Ice-master Tanak claims Arctic Rally

Kalle Rovanpera of Finland steers Toyota Yaris WRC car at the 5th stage of the Arctic Rally. (AFP)
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Updated 01 March 2021

Ice-master Tanak claims Arctic Rally

  • Tanak, who secured his 14th career win in the top category

ROVANIEMI, Finland: Ott Tanak held off Finnish home hope Kalle Rovanpera on Sunday to win the inaugural Arctic Rally.

The Estonian, world rally champion in 2019 when with the Finland-based Toyota team, emerged master of the demanding frozen forest circuit behind the wheel of his Hyundai.

“First, when you come to a new event it’s always a bit unexpected,” he told wrc.com.

“This weekend, we came to the home country of Toyota and we expected them to be very strong.

“The pressure was there and we knew it was going to be very complicated to take the fight. In the end we did a very good weekend — nothing too much, only one mistake yesterday (Saturday).”

Tanak, who secured his 14th career win in the top category, added: “It’s an amazing place — definitely one of the best places to have a winter rally, especially yesterday, it was so demanding.

“I think to come back here a second time would be much more enjoyable, especially when you know where you are going!”

The 33-year-old’s Belgian teammate Thierry Neuville had to settle for third after his battle with Rovanpera, the 20-year-old who takes the early lead in the championship standings.

Tanak’s winning margin after Sunday’s two closing stages, was 17.5 seconds, with Neuville 2.5sec behind Rovanpera, the winner of the Power Stage and for whom this was the best result of his young career.

“It was a superb weekend for me and Jonne (Halttunen, his co-driver), we did all that we could and we’re happy to take second,” said the Finn, claiming his second podium place after Sweden in 2020.

He moved on to 39 points in the championship, four clear of Neuville.

A further four points behind sits France’s reigning champion Sebastien Ogier who trailed in over 10 minutes adrift after driving into a snowbank on the final turn on Saturday.

Ogier and co-driver Julien Ingrassia, climbed back into their Toyota and finished the stage but with their hopes of victory dashed.

Tanak lies fifth in the fledgling rankings, on 27 points, all earned here after retiring with a double puncture from the opening Monte Carlo Rally in January.

This second leg of the championship was held without fans due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The WRC circus next sets up camp in Croatia at the end of April.

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Liverpool need Klopp to rediscover magic touch to climb out of 3-1 hole

Updated 13 April 2021

Liverpool need Klopp to rediscover magic touch to climb out of 3-1 hole

  • Klopp has earned icon status on Merseyside for delivering a sixth European Cup and a first league title for 30 years to Liverpool

LIVERPOOL: In need of another famous Champions League fightback, Liverpool cannot rely on a wave of passion, color and noise from the stands at Anfield to inspire a comeback from 3-1 down against Real Madrid on Wednesday.

If the English champions are to reach the semifinals for the third time in four years, they will instead need their manager Jurgen Klopp to conjure the motivation and tactical masterplan to once again eliminate one of Spanish football’s giants.

Klopp has earned icon status on Merseyside for delivering a sixth European Cup and a first league title for 30 years to Liverpool.

But the charismatic German has been unable to halt the Reds’ fall from grace this season.

With seven games to play in the Premier League, it is already mathematically impossible for Liverpool to retain their title as they lie 22 points adrift of Manchester City in fifth.

Hopes the Champions League could prove the salvation of a disappointing season were also dashed as Real ran riot in the first 45 minutes in Madrid last week to open up a commanding first leg lead.

Liverpool’s deficit is not as steep as when Barcelona visited two years ago in the semifinals in what turned out to be arguably the greatest of all the memorable European nights at Anfield.

Depleted by injuries, Klopp’s men still rolled over Barca’s stellar cast of star names 4-0 on their way to winning the trophy. But Klopp hinted that the task may be even greater now in front of the sterile atmosphere of an empty stadium due to coronavirus restrictions.

“If you want to have some emotional memories, then you watch the Barcelona game back and 80 percent of this game was the atmosphere in the stadium, so yes, we have to do it without that,” said Klopp after the first leg.

Liverpool can claim to have suffered more than most from an entire season behind closed doors.

Prior to January, they were unbeaten in 68 home Premier League games. That club-record run was followed by a less treasured one as for the first time Liverpool then lost six consecutive games at Anfield.

A late winner to beat Aston Villa 2-1 on Saturday snapped that streak, but only served to reinforce that Liverpool are not the force of the past two seasons.

On top of empty stadiums, injuries have also played a major role. Virgil van Dijk, Jordan Henderson, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip will again be missing for the visit of Madrid, while Thiago Alcantara and Diogo Jota’s first season at the club has been disrupted by lengthy layoffs.


Linde traps Pakistan as South Africa level T20 series

Updated 12 April 2021

Linde traps Pakistan as South Africa level T20 series

  • Pakistan opening batsman Mohammad Rizwan fell into a trap off the first ball of the match and never recovered
  • South Africa deliberately placed mid-off Aiden Markram inside 30-meter circle to tempt Rizwan to go over the top

JOHANNESBURG: Pakistan opening batsman Mohammad Rizwan fell into a trap off the first ball of the match and the tourists never recovered as South Africa romped to a six-wicket win with six overs to spare in the second Twenty20 international at the Wanderers on Monday.
Man of the match George Linde revealed at the post-match presentation that South Africa deliberately placed mid-off Aiden Markram inside the 30-meter circle in order to tempt Rizwan to go over the top.
Rizwan danced down the wicket and went for a big hit but only succeeded in hitting a high catch to Markram.
“We had a game plan to bring that guy up and I was happy when he (Rizwan) came down the wicket,” said left-arm spinner Linde who went on to take three for 23.
He also held three catches in the deep and Pakistan were restricted to 140 for nine on what South African captain Heinrich Klaasen said was “a 180-190 wicket.”
South Africa showed up Pakistan’s batting shortcomings by racing to a series-levelling victory. Opening batsman Markram set the tone by slamming 54 off 30 balls.
There was a brief wobble when leg-spinner Usman Qadir took two wickets in successive overs to reduce South Africa to 92 for four but Klaasen (36 not out) and Linde took the hosts to the target with no further alarms.
Linde finished off a good day by scoring 20 not out off ten balls.
Pakistan captain Babar Azam made 50 and shared Pakistan’s only productive partnership, 58 off 49 balls for the third wicket, with Mohammad Hafeez (32).
“Aggression cost us the game,” said Babar after five of his batsmen fell to catches when they mistimed big hits.
“Early wickets cost us and the South Africans bowled really well,” he said.
Klaasen said the execution of South Africa’s bowlers was “spot on.” He singled out fast bowler Sisanda Magala, who had a nightmare first over, starting with three no-balls and then bowling three wides in conceding 18 runs.
“He begged me for another over,” said Klaasen. “He said, ‘I’m your guy today’ and he proved it.”
Magala’s next three overs, including two at the ‘death’, cost only 14 runs and he took the key wicket of Babar, his first in international cricket.
Klaasen said the message to the South African batsmen was to be positive and to base their approach on the quality of the pitch rather than the runs required.
“We want to play aggressive cricket but not cowboy cricket,” he said, pointing out that he tempered his aggression after Qadir’s double strike.
The series moves to nearby Centurion for the final two matches, on Wednesday and Friday.


Matsuyama becomes first Japanese in Masters green jacket

Updated 12 April 2021

Matsuyama becomes first Japanese in Masters green jacket

AUGUSTA, Georgia: Hideki Matsuyama delivered golf-mad Japan the grandest and greenest prize of all.
Ten years after Matsuyama made a sterling debut as the best amateur at Augusta National, he claimed the ultimate trophy Sunday with a victory in the Masters to become the first Japanese winner of the green jacket.
Matsuyama closed with a 1-over 73 and a one-shot victory that was only close at the end, and never seriously in doubt after Xander Schauffele’s late charge ended with a triple bogey on the par-3 16th.
Moments before Dustin Johnson helped him into the green jacket, Matsuyama needed no interpreter in Butler Cabin when he said in English, “I’m really happy.”
So masterful was this performance that Matsuyama stretched his lead to six shots on the back nine until a few moments of drama. With a four-shot lead, he went for the green in two on the par-5 15th and it bounded hard off the back slope and into the pond on the 16th hole.
Matsuyama did well to walk away with bogey, and with Schauffele making a fourth straight birdie, the lead was down to two shots with three to play.
The next swing all but ended it. Schauffele’s tee shot on the par-3 16th bounced off the hill left of the green and dribbled into the pond. His third shot from the drop area went into the gallery. It added to a triple bogey, and his third close call in a major.
Never mind that Matsuyama bogeyed three of his last four holes, the first Masters champion with a final round over par since Trevor Immelman shot 75 in 2008.
All that mattered was that uphill walk to the 18th green, needing only to blast out of the bunker and take two putts for the victory.
And that’s what he did, soaking in the moment with a few thousand spectators on their feat to celebrate a career-changing moment — for the 29-year-old Matsuyama, and he hopes for an entire country.
“Hopefully, I’ll be a pioneer and many other Japanese will follow,” Matsuyama said.
Will Zalatoris, the 24-year-ld Masters rookie, holed an 18-foot par putt on the last hole for a 70 and was runner-up. It was the best performance by a first-timer to the Masters since another Dallas kid, Jordan Spieth, was runner-up in 2014 to Bubba Watson.
Spieth had a few fleeting thoughts of coming from six shots behind except for too many missed putts early and missed opportunities late. He bogeyed his last hole for a 70 and tied for third with Schauffele, who shot a 72 with a triple bogey and a double bogey on his card.
Matsuyama finished at 10-under 278 for his 15th victory worldwide, and his sixth on the PGA Tour.
He becomes the second man from an Asian country to win a major. Y.E. Yang of South Korea won the 2009 PGA Championship at Hazeltine over Tiger Woods.
Returning to the 18th green for the trophy presentation, he again put on the green jacket and raised both arms in triumph. Augusta National allowed limited spectators, believed to be about 8,000 a day, and most might have remembered him from a decade ago.
He won the Asia-Pacific Amateur to earn an invitation to the Masters, and he was low amateur — tied with defending champion Phil Mickelson that year — to earn a trip into famed Butler Cabin. He won in Japan as an amateur, and four times after he graduated college and turned pro. His first PGA Tour victory was at the Memorial in 2014, prompting tournament host Jack Nicklaus to say, “I think you’ve just seen the start of what’s going to be truly one of your world’s great players over the next 10 to 15 years.”
That moment came Sunday.
Matsuyama is not big on emotion, and he speaks even less even when cornered after every round by the large contingent of Japanese media.
Most of the media was absent this year due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, and Matsuyama had said on the eve of the final round that it has been a lot less stress.
There was plenty on the golf course, right from the start.
Matsuyama sent his opening tee shot into the trees right of the first fairway. He punched it under the trees from the pine straw, hit a soft pitch that rolled down the slope away from the pin and was happy to leave with bogey. Two groups ahead of him, Zalatoris opened with two straight birdies.
Just like that, the lead was down to one.


A brief look at the final round Sunday of the Masters:

  • WINNER: Hideki Matsuyama became the first male golfer from Japan to win a major championship, closing with a 73 for a 10-under 278 total.
  • RUNNER-UP: Masters rookie Will Zalatoris stamped himself as a future star by finishing one stroke behind Matsuyama.
  • ANOTHER CLOSE CALL: Xander Schauffele had another heartbreaking finish in a major championship, his hopes ruined by a triple-bogey at No. 16 after he had made four straight birdies to close within two shots of Matsuyama.
  • TOUGH FINISH: Bryson DeChambeau struggled again at Augusta after coming into the tournament as one of the favorites. He closed with a 75 and finished 15 shots behind the winner.
  • ASIAN CHAMPIONS: Matsuyama became the second man from an Asian country to win a major. Y.E. Yang of South Korea won the 2009 PGA Championship at Hazeltine over Tiger Woods.
  • SHOT OF THE DAY: Schauffele’s 8-iron off the tee at the par-3 16th came up short, rolling off the bank and into the pond to clear the way for Matsuyama’s victory.
  • ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Zalatoris, who does even have a full PGA Tour card, turned in the best performance by a Masters first-timer since Jordan Spieth was runner-up in 2014 to Bubba Watson.
  • JAPANESE SWEEP: Matsuyama was Japan’s second winner at Augusta National in eight days, following Tsubasa Kajitani’s playoff victory in the Women’s Amateur.
  • KEY STATISTIC: Matsuyama was the first Masters winner to play a final round over par since Trevor Immelman shot 75 in 2008.
  • NOTEWORTHY: The Masters is now the only major that has champions from every continent where golf is played.
  • QUOTEWORTHY: “Hopefully, I’ll be a pioneer and many other Japanese will follow.” — Matsuyama.

No one got any closer until the final hour. Matsuyama made birdie from the front bunker on the par-5 second hole. He didn’t make another birdie until the par-5 eighth, and it didn’t matter because no one could put any pressure on him.
Zalatoris misjudged the speed on No. 3 and three-putted for bogey from just off the back of the green. Schauffele was within three of the lead going to the third hole, only to go bogey-bogey-double bogey on the toughest three-hole stretch on the course.
Matsuyama delivered what appeared to be a knockout punch with a nifty up-and-down from right of the green on the eighth for a tap-in birdie, and a lob wedge to the dangerous left pin on the ninth that rolled out to 3 feet. That sent him to the back nine with a five-shot lead.
For the longest time, it looked as though Matsuyama couldn’t wait to get to Butler Cabin and see how he looked in green.
Schauffele, however, rammed in a 20-foot birdie putt from behind the 12th green. He two-putted from 10 feet for birdie on No. 13. He nearly holed out from the fairway for a tap-in birdie on the 14th. And with he nearly holed his greenside bunker shot on the par-5 15th for a fourth straight birdie.
And then all that that worked ended when his ball disappeared below the surface of the pond.
Matsuyama could afford a few bogeys, and all that affected was the final margin. He is the Masters champion, a major that defines his elite status in the game and gives Japan the biggest week it has ever had in April. The week started a week ago Saturday when Tsubasa Kajitani won the second Augusta National Women’s Amateur.
Matsuyama wasn’t around to see it, but he was well aware of it. All he wanted was to follow her path and made Japan proud. His play spoke volumes.

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Inter streak towards Serie A title as Juve consolidate third spot

Updated 12 April 2021

Inter streak towards Serie A title as Juve consolidate third spot

  • Inter are 11 points clear of second-placed AC Milan who won 3-1 at Parma on Saturday

MILAN: Matteo Darmian scored the only goal as Serie A leaders Inter Milan held off lowly Cagliari 1-0 to stretch their winning streak to 11 games as they close in on a first league title in over a decade.

Champions Juventus consolidated third place with a 3-1 win over Genoa as Napoli moved fourth and back into the Champions League spots with a 2-0 win at Sampdoria.

Inter are 11 points clear of second-placed AC Milan who won 3-1 at Parma on Saturday, as a first title since 2010 beckons for Antonio Conte’s side with eight game left to play.

Moroccan Achraf Hakimi came off the bench and minutes later set up Italy defender Darmian to grab the winner in the San Siro to inflict a fourth consecutive defeat on Cagliari.

“We are starting to see the finish line, but we’re not there yet and can’t afford to make calculations,” Conte said.

“It’s not easy to be under constant pressure but we’re getting used to it.

“We just need to continue pedalling to the max as we approach our goal.”

Inter had been pegged back against 18th-placed Cagliari whose goalkeeper Guglielmo Vicario, replacing COVID-19 hit Alessio Cragno, kept his team in the game.

Vicario denied Christian Eriksen in both halves, while Inter loanee Radja Nainggolan also missed a chance to open the scoring for the visitors against his parent club.

Romelu Lukaku set up Alexis Sanchez who thought he had broken the deadlock after quarter of an hour, but the goal was ruled out for offside.

Stefan de Vrij rattled the crossbar before Conte made a double substitution bringing on Hakimi for Ashley Young after 69 minutes, with Lautaro Martinez replacing Sanchez.

It paid off and minutes later Hakimi combined with Lukaku to tee up Parma loanee Darmian to push Inter closer to a 19th Serie A crown after finishing runners-up last season.

“On a psychological level we gave an important signal today,” said former Manchester United defender Darmian.

“Conte transmits the passion and the desire to win, you can see this on the pitch.

“Everyone feels they have a role to play.”

Juve’s nine-year reign looks set to end as they are 12 points adrift of Inter, but despite the pressures Andrea Pirlo’s side kept their push for Champions League football on track against Genoa.

“My idea of football is to dominate the game, but this season we haven’t always managed to put it into action,” said Pirlo.

“Every day you feel under scrutiny, me in particular because I’m in my first coaching experience.

“So far I give myself an estimate of six out of 10 because I could do more.”

Juan Cuadrado pulled the ball back to an unmarked Dejan Kulusevski to curl in the opener after four minutes.

Juve doubled their lead after 22 minutes when Federico Chiesa forced a Mattia Perin save with a Cristiano Ronaldo follow-up coming off the post before Alvaro Morata sent in the rebound.

Gianluca Scamacca headed in to pull a goal back for Genoa four minutes off the break, with Marko Pjaca missing two quick-fire chances to equalise for the visitors six minutes later.

Substitute Weston McKennie sealed the win after 70 minutes for a valuable three points before next weekend’s trip to Champions League rivals Atalanta.

Napoli returned to winning ways after their midweek defeat to Juventus with goals from Fabian Ruiz 10 minutes before the break and Victor Osimhen three minutes from time.

Gennaro Gattuso’s side climbed one point ahead of Atalanta who travel to Fiorentina later on Sunday.

Sixth-placed Lazio beat Hellas Verona 1-0 thanks to a Sergej Milinkovic-Savic header in injury time.


Man Utd battle back to gain revenge on Tottenham

Updated 12 April 2021

Man Utd battle back to gain revenge on Tottenham

  • Tottenham have now lost 18 points from winning positions in the Premier League this season

LONDON: Manchester United avenged being hit for six by Tottenham earlier in the season by dealing a body blow to Spurs’ hopes of a top-four Premier League finish with a 3-1 win at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Sunday.

United came from behind to win for the ninth time in the league this season as second-half goals from Fred, Edinson Cavani and Mason Greenwood canceled out Son Heung-min’s opener.

Victory kept alive United’s slim title hopes by cutting the gap on local rivals Manchester City to 11 points with a game in hand for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men to come.

Even if they do not manage to reel in City in their final seven games of the campaign, United opened up a nine-point cushion over fifth-placed Chelsea in the battle for a place in next season’s Champions League.

Tottenham’s hopes of a return to Europe’s premier club competition are dwindling fast as they are now six points adrift of West Ham in fourth and could slip to eighth if Everton win at Brighton on Monday.

“Same coach, different players,” was Jose Mourinho’s explanation when quizzed last weekend why his side perpetually blow leads compared to the ruthless teams he has managed in the past.

Tottenham have now lost 18 points from winning positions in the Premier League this season.

The last time they came from behind to win in the league was when they thrashed United 6-1 at Old Trafford in October.

By contrast, United have picked up 28 points after falling behind, although they only did so this time after controversially having a goal ruled out.

Paul Pogba and Cavani combined brilliantly for the Uruguayan to drill the ball low between the legs of Hugo Lloris.

However, the goal was ruled out after a VAR review by referee Chris Kavanagh for a foul by Scott McTominay on Son in the build-up.

The Scottish international made minimal contact with Son’s face as he swotted the South Korean aside.

Tottenham’s claims for a double punishment were ignored by Kavanagh, though, as McTominay escaped without being shown a second yellow card.

United’s fury was compounded four minutes later when Son had bounced back up to give Tottenham the lead.

Harry Kane freed Lucas Moura in on goal and the Brazilian unselfishly squared for Son to slot home his first Premier League goal in over two months.

However, Solskjaer’s men fueled their anger to produce another second-half fightback.

Lloris had to be down sharply to his left to parry a warning shot from McTominay.

United deservedly got their equalizer on 57 minutes. A fine team move saw Fred feed Cavani and after Lloris saved his initial effort, the Brazilian fired into the roof of the net for just his fourth goal in three seasons since joining from Shakhtar Donetsk.

Dean Henderson justified the faith Solskjaer has shown in promoting him ahead of David de Gea with smart saves with his feet to prevent Son and Kane restoring Tottenham’s lead.

At the other end, Lloris also produced a brilliant stop from Bruno Fernandes’s dipping strike from outside the box.

Lloris was powerless 11 minutes from time, though, when substitute Greenwood whipped in an inviting cross for Cavani to power into the bottom corner.

Greenwood then continued his return to form by smashing past Lloris at his near post in stoppage time.