Brazil goalkeeper was then taken off for the final 10 minutes to be replaced by Weverton, while Neymar was also withdrawn with Tite’s mind on Croatia.

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