Guardiola wary of ‘difficult’ United ahead of Manchester derby

Manchester United’s goalkeeper Dean Henderson saves a shot from Crystal Palace’s defender Patrick van Aanholt during a recent English Premier League match in London. (AFP)
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Updated 06 March 2021

Guardiola wary of ‘difficult’ United ahead of Manchester derby

  • City are on a run of 21 successive wins in all competitions — a record for an English top-flight team

LONDON: Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola says Manchester United will be “difficult” opponents despite a huge gulf in form between the two sides ahead of Sunday’s derby.
City are on a run of 21 successive wins in all competitions — a record for an English top-flight team.
They are top of the Premier League table, 14 points clear of second-placed United, who have won just one out of their past five league matches and are struggling to score goals.
But the City boss said he was wary of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team, who are unbeaten away from home in the league for more than a year.
“I know how difficult United are,” he said on Friday.
“Every year they get better from the previous season. They (have gone) more than one year not losing away and they have good results at the Etihad.
“We have the good opportunity to increase the distance. We spoke in training about what we have to do to beat them.”
Guardiola has been impressed by the hunger of his players, who are red-hot favorites to win a third Premier League title in four seasons.
“It comes from themselves,” said the Catalan. “It comes from inside, try to win. The smell when we win is so beautiful but, when we lose, the perspective will be calm.
“Today we trained incredibly well, tomorrow will be the same.”
“I had incredibly hungry teams in my career in Barcelona and Bayern Munich,” he said.
“To do what we have done in these four years, still winning, to be there at the end, these guys have something special like in Barcelona and Bayern Munich.”
Solskjaer, meanwhile, said he did not agree with the “narrative” that Manchester United’s form has dipped alarmingly as he prepares his team to face Manchester City.
The Norwegian manager admitted his team, who were top of the table in late January, were lacking a “spark” in front of goal but was bullish about their form.
“We have had a week without scoring a goal, not six weeks of bad form,” he said on Friday. “We beat Real Sociedad 4-0 (in the Europa League last-32 first leg) and Southampton 9-0.
“The amount of games can have an effect. I am not buying into the narrative that we have had such a dip in form. We have defended well but we have lacked a little spark to score a goal.”
The 48-year-old United boss hailed City’s “fantastic” run but said his focus was on winning a trophy.
United have lost four semifinals under Solskjaer, most recently to City in the League Cup in January but are still in the Europa League and FA Cup.
“Our focus is just on this one game and not where we’re going to end up,” he said.
“We just have to be the best possible Man United and try to improve on last season. That means moving up the table, getting more points, hopefully challenge or get to a final, win a trophy,” he added.
“What other teams do we can’t control, so we have to just keep at it ourselves, challenge ourselves. They’re ahead of us by a fair distance at the moment so Sunday’s a chance to test ourselves against a very good team.”


Scotland stunned by Czechs’ Schick on Euro return

Updated 14 June 2021

Scotland stunned by Czechs’ Schick on Euro return

  • Schick headed the Czechs in front before the break and then doubled the lead on 52 minutes with an incredible strike from just inside the Scotland half
  • After a 23-year wait to qualify for a major tournament, Scotland’s hopes of making more history by getting out of the group for the first time now look slim

GLASGOW: Scotland’s long-awaited return to a major international tournament was ruined by Patrik Schick’s slick finishing as the Czech Republic won 2-0 at Hampden on Monday to move top of Euro 2020 Group D.
Schick’s header just before half-time opened the scoring, but it was his stunning strike from just inside the Scotland half after the break that will live in the memory as one of the all-time great European Championship goals.
After a 23-year wait to qualify for a major tournament, Scotland’s hopes of making more history by getting out of the group for the first time now look slim.
Steve Clarke’s men face England next on Friday at Wembley before hosting World Cup finalists Croatia at Hampden on June 22.
Playing in front of fans at Hampden for the first time since November 2019 with 12,000 in attendance, Scotland made a nervous start.
David Marshall was the hero of penalty shootout wins over Israel and Serbia to qualify and was needed early on to turn Schick’s powerful effort at the near post behind.
The hosts were desperately missing the driving runs and poise on the ball normally provided by Kieran Tierney on the left side of a back three.
Clarke has settled on a 3-5-2 to make way for two of the Premier League’s best left-backs in the same team.
Without the Arsenal defender, Liverpool’s Andy Robertson was his side’s biggest threat with a series of rampaging runs.
His cross was turned narrowly wide by Lyndon Dykes at the near post before the Scotland captain was denied a moment to remember by Tomas Vaclik.
Robertson burst onto Ryan Christie’s pass but his shot that was headed for the top corner was tipped over by the Sevilla goalkeeper.
A cagey game of few chances burst into life after Schick’s towering leap put the visitors in front three minutes before half-time.
Scotland were slow to react after initially clearing a corner and the Bayer Leverkusen forward rose highest to flick home Vladimir Coufal’s cross.
Marshall was called into action to make two quick saves from Schick and Vladimir Darida in an explosive start to the second-half.
But twice Scotland were inches away from levelling when Jack Hendry’s dipping effort came back off the crossbar before Vaclik clawed away a mishit clearance from Tomas Kalas.
However, the home side were stunned by a moment of brilliance from Schick on 52 minutes as he spotted Marshall off his line from halfway and bent in an incredible shot from just inside the Scotland half.
Chances continued to come and go for Scotland as Stuart Armstrong’s shot was deflected onto the roof of the net and Vaclik’s outstretched leg denied Dykes from close range.
But it was Schick who had the best opportunity late on to complete a memorable hat-trick when he fired too close to Marshall.
Beating old rivals England would more than make amends for the Tartan Army’s disappointment, but Scotland now have a mountain to climb if they are to prevent their long-awaited adventure ending in familiar fashion.


Eriksen’s collapse creates ‘national shock’ in Denmark

Updated 14 June 2021

Eriksen’s collapse creates ‘national shock’ in Denmark

  • Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen: Rarely has it been less important whether a football match was won or lost
  • Eriksen, widely regarded as Denmark’s best player, was resuscitated with a defibrillator and is in a stable condition in a Copenhagen hospital

COPENHAGEN, Denmark: Interest in CPR and defibrillators has been pulling the attention of Danes away from soccer’s European Championship since the collapse of Christian Eriksen.
The tournament, with the national team playing all three of its group games at home in Copenhagen, was supposed to create a two-week party in the capital — with many hoping Denmark would be able to repeat its improbable triumph from the 1992 tournament.
But Eriksen fell face-forward onto the field with cardiac arrest during the team’s opening game against Finland on Saturday. And suddenly a large portion of Denmark’s 6 million people were watching live on TV as one of the country’s best-known athletes was given emergency CPR, his teammates standing around him with tears in their eyes.
Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen called it “a national shock.”
“Rarely has it been less important whether a football match was won or lost,” Frederiksen wrote on Facebook.
Eriksen, widely regarded as Denmark’s best player, was resuscitated with a defibrillator and was in a stable condition in a Copenhagen hospital on Monday.
But the national shock hasn’t quite dissipated.
Eriksen’s collapse remains the talk of the nation. Many wonder how it could happen to such a healthy player. And a debate is still raging over whether the game should have been called off. It was suspended for about 90 minutes before resuming, having been stopped near the end of the first half. Finland went on to score in the second half and won 1-0.
The interest among Danes in learning CPR and how to use a defibrillator has skyrocketed. A national organization that puts up defibrillators across the country said more than 640 people have volunteered to learn how to use one since Saturday — compared to 90 the previous weekend.
There also has been widespread anger in Denmark toward European soccer governing body UEFA for only giving the players the option of either finishing the game on Saturday evening or resuming on Sunday at noon instead.
The players themselves on Monday said they didn’t want to resume but thought it was better to finish Saturday than to come back the next day.
“It was not our wish to play,” Denmark forward Martin Braithwaite said. “We had two options and would have liked a third option. But we were told we had to make a decision. ... There were many players who weren’t in a condition to play the match. We were in a completely different place.”
Another much-debated topic has been the impact on young viewers, who watched one of their sporting idols lying unconscious on the ground.
For unprepared children, seeing such pictures equals “a slap in the face,” said Ane Lemche, a psychologist with the Danish chapter of Save the Children.
“And children can also get confused, because he looks quite lifeless and that is uncomfortable for a child,” she told Danish broadcaster DR.
Boerns Vilkaar, a child counselling organization, posted advice for parents on its website, saying many children who watched were “scared, insecure and sad.”
The Danish soccer federation also tweeted a link to the organization’s advice.
“Those kinds of pictures can be hard to get out of your head,” the organization wrote. “Some children may think about it a lot and be affected by it for a long time.”


Bucks tie Nets 2-2 with 107-96 win; Suns sweep Nuggets

Giannis Antetokounmpo dunks during Game 4 of the Bucks-Nets second round playoff series on June 13, 2021 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Stacy Revere/Getty Images/AFP)
Updated 14 June 2021

Bucks tie Nets 2-2 with 107-96 win; Suns sweep Nuggets

  • Nuggets' center Nikola Jokic, the 2021 MVP, was ejected over a flagrant foul against Suns' Cameron Payne i
  • 2018 MVP James Harden still unable to play for Nets due to hamstring injury

MILWAUKEE/DENVER: Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 34 points and the Milwaukee Bucks rolled to a 107-96 Game 4 victory Sunday to tie the second-round playoff series with the Brooklyn Nets, who lost Kyrie Irving to a sprained right ankle.
The Bucks erased a 2-0 deficit by winning two straight in Milwaukee. Game 5 is Tuesday night in Brooklyn.
Brooklyn’s immediate concern is the health of its superstar trio. Irving was hurt midway through the second quarter and didn’t return. The Nets already are missing nine-time All-Star and 2018 MVP James Harden, who hasn’t played since the opening minute of Game 1 due to right hamstring tightness.
That puts even more pressure on Kevin Durant, who has carried the Nets this series and provided 28 points and 13 rebounds Sunday. The only other player in double figures was Irving, who had 11 points before leaving.
After Irving made a basket in the paint to cut the Bucks’ lead to 44-40 midway through the second quarter, his left leg hit the right leg of Antetokounmpo on his way down and his ankle rolled. Irving landed awkwardly and clutched his right ankle as play briefly continued on the other end of the floor. Coach Steve Nash said after the game that X-rays taken on Irving’s ankle were negative.

Four-game sweep

In Denver, Colorado, the Phoenix Suns roared into the Western Conference Finals for the first time in 11 years with a testy 125-118 victory over Denver that completed a four-game sweep of the Nuggets and included MVP Nikola Jokic’s ejection.
Chris Paul scored 37 points and Devin Booker added 34 in a physical game marred by Jokic’s ejection.
Jokic was tossed with 3:52 left in the third quarter and the Nuggets trailing 83-76 after his hard right-hand windmill swipe sent the basketball flying but also caught Cameron Payne in the face.
Booker took umbrage at the hard foul and got in the big man’s face before teammates and coaches pulled everyone apart.

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic grabs Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker during a confrontation on June 13, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski) 

Officials assessed a double technical on Jokic and Booker and ejected the MVP after upping the call to a Flagrant 2. Jokic finished with 22 points and 11 rebounds in 28 minutes.
The Nuggets and their fans at Ball Arena were frustrated that they were getting called for ticky-tack fouls yet Jokic wasn’t getting the calls expected of a Most Valuable Player.
With their franchise-record seventh straight playoff victory, the Suns advanced to the conference championship for the first time since 2010 — the last time they even reached the playoffs.
After knocking out LeBron James and the defending champion Lakers in Round 1, the Suns quickly dispatched Denver and made Jokic the first MVP to get swept in a playoff series since Magic Johnson in 1989.
Will Barton led Denver, which trailed by 13 heading into the fourth quarter, with 25 points, Michael Porter Jr. added 20 and Monte Morris 19.
The Nuggets survived the loss of star Jamal Murray to a torn ACL on April 12, winning 13 of 18 to close out the regular season and taking care of the Portland Trail Blazers in five games in the opening round.
But when second scoring option Porter tweaked his surgically repaired back in the first half of Game 1 against Phoenix, it was one injury too far for the Nuggets to overcome.
Denver coach Michael Malone said before tip-off that the Nuggets couldn’t really rely on their experience from the bubble in overcoming a pair of 3-1 deficits in the playoffs last year. For one thing, Murray’s recovering from knee surgery.
Malone said the Nuggets’ only focus was on sending this series back to Phoenix for a Game 5.
Instead, Jokic became the first MVP to get swept in a playoff series since the Pistons downed Magic Johnson and the Lakers in four in the NBA Finals in 1989.
Jokic’s ejection came 48 hours after an emotional celebration before Game 3 in which the Serbian dedicated his MVP trophy to his teammates, coaches, trainers and the front office.
The only NBA player to play all 72 games this season, Jokic spent the fourth quarter in his locker room as his teammates’ comeback without him fell short.
Despite the sweep and Jokic’s early exit, fans chanted, “MVP! MVP” as they streamed out of the arena.

TIP-INS:
Suns: Booker scored 10 points in the first quarter despite missing six of nine shots. ... Phoenix trailed just once at 2-0 before Booker’s 3-pointer put the Suns up for good.
Nuggets: Murray shot one-footed jumpers before the game and drew a loud ovation when he drained one from halfcourt as he walked off. ... Malone shook up his stagnant starting lineup, sitting Facundo Compazzo and Austin Rivers for Morris and Barton.
 


Djokovic makes history with 19th Grand Slam title in epic French Open final

Updated 14 June 2021

Djokovic makes history with 19th Grand Slam title in epic French Open final

  • Djokovic is one major away from equalling the all-time record of 20, jointly held by Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal
  • The Serb came from two sets down to beat Stefanos Tsitsipas

PARIS: Novak Djokovic claimed a 19th Grand Slam title and became the first man in 52 years to win all four majors twice when he came from two sets down to beat Stefanos Tsitsipas in a gripping French Open final on Sunday.
The world number one triumphed 6-7 (6/8), 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 in four hours and 11 minutes over the Greek 22-year-old who was playing in his first Slam final.
Djokovic is now just one major away from equalling the all-time record of 20, jointly held by Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
It was a second French Open crown for Djokovic after his 2016 victory and adds to his nine Australian Opens, five Wimbledon titles and three at the US Open.
The 34-year-old is the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to win all four Slams on multiple occasions and just the third in history.
Djokovic had also spent more than four hours on court on Friday to knock out defending champion Nadal.
“It was an electric atmosphere. I want to thank everyone who has been with me on this journey,” said Djokovic.
“I have played almost nine hours over the last 48 hours against two great champions, it was really tough physically over the last three days, but I trusted in my capabilities and knew I could do it.”
Djokovic is the first man ever to win a Slam title by twice coming back from two sets down following his last-16 battle with Italian teenager Lorenzo Musetti.
Djokovic now has 84 career titles in total while Sunday’s win pushed him to the brink of $150 million in prize money.
Next on the list is an assault on a calendar Grand Slam, only achieved in the men’s game by Don Budge in 1937 and Laver in 1962 and 1969, by defending his Wimbledon crown and then winning a fourth US Open.
On top of that, Djokovic also wants the Olympic gold medal in Tokyo to complete the first ever Golden Grand Slam by a male player.
“His goal and our goal is to win the Olympics and then win the Grand Slam,” said coach Marian Vajda.
Tsitsipas, meanwhile, said he was inspired to follow in Djokovic’s footsteps.
“I had good run here so I am happy with myself,” said Tsitsipas.
“Novak has shown what a great champion he is and I hope one day to have half of what he has achieved.
“I tried my best. I had a good run and I’m happy with myself.”
Tsitsipas survived a nervy opening service game, having to save two break points.
Djokovic, by contrast, didn’t concede a point in his first three service games.
But suddenly he faced a set point in the 10th game courtesy of an ugly shank but saved it after a 26-shot rally.


Fired up by a time violation, Djokovic broke for the first time for a 6-5 lead but was unable to serve out the opener as a series of razor-sharp returns put Tsitsipas back on level terms.
In a dramatic tiebreaker, Tsitsipas saw 4/0 and 5/2 leads disappear.
He had to save a set point before claiming the opener after 70 minutes when Djokovic fired a forehand wide.
Dropping the opening set at this year’s Roland Garros was familiar territory for Djokovic.
He had to recover from two sets down to beat Musetti and lost the opener against 13-time champion Nadal on Friday.
Tsitsipas, 12 years the world number one’s junior, broke again in the first game of the second set as the 2016 champion looked increasingly weary in the 30-degree afternoon heat.
The Greek edged ahead 5-2 and pocketed the second set with his eighth ace of the contest.
But the top seed wasn’t finished, breaking in the fourth game of the third set to cut the deficit.
Tsitsipas then called the trainer to treat a back problem which also gave him the opportunity to change the clay-covered shirt he’d worn since a first set tumble.
Thirty minutes later, it was two sets apiece after Djokovic secured a double break.
As the shadows swept across Court Philippe Chatrier, Tsitsipas’ mood also darkened as he slipped 3-1 down in the decider.
As the clock ticked past four hours, he fought off two more break points in the seventh game but Djokovic was not to be denied his latest slice of history, taking the glory on his second championship point.


Adesanya back to his best in UFC 263 win over Vettori

Updated 13 June 2021

Adesanya back to his best in UFC 263 win over Vettori

  • Masterful return to form for the New Zealander on a wild night at the Gila River Arena
  • Adesanya suffered the first loss of his MMA career in March after moving up a division

LOS ANGELES: Israel Adesanya was back to his brilliant best Saturday, defeating challenger Marvin Vettori with a show of superior striking and defending his middleweight title at UFC 263 in Glendale, Arizona.
It was a masterful return to form for the New Zealander on a wild night at the Gila River Arena that also saw the UFC crown its first-ever Mexican-born champion.
“I didn’t feel any threat at all,” said Adesanya, 31, after getting a comfortable unanimous decision.
Adesanya suffered the first loss of his MMA career in March after moving up a division and finding himself outmuscled.
But Saturday saw him down to a weight class where he is noticeably more comfortable. The Nigerian-born fighter’s speed around the cage and his precision striking, with low kicks and jabs, was too much for Vettori from the first bell.
The Italian tried to use his bigger bulk to get Adesanya to the mat, but each time the New Zealander slipped out and got up to his feet again.
In the end, the judges’ cards read 50-45, 50-45, 50-45 – and Adesanya was back in business, describing himself as “the king.”
There were questions before the fight about the mental toll on Adesanya of his career’s first defeat, and of the death last month of one of his close friends who was attacked on a night out in Auckland.
Adesanya dedicated the fight to his friend, and laid his belt down in the middle of the cage in tribute.
Before Adesanya’s masterclass, the 18,000-odd fans in attendance raised the roof when flyweight challenger Brandon Moreno laid on a rear-naked choke in the third round that saw Brazil’s Deiveson Figueiredo first tap out and then hand over his belt to the Mexican.
Despite his nation’s storied history across all combat sports, there has never before been a Mexican UFC champion and the 27-year-old Moreno broke down in tears as he spoke in the cage afterwards.
“This moment is so amazing,” he said. “I’ve worked my whole life for this. Viva Mexico!”
The pair had thrown up one of the fights of the year when they met at UFC 256 last December, across five rounds of mayhem that was called a majority draw.
This time around, Moreno left nothing to chance, moving with speed and purpose at a high tempo.
Saturday night continued the UFC’s rollout of live events for American fans as the United States emerges from pandemic lockdowns that shut down most action for a year.
The UFC described the Arizona event as a sellout, much like the open-to-the-public events in Jacksonville, Florida, and Houston, Texas.